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Serving with Integrity and Skill: O. S. Hawkins Reflects on a Half-Century of Ministry

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On a clear day from O. S. Hawkins’s office in a North Dallas high-rise, you can see all the way to Fort Worth, his hometown. It may be fewer than forty miles from Crenshaw Street on Fort Worth’s East Side, where Hawkins grew up, to GuideStone’s offices. But in many ways, it’s a world away and part of the culmination of a journey the Lord Himself orchestrated.

Raised in a moral, but not church-going, home, Hawkins’s parents were married a long time before he was born. An only child, Hawkins said his parents taught him a tremendous work ethic, respect and responsibility, along with sacrifice and dedication to family.

“They were great, moral people who loved me very much,” Hawkins recounted. “I never played in a ball game from Little League on that my dad wasn’t there.”

Hawkins first was introduced to the Lord in high school.

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“What a time to be in high school in the 1960s,” Hawkins said. “Those were the days of pep rallies and pom-poms, glass pack mufflers and drag races, Bass weejuns and Levi’s, madras windbreakers and buttoned-down collars, hayrides and sock hops—and the Beatles.”

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O.S. Hawkins, president and CEO of GuideStone Financial Resources, and his wife, Susie, register for the one hundred and sixty third Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 13, 2021, at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Abbey Sprinkle)

Coming To Know the Lord

“But I was seventeen years old and never remember hearing a prayer in my home or seeing the Bible opened,” Hawkins said. “One day, after a basketball game one Saturday night, a young man witnessed to me about Christ and took me the next morning to Sagamore Hill Baptist Church in Fort Worth where I heard the Gospel and there trusted Christ as my personal Savior. I’m not what I ought to be today, but I’ve never been the same since.”

Hawkins’s parents subsequently rededicated their lives to Christ and served Him in the church the rest of their lives.

Hawkins desired to be a lawyer and worked two jobs after school and on the weekends in high school to save for college. That work ethic became even more important as he pursued his studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

“I worked my way through TCU,” Hawkins said. “As soon as I’d get out of class at noon, I’d go over to Fort Worth Pipe and Supply, drive a forklift, and load concrete pipes onto flatbed trucks. When I got off there at 5 p.m., I’d grab a hamburger somewhere and then go over and begin at 6 p.m. working as an orderly in the emergency room at the Osteopathic Hospital.

“They didn’t have much business in there, so in between patients there were long periods where I could study.”

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In joining Sagamore Hill, Hawkins sat under the preaching of legendary preacher W. Fred Swank, who pastored the East Fort Worth congregation for forty-three years. It was also there that he met his lifelong friend Jack Graham, pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas area.

“Brother Swank gave us a love for Jesus, a heart for the people in the church, and a commitment to evangelism,” Graham said. “He gave us opportunities beyond our years and gave us the opportunity to fulfill that calling. We are forever grateful to have had him as our pastor.”

Swank forged the connection between Graham and Hawkins, putting them together in ministry opportunities. One such event was a mission trip to Brownsville, Texas, after a hurricane had devastated southern Texas and northern Mexico. On the bus ride back, Hawkins felt God calling him to the ministry.

Hawkins completed his bachelor’s degree in business, but instead of taking the LSATs to go to law school, for which he had been preparing since he was a child, he enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A Ministry of Service and Partnership

While still in seminary, Hawkins joined the staff at Sagamore Hill. He would earn a Master of Divinity from Southwestern and later a PhD in Preaching from the institution. While on staff at Sagamore Hill, Swank recommended Hawkins to the pastor search committee at First Baptist Church in Hobart, Oklahoma.

“I was twenty-four years old when Susie and I, only married a short while, went to be their pastor,” Hawkins recounted. “It was at Hobart that I learned the pastorate is the people business and that life is about relationships.”

From there, Hawkins was called to the First Baptist Church of Ada, Oklahoma, where he was inspired to become an expository preacher. From there, he was called to the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“For fifteen years, I had the privilege of being on the cutting edge of church growth, and for that decade and a half, we watched God do what few local churches have been able to see or experience,” Hawkins said.

In 1993, Hawkins was called to the First Baptist Church in Dallas, where he would succeed Dr. W. A. Criswell.

Hawkins’s friendship with Graham continued; for most of their ministries, they have served within thirty miles of each other. Graham followed Hawkins at Hobart. Both pastored in South Florida (Graham at First Baptist West Palm Beach) and again in North Texas. Hawkins assumed the presidency of what was then the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1997. Graham said Hawkins was uniquely qualified for his role.

“He is a friend of pastors and brought a shepherd’s heart to the role of president,” Graham said. “He’s always writing notes or making calls to encourage pastors even as he has taken GuideStone to the highest levels possible.”

Hawkins, a reserved man, lights up when talking about five tremendous influences on his life aside from his parents: Graham; Swank; Criswell; John R. Jones, his partner in ministry at GuideStone; and his wife and partner in life, Susie.

