During my second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the chairman of the Presidential Search Committee of the Executive Committee (EC) asked if I were willing to be interviewed by the committee. After several meetings with me and thorough research into my life, ministry, and skills, the committee subsequently recommended me to the Executive Committee. I will be forever grateful to the members of the search committee for their faith in me and for the years of encouragement they have given me since that time. The members were Julian Motley, NC, chairman; Stan Coffey, TX; Doyle Collins, OR; Ronnie Floyd, AR; Gwyna Parker, TX; Guy Sanders, FL; Simon Tsoi, AZ; Joe Warwick, TN; Fred Wolfe, AL; David Hankins, LA, ex officio.
On Monday evening, February 17, 1992, Julian Motley, on behalf of the Presidential Search Committee, recommended that I become the fifth president of the Executive Committee succeeding Harold C. Bennett. As Jodi and I were introduced to members of the Executive Committee, I had a deep assurance that I was walking in the path God had foreordained for me. The moment the Executive Committee voted to put its trust in me was one of the high points of my entire life and ministry. One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is Isaiah 40:31,
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings of eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
I must say that God’s Spirit has been faithful to strengthen me every step of the way and I have experienced a wonderful journey among Southern Baptists while serving as president of the Executive Committee.
Jodi and I rejoiced in God’s goodness and dedicated ourselves to serving Him faithfully in the ministry to which God was calling us. As she had done through the 25 years I was pastor of four churches, she has been a great help and constant encourager. Her Christian life has been an inspiration to me and her counsel has been invaluable.
These years I have served Southern Baptists as president of the Executive Committee have been enormously fulfilling and rewarding. The men and women elected by the Southern Baptist Convention to serve as members of the Executive Committee during my tenure have been a joy and a blessing to me. I can say this about all members, past and present, who have served since 1992. With staggered terms of office and varied number of years served, each year the member body is uniquely configured in a composition that never shall be repeated. Each year’s assembly has brought devoted men and women to the Committee who are knowledgeable and skilled in addressing the issues that come before the Committee. Therefore, they have worked diligently and prayerfully to make wise decisions.
A deliberative body like the Executive Committee cannot always find total agreement. Consequently, I thank the Lord for the wonderful Christian spirit with which each member has sought to lift up Christ even in the midst of vigorous debate. You have honored Christ in your lives and in your role as SBC representatives to the Executive Committee. I praise the Lord for the privilege of working beside you as we sought to glorify His Name in all things. I am especially indebted to the chairmen and officers who have given superb leadership during my tenure.
The Executive Committee will undergo a transition of leadership over the next twelve months. The transitional process employed by my predecessor, Harold C. Bennett, allowed for a brief overlapping in the employment of the president and the president-elect, a time long enough to allow the president-elect to be fully briefed on the status of matters before he must assume responsibility, but short enough that the two do not get in each other’s way. It is a bit like relay runners passing the baton; they run side by side briefly to accomplish the pass and thus there is no loss of momentum.
During Dr. Bennett’s last three months in office and prior to assuming the responsibilities of the president and chief executive officer on October 1, 1992, I had opportunity to study the legal documents, review the ministry assignments, learn the present status of items already under consideration, observe the daily operation of the Executive Committee, and meet all the employees. To this day, I am thankful for the time given me to become acclimated to the work of the Committee and ask questions and seek counsel from Dr. Bennett before I assumed the responsibilities inherent in the
office of president. Not only is the learning curve rather steep, but the new president and his family will be making a number of adjustments during this time, not the least of which may include a move to town, the purchase of a house or the lease of a condo, and the introduction to the community shops and services which they will frequent many times over the years.
Dr. Bennett was a Christian gentleman who spoke to me often about his love for the Southern Baptist Convention and assured me that he wanted the transition to be smooth and seamless. Due largely to him, my introduction to the work of the Executive Committee was an enjoyable experience. My orientation was a worthy model that will serve us well going forward. I am committed to welcoming the incoming president with the same enthusiasm and encouragement that meant so much to me.
Because Dr. Bennett announced his retirement well in advance, the presidential search committee had sufficient time to organize properly as well as to discuss procedures it would adopt, request nominees to be submitted to the committee, pray for God’s leading, narrow the search, interview top prospects, seek the Lord’s guidance in its final decision, and recommend the person they believed to be God’s man for the task.
As president of the EC, I have sought the mind and heart of God, Executive Committee members, and other Southern Baptists in making decisions related to our beloved Convention. My desire always has been first to please Jesus, and secondly, to help you by providing well-researched background information to assist in making wise decisions that were in the best interest of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have sought God’s divine wisdom with the confidence that true wisdom comes only from above. I come to this time in my life fully aware that sometimes I ran when I should have walked and walked when I should have run. But God’s grace and infinite love, along with the prayers and encouragement of Committee members and my family, have been sufficient to meet the challenges of each day.
My executive staff members, past and present, have been champions in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. God led some of the brightest and most gifted men in the Southern Baptist Convention to work with me as fellow executives during the years I have been president. They have worked tirelessly in their efforts to convey to the Executive Committee helpful information drawn from exhausting research. They have prayed that God would guide them as they, in turn, offered their best counsel to EC members. Daily, they have asked the Lord for keen insight to distinguish fact from fiction. Their spiritual vitality and loyalty have been an encouragement to me and all of our staff.
Also, the Executive Committee is blessed greatly by its association with Ken Hemphill, National Strategist for Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG) and Bobby Welch, Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations (GER). These men are serving as ambassadors for Christ and the Southern Baptist Convention. I wish you had the privilege of reading the many remarkable and inspiring comments that pastors have made about these men after they have preached and/or taught in one of our churches. They have been in scores of our Southern Baptist churches, state conventions, and associations preaching Jesus and informing Southern Baptists about God’s wonderful blessings upon our Convention. Thus, they are “good news” and “good will” ambassadors for the Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee. Bobby Welch travels internationally, meeting with conservative evangelical leaders in countries around the world and is introducing them to the depth of devotion Southern Baptists possess for reaching the unsaved through the teaching and preaching of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” If the moral and ethical fiber of this nation and other nations continues to spin out of control, it will be imperative to have fellowship with like-minded evangelicals which will strengthen us and “bless the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”
I have always loved the game of baseball and the metaphors it brings to life. For a time, I was rounding third base in my work with you; now I’m headed for home plate. I am thankful for rounding all the bases during these last seventeen years and pray for a “safe” slide into home plate on September 30, 2010, knowing that circling the bases will be the culmination and completion of my 18-year ministry with the Executive Committee. Furthermore, I will be praying that the next season of my life will be as challenging and fulfilling as the season that is passing ever so quickly. Thank you for your constant prayers for me and your faithfulness in the task God has chosen for each of us. To God be the glory!