ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BP)–“A person has to have a sense of call here,” said David Baldwin, executive director of the Alaska Baptist Convention, who has announced plans to retire Dec. 31 after 10 years in the role.
“This is a conservative place when it comes to the Bible,” Baldwin said. “As far as the society goes, it’s a very liberal place, but our churches are conservative.
“So you have to remember those kinds of things. It is multicultural. We have a number of language churches here, all across our state.
“It’s a great place, and that’s why we intend on staying and trying to do what we can,” said Baldwin of his post-retirement plans.
A committee has been formed to search for his successor, who ideally would be in place for a transition period with Baldwin.
Baldwin and his wife were appointed missionaries to Alaska in 1981 by the then-Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board, and he served for six years as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Fairbanks until becoming director of missions for the Tanana Valley Baptist Association in Alaska’s interior for 14 years.
Looking back on a decade as executive director, Baldwin said most of his accomplishments were behind the scenes.
“We’ve done a lot of administrative stuff here, since I’ve been here, redoing legal documents — personnel policies, reserve funds, the financial structure, the whole thing,” he told Baptist Press.
“That kind of stuff is stuff that you don’t see, which every exec has to deal with, but some places are not as formidable as others. We’ve planted churches, we’ve lost churches. Here we do stuff and we celebrate and we go on,” Baldwin said.
One highlight of his leadership has been leading the convention to financial stability despite a national economic crisis.
“One of the things is that we have not been impacted yet much like California, Florida, Nevada, those places where they’ve really had a major downturn,” Baldwin said.
“We’ve had a little bit, but our churches have stayed with it, and we’re trying to determine if maybe it’s because we have spent so much time in these last 10 years really trying to talk to our people about stewardship.
“When we talk about stewardship, we’re not talking about money. Stewardship is a spiritual problem,” Baldwin said. “So we’ve been trying to figure out, is it because we have stayed in that arena so much, is that’s what holding us, or is there something else? It’s not a tangible thing we can look out there and say this is what happened. But we’re hoping that’s what the deal is.
“We have really been blessed to be in good financial shape, and we know that all it takes is a major downturn of the economy here and our reserves will come into play to help hold it in the road,” he said.
After retiring, Baldwin said he would like to continue helping the state convention in the areas of stewardship and estate planning. In Alaska, the executive director of the convention also serves as executive director of the convention’s foundation.
“I have the philosophy that if I can help people in the local church, then with the way our system is set up, it will naturally impact the association, the state convention and the SBC,” Baldwin said. “That’s kind of what I’m hoping to be able to do in retirement, whatever that means.”
Also in retirement, Baldwin plans to move back to Fairbanks to live near his son, daughter-in-law and three grandsons.
“And then I’m going to spend the coldest part of winter in Mississippi with our daughter and her husband and grandchildren there,” he said.
Regarding the search for his successor, Baldwin said a sense of call is imperative “whether you’re a pastor, a missionary, an executive director or what — because of the environment of Alaska, the long winters, the 24 hours of daylight in the summer, the extreme cold. There are parts of our state that are warm in the summertime, but you have to respect that environment.
“You have to also have a real sense of flexibility. Our churches are in constant change. We are a very mobile, cross-cultural state, so people come and go because of our military and our oil. There’s a natural migration that takes place from smaller communities to Anchorage and Fairbanks, the larger communities,” he said.
Some Southern Baptist churches in Alaska have longtime members who have helped build the church and have invested in the community, but in most churches, the founders helped plant the congregation and then moved on.
“So you have an influx of people coming in who may or may not have been discipled, and we have a real challenge in encouraging our pastors and churches to really disciple folks,” Baldwin said. “The person who comes to the position where I am, they really have to respect that environment. In my opinion, they’ve got to have that sense of call. They’ve got to have that flexibility. They’ve got to know who they are.
Ed Gregory, chairman of the executive director search committee, told BP they are looking for a godly person of prayer who is missions-minded and has a good understanding of cross-cultural ministry as well as strong leadership and administrative skills.
The candidate, Gregory said, also should have good relational skills including compassion and humility, and should have significant pastoral or other ministry experience. Familiarity with financial management is important, he said, as are good oral and written communication skills.
“Most importantly, he must be God’s person for the job,” Gregory said.
Alaska’s executive director is responsible for managing the convention’s programs, properties and personnel according to the organization’s policies. He supervises convention staff, appropriates expenditures, coordinates programs and maintains relationships with local churches, associations and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Gregory, pastor of First Baptist Church in Anchorage, said some of the challenges of serving in Alaska are the fact that it is far removed from the Bible Belt and it’s “very much a cross-cultural environment.”
“Though there is a longstanding convention organization, there is still much pioneer work to be done, especially in the bush villages of the state,” Gregory said. “The state is so large geographically, and there are so many remote areas accessible only by air and/or seasonally by water.”
A leader must be able to discover ways to be effective and efficient with limited resources, he said.
At the same time, Gregory noted several high points of serving in Alaska, including the fact that the convention already has “a great staff in place,” there will be a positive transition environment for a new executive director, and there is good fellowship among pastors and leaders.
The state provides tremendous opportunity for cutting-edge missions in North America, and the convention has several missions partners.
“Alaska is a challenging but beautiful place to live,” Gregory said.
Resumes may be submitted by mail to the Executive Director Search Committee, attention Ed Gregory, 1100 West 10th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501, or by e-mail to [email protected] by April 15. The committee requests a list of references as well as an indication of permission received if submitting a resume on behalf of another person.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.