REVISED May 18, 2010.
MILWAUKEE (BP)–Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention, will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention during the June 15-16 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Speaking at a regional Kingdom Growth Conference in Milwaukee on Thursday, May 13, Endel said a group of associational missionaries, pastors and laypeople from western Iowa and eastern Nebraska had asked him to consider allowing his name to be placed in nomination.
“After much prayer and counsel, I do believe the Lord wants me to allow the nomination,” Endel said. “I am much less certain of the outcome. It will be in His hands and, of course, I’m comfortable with that.” Endel said he hopes a candidate from a pioneer area of the convention “will add a new work perspective to the SBC conversation.”
Endel will be nominated by Wes Jones, area missionary/church starter strategist for the Northwest and Southwest Iowa Southern Baptist Associations.
“In March of this year, God began to lay on my heart that Leo would be a good candidate for president of the SBC,” Jones said, calling Endel “a man of God, respected by those he works with, able to work with a diversity of people and having a willingness to help others succeed.”
Jones said Endel did not take the suggestion seriously at first, but when he contacted him again in early May, Endel promised to pray about the possibility. Endel agreed to the nomination on Sunday, May 9, after receiving the unanimous blessing of the MWBC administrative committee and state convention staff.
Endel is the fourth announced nominee for SBC president, joining Georgia pastor Bryant Wright, Alabama pastor Jimmy Jackson and Florida pastor Ted Traylor.
Both Endel and Jones compared his candidacy in a field of prominent pastors from southern states to David taking on Goliath. Endel also identified himself with another biblical warrior who won the battle against great odds by depending on God: Gideon. “My conviction for moving forward with this comes largely from the sermon God was writing in me for the Kingdom Growth Conference, a message about Gideon, titled, ‘From Faithlessness to Fearlessness,'” Endel said. The Kingdom Growth Conference is an annual preaching and teaching event sponsored jointly by Lakeland Baptist Association of Milwaukee and the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention in partnership with the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.
As he preached his sermon at the conference, Endel recounted that during preparation for the message, “I was overcome by a flash of the obvious: This sermon wasn’t just for you; it was primarily for me.
“For many reasons I was reluctant to allow the nomination; I did not see myself in that kind of role and doubted my ability to be a strong voice in a conflicted and confused convention. It would be a David and Goliath style miracle for a new work leader, especially a state convention executive director, to be elected to this role,” he said.
In an interview with Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal, Endel said, “I grew up in Home Mission Board territory [in reference to NAMB’s predecessor]. We were always where Southern Baptists were planting churches, always a part of those churches. Many times my pastor was a Home Mission Board missionary.”
Thus, the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s report — particularly its call to phase out cooperative agreements between the NAMB and conventions such as the one Endel leads — is of keen interest, The Index noted, to someone who was raised, educated and has ministered in an area that will be directly affected.
The MWBC has a 2010 budget of $2.05 which includes about $1.1 million in cooperative agreement funding from the North American Mission Board as well as anticipated Cooperative Program receipts of about $500,000 from its 150 churches and missions. The GCRTF report recommends elimination of cooperative agreements and recovery of this money to NAMB. The state is considered a pioneer or new work state but will forward 13 percent of its CP gifts to SBC national causes this year.
“I’ve heard the concerns from many in this part of the upper Midwest that there needs to be a new work perspective brought into [the GCR] conversation,” Endel said. “It’s not an anti- or pro-GCR sentiment, but the idea that there needs to be some leadership out of a new work area. I feel I can bring that to the table.”
Jones called Endel “a man of God who has respect for the past and a vision for the future and who is not afraid of change, pushing the envelope, thinking outside of the box or allowing things to be taken to the edge.”
Jimmy Barrentine, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, described Endel as “a living example of Christian love. Everything he does is rooted in patience, kindness and humility. He is not self-seeking. Even when he is injured, he does not retaliate or seek retribution. He believes that all people have the potential to be better tomorrow than they are today. He loves those who agree with him. He loves those who do not.”
Mark Elliott, director of missions for the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association in Omaha, called Endel “a man of deep faith and unquestioned integrity.”
“The Southern Baptist Convention is at a crossroads,” Elliott said. “A strong visionary leader who has demonstrated a lifestyle of cooperation will be required for us to choose the right path for the future. Leo is a man of God who is willing to approach others with genuine humility, listen to others with a desire to understand, and speak to others with heartfelt graciousness.”
Endel became the Minnesota-Wisconsin’s third executive director in May 2002 and joined Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rochester. In his previous pastorate, at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, attendance grew from 35 to around 500 during his 11 years there; Southern Hills also sponsored three new churches and increased missions giving while undergoing two building programs. When he left, Southern Hills was giving 13 percent through the Cooperative Program, 3.5 percent to the association and 2 percent to local missions, primarily for church planting in northwest Iowa. He served as president of the Baptist Convention of Iowa in 2001-02, moderator of Northwest Baptist Association from 1993-95 and president of the Sioux City Evangelical Ministers Fellowship from 1992-2000. At the 2008 SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, he delivered the “Grace and Truth” theme interpretation.
Endel’s father was in the Air Force and his family moved from his birthplace of Tampa, Fla., to Anchorage, Alaska, when he was six months old, and then moved 11 more times before his high school graduation. Most of those years the family attended small Southern Baptist churches near air bases in the upper Midwest, Alaska and the Philippines.
Endel holds a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a bachelor of science in business administration from Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. He currently is a doctoral student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
Information from the 2009 Annual Church Profile for Emmanuel Baptist Church lists 6 baptisms and primary worship service attendance of 137. The church gave $35,698, or 11.62 percent, through the Cooperative Program from total undesignated receipts of $281,291. According to the ACP, the church also received $4,622 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and $3,460 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. ACP data for 2002, the year Endel joined Emmanuel, shows the church gave $29,372 through the Cooperative Program, or 14 percent of $209,799 in undesignated gifts.
Endel and his wife Sarah have two daughters, Rachel, 20, and Lydia, 18.
David Williams is editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist.