He is less than one month from retirement and while there’s no doubt both his congregation and the community will miss him, he promises he’s not going anywhere.
“I didn’t plan on staying here for 31 years, it just turned out that way. We really love small towns ... and there was something about Corinth that connected with me and my family,” said Elliott. “Pastors normally move a lot and don’t really settle ... but Corinth just felt right. This church and the congregation just felt right.”
It was August 1985 when a young pastor, his wife, Lynn, and three sons moved from their home in Georgia to the small town of Corinth.
“I guess if I had to give a reason why I have been here so long it is because the congregation has always been very supportive of me and my family,” said Elliott.
During his time as leader, the Shiloh Road church has changed a lot, growing in numbers from 300 members in the mid-1980s to more than 500 today.
“Sunday morning attendance has improved, as well,” said Elliott. “It hasn’t been dramatic growth, but I think the way the church has changed so much has to do with the life of the church.”
Elliott’s highlights include a 1990 spiritual renewal in the church which lead to new ministries including the Youth House and Kids House ministry.
“The growth of our missions programs has been encouraging to me,” he said. “We give almost 25 percent of our budget to others -- world missions, local missions and the needy in our community.”
Last week Elliott and many from his congregation worked Thanksgiving morning to deliver 1,000 meals to those less fortunate in the community.
“That’s something I’m really proud of,” he said. “With all this, we have sought to build a community-based ministry which means it’s not about us it’s about God’s call for us in this community.”
Times weren’t always easy, Elliott admits.
In 2006, the church went through a denominational change.
“We lost some members, but came away stronger than ever,” he added.
Longtime church member Randy Long agrees.
“It was an especially hard trial for Don and all of us, but he kept us focused on trusting God and earnest prayer and we got through it,” said Long. “His ministry has always been an example of sound theology and enthusiastic heart-to-heart preaching.”
Long isn’t alone. Other members of the church see Elliott as a “wonderful spiritual leader”.
“I think a person could sum up Don’s time in two words -- strong finish. He never coasted. He was constantly preaching God’s word,” said Orma Smith. “He will be deeply missed.”
Smith said Elliott is a worthy overseer.
“The definition of a leader is not how his organization runs while he is present, but when he is gone. The fact that we are going to search for a new pastor without an interim speaks volumes for the leadership Don has developed among our members,” said Smith.
Susanne Cooper said Elliott is a person she’s always needed in her life.
“He has been so supportive of me through the ups and downs of my life,” she said. “He loves his congregation, has strong character and a great work ethic, and strongly advocates and teaches the word of God.”
Cooper added, “He has a great sense of humor, and he’s as smart as a whip, as well.”
Smart enough to see that now’s a good time to leave his hometown church.
“The church is currently at a time of peace and strength,” he said. “We are growing with lots of young couples with small children joining the church. I think it’s time for them to have a new pastor to take them into a new season of ministry.”
Elliott said his leaving is nothing negative.
“Which means it’s a positive time to leave,” he said.
The preacher admits it wasn’t an easy decision.
“It was something Lynn and I talked about and prayed about over the last four years. Right now just seemed like a good time. The church I believe is ready for the change,” he added.
But no worries, Elliott said he’s not going into hiding.
“I still have some gas left in my tank, so I’m asking the Lord to lead me to some new ministry,” he said.
Although leaving First Presbyterian Church, he said he feels like he could be a blessing to some small country church.
“I’m not looking for anything comparable to First Pres. The hours and responsibility here has been rather demanding and I’m ready to slow down just a bit,” said Elliott. “I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do here and that is finish strong. We’ve got a lot done this year and now I’m ready for what the Lord has ready for me next.”