BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (BP) – Roger Spradlin, a California pastor influential in Southern Baptist doctrinal beliefs and practice, died Sunday (Nov. 5). He was 68.
The cause of death was inoperable bile duct cancer diagnosed in October 2022, longtime co-senior pastor Phil Neighbors told Baptist Press.
Spradlin had been co-senior pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield since its launch in 1985 until his retirement in February. Neighbors, a lifelong friend, retired in January 2022. The congregation transitioned to new co-senior pastors on Feb. 5: Spradlin’s son Andrew and Brian Busby.
Spradlin served on the study committee that drafted the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, adopted by messengers at that year’s SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. He was one of 15 members of the committee chaired by the late Adrian Rogers, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.
In 2019, Spradlin was named to the repurposed Credentials Committee created at the SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala. Messengers amended the SBC’s Bylaws to make the Credentials Committee a standing committee for inquiries and recommendations regarding instances of sexual abuse, racism or other issues that could call a church’s relationship with the SBC into question.
In the SBC, Spradlin also served as chairman of the Executive Committee from 2010-2012 and chairman of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees, 1999-2001, and he delivered the convention sermon at the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
In California, he was president of the state convention from 1997-1999; chairman of its Executive Board from 1995-1997 and the Order of Business Committee from 1992-1994.
Pete Ramirez, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention, described Spradlin as “an influential and loved leader in our state. His commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission has been exemplary. The commitment to lead Valley Baptist to be a top giver to the Cooperative Program in the state has been a blessing to our convention family. His willingness to host our annual meeting in their building multiple times demonstrates his support for the convention.”
Ramirez, who pastored in California for more than 25 years before joining the CSBC staff in 2017, recalled “how Pastor Roger treated me when I was a young pastor. We served on a special committee that was appointed by the president of the convention. I had questions regarding a statement in the Baptist Faith and Message. He took the time to talk to me and explain to me what I needed clarity on. He showed me that he is a pastor who cares.”
Before his co-pastorate in Bakersfield, Spradlin was Baptist Student Union director at California State University, Bakersfield in 1977 and pastor of Panama Baptist Church in Bakersfield, 1978-1980; First Baptist Church in Abbott, Texas, 1981-1983; and First Baptist in Oildale outside of Bakersfield, 1984-1985.
Spradlin earned a master’s degree in biblical studies from Criswell College in Dallas in 1983, graduating summa cum laude, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1989. He received a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 2002, writing his dissertation on “A Study of the Effect of Doctrinal Preaching Based Upon the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message at Valley Baptist Church, Bakersfield, Calif.”
He was a 1977 graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University, serving as minister of youth at Canadian Heights Baptist Church in Yukon, Okla., from 1974-1976.
‘Boys on the farm’
In southwest Oklahoma, Neighbors recounted, “We grew up as boys on the farm, about four or five miles apart. … I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Roger.”
As schoolmates, they rededicated their lives to Christ at the conclusion of a youth week at Oklahoma Baptists’ Falls Creek Conference Center in the summer of 1972.
Returning home, they gave their testimonies at their church in the small town of Granite, Okla. “Our pastor had enough wisdom to understand that God was at work, and he just called for a spontaneous revival meeting,” Neighbors said. It spanned a week, sparking dozens of professions of faith.
It was during the 1970s Jesus Movement. “That was a move of God and we didn’t even know we were in the midst of it,” Neighbors said. “We just kind of thought this is normative, I guess. God was at work in a mighty way, everywhere during those days. People were being saved and lives were being changed.”
Spradlin and Neighbors enrolled at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee and after graduation entered Criswell College in Dallas. In a chapel service, a single sentence from the chapel speaker caught their attention: “The next great churches are going to be built in California.”
“That stayed in our minds, we talked about it a lot … if he was trying to tell students, ‘Get out of the Bible Belt, get out of Dallas, get out of Texas, get out of Oklahoma,” Neighbors said. The moment left the two friends ready “to pack up our bags” for California, settling on Bakersfield, about two hours north of Los Angeles.
In the mid-1980s, Spradlin, at First Baptist Oildale, and another Bakersfield pastor, Mike Miller, at Hillcrest Baptist, gained a vision for a regional campus and for intensified Hispanic ministry in the city. The two churches merged as the 365 members became Valley Baptist Church at the Oildale site in December 1985 and Hillcrest became the hub for Hispanic outreach. Neighbors, who was at nearby First Baptist in Tehachapi, soon joined as the third co-pastor. Miller subsequently became the California convention’s church growth division director and, later, director of Lifeway Christian Resources’ church leadership group based in Nashville, Tenn.
Relocating to a 15-acre tract in the late 1990s, Valley Baptist opened a new facility with a 2,000-seat auditorium, now with three Sunday services and 12 additional acres. The church has three other campuses across Bakersfield, with services in four languages, and has been involved in more than 20 church plants and replanting projects.
Preaching: tough and tender
In his 2017 convention sermon, Spradlin noted, “Even with all of the great resources of the SBC, we cannot save the smallest child, put a marriage back together, or make a man a better dad … but Jesus in a moment can change a person’s life … and transform someone on their way to hell to be on their way to heaven.”
If someone feels “worse after a sermon,” Spradlin said in a message from 2 Timothy 4:1-5, “that’s not always bad. … Preaching must be tough, but it should also be tender. … If we rebuke and do not encourage, we add to people’s burden. If we encourage and never rebuke, we become complicit in our culture’s sin. There must always be a balance between the toughness of truth and the tenderness of grace.”
Neighbors described Spradlin as “a committed expositor, one of the purest expositors you’d ever hear. Every once in a while you’ve got to address the congregation on issues but every Sunday it was like, ‘Today we’re in John, chapter one, verses 1 through 15.’ Then the next Sunday, ‘We’re in verses 16 through 25.’
“We’ve built the church on expository preaching, small groups and intentional evangelism and missions,” Neighbors said.
In a Feb. 5, 2023, “Co-Senior Pastor Inauguration,” Spradlin and Neighbors washed the feet of Andrew Spradlin and Brian Busby reflecting the example of Jesus with his disciples.
Ramirez told Baptist Press, “Watching in person the passing of the leadership of Valley Baptist Church to the new co-pastors was so emotional. When Pastor Roger washed and then kissed the foot of his son Andrew I saw the love and servant heart of this servant of God.”
Both Andrew Spradlin and Brian Busby hold master of divinity degrees from Southern Seminary. Busby was invited to the church in 2001 as a student at California State University, Bakersfield, and subsequently was baptized, ordained and married there.
Much of the reason Valley Baptist Church exists, Roger Spradlin said to the audience, is “for people that aren’t even here tonight. … Our city is filled with broken people. They’re not in anyone’s church. They’re living lives of desperation, lives of brokenness. They’re living lives with no contentment or peace and no hope. And then one day someone in this room will invite them and they will come, and they will walk down an aisle like this and their life will be forever changed. … That’s what the Great Commission is about.”
And, referencing his illness, Spradlin said, “Someday some of you will hear that my voice has been silenced by disease or by death. When you hear that, don’t believe it. I’ve read the end of the Book.”
Spradlin is survived by his wife Virginia in 46 years of marriage, sons Matthew and Andrew, a daughter, Faith, and 10 grandchildren.
For a video of Spradlin explaining faith in Christ, click here.