So, what exactly does the president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee do?
For Frank S. Page, who has served in that position since 2010, a big part of the answer is traveling the country to encourage pastors and other leaders to work together in fulfilling the Great Commission. In fact, Page says that the “CEO” in his title stands for “chief encouragement officer.”
“I enjoy direct contact with what I call real Southern Baptist pastors,” Page told SBC LIFE. “That’s small church pastors, medium church pastors. So I love speaking with them. I meet with lay people as well.”
Last year he preached almost every Sunday in churches from Massachusetts to Texas and went on three Convention-related international trips. He spoke thirty-one times at rallies, conferences, state convention meetings, and SBC entities and participated in eight local Baptist associational meetings.
THE RIGORS OF TRAVEL
Half of Page’s working hours are spent on the road. Such extensive travel might seem glamorous to outsiders, but Page said it’s anything but glamorous for the one doing it. The time away from family is particularly difficult—even though he bought his wife Dayle an orange cat named Ginger to help keep her company while he is away.
“Airplane travel is no longer an enjoyable experience,” he said. “I’m not a patient man, so waiting for flights and often delayed flights is my least favorite part of travel.”
Once, during an ice storm in Atlanta, Page waited five hours before finally boarding his flight at 1:30 a.m. Then airport crews deiced half of the plane but stopped their work when it was announced that the airport had closed. Fortunately, it was early in Page’s tenure as EC president and his lease had not expired on the apartment in Atlanta where he lived before moving to Nashville. So he took a taxi to his apartment, arriving after four in the morning.
“That happens from time to time,” Page said. “That is a part of modern-day travel, particularly when there are weather problems.”
But travel isn’t all delays and headaches. Page enjoys opportunities to share the Gospel with people he encounters. In an airport recently he met a woman named Claire who asked him to watch her bag while she went to the restroom. Later, on the plane, they found themselves seated next to each other and Page led her to faith in Christ.
“I got an email from her the next day—I’ve still got it—entitled ‘best airplane ride ever,’” he said. “So, you know, God gives us opportunities. We just have to be open to those opportunities.”
Among Page’s favorite trips have been visits to Baptist associations. As the pastor of small and large churches alike, he was always involved in the local association, and now he wants to let associations know that they are an integral part of Southern Baptist life.
Extensive travel, he said, has helped him realize the need for associations to organize themselves differently depending on their context.
“In our more urban, metro areas the role [of associations] has changed,” Page said. “And associations that are being successful have become far more resource-driven to help local churches do what local churches cannot do alone. Now that’s true in rural contexts too. But in urban areas they have morphed and changed into much more specific and specialized resource providers.
“In rural associations there is still a deep need not only for resource provision, but also for fellowship opportunities. I travel out West and I travel up North. And let me tell you, while you may have fifteen churches in a one-mile or two-mile area down South, out there they don’t. When they meet, they need each other. Associations provide not just fellowship, but accountability and encouragement in hurting places.”
Though his messages vary depending on the occasion, Page routinely encourages associations to support missions and commit to do missions. On an individual level, associational meetings allow him to meet discouraged pastors who ask for prayer. He almost always follows up with them by phone or email after returning to Nashville.
Some associations stick in Page’s mind because of their innovative ministries. In such places, his travel plays a dual role, allowing him both to communicate a message from the Convention and learn ministry strategies that he can share with other associations. For example, in Florida he saw how the Greater Orlando Baptist Association (GOBA) has planted forty-four churches in the past year, thirty of them among ethnic groups. And in South Carolina, he learned how the Spartanburg County Baptist Network pairs healthy churches with struggling churches in a mentoring relationship.
For their part, associations say they learn from Page too.
“Having him there as really the key figure of our denomination spoke a lot to our churches,” GOBA Executive Director of Missions Tom Cheyney said of the association’s annual meeting. “Our megachurch pastors were there. Our smaller church pastors were there. They turned out to hear what Dr. Page had to say.”
Jeff Crabtree, former director of missions for the Warren Association of Baptists in Bowling Green, Kentucky, said it encouraged pastors to see that a denominational leader was willing to invest his time in an association. Page spoke at the Warren Association’s annual meeting in September, and has travelled to Kentucky more than any other state in the past year.
Page “was very touchable,” said Crabtree, who now serves as south central regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. “A lot of the pastors enjoyed getting to know him on a personal level as well as a speaking level.”
At the Shelby Baptist Association in Columbiana, Alabama, Page addressed the local ministers’ conference at the invitation of chairman Bill Trawick. The pastors asked him to give an overview of the SBC’s work and discuss the status of Calvinism in the Convention. According to Trawick, Page lived up to his self-billing as “chief encouragement officer.”
“He has a pastor’s heart as he goes about his work in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Trawick, pastor of Enon Baptist Church in Montevallo, Alabama, said. “That was one of the things that really touched us and influenced us in a positive way.”
Despite the rigors of travel, Page said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve Southern Baptists—even when it means long hours on planes or behind the wheel.
“Waiting in airports is often drudgery,” he said. “That’s difficult. But it is what it is. We don’t have a private plane at the Southern Baptist Convention, as some denominations do, so we fly commercial. And that in these days and times is difficult. Almost every plane is full, and getting on time when there are weather delays and maintenance delays can be problematic.”
But regardless of how long it takes to get there, he said he will accept any invitation to speak at a Southern Baptist church, association, state convention, or entity as long as the date is open on his calendar. After all, that’s what a chief encouragement officer does.
“I always introduce myself as the CEO, chief encouragement officer,” he said. “That brings a smile every time because they appreciate someone that wants to encourage them.”