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New executive director elected by Missouri board

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–James L. “Jim” Hill, pastor of South County Baptist Church in St. Louis, is the new executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, effective Jan. 1.
The MBC executive board elected Hill Nov. 24 in a special called meeting at the Baptist Building in Jefferson City. The vote among the 45 board members and MBC officers present was 37 (82.2 percent) in favor of Hill and 8 against.
Upon being notified of the outcome, Hill said, “I will accept your invitation to be your executive director.” Afterward he was introduced to executive board staff.
Hill will earn an annual salary of $90,000. Benefits will include medical insurance for dependents and four weeks of vacation a year.
Hill’s election followed an hour-and-15-minute session during which board members discussed the candidate and related issues, and a one-hour session during which the board was free to question Hill. Both sessions were closed.
The Missouri Baptist Word & Way newsjournal had two representatives present under background rules, meaning board members were free to question the candidate without their questions being attributed to them in print.
Search committee chairman Dalton Ham of Lake Ozark told the board that Hill’s brother Drew Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lamar, and also an executive board and search committee member, had suggested Jim Hill for the executive director position. After Jim Hill was interviewed twice, Drew Hill stepped away from the process and did not take part in a third interview or a vote among search committee members.
Ham said seven of the eight remaining members voted to recommend Jim Hill. The eighth abstained, Ham said, on grounds that he did not feel God drawing him toward the nominee. The single committee member who abstained was not identified.
Executive board members were not told officially who the candidate was until the meeting was under way. Ham explained the name was withheld for practical reasons. Hill wanted to share the situation with the South County congregation when he felt right about it; he told them the night before he was elected.
Search committee member John Tindel of Cabool said Hill brought four highly desirable attributes to the job: leadership ability, a strong spiritual life, administrative skills and a secure marriage. Tindel called Hill an agent of change with a concern for the lost. “I’m ready to follow this man anywhere he wants me to go,” Tindel said.
Search committee member Doyle Sager, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, said, “We believe we have a candidate who is apolitical in every sense of the word.” South County church has started three mission congregations, Sager noted.
Raising a point that became the subject of some discussion, Sager noted South County church gives one-fourth of 1 percent of its budget to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He explained some members of the church wanted to give to CBF. Hill recommended the creation of a 16-member committee to study the issue, and the committee recommended designating .25 percent of budget to CBF.
When Hill addressed the board, he said the process had the effect of educating church members about the Cooperative Program at the same time it dealt with CBF. “In a wonderful way, from my perspective, that ended the controversy at South County church.” The church allocates 20 percent of its budget to missions, Hill said in response to a question, with 7 percent going to Cooperative Program. In the 1996 MBC giving report, the church ranked in the top 100 Missouri Baptist churches in total and per capita support of the Cooperative Program.
“I have no CBF agenda,” Hill said. “In fact, in Missouri Baptist life, I would hope someday that we’d all be together as we were when I was growing up.”
In response to a suggestion the vote be delayed, Ham pointed out the board had been commissioned to do the work of investigating and finding someone for the job. Board members and Baptists across the state have been praying for the search committee, Ham added. He asked the full board go ahead and vote, “that those prayers not be for naught.”
Questions raised to Hill by the full board included the following subjects:
— Woman’s Missionary Union. Hill said WMU is an active, valued part of South County church. Calling himself an honorary member of WMU, Hill said, “I was an RA (Royal Ambassador) when WMU still had it.”
— the greatest challenge facing Missouri Baptists. “To realize that we are not reaching our state for Christ.” Hill pointed out there are 40,000 fewer people in Bible study in Missouri Baptist churches than there were 30 years ago, and three-fourths of churches are either not growing or are declining. Also, not enough churches are placed where most of the people live.
— controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention. Hill recalled being on staff of the Home Mission Board during a time of much conflict. He said he went from anger at the negative effect on missions work, to depression, to realizing that God was bigger than the fight.
“I am grateful we have not been embroiled on this at a (state) level that some have been on the national level.”
— doctrine and the Bible. “For me, the fundamentals of the faith have always been the Baptist Faith and Message (confessional statement). It’s what I grew up studying, doctrinally. I think the Scripture is the inspired, infallible, completely trustworthy Word of God. Every bit of it. I preach it that way.”
Later, asked about inerrancy, Hill replied, “My preference is not to use the word inerrancy just because it’s such a loaded word.” This does not mean he has any less respect for or confidence in God’s Word, he added.
— leadership style. “I am a consensus builder.” His first objective as executive director would be to find out what’s happening — what needs doing. “But I want to go somewhere. I’m not a maintenance person.”
— communication. Hill said Baptists tend to talk with one another through motions and resolutions in their annual meetings. “That’s not the best way to do it.” A better way, he said, would be to meet beforehand and decide on things Baptists agree on.
— homosexuality. “I think homosexuality is a sin,” Hill said, noting it is a complicated issue, and churches tend to be more prone to take a stand against it than to minister to those who practice it.
“Scripture takes a clear stand against it — and I do.”
— abortion. Hill said abortion is wrong, though he said he was not knowledgeable enough to discuss possible exceptions to save the life of a mother. What is needed is better law, and better ministries to those affected by unwanted, unplanned pregnancies.
— women in ministry. I think God calls women to ministry, Hill said. The minister of education for the church he serves is a non-ordained woman. The church constitution allows women deacons, but the church has yet to name one. Hill said he was not sure ordination as practiced by most Baptists is as biblical as it is traditional.
Hill became the first pastor of South County church in 1990. Previously he was director of the field services department of the church extension division of the Home Mission Board, now the North American Mission Board.
He earlier served with the HMB as director of church extension and language missions for Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association. He and his wife, Bettie Jo, were appointed HMB home missionaries. Hill’s pastorates in Missouri include Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Chilhowee; Memorial Baptist Church, Nelson; First Baptist Church, Iberia; and Duncan Road Chapel, Blue Springs.
A native of Maryville, Hill earned a bachelor’s degree from Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar. He also holds master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City. The Hills have three sons: James, 21; Joseph, 20; and Joshua, 10.
As is his brother, Drew, Hill’s sister-in-law, Janet Hill of Gladstone, also is a member of the convention’s executive board, as is his uncle, Jack Hill of St. Louis. Jack Hill was not present for the Nov. 24 meeting. Brother Melvin L. “Pete” Hill Jr. is pastor of Wornall Road Baptist Church, Kansas City.
Jim Hill is the son of the late Melvin Hill, who served as pastor of several Missouri churches and as director of missions for Blue River-Kansas City association. He was one of eight children — five sons and three daughters — of Melvin and Eva Jean Hill.
“I really do feel honored and humbled and a little bit overwhelmed by the opportunity,” Hill said after being elected. Regarding the 37-8 vote, Hill said, “I think God speaks through the majority. There was a strong majority, and I’d sensed God’s leadership here, and their vote was a confirmation of that.”
MBC President Wendell Page, presiding over his first executive board meeting, said, “Given the climate in our convention, (the vote) was as close to unanimous as it could have been. It was a very healthy vote. That’s my judgment. He’ll be able to work with everybody.”

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  • Tim Palmer