MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Trustees of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary elected President William O. Crews to the transition post of chancellor and charged the board’s executive committee with task of recommending a new president for the 59-year-old institution.
Crews, 67, set the process for naming a new president in motion during the board’s semiannual meeting in Mill Valley, Calif., Oct. 14 in an effort to provide leadership continuity for the future.
The longest-tenured of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminary presidents, Crews was elected to lead Golden Gate in 1986.
“[This] will allow a seamless transfer of responsibilities without the loss of a single step in our pursuit of the dream God has given us,” Crews said.
Although officially vacating the office of the president after 17 years of service and taking up the post of chancellor, Crews will maintain the duties of president and chief executive until a new leader is elected and in place, officials noted.
“I will continue to give leadership to the institution until a new president is elected and installed,” he told the board. “I will then do all I can to see that any influence I might have is transferred to the person God has already chosen to be our new leader.”
Crews and board leaders indicated starting the process now will allow the seminary to take the time necessary to conduct a thorough search before his retirement at age 70.
“We have the time to make an informed decision, to pray about and find God’s man for this place,” said John Funk, a California trustee and executive committee member who two years ago led trustees in adopting a set of procedures outlining presidential succession.
“I chose to start this process based solely on what I believe to be God’s will for my life and for the life of this seminary,” Crews told trustees. “There has been no pressure coming from secret meetings in faraway places but solely a decision on my part as to what is best for the seminary and my family.
“It should also become apparent that I will not be disappearing from the scene right away,” he added. “There are a number of issues vital to the future of the seminary which demand a continuity of leadership.”
Once a new president is named, Crews will serve until retirement in a more typical chancellor role, such as assisting the new president with fundraising, constituent development and planning.
“Now is not the time to issue strong statements of proclamation and appreciation, because his career is not done yet and he has plenty of work ahead of him,” said trustee chairman Gary Black of Novato, Calif. “What Dr. Crews has done, in my view, is put the seminary first, ahead of his own interest.”
Black did emphasize the importance of trustees praying for one another during the search process, noting, “This is the biggest decision we will ever make.”
The executive committee met Oct. 15 to determine initial steps for the search. Although no decision was available by press time, the committee was expected to retain an executive search firm to assist with developing a presidential profile and other administrative matters related to the search process.
Executive committee members noted the transition policy also allowed the group to form an advisory group of representatives from several important seminary constituent groups.
Besides Black, a retired insurance executive, and Funk, a healthcare industry consultant from Westlake Village, Calif., executive committee members are Ed Adams, a director of missions from Hesperia, Calif.; Bob Fargarson, an attorney from Brownsville, Tenn.; Janie Finlay, a homemaker from Houston, Texas; David Gill, a pastor from Antioch, Calif.; Calvin Kelly, a pastor from Birmingham, Ala.; E.W. McCall Sr., a pastor from La Puenta, Calif.; Joe Panter, a Christian businessman from Paradise Valley, Ariz.; and Bob Swift, a pastor from Mayfield, Ky.
“I feel good about what God has done and where we are,” Crews said. “I love this seminary and intend to continue to give it my wholehearted support and devotion.”
Golden Gate, the only denominational entity based in the western United States, operates its residential campus near San Francisco and its four regional campuses in southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado.
Several executive directors from Baptist conventions in the western states attended the trustee meeting to show support for the partnership between the seminary and their respective ministry regions.
“Golden Gate has forged a leadership training partnership with western states which has become central to accomplishing our shared vision for reaching the West with the Gospel,” said Jeff Iorg, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention. “A seamless transition of leadership for the seminary will ensure no loss of momentum in our shared mission.”
Seminary trustees elected Crews as the sixth president of the West Coast school in the fall of 1986, during a time of heightened tensions in the Southern Baptist Convention between so-called “moderates” and “conservatives.” He was among the first of the SBC seminary presidents elected after the more conservative group garnered a majority on denominational boards.
Early on, Crews established several markers for his administration. Among them, he said, was keeping the seminary within the “mainstream theological beliefs” of Southern Baptist life.
“We have successfully moved through the storms seminaries have faced in the latter half of the 20th century,” Crews said. “We have done that in a fashion that has focused on our mission and not engaged in internal battles that could have distracted us from that mission.”
Crews lauded the seminary’s board members for their willingness to “put the needs of the seminary and its mission in the western United States above individual agendas.” Crews noted he had worked with 130 different trustees during the last 17 years of his administration.
“I have great faith in the board and in the leadership of the board,” Crews said. “I am confident they will choose the right leader and that he will take the seminary to the next level.”
Iorg echoed the importance of the board and seminary administration working together.
“Bill Crews has once again shown selfless leadership in setting aside personal goals to facilitate a transition strategy that will strengthen Golden Gate Seminary now and in the future,” Iorg said. “He and the trustees seem unified on maintaining the vision of the seminary as paramount even during transition.”
Before becoming Golden Gate’s president, Crews was pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif. He had been serving as a California trustee of the seminary and was named to the board’s presidential search committee. Twice his name was placed on the list of potential candidates but he had withdrawn his name, noting his call to serve as a pastor. After the third time his name was placed on the search committee’s list and several trustees urged his nomination, he resigned from the search committee and agreed to be interviewed for the post.
Crews said earlier the search committee chose him for two reasons.
“First, they felt that we needed somebody from the West, someone who was out here already, or at least who would come and stay,” he said. “The two previous presidents had come from Texas and Mississippi and returned after a few years, and the committee felt the seminary could not take that kind of transition again.
“The second reason was they felt the president needed to be a pastor who understood the West and could relate the seminary to the churches,” he said. “Having ministered out here for 20 years, they felt I could do that.”
Crews and his wife, Jo Ann, have one son and are members of BayMarin Community Church of San Rafael, Calif.
Crews earned his undergraduate degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas; his bachelor of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and his doctor of ministry from Golden Gate. Hardin-Simmons and California Baptist University in Riverside additionally have recognized him with honorary degrees.
After early pastorates in Texas, Crews served as pastor of two churches in the Pacific Northwest and then as director of communications for the Northwest Baptist Convention and editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness. He went to the Magnolia Avenue church from there.