FIRST-PERSON: The honor and privilege of serving

NASHVILLE (BP) – I was reminded this past weekend of these words from Scripture which have moved me for many years. From Isaiah the prophet, “Look to the rock from which you were cut, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” Isaiah 51:1

Unknown to most, my parents never graduated from high school due to World War II. They were ordinary Baptist laypersons who loved the Lord, their church, their pastor, and the work of God across America and the world. Their incredible commitment to the local church and biblical stewardship was always evident before me.

I remember my mom and dad cashing their weekly checks, taking at least 10 percent of it, folding it into each of their billfolds where it would not be accidentally spent, in order to give it to the Lord and His church on Sunday.

Our very small Baptist church was pastored by a bivocational pastor and touched 30 to 40 people weekly. While I remember big Sundays that may have surpassed even 50 people, those were few and far between.

Being raised in Texas exposed me to the great work of God through our local association, and eventually the state convention, and later to the Southern Baptist Convention. These are my roots, and I embrace them fully. This is why I have often remembered those profound words from Isaiah 51:1.

For all these years, I did not run from the rock from which I was cut nor the quarry from which I was dug. I cherish every moment growing up in that small membership church. God used that setting and the people of God to shape my life and ministry in every way.

One of the bivocational pastors in my home church was a man named Ellis Epps. Each Sunday he preached with great passion and excitement. Some Sundays when he preached, I thought he would take off! One of his daughters, Beth, is married to Quin Williams, the executive director of the Wyoming Baptist Convention.

Last year I had the joy to serve in Casper, Wyo., and preach for Quin Beth, and Wyoming Baptists. When I was there, I recalled how Pastor Epps one Sunday night looked at me and said, “Brother Ronnie, I believe God wants you to preach tonight. So get ready!” He said that with one song remaining before I was to stand and preach. I do not remember the message, but I do remember the moment. God blessed the night, and we all rejoiced. Pastor Epps remarked, “Ronnie, you have to always be ready to preach.”

These are my roots, and I will always be thankful for them in every way.

Even in my formative years, our Sovereign God knew that one day He would have me serve in several ways across our SBC family, within a convention of churches where thousands upon thousands are smaller membership churches. I am grateful for each one of them, and I am also grateful for all churches, regardless of their membership size or their attendance.

On Sunday (Oct. 31), my time of service in this specific role will conclude. As my departure is at hand, I leave you with the following:

Four personal thoughts

  1. Thank you, Southern Baptists, for the privilege extended to me to serve as the president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee for the past 28 months. Furthermore, thank you for the honor it was for me to serve as your elected SBC president from 2014-2016.
  2. I love our SBC family and believe in you and the mission that we share together. I do not share in the mission because of a position, but have been and always will be deeply committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
  3. I will always be grateful for Southern Baptists investing in my education at a smaller Baptist college in Texas named Howard Payne University. It was there God brought Jeana and me together in a blessed marriage for the past 44 years. Our Baptist family continued their investment in my education and ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I earned two graduate degrees. To every Southern Baptist church, thank you for investing in me.
  4. I will always cherish as one of the greatest privileges ever extended to me in life, the leadership responsibility to promote the Cooperative Program, our mission offerings, and through collaboration and cooperation, to lead us into a clear, reachable, unified strategic Great Commission vision. Southern Baptists have a vision and a passion to reach every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation.

We love you. We thank you. We pray for you.

Now is the time to lead.

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