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God used plenty of career paths to prepare him for children’s agency

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–The classroom looked like any other in the small town on an ordinary day. But this day would leave a lasting impression on the fourth-grade teacher.
Blanche Owens asked the students in her Daisy Elementary School class in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., if they would like to share with the class, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Nine-year-old Bryant Millsaps quickly raised his hand and was given permission to speak. More than 40 years later, Owens still remembers the conviction in the boy’s answer. “I want to be a missionary.”
Bryant Millsaps, who was recently named the sixth president in the 108-year history of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, received a card recounting that moment from his former grade-school teacher who had read the announcement of his selection in her local paper.
“I knew Bryant would be involved in a daily ministry at some point in his life. I just never dreamed that it would involve such an interesting and challenging path for him,” said Owens, who still lives in the small community of Soddy-Daisy.
Millsaps’ journey was different from that of most persons called to full-time Christian service. Before his ordination to the ministry earlier this year, his career had included brief stints in teaching, sales and university administration before moving to such notable government positions as Tennessee secretary of state, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and chief clerk of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
“I never dreamed that, at each of these places of service, God was preparing me for this time in my life,” Millsaps reflected recently. “He has used each opportunity as a place to train me and equip me to serve him.”
Millsaps, assistant to the president at Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes since January 1998, will assume the office of president effective Jan. 1, following the retirement of TBCH President/Treasurer Gerald L. Stow.
Millsaps believes his call to Christian service came as a young boy but confesses that he spent years traveling other roads. “As I look back now, I know I was running from [God],” he said, “but he used all of my life’s experiences to prepare me for this challenging time in ministry.”
The president-elect’s familiarity with the roads and communities of Tennessee will be an asset as he travels the state seeking to serve God instead of his own political career as he did in the past. Thirteen Tennessee communities from Memphis to Elizabethton are home to a Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes facility or service.
“It is so refreshing to wake up each morning knowing that God is using my experiences to minister to children — children whose lives are in turmoil and who probably would never learn about Jesus were it not for the intervention of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, Millsaps said.
Millsaps, who holds a doctorate in higher education administration from Vanderbilt University’s George Peabody College in Nashville, was 50 years old when he surrendered to full-time ministry. Seeking his pastor’s advice, he wondered openly about what God could possibly do with a 50-year-old former politician.
Jerry Sutton, Millsaps’ pastor at Nashville’s Two Rivers Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference, told him not be concerned about what, where and why questions, and reminded him of how Abraham had surrendered to God’s service without having a clue about where he was going.
“Dr. Sutton told me to focus on getting prepared to serve and that the Lord would add the other pieces of the puzzle as he knew I was ready to handle them,” Millsaps recounted. “That has proven to be some of the best advice I have received.”
Reflecting on the unorthodox path to ministry he has followed, Millsaps maintains an expectant attitude, noting, “It is never too late to be obedient to God.
“God calls all of us to minister and serve him; some of us do it vocationally while others minister as an avocation. Either way, as long as we live and breathe, we are of value to God and can be used by him to accomplish his purpose in the lives of his people. “My only regret is that I waited so long to surrender my life fully to him,” Millsaps said. “If he can use a man like me, he can use anybody.”

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  • Kim Burke