“I have been fortunate to have two remarkable mentors in ministry in Dr. Swank and Dr. Criswell,” Hawkins said. “Brother Swank consistently modeled the pastor’s heart before me and was my constant source of encouragement, correction, and counsel. After his death, Dr. Criswell ‘adopted’ me as his own. He was my biggest asset and greatest encouragement during my Dallas days. In fact, like Abel, they both ‘though dead still speak’ through my own philosophy of ministry.”

Graham and Hawkins have each served in ministry for fifty years—they were ordained the same night by Sagamore Hill. Hawkins laughs about their connection.

“God has woven our lives together,” Hawkins said. “We married in the same summer. We have vacationed together with our families. We even were diagnosed with prostate cancer within days of each other.”

The two have shared ideas, burdens, and blessings with each other.

“It’s been my privilege to be his pastor the last quarter-century,” Graham said. “I’ve had a front-row seat to watching O. S. serve the Lord. He passionately pursues God’s call in his life—he is always saying ‘yes’ to the Lord. When he heard the call to leave the pastorate to become CEO of the Annuity Board, now GuideStone, he prayed for a long time, but when he was convinced of the call, O. S. said ‘yes’ as he always had.”

Jones, chief operating officer at GuideStone and a lifelong Southern Baptist, was selected to be Hawkins’s right-hand man during Hawkins’s first year as president. The two forged a deep and lasting friendship.

“John epitomizes the truth of what Asaph said of King David, that he leads with the integrity of his heart and the skillfulness of his hands,” Hawkins said. “John emphasizes that GuideStone is a ministry that utilizes best business practices. That is true, and the beneficiaries are the 250,000 men and women we serve every day.”

But among those who know Hawkins best, his wife Susie is his closest confidante and partner in life.

“I am blessed and honored that my best and most loyal friend I have in life is Susie,” Hawkins said. An accomplished Bible teacher and author in her own right, she holds a Master of Arts in Christian leadership and a Master of Arts in theology from Criswell College in Dallas. Susie Hawkins also writes on the Engage blog at Bible.org, served on the committee that proposed The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and currently serves on the board of the Lifesavers Foundation, a pro-life Dallas organization that serves families in crisis. She also is co-writer and founder of Passover for Christians ministry, which encourages Christians to observe Passover from a Christian perspective as a part of their Holy Week traditions.

O.S. and Susie Hawkins have two daughters—Wendy (married to Brian) and Holly (married to David)—and six grandchildren, all of whom live in the Dallas area.

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D. Hance Dilbeck, Jr., president-elect of Guidestone Financial Services, is prayed over by O.S. Hawkins, who will retire in July as president and chief executive officer, during the morning session of the two-day 2021 SBC Annual Meeting. Dilbeck, who currently serves as executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, will begin serving alongside Hawkins July 1 and become president the first quarter of 2022. (Photo by Karen McCutcheon)

The Ministry of GuideStone

Hawkins is passionate about several things—his family, God’s Word, TCU football, serving pastors in his role as President of GuideStone—but one of his top passions is Mission:Dignity, the GuideStone ministry that provides retirement assistance to Southern Baptist pastors and widows near the poverty line. In 2020, Mission:Dignity served more than 1,800 people and donors raised $10.4 million to undergird this ministry. Additionally, author royalties and proceeds from the Code series of books Hawkins has written since 2012 all benefit Mission:Dignity. More than two million copies of the books have been purchased by individuals, businesses, churches, and Sunday school classes for Bible studies, outreach efforts, and personal devotions.

“We’re on a mission at GuideStone to provide dignity to some forgotten servants, those retired pastors, and in most cases their widows, who need financial assistance,” Hawkins said. “It is a joy of my life that in our stewardship of GuideStone, we have raised $200 million for these pastors and their widows.”

That fundraising allowed GuideStone to relinquish its Cooperative Program allocation in 2008, returning more than $20 million to SBC mission causes in the last twelve years. One hundred percent of gifts to Mission:Dignity help a pastor or his widow in need; an endowment established many years ago provides for the administrative costs.

When Hawkins arrived at GuideStone in 1997, monthly payouts through what was then called the Adopt An Annuitant ministry were $50 per month. Today, the neediest couples can receive $600 each month in assistance.

In September 2020, Hawkins asked trustees to establish a search committee to identify the leader to whom he would pass the reigns of the ministry. Hawkins plans to remain on for a transition period to ensure a smooth and orderly transfer and then move into the president emeritus role in 2022, completing a quarter of a century of service to Southern Baptists through GuideStone.

“I’m only retooling, though,” Hawkins said. Fit and spry at seventy-three years old, he has no plans to slow down. “I will dedicate my life to raising money for Mission:Dignity, writing, and teaching,” he said.

Hawkins is working to raise an endowment to help provide expense grants to Mission:Dignity recipients who may need dental work, a new refrigerator, tires for their cars, or similar expenses that can be prohibitive on the limited incomes of many retired pastors.

“On every desk at GuideStone is a small card that reminds us that the reason we come to work every day is this: ‘We exist to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security,’” Hawkins said. “As long as the Lord gives me the ability, I’ll continue living out that vision for His glory and the good of those we are so privileged to serve.”