SCOTT DEPOT, W.Va. (BP) — Terry Harper, lead missionary and executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, has announced his retirement, effective at the conclusion of the convention’s Nov. 6-7 annual meeting.
Harper, 66, has led West Virginia Baptists 13 years, longer than any other executive director since the state convention, now with more than 200 churches, was established in 1970.
“Service in a state convention is great work and I will always be grateful for this opportunity to serve Christ in this unique way,” Harper said Oct. 1 in a statement to Baptist Press. State conventions have “a special place in SBC life,” he said, “and I do not see how [Southern Baptists] could ever do without the work of state conventions.”
Harper announced his retirement to the convention’s Executive Board during their Sept. 6 regular meeting.
“Our work has gone well thus far in 2014. We have seen a number of successful statewide events and many of our churches are baptizing record numbers,” Harper said. “At the same time we continue to see some of our established churches struggle and seek to find themselves in today’s culture.”
Churches that are declining and/or aging need the continued help of fellow West Virginia Baptists, Harper said, noting, “We should never, ever compromise our theology, but we must constantly be willing to try new approaches in order to reach the lost.”
Seth N. Polk, lead pastor of Cross Lanes (W.Va.) Baptist Church and a former convention president, said Harper “has served the WVCSB with integrity. His lifetime of faithful ministry and long tenure and diligence to the mission of God in West Virginia is to be commended. We pray for the best for him and his wife Cheryl.”
Polk will lead a 15-member search committee for Harper’s successor. Applicants can email resumes to [email protected] through Nov. 30.
Harper told the Executive Board that heart health treatment and tests at the Cleveland Clinic contributed to his retirement decision.
“Of course I would love to work a while longer,” he noted, “but in all honesty, I think that is not best. We feel that now is the time for you to find a younger leader who will take this convention forward to new heights into the future.
“Please continue to think big and think outside the box during this transition time and as you go forward,” Harper counseled. “When you get a new executive director, give him the benefit of the doubt and give him your trust. Don’t make him earn that or fight for it. If he accepts this job, he will do so because he believes God is calling him to come and lead this convention. He will need your support and help.”
Harper told the Executive Board he has “sought to do my best to lead this convention in the way that I felt the Lord would have us to go. At times that has not been easy, especially during this time of great change within the SBC.”
In 2011, the convention adopted a six-point plan to streamline/reorganize the convention and focus more on church planting, drawing from the work of a 32-member Strategy Planning Group appointed by Polk as the convention’s president at the time. The plan entailed a shift in state convention personnel to align with a North American Mission Board plan to support five church planting catalysts in the state rather than the previous 10 association directors of missions.
The Strategy Planning Group was “a great team,” Harper said at the time. “They worked really hard and made some tough decisions. … As painful as that has been, I still think it offers great opportunity for us in the days ahead. I think we’re going to see church planting like we’ve never seen before in West Virginia. That’s what it’s all about, and I believe we will see that.”
Harper became the convention’s sixth executive director when he was elected in December 2001. He had served as president of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state convention, and earlier, as vice president, during his 17 years as pastor of Colonial Heights Baptist Church in the Richmond area. He earlier had led several churches, including Waverly (Va.) Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Alamance, N.C.
A native of Roanoke, Va., he holds a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, an undergraduate degree in psychology from Averett College in Virginia and an associate’s degree in business from Bluefield College in Virginia.
Harper and his wife Cheryl have three grown children, Derrick, Carla and Alison.
In his comments to the Executive Board, Harper said his wife “has served faithfully at my side during this time as she has always during our ministry. She served for 10 of these years as director of ministries to pastors’ wives and did so happily without pay, but did a great job.
“We have both loved this work and we love you all,” he said, grateful for having worked “with so many wonderful people on our Executive Board and those who have served as officers of our convention.”
In his comments to Baptist Press, Harper said his relationships with other state convention executives has been “one of the blessings in this job…. So many of them have blessed my life immensely. I have grown deeply in our fellowship together and I am a better man for it.”