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Reid Hardin’s vision for lay renewal stirred multitudes to witness & ministry


ATLANTA (BP)–The late Reid Hardin is being remembered as a pioneer in the Southern Baptist lay renewal movement that bolstered church life, marketplace witness and missions during much of the 1970s and ’80s.

Hardin, who died in December at the age of 70 in Tucker, Ga., suffered kidney failure after several illnesses.

He was an insurance agency vice president when, in 1972, he became the first layman to join the evangelism division of the former Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). He retired from the Atlanta -based board in 1997.

The primary catalyst behind lay renewal weekends in hundreds of churches yearly, Hardin enlisted and trained thousands of men and women to lead the events. “Without exception, the churches experienced genuine times of spiritual renewal and refreshing,” said Larry Lewis, former Home Mission Board president now serving as the Mission America Coalition’s national facilitator for denominations.

“Thousands were won to Christ through these lay-led renewal weekends,” Lewis said.

Hardin gave nurture to the movement through yearly lay renewal conferences in Toccoa, Ga.

Henry Blackaby, author of widely used “Experiencing God” discipleship materials, recounted to Baptist Press Jan. 17, “It was Reid Hardin who first approached me in 1986 at the national lay renewal conference in Toccoa, Ga., about writing a book around the theme, ‘What the Spirit Is Saying to the Churches.’ The following day at the same conference, Avery Willis, then the director of adult discipleship at the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), asked me to share with him how I knew the will of God. After a couple of hours, he said, ‘Henry, I’ve never heard it like this. God’s people need this teaching. Would you write an interactive course on ‘Knowing and Doing the Will of God?” I agreed to write both books, though I had never written before. Reid wrote the forward to the first book. Then, people prayed as Claude King and I wrote the Experiencing God course. Claude did an extraordinary job editing the work. Little did I know what God would do with these resources over the years, and to this very day.”

Former seminary professor T.W. Hunt, author of another widely used discipleship resource, “The Mind of Christ,” said Hardin “meant a lot to us because of his deep commitment to the Lord.” He credited Hardin with a key role in introducing The Mind of Christ study to Southern Baptists by inviting him to address one of the national conferences. “People came from across the country for his meetings,” Hunt said. Word about the study began to spread, and “I received a huge number of invitations from all over the country.”

Willis, now senior vice president for overseas operations of the SBC International Mission Board and author of the earlier pioneering “MasterLife” discipleship study, described Hardin as “a first-class encourager. He should have been named Barnabas. He started in business as an ‘insurer’ but ended up an ‘assurer.’ Not only did he encourage all of God’s people to be involved in ministry, he connected them to one another, resulting in an exponential networking of kingdom expansion. He was my friend and helped me at important crossroads in my life. I will dearly miss him.”

Blackaby, a former Canadian pastor and HMB staff member now leading a conference ministry based in Atlanta, also described Hardin as a friend and as a “unique servant of God. I spent many hours with him as he shared his vision for global peace through reconciliation. No one can take his place, but our prayer is that God will raise up others with his sense of mission. He will be sorely missed.”

Reconciliation became the focus of Hardin’s passions during the 1990s. He founded Reconciliation NOW (Reconciliation Networks of Our World) and spearheaded a 1997 convocation in Coventry, England, attended by 300 reconciliation leaders from various parts of the world — from Christians in the Middle East to Irish Catholics and Protestants and Rwanda’s warring Hutus and Tutsis.

“The stories were powerful” at the gathering, said Larry Martin, former vice president of the Home Mission Board’s ministry section and currently leader of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s missions growth team. “Today, Reconciliation NOW is worldwide. What will be the results 20 years from now? I can only imagine.”

Hardin’s work in lay renewal is noted in the Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. “The overall strategy, called ‘A Journey into Lifestyle Evangelism and Ministry,’ is a church-centered process of weekend events (the Lay Renewal Weekend and the Ministry Evangelism Weekend), continuing small group activities after each weekend, and lay ministry and evangelism programs,” according to the encyclopedia.

