JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–In a 44-4 vote, David Tolliver was elected by the Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive board Feb. 3 as the MBC’s 12th executive director.
Tolliver, 58, responded to the board’s vote by accepting the position, which he had held on an interim basis for nearly 22 months.
A fourth-generation Missouri Baptist pastor, Tolliver has served on the MBC’s staff as an associate executive director since May 2005.
James Freeman, a layman from Country Meadows Baptist Church in Independence who chaired the 11-member search committee, said the length of the search, while not predetermined, was deliberative by design. Per Tolliver’s request, he was the last candidate to be considered after all of the others, Freeman said.
“We intentionally wanted to do it in a biblical way, much like with Nehemiah when there was reflection and repentance — going back to the basics — and then from building those foundations, moving forward to where we are,” Freeman said. “We wanted to make sure that whoever we called it was a solid foundation for Missouri Baptists for as long into the foreseeable future that we could go.”
MBC President Bruce McCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis, immediately gave the staff some words of encouragement for the man who he said has taken them on a monthly pilgrimage toward unity the last couple of years in the Baptist Building.
“What’s going to happen in this state is going to be whether or not we decide to get behind him,” McCoy said. “My job [as president] is to help make him look good, and I hope you’ll join me.”
The executive board vote during a special called meeting was the culmination of a nationwide search spanning nearly 19 months. During that time Tolliver was hard at work in the Baptist Building in what turned out to be an extended job interview. Although various candidates in addition to Tolliver were considered, he was the only one recommended and ultimately called to succeed the former executive director, who was terminated in April 2007 on a 44-7 vote by the board.
Tolliver, a native of St. Louis, becomes the 12th executive director/general superintendent/executive secretary since the 175-year-old convention created the office in 1917. Seven of those leaders served in the Missouri Baptist General Association, which was renamed the MBC in December 1958.
Tolliver has long been known for his conservative beliefs, peacemaking ability and humility. Board member Larry Atkins, pastor of Buckhorn Baptist Church in Waynesville, said such qualities will serve him well.
“He knows us,” Atkins said. “We know him. He’s a common guy. He’s not an elitist or any of that. I think he will be a great leader.”
In brief remarks to the staff at the end of a Feb. 4 chapel service, Tolliver’s language was direct and plain.
“I am as common as dirt and, folks, if it wasn’t for the team that we have here working together, we wouldn’t be where we were yesterday and where we are today,” Tolliver said. “I know that. Just continue to do what you’ve been doing.
“If we’ll all just serve Christ, we’ll be fine. God bless you. Alright, get to work!”
Tolliver and his wife of 36 years, Myra, a third-grade teacher, have two children, a daughter, Terra Jo, and a son, Adam, and two grandchildren.
He holds two degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, a master of divinity and doctor of ministry. He also is a cum laude graduate of Dallas Baptist University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
In a Jan. 20 memo to board members, the search committee provided three pages of information on why it was unanimously recommending Tolliver. His pastoral experience of nearly two decades stretches from urban St. Louis to rural mid-Missouri to suburban Kansas City. He also is a past MBC president and a past member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
The memo noted that Tolliver operates well in the midst of turmoil, reaching out to others and excelling in doing the Lord’s labor. It also commended him for being led by the Holy Spirit as he ministers.
“I think it’s great — absolutely fabulous,” said Roy Dameron, a minister from Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City who chairs the executive board’s administrative committee which supervises personnel matters. “Great vote.”
Board member Jim Wells, director of missions of the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa and registration secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention, sensed God’s timing.
“I believe that David Tolliver is God’s man for the hour,” Wells said. “I think he’s led the last 22 months with integrity and openness as a unifier, and I believe that the convention will go forward from this point.”
Jody Shelenhamer, a member of First Baptist Church in Bolivar and a member of the search committee, agreed. “I wouldn’t have scripted these 22 months to find an executive director,” he said, “but it’s the Lord’s will, and we seek the Lord’s will.”
In addition to Freeman and Shelenhamer, the search committee included members representing various types of churches across the state. The committee’s vice chairman was John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield and the MBC’s first vice president. Other committee members were Doug Austin, a member of Bethany Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau; Gary Barkley, minister of education and outreach at Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs; Diana Chambers, a member of West County Community Church in Wildwood; Larry Fackler, director of missions of the Lamine Baptist Association in Versailles; Ed Hamilton, interim pastor of Ozark Baptist Church in Houston; Lyn Heying, pastor of New Oakland Baptist Church in Palmyra; Jeff Purvis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Herculaneum-Pevely; and Randy Comer, pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Chillicothe.
Allen Palmeri is associate editor of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.