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Classroom pastor sees students as flock
Piedmont College professor named among top 10 'influential' living pastors
The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, a professor of religion at Piedmont College in Demorest, has been named one of the top 10 most influential living pastors by a LifeWay Research in Nashville.
‘Vanishing Appalachia: Keeping Faith on Uneven Ground’
When: Feb. 19-20
Where: Piedmont College’s Athens campus and The Classic Center, Athens

It was a surprise to the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, a professor at Piedmont College in Demorest, to be honored as one of the top 10 most influential living pastors.

As the only woman, Brown joins the Rev. Billy Graham, the Rev. Charles Stanley, the Rev. Andy Stanley and the Rev. Rick Warren, among others, for the honor.

“Let’s point out they are men, shall we,” said Taylor, the Butman Chair in Religion and Philosophy at the school. “At least three of us were Georgians because Charles Stanley (of First Baptist Atlanta) and his son Andy Stanley (of North Point Community Church) were on that list.

“Chuck Swindoll is in the news, Max Lacado is another author I know well, and Rick Warren gave one of the prayers at President Obama’s inauguration. When the survey came out I was curious, and I understand we all came a distant, distant second to Billy Graham.”

Taylor was sixth on the list that LifeWay Research of Nashville, Tenn., compiled and released Feb. 3.

LifeWay contacted 1,002 Protestant pastors nationwide in November and the random sample was drawn from a list of all protestant churches where the senior pastors, priests or ministers were interviewed. Candidates were given the open-ended statement: “Name the top three living Christian preachers that most influence you,” according to

“It’s always interesting when you didn’t fill out an application or compete for anything, and all of a sudden you wind up on a list,” Taylor  said. “I guess what I would say is that since I haven’t served in a church since 1997, it kind of woke up my sense that I still am a pastor. I’ve been in the classroom; one really is still a pastor because I’m still responsible for a community of students and care a whole lot about them.”

Even so, she said, her current work is what helped put her on the list.

“What I loved again about ending up on the list is my present work of teaching and doing conferences,” she said. “That is still pastoral work even though it is not in the context of a particular church anymore.”

Taylor resigned from traditional pastoral duties in 1997 and began teaching at Piedmont in 1998 as part of efforts to begin the religion and philosophy major/minor program.

“We’re delighted to have a member of our faculty that has been recognized so prominently,” said James Mellichamp, provost at Piedmont College. “It’s equally a wonderful opportunity for our students to be able to study from someone who has achieved this sort of national recognition.”

After Taylor resigned from serving as pastor at a church in Clarkesville, she wrote a book about her experience,  “Leaving Church,” which is one of 12 books she has authored. Her most recent book, “An Altar in the World,” came out on paperback Tuesday.

“I play off the story of Jacob in the Bible for whom an altar was in the middle of nowhere on his way from one place to another,” Taylor said. “So this is a book about finding God in everyday life and not just on Sunday. It’s not against; it’s simply about everyday experiences of God and sort of ways everybody can look for God.”

Taylor said her love for writing began at a young age. She wrote her first book when she was 7.

“I loved English and I loved religion all through school, and I ended up being a religion major (at Emory University) and I went on in seminary (at Yale Divinity School), but I’ve never stopped writing,” she said. “... In some ways, writing sermons gave me a way to do both.”

Up next for Taylor is a symposium Feb. 19-20 at Piedmont College in Athens examining the role of religion in Appalachia. “Vanishing Appalachia: Keeping Faith on Uneven Ground,” also will feature author and historian Bill J. Leonard, founding dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University.

“I will do a keynote on Friday that I’m working on right now called, ‘What I learned when I moved to the mountains,’ which was 1992. I’m still a newcomer, of course,” Taylor said. “I moved from Atlanta, very intentionally deciding to leave the city, but I do realize for people who have lived in the mountains all of their life that people like me are part of the problem.”