A handbook developed for the 1988-89 SBC-wide “Year of the Laity in Evangelism and Discipleship” described a lay renewal weekend as: “A lay team, under the leadership role of a coordinator, comes to assist the local church to discover what they have in Christ and each other, and to celebrate it. The prayerful desire is that many of the members of the local church will also begin a spiritual journey during this 42-hour period.”

The emphasis “points out the importance of attitudinal, relational, and incarnational Christianity,” according to a 1974 article in the Baptist History and Heritage journal. “It is an emphasis on what Jesus said in regard to the importance of interpersonal relationships (Rom. 12:2).

“Hardin involved denominational leaders, seminary professors, pastors, and lay people in the development of renewal events for the church,” the article noted. “In the renewal experience the church member is led to an affirmation of God in his life, an affirmation of his brothers in Christ, an affirmation of his church and his denomination, and an affirmation of his brother who is not a Christian. It leads the Christian to an examination of his own life and to a reaching out to others. It is a journey inward and a journey outward to a ‘lifestyle evangelism.'”

Said Martin, “One of the great untold stories of Southern Baptists for the last quarter of the 20th century is the impact of lay renewal. Literally thousands of Christian leaders in North America — and in many countries of the world — first came to a serious commitment of their lives to Christian service through lay renewal weekends and lay ministry weekends.”

Hardin was “a visionary Christian leader who was always 20-25 years ahead,” Martin continued. “Many of his ideas which were revolutionary at the time are now at the forefront of what we do. Not a day goes by that I don’t use something Reid introduced.”

Hardin helped break ground for Southern Baptists’ use of long-term lay volunteers, Martin said, recounting, “In the beginning, when Reid brought volunteers into the organization, it was met with strong disapproval. But today, more than one-third — way over 1,500 of the NAMB missionaries and other workers — are long-term [Mission Service Corps] volunteers. Now it is a matter of great pride at the board.” One Mission Service Corps volunteer, Dick Burr, developed the board’s office for prayer for spiritual awakening — a strategy now “commonly embraced by the denomination,” Martin said.

And as a visionary, Hardin “had to have people to come around him to make the vision a reality,” Martin said. “That necessitated a team approach much like we use in things like church planting today.”

Hardin also pioneered the concept of marketplace evangelism, Martin said, introducing laypeople “to the idea that they should live out and share their faith every day in their marketplace, wherever God places them.” The idea stirred a Delta Airlines employee in Atlanta to start a Bible study at lunch, for example, and a Florida highway patrol man to see his vocation as an opportunity for ministry and witness and a North Carolina housewife to launch into ministry opportunities in her community.

“He was convinced the only way Christians would ever effectively impact our nation and world was to get the gospel out of the church-house and into the workplace,” Larry Lewis said. “He did everything he could to train, equip and motivate lay men and women to be bold, effective witnesses through word and deed in their neighborhoods, businesses, schools and workplaces.”

Hardin is survived by his wife, Phyllis; a son, Doug, and daughter, Jan Hardin Young; and five grandchildren. He was a native of Pompano Beach, Fla., and a 1956 graduate of Florida State University.

At the Bible teaching of G. Robert Rowe, pastor of First Baptist Church in Deerfield Beach, Fla., Hardin sensed a call to Christian ministry, and Rowe gave him an opportunity to preach and minister for six weeks. “It was his first taste, and Reid loved it,” Phyllis Hardin recounted.

His gift was “calling forth other people’s gifts and then finding a place for them to use those gifts,” she said. And his life was marked by frequent and spontaneous prayer, she said. “He prayed at the drop of a hat, anytime and anywhere” — in the office, walking along the sidewalk, driving in the car or gathered in a circle at the airport before his team went their separate ways.

Hardin’s health problems began in May 1999 with a diagnosis of cancer of the thyroid and worsened in February 2001 when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a fall while going down stairs at his home. After surgery and continuing physical therapy managed by his wife, he progressed from a wheelchair to walking without a cane. He also battled adult onset diabetes.

He died on Dec. 2 from kidney failure.

His funeral was held Dec. 7 at First Baptist Church in Tucker, with burial at Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Memorials can be made to Reconciliation NOW, 2839 Whippoorwill Court, Tucker, GA 30084.
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Freelance writer Celeste Pennington in Atlanta contributed to this article.(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: REID HARDIN.