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Mont. Baptists seek visionary strategist

BILLINGS, Mont. (BP)–As the Montana Southern Baptist Convention increasingly contributes to God’s work in the West, its members are seeking a new leader to serve as their executive director-treasurer.

“We’re looking for someone to provide supervision to our state staff with vision and integrity,” said Darwin Scofield, president of the convention and pastor of Libby Baptist Church in northwest Montana. “[It’s] what we would call the strategist, and this entails providing visionary leadership and support for the state convention to fulfill its mission.”

That mission, Scofield said, includes starting and growing healthy churches, raising up indigenous leadership in a frontier state in Southern Baptist work, and becoming engaged in the mission fields of Montana and abroad.

“We had more people go out of state — around the world and to other parts of the country — on mission last year than ever before. We sent hundreds of people to hurricane relief,” Scofield said. “Normally Montana was a beneficiary of mission groups that would come to help us, but Montana has become increasingly mission-minded abroad” as well as “understanding the mission field of Montana itself.”

Montana has 135 churches and six associations, so church planting is a priority, Scofield said. One of the convention’s church planting goals is to achieve double-digit growth annually in the number of churches they launch.

Montana is mostly rural and sparsely populated with small towns, but the convention is starting to look toward the state’s growing metropolitan areas as places to plant churches. For example, Bozeman is home to Montana State University and is one of the fastest growing parts of the state, so two of the stronger churches in the Montana convention have partnered to start a church there.

Montana Baptists also have started churches on some of the state’s seven Indian reservations, and Scofield said they currently have four Bible studies on reservations that have the potential to become churches.

Probably the greatest challenge for ministry in Montana is logistics, Scofield said, because the state is so large geographically.

“From the northwest corner of Montana to the southeast corner of Montana is farther than from the southeast corner of Montana to Texas,” he said. “For instance, I live in the far northwest corner, and when I travel to our state building in Billings for executive board meetings, it’s 550 miles one way.”

But the convention staff is encouraged by a new initiative to use technology for training and communicating with church leaders. High-speed Internet is available in most of the state, Scofield said, and an increasing number of pastors are getting online.

Candidates for the state convention’s executive director must show strong administrative skills in providing financial direction and leadership in developing and implementing goals relevant to Montana’s ministry context, Scofield said.

And the new leader will need a sure call, if times ever arise when Montana’s challenges prompt the temptation to think about leaving the state.

“The reputation that Montana enjoys as a place of natural beauty and natural resources and wide opens spaces, the mystique that comes with Native American work and cowboys or ranch life and things like that, does tend to appeal to people,” he said. “But it won’t keep them. For instance, over the years many have come to Montana on that premise alone, with the idea that they could just come and serve in a beautiful place like this and it will work. But you’ve got to be called to Montana because pretty soon the hunting and the fishing wears off.”

Scofield, a Florida native, was a pastor in Alabama for seven years before God led him to Montana. Though he had developed an interest in Montana during his teenage years, it took some time for God to straighten out his priorities and help him see the state in the context of ministry.

After a family mission trip to Montana 14 years ago, Libby Baptist asked Scofield to serve on their staff. Twenty months later, the pastor resigned and Scofield was called as pastor. The church, which was started in 1965, averages 80 or 90 people each Sunday.

“I think one of the things that make Montana such a special place for me is the ministry is so fresh,” Scofield said. “People here have no preconceived ideas about Southern Baptists or even Christianity for the most part, so it’s not uncommon to introduce someone to the Easter story or the Christmas story for the very first time. That is probably what helps to keep me here.”

Montana Baptists, Scofield said, must stretch their resources and personnel farther than typical churches in the Bible Belt. For instance, his church was without a pianist for eight months.

“The first two or three years it was really, really hard for me because I left a church ministry field where I could get anything I wanted,” Scofield said. “But in Montana, it was not that way. So we learn how to do a lot more with a lot less, and in my opinion make a lot more impact. It requires a real dependence upon the Lord. That’s always a good thing, of course, but sometimes we have to be forced there.”

As Montana Baptists look to the future, Scofield said the churches are positioned to do some great work with God in reaching the thousands who don’t know Christ in their state.

“There was a day in Montana where Southern Baptist churches were viewed more with suspicion than credibility. That day has changed,” he said. “Everything that I have seen and observed as I’ve traveled across the state — as a whole — seems to indicate that our churches are becoming more credible in their communities.

“The reason is the churches take the Great Commission seriously and care about the people, and they’re willing to invest in their communities and around the world,” Scofield added. “Also we’ve had healthy partnerships such as one with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, which we’ve enjoyed for two years now. They’ve been invaluable.”

One month before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, the Montana convention obtained its first disaster relief feeding unit. The timing made it so that they were ready to roll when they were needed miles from home.

“That has been an instrumental component in establishing the credibility of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention in Montana and around the country, to be able to give back,” Scofield said.
The search committee for executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention is accepting applications until Aug. 15. All correspondence to the committee should be electronic, with referrals and resumes sent to [email protected].

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  • Erin Roach