Chris Liebrum: The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of the BGCT

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Since May 2015, Chris Liebrum has been director of the Texas Baptists Office of Cooperative Program Ministry, which is assigned to encourage and promote greater participation in the Cooperative Program. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on ministry and the church. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?

I’ve had the honor of serving Texas Baptists for 35 years.

I began with the BGCT in 1984 as youth ministries consultant. It was a great job, which I enjoyed immensely.

In 1999, Bill Pinson asked me to become director of human resources for Texas Baptists. It was a big job, and the fact that leadership would trust me with such a responsibility was humbling.

From 2005 through 2009, I worked in the executive director’s office under several different titles for both Charles Wade and Randell Everett. Basically, I assisted both executive directors in the day-to-day operation of the BGCT.

When the convention reorganized in 2009, I was asked to direct one of the three newly-formed divisions, Church Ministry Resources.

I am fortunate to have experienced the BGCT from so many different perspectives. I have enjoyed each assignment and still look forward to coming to work each day. One of the highest compliments I have ever received was during an introduction at a church when the pastor described me as the “Swiss Army Knife” of the BGCT.

Prior to my work with Texas Baptists, I served as Minister of Youth in several churches, including:

  • Casa View Baptist, Dallas
  • Park Heights Baptist, San Angelo
  • Fairview Baptist, Grand Prairie
  • First Baptist, San Saba
  • First Baptist, Dublin
  • First Baptist, Blanket

I also served for a short while in 1975 as the director of the Baptist Student Ministry (BSU then) at Dallas Baptist University.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Dallas.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

Much of my life was centered around our local Baptist church as our family was involved in everything. It was a natural progression for me to learn about Jesus and, on a Sunday night in January, to accept him into my heart at an early age.

Royal Ambassadors was a big deal in those days and especially in my church. For several summers, I served on the RA Camp staff at Mt. Lebanon. It was at one of those camps that I felt a definite call to ministry. One night during a camp worship service, I went forward and committed my life to ministry not really knowing specifically what God had in store for me.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

I graduated from Howard Payne College in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in Christian ministry. Immediately after graduation, my wife, Cindy, and I moved to Fort Worth to attend Southwestern Seminary, where in 1976, I received a master’s degree in Christian education. In 2006, I received one of the greatest honors of my life when Howard Payne University chose to bestow upon me a doctor of humanities degree.

Ministry life

Why do you feel called into ministry?

My call into ministry is similar to my salvation experience in that it was a natural flow from my early years of life involved in the church and watching how its leaders functioned. Several ministers during my teenage years were great role models for me. When God spoke to my heart and said, “I want you to do that,” their examples made “Yes!” an easy answer for me.

What is your favorite aspect of ministry? Why?

In my current position, I have the privilege of worshiping with a different church just about every Sunday. I get to see firsthand the beauty of the broad mosaic that is Texas Baptists. Though the congregation size, worship style, ethnicity, etc. might differ from week to week, what remains in common is a love for God’s word and a desire to see more come to know him.

About Baptists

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

Baptist is one of the leading denominations in Texas, second only to the Catholic church. One of the keys to our success has been the generosity of churches with their support of the Cooperative Program. Since 1925, this funding mechanism has been in place, which allows individual churches to join together to do some things they could never do alone.

This selfless idea of cooperation is slipping farther away with each successive generation. Without cooperation, we once again will become isolated, independent churches and lose the momentum of working together to do some great things that no individual church could do on its own.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

I have been around Texas Baptist life long enough to remember a time when all Southern Baptist churches in Texas were united in one state convention. Unfortunately, that also means I experienced the pain of our Baptist family in Texas being split into two. It is my opinion, after nearly four decades of Baptist life, that this divide was unnecessary. It has caused so many negative intended and unintended consequences.

I long for a time when we can all celebrate together our common conservative Baptist values and can respect a difference in interpretation on the tertiary issues. Indeed, the tertiary issues are important, but many conservatives, both inside and outside Baptist life, differ on their interpretation.

About Chris

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

My life has been influenced by many exceptional people. I could not possibly list them all, but the two who come to mind first as having made a unique and lasting impression are Bob Dixon and Bernie Spooner.

When I was in high school, Bob Dixon came to Texas to direct the Royal Ambassador program for the BGCT. He saw potential in me and selected me to serve on a summer state RA staff. For the next four summers, I worked on his staff traveling around to all the Baptist camps here in Texas. Being given a leadership position at such a young age taught me many valuable lessons that were excellent preparation for ministry.

For fifteen years at the BGCT, I worked with Bernie Spooner. He was more than a supervisor/boss. He was a mentor and a great example of how to lead people and an organization. Even today, when facing a critical situation, I find myself asking, “How would Bernie handle this?” Since our days of working together, we meet monthly for lunch and continue what has become a 40-year friendship.

What is the impact of ministry on your family?

Obviously, my kind of work requires a lot of travel. Since my boys were still in elementary school when I started my BGCT ministry, my wife carried the load many days while I was on the road. Our guys never expressed resentment about their dad being gone so much, and most of the credit for that goes to Cindy. Both of our sons are now married with great families of their own. In their wives, they have given Cindy and me two beautiful daughters, and in their four children, they have given us the joys of our life. In addition to having created wonderful families, both sons have become very successful in their careers and very active in their local Baptist churches.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

I enjoy reading biographies of people in politics, sports and entertainment. Recently I re-read the book The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It is a chronicle of Billy Graham’s life and his visits and relationships with every U.S. President from Truman to Obama.

I also have a great love for the Masters Golf Tournament and the Augusta National Golf Club and have a small collection of books related to the course and the tournament.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

It’s hard to isolate just one, but what has become my life verse since our boys have grown into adult men, husbands and fathers is 2 John 1:4. I really like the way the American Standard Version says this: “Greater joy have I none than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?

I have always been drawn to Nehemiah. His book serves as a great guide on how to be an effective Christian leader and is the source of several of my favorite sermons. Back in the late 1970s, Chuck Swindoll wrote a small, paperback commentary titled Hand Me Another Brick, which is an inspiring look at the life of Nehemiah.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

Several years ago, I started an association with the Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters tournament. I worked in the golf shop during the event for a few years. Then in 2011, I began helping on the course as a Masters tournament scorekeeper on the ninth hole. Because I am a volunteer, in May of each year, I get to return to Augusta and play the course.

Because you have been with the BGCT for 35 years, you surely have had the opportunity to meet some interesting and unique people. Share one of your experiences.

Over the years in my work with Texas Baptists, I’ve had the opportunity to meet personally and privately with two U.S. Presidents. In 1998, we met with then Governor George W. Bush related to the True Love Waits emphasis, the program encouraging teenagers to make a pledge to abstain from sex until marriage. This private meeting was held in Governor Bush’s Austin office and included a few selected teenagers and leaders participating in the program. A short time after our meeting, Gov. Bush announced his candidacy for U.S. President.

In the summer of 2014 during the crisis with unaccompanied minors coming across the Mexican border into Texas, I was invited to attend a small meeting with President Barak Obama, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Governor Rick Perry and a few other faith-based leaders involved in providing aid to the children. We met in the conference room of a vacant airplane hangar at Love Field.

At the end of our one and one-half hour meeting, to my surprise, President Obama walked straight over to me for a private conversation. He took my hand and said, “Will you pray for me?” I assured him that I already did pray for him regularly but would continue to do so with greater urgency going forward. He replied, “I believe in the power of prayer, and ask you to pray for me daily.”

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