SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (BP)–Former missionary Avery Willis will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the SBC’s June 10-11 annual meeting in Indianapolis, John Marshall, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., announced May 6.
Willis is among four announced nominees for the post, joining Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga.; Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.; and William L. (Bill) Wagner, a former Southern Baptist missionary and seminary professor and current president of Olivet University International in San Francisco.
Willis, perhaps best known for creating MasterLife discipleship materials while serving as the president of the Indonesian Baptist Theological Seminary in Semarang, Indonesia, was first commissioned an International Mission Board missionary to Indonesia, along with his wife, Shirley, in 1964. He worked as an evangelist and church developer for six years before transferring to the seminary in Semarang, where he served on faculty for two years and as president for six years.
During his service there, the Southeast Asian nation experienced a revival in which 2 million people gave their hearts to Christ. The large number of converts prompted Willis to pioneer innovative strategies for extension education and led the way in developing the prototype for what would become the MasterLife disciplining process. During the next 15 years as head of the adult discipleship department at LifeWay Christian Resources, MasterLife was translated into more than 50 languages and used in more than 100 countries.
“I don’t know of anyone more loved and respected than Avery Willis,” Marshall said. “When someone first approached me about this, I thought, good grief why have we waited this long to do this? Creating MasterLife alone, because there is nothing quite like it, is enough for Southern Baptists to bestow this honor on Avery, but there is more. I’m glad that finally, in his retirement years, we have the opportunity to give Avery this honor.”
Willis left LifeWay in 1994 to become the International Mission Board’s senior vice president of overseas operations during a time of expansion and strategy changes in the Southern Baptist missionary endeavor. All totaled, Willis spent 25 years in missionary service, retiring from the IMB in February 2004.
“We could not overstate the significance of Avery’s leadership as senior vice president of overseas operations,” IMB President Jerry Rankin said at Willis’ retirement. “When Avery came to that position 10 years ago, we had just reported 2,000 new churches started around the world; this past year we reported 16,000 new churches. Ten years ago, we had rejoiced in reaching 251,000 new believers baptized, but this past year the reports exceeded half a million new believers, more than twice as many.”
Born in Lepanto, Ark., Willis served as pastor of three churches in Oklahoma and Texas before he and his wife began their missionary service. In addition to MasterLife, Willis served as associate editor of the Disciple’s Study Bible and either wrote or co-wrote nine other books including “On Mission with God,” a book he authored with a friend, Henry Blackaby. He is currently the executive director of the International Orality Network on the board of Table 71, a strategic alliance of evangelical mission agencies.
Willis holds a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Okla., a master of divinity degree and a doctorate in theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. He and his wife live in Bella Vista, Ark. They have five children and 16 grandchildren.
Information from the 2007 Annual Church Profile for the congregation of which Willis is a member, Bella Vista (Ark.) Baptist Church, lists 18 baptisms and primary worship service attendance of 450. The church gave $119,460 through the Cooperative Program in 2007 according to the ACP, but the records did not indicate the church’s undesignated receipts. Pastor Michael McCauley told Baptist Press that the church has provided updated information for the ACP, listing $712,485.73 in undesignated receipts, $119,225 in gifts through the CP and a CP percentage of 16.73 percent. The church also received $24,345 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and $8,408 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
Based on reporting by Don Hinkle, editor of The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, and Mark Kelly, an assistant editor at Baptist Press.