News Articles

‘My retirement is upon us,’ Welch tells FBC Daytona Beach

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told church members he will retire Aug. 27 after serving for 32 years as the church’s senior pastor.

Welch made the announcement in two Sunday morning worship services May 28, reading from a letter sent to church members May 25. The co-founder of the FAITH Sunday School evangelism strategy will continue as pastor emeritus in Daytona Beach.

During a Memorial Day observance in the two services, Welch recognized veterans of the Armed Services and their family members and offered a prayer for survivors of those killed while on military duty. Welch, a combat veteran himself, compared their stewardship of life to that of the widow in Mark 12 who gave her all.

In the context of stewardship, Welch, 63, said it was appropriate for him to talk about retirement. Citing the nearness of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, N.C., June 13-14, and the possibility that members of the press would ask him about retirement, Welch said he wanted to get a head start on things.

“I wanted the church family to hear it first … and that’s why I sent out the letter,” Welch said. “The bottom line on it is my retirement is upon us. I intend for Aug. 27 … as the last Sunday I will be pastor of this church.”

Welch told the congregation he chose the date because August will mark the 32nd anniversary of his becoming pastor of the church. He plans to give more details Sunday, June 4, when he preaches a message called “Your Legacy of Leadership.”

With barely an introduction, Welch unfolded the letter sent to church members and strode to the front of the platform to read parts of it aloud.

“I’ve always prayed God would make it clear to me when this time had come. He surely has, and that period in our lives is now. It is the perfect opportunity for the church and us, and I could not imagine a better time,” he said.

Welch said he and his wife, Maudellen, will remain in the church after retirement, including maintaining an office as he becomes pastor emeritus. He said also that he will offer assistance to David Cox, Welch’s co-pastor since 2003 who will become senior pastor.

“My commitment will be to always be far enough away from the church not to cause harm and close enough to Dr. Cox to be a help,” he added.

“Needless to say, these 32 years have been unspeakably happy, blessed and fulfilling. You are our dearest, valued and most trusted friends in all the world. We are thrilled beyond words that it appears the Lord will allow us to continue in ministry with Pastor David and you until we die,” Welch continued reading. “We want this retirement to be a happy, exciting and celebrative time in the church’s life and ours.”

Looking up from the letter, Welch spoke optimistically about the days ahead.

“This church’s future has never been brighter in all its history,” he said.

Tying his announcement to the story of the widow’s gift, Welch said he and Maudellen will “continue to try and carry on to be good and faithful witnesses to the Lord and stewards.

“… We’re in this together,” Welch told the quiet congregation. “The truth of it is you pastor in these times, knowing that the Lord looked on your life, just as sure as He looked on that woman there that day when she made her offering.”

Still speaking matter-of-factly and with no fanfare, Welch finally quipped: “You are wondering, ‘Where are all the fireworks and the calamity and all that?’ Well, trust me. They’ll have a committee for that before it’s over.”

Welch said his intention in life has been to be faithful with what God has given him. Waving aside quantity, he said Scripture talks not of quantity, but of faithfulness.

“Look at the past of this great church, look at the future of this great church and I say this church is like so many others — that there is absolutely no better investment of a person’s life and giving than through the local church where you shape peoples’ lives forever. The thing about it is, it takes a lifetime to do it,” Welch said. “You’ve got to be committed to the course and the task and you have to be willing to sacrificially give of yourself for all of that to happen.”

Later, Welch told Florida Baptist Witness he wanted the morning to be “non-dramatic” and that his June 4 challenge to the church will give practical ways in which the church can continue its strong legacy.

Welch said he believes his retirement should not come as a surprise to anyone, considering the church called Cox as co-pastor three years ago with this transition in mind.

Busy serving for the second year as president of the SBC, Welch said he has not been bothered by thoughts of retirement and is amazed at the peace he feels.

“I’m just sort of processing through right now, but this has been apparent for me,” Welch said. “Being president of the convention has been a tailor-made godsend, and I do believe that, because it’s allowed the church to get accustomed to Dr. David’s leadership and do whatever wiggling around they needed to do and at the same time begin to see that there is life beyond me and they’re going to do fine.”

Admitting he might get a little more emotional about leaving as time goes by, Welch said, “I’m not going away to Alabama or North Carolina or Tennessee or Texas. I’m staying here and going to still be involved here.”

Welch said he has told his leaders that by announcing his retirement he is showing the “greatest and most public confidence” in Cox, and he compared his own willingness to leave the future of the church in God’s hands to how Moses’ mother must have felt when she put him in a basket to float in a river of unknown danger.

“I have confidence in the Lord about this and I have confidence in Dr. Cox and our leadership to the extent that I am putting my wife, my two children and their mates and four of the most precious things I have — my grandchildren — in this basket called First Baptist and I’m pushing it out to the future,” Welch said. “Now, if I did not believe God Almighty is going to do what I believe He’s gonna do, I would never risk my family here. It would be easy to draw them away.”

Expressing confidence in Cox, Welch said he will be available to assist the younger man, but only at his request.

“You might get the idea I’m going to be sitting on the pew on Sunday morning and coming down here each day and reading the paper,” Welch chuckled. “I’ll not be doting around this place, no management at all, macro or micro. I will not have a hand in this church. I will have a distant relationship to Dr. Cox and that distance will be governed by his choice. I’m as close as his cell phone.”

At the same time, Welch said he will enjoy being at church when possible. “My family will be here. My kids will be here. My son and son-in-law are deacons. They’re all in FAITH, they sing in the choir, they teach Sunday School,” he said. “They’re up to their eyeballs.”

Affirming his allegiance to Southern Baptists, Welch said he has had job offers from outside the convention but believes “the SBC is the place” where he can make a difference for the Kingdom of God over the next 10 to 15 years.

“I’ve got plenty to do and I intend to go do it,” Welch said. “I have come to the conclusion after praying and thinking about … where a man can give the best of the rest of his life … and without a doubt the SBC is the place to do it.

“It fully has the greatest possibility of changing a nation and a world than anything else out there, given the Spirit of God at work,” Welch concluded. “I’m staying inside the convention, meaning I will work with pastors and others to continue on the course of ‘Everyone Can!’ and [with that] we will continue to attempt to mobilize the mass to unify for purpose and that purpose will be to reach the world for the Gospel.”

Welch is the author of “You, the Warrior Leader,” “Evangelism Through the Sunday School: A Journey of FAITH” and “The Sacrificed Life.” He has served as a trustee for LifeWay Christian Resources and as a member of the SBC Committee on Resolutions and Committee on Nominations.

A native of Fort Payne, Ala., Welch graduated from Jacksonville (Ala.) State University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a Vietnam War veteran who earned a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal and other awards. Welch and his wife, Maudellen, have two married children, Matthew and Haylee, and four grandchildren.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan