That’s how long it’s been since Jeanne and I left a beloved pastorate to follow the clear call of God to serve our Tennessee Baptist Convention network of churches. That decision came only after an intense season of prayerfully seeking the Lord’s direction. It was an agonizing time discovering, as best we could, His direction. I had asked the Lord for two things: A clear call and a compelling reason. He provided both.
The call itself was miraculous in its clarity and affirmed through unanimous support from the TBMB Board of Directors, my family, our church and our praying friends.
The compelling reason came into focus after a few weeks of being in the Executive Director’s seat. God gave me crystal clarity to see that any way you slice it, Tennessee was a growing mission field. I remember being both simultaneously burdened and heart-broken at the realization that spiritual lostness was growing in Tennessee as rapidly as our state’s population.
Fast forward a decade and it is a joy to report that I believe Tennessee Baptist churches have a greater unity around a shared vision of doing whatever it takes to push back spiritual lostness and win Tennesseans to Christ.
As we prepare for the next 10 years, I want to look back and express a word of gratitude on several fronts.
First, I’m grateful for Jeanne. She has been a constant companion encouraging me every step of the way. She was, in my opinion, the consummate pastor’s wife. I believe the folks in Sevierville, Morristown, Vancleave (Miss.) and Leakesville (Miss.) would offer testimony that she was authentically herself and wore well the mantle of pastor’s wife, Bible study leader for young married couples, women’s ministry leader, mentor to many and constant hospitality expert. She was always in her spot on the second row of every worship service as personal cheerleader and prayer warrior for her preacher-husband.
As the First Lady of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board she often has been physically by my side as I’ve driven more than 400,000 miles across the state. She’s been to countless churches and associations maintaining her cheerleader and prayer warrior role for me even when she didn’t know very many people. Simply put, I deeply appreciate the sacrifice and service Jeanne has given for the Kingdom by serving Tennessee Baptists. Thank you, Sunshine!
Honestly, when I came into this role I felt (and feel) ill-equipped for a CEO-type role. I’m a pastor. Yet God leads us and in obedience we follow. He has proven the truth of the statement, “Where God guides, He provides.” He is faithful to provide what we need to accomplish His mission. Trust and obey, there is truly no other way.
One of His provisions has been the excellent and competent servant leadership of my fellow TBMB team members. The Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). These co-laborers have sharpened me. Thank you to each member, past and present, of our team.
I am thankful for great TBC leadership over the past decade, from presidents Poly Rouse to our current president Bruce Chesser. That leadership extends to those who have served as convention officers and committee members. We have left Summit every year celebrating our genuine unified fellowship and Great Commission focus.
I also want to thank all the TBMB board of directors chairmen, from Lon Shoopman to Clay Hallmark, and each of the directors of the TBMB (formally Executive Board of the TBC). Together we have seized opportunities and faced challenges. The counsel, guidance, and encouragement of these committed servants has been a blessing.
I am thankful for our 65 associations and their association mission strategists, TBC entity leaders, fellow state convention executives and Southern Baptist Convention entity leaders. Each has sharpened my thinking and my leading and made the last decade a blessing. The fellowship has been sweet and the work intense in a sea of massive change, yet we press on for the sake of the gospel.
And finally, to you, our great Tennessee pastors and the churches you lead. You have been the highlight and joy of this ministry journey. It has been my honor to preach in your churches, laugh over a cup of coffee, and weep together in difficult times. Thank you for what you mean to me as friends.
Let me leave you with this, Philippians 3:14: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” May that be the challenge we embrace and that compels us forward into these next 10 years, together for the sake of the gospel and to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It truly is a joy to be with you on this journey.