Ken Hall was the president of Buckner International from 1994 to 2012. He was also the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 2003 to 2004. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on church and ministry. 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.
Where did you grow up?
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was raised by wonderful Christian parents who were active in Ingleside Baptist Church in Shreveport, La. The local church was a huge part of my life. As a teenager, I made my profession of faith.
Why did you feel called into ministry?
In college, I began to feel that God wanted me to serve the local church. At first I interpreted the call to be as a music minister, but as I became more engaged, the calling to pastoral ministry came into focus. Serving the local church has been a big part of my understanding of my calling. Whether at Buckner, Baylor or my various pastorates, the local church has been my anchor.
In addition to your most-noted position, where else did you serve in ministry?
Trinity Baptist Church, Tyler; Riverside Baptist Church, Stephenville; Eastwood Baptist Church, Gatesville; Crestview Baptist Church, Midland; First Baptist Church, Longview; and Baylor University.
When did you leave your most-noted position and/or retire from full-time ministry?
I retired from Buckner International in 2012.
How have you occupied yourself since then?
After a brief six months of failing miserably at retirement, I was asked by Baylor University to serve as senior vice president of university development and strategic initiatives. I served in that role for two years, until the fall of 2014.
Where do you live now, and where do you go to church?
Linda and I live in Longview and are active in First Baptist Church Longview.
What was your favorite or most joyful aspect of ministry? Why?
I loved the relational aspect of Christian ministry. It is a blessing to be a part of the lives of people who are serving the Lord together. The very best friendships are those that are formed around a joint sense of calling to serve the community or ministry in which you are engaged. Whether it was the church or the institutional ministry I was called to serve, the relationships with fellow Jesus followers made the journey worthwhile.
What element of ministry do you wish you could have changed?
I am sure most preachers later in life wish they could change what they preached as a young preacher. I am no different. My sermons were less about Jesus and often about me. If I could do it over, I would be more transparent and less judgmental. I wouldn’t preach for outcomes but preach to impart truth in a spirit of compassion. I would be more sensitive to the issues that people in the pew are facing rather than choosing sermons that reflect my preconceived ideas.
How did your perspective on ministry change?
I am far less sure of myself and my biases than I was as a young pastor. I have had the privilege of traveling throughout the world. Christian expression is very different in various countries and cultures. For too long I preached a “gospel” that was centered in American structures and biases.
I long for the day when, as Baptists, we primarily promote the unique aspects of soul competency that tear down barriers rather than build walls of separation.
What were the key issues facing Baptists during the heart of your ministry?
When I first started out in ministry, we were in the later stages of the civil rights movement. Too many of our churches were on the wrong side of that issue.
Later, the denominational controversies over the control of the SBC, BGCT and even local associations took our attention away from the main thing. Rather than finding a way to cooperate, we found ways to criticize one another. We devised plans to destroy those we disagreed with and, in turn, we destroyed our credibility.
I was a guilty party in the midst of the battles. My actions and the actions of many of my generation left a big mess for the generation after us. I pray that new leadership and the emerging leadership will study our history and not repeat our mistakes.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
The movement called Baptist is one of the great gifts to God’s kingdom. I love the Baptist emphasis on soul competency, transformational redemption and grace-centered relationships. Our heritage is one that must be treasured, taught and remembered.
Too often in our history, we have focused on our differences rather than the truths that unite us. We get distracted by issues that Satan puts in our paths to keep us from presenting the message of the cross. We are best when we act as a movement of God and not a denomination that needs to be preserved.
The truths we espouse are not items that can be quantified by structure, hierarchy or pronouncements. We preach Jesus and his grace. We believe that all people can come to Jesus without preconditions and receive his salvation. We teach that no man or tradition stands between us and God. As believers, we Baptists practice a faith that is local in its expression and can be manifested throughout the world as we work together.
If we worried less about surviving and more about setting out on the journey that lies before us, we would be stronger. Continually tweaking our structure and systems will not make us stronger. Learning to be cooperative, being collaborative and remembering what it really means to be a Baptist will be the way to face our future.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
James Garrett was the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Tyler. I served as minster of music and youth under his leadership for four years. He loved me, used me, guided me, chastised me and endorsed me. Brother Garrett was my father in the ministry.
My seminary professor, Scott Tatum, taught me how to prepare a sermon and to live the sermon during the week. He is a pastor’s pastor. I owe a large part of my ministry to him.
Presnall Wood, former editor of the Baptist Standard, taught me how to administer an organization. As a pastor and institutional head, he never lost his focus to serve the local church. Presnall always told the truth in love.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
The apostle John is my favorite character at the moment. I am teaching the gospel of John in our Sunday School class at First Baptist in Longview. John was a man who knew how to adapt to the world he lived in. From the youngest of the original disciples to the last of the Apostles to die, he kept adapting himself so that he could share Jesus. He learned how to serve many different kinds of people over the decades of active ministry. As a former pastor, I want to be like John and continue to find a way to serve the people the Lord allows me to know.
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