WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–In nearly a full house at one of their largest churches, North Carolina Baptists elected Milton A. Hollifield Jr. as their executive director-treasurer during an April 11 special meeting.
Hollifield, 55, will lead North Carolina’s largest religious body, the 1.2 million members of the 4,028 churches of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Hollifield succeeds Jim Royston, who retired in July 2005 to assume the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Mooresville, N.C.
Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem hosted the 1,066 messengers who registered for the meeting, the first special session since the convention was formed in 1830. Another estimated 400 staff, orchestra and choir members and other visitors attended.
Hollifield, executive leader for the convention’s mission growth evangelism group since 1993, is a former pastor in Texas, and Stanley, N.C., and a former director of missions for Gaston (N.C.) Baptist Association. He grew up in Swannanoa, N.C.
In his first address to the North Carolina Baptists he will lead, Hollifield said, “The driving desire of my being, as your leader, is to help North Carolina Baptist churches achieve what God is calling each of them to accomplish in their respective fields of ministry.”
Hollifield, who started his adult career as a funeral director, then a lineman for Carolina Power and Light, is widely regarded for his ability to foster positive relationships among disparate groups. That will be an important trait in a large, diverse convention working through relationship and governance issues with its colleges, entities and other institutions.
As expected, Hollifield was elected without opposition. According to the convention’s bylaws, once Hollifield was nominated by the board of directors the floor was open for other candidates to be considered.
Ed Yount, pastor of Woodlawn Baptist Church in Conover and chairman of the installation committee, helped Hollifield put together a widely inclusive installation service that immediately followed the election.
Participants represented ethnic and gender diversity, entities and institutions, churches and associations and even a representative of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship had a prominent presence.
Declaring that North Carolina Baptists have been blessed with “some of the greatest institutions and agencies in all of Baptist life,” Hollifield said, “It is my desire to keep all of our institutions and agencies related to the work of this convention.”
Just hours earlier, the colleges and Baptist Foundation presented reports to the convention’s executive committee that asked for a different governance relationship with the convention. The institutions are asking for a greater role in naming and electing their trustees. Their requests will be considered again in May.
Hollifield declared North Carolina Baptists are “on mission” and are to “minister, in His name, to the needs all around us where people are hurting, hungry and in need of someone to show them love.”
“There are significant differences among us,” he said, “but I am challenging you to focus on our points of agreement. I believe we will accomplish more united than we will as separate entities.”
Hollifield listed several challenges to the messengers. He challenged North Carolina Baptists to “pray for the salvation of their friends and family members and consistently share the Gospel with love, patience and compassion.”
While acknowledging the needs of established churches, Hollifield also challenged North Carolina Baptists “to recognize that our future will be found in planting new churches all across this state to reach various ethnic and multicultural groups.”
North Carolina Baptists planted 103 new churches in 2005, with staff member Pam Mungo receiving recognition as “Anglo church planter of the year” by the North American Mission Board.
“I want to lead you to pray more,” Hollifield said, “worship God more, love more, cooperate more, minister more and do all we can together to make a difference in this state, across North America and throughout our world.”
Hollifield’s father, Milton Sr., quoted 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear my children walk in the truth.”
“This is one of the highlights of my entire life,” the senior Hollifield said. “Please pray for him every day of your life,” he urged the crowd. “I do. And call his name to God for his responsibility is great. I promise you this, he will serve in the proportion as you pray.”
Hollifield’s son Judson also participated in the installation, singing a solo that brought tears to Hollifield’s eyes and brought the crowd to its feet.
Michael C. Blackwell, president of the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina and the senior institutional executive in the state convention, said, “We can feel today the winds of change in the air and the one who is going to be driving that train of change is Milton A. Hollifield Jr. He is going to be our change agent, but he’s also going to be on the train as the conductor. He will need to be the conductor of trust.”
Blackwell said all the entity leaders share a trait with Hollifield, which is, “If you scratch us, we bleed Baptist blood. We are incurably Baptist. We are proud to be Baptist.” Blackwell told the messengers he believes they will be proud to claim Milton A. Hollifield Jr. as “our executive director.”
Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville and a member of the search committee that brought Hollifield’s name to the board of directors, had five admonitions for Hollifield.
Mathis urged the new executive director-treasurer to “understand the importance of prayer,” and to “stay on your knees, so you can stay on your feet.”
Using Joshua as his example, Mathis said Joshua understood the sovereign work of God. The work of the search committee was easy, Mathis said, because, “We were convinced it was what God wanted us to do. We simply obeyed and followed His will. We had a very diverse committee and yet we made a unanimous decision. I’ve heard people say you were the logical choice, the obvious choice, the practical choice. I want to tell you we believe you were God’s choice.”
Joshua realized he was not always right, Mathis said, and he also realized God can use some other people if He chooses. He urged Hollifield not to do “all the work, all the thinking, all the dreaming. Let us help you and support you.”
Norman Jameson is the executive leader for public relations and resource development with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.