Since 1993, Randall Babin has served as the director of missions for the Soda Lake Baptist Association in Marshall, Texas. 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 else have you worked, and what were your positions?
My first church position was First Baptist Church in Longville, Louisiana, as minister of music and youth. I served in that role at Eastdale Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Decatur Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth. After seminary, I served Trinity Baptist Church in Corpus Christi and Emmanuel Baptist Church in White Oak, Texas, as minister of music and education. I served Tabernacle Baptist Church in Ennis, Texas, as minister of education and administration. I then served the Gregg and Soda Lake Associations as director of church services from 1985–1993.
Where did you grow up?
My hometown is Lake Charles, Louisiana.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was privileged to be born into a devoted Christian family that was very active in a local Baptist church. At the age of seven, I came to understand my need for a relationship with God through his Son, Jesus. I made my profession of faith in Christ and was baptized.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I earned a Bachelor of Arts in speech education from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, then a Master of Religious Education from Southwestern Seminary.
Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?
When I was in high school, I surrendered to vocational Christian ministry believing it would be probably in the field of music. While in college, I was involved in many youth revivals, mostly in smaller congregations. I observed that the pastors of these churches struggled to give time to their Bible study and discipleship ministries. I began to feel a burden for them, and it led to me sensing a call to educational ministry.
Additionally, my parents and church were very active in associational events and took me with them to these meetings as a child. I learned the value of associations, and, from my beginning in ministry, I looked for opportunities to serve in my association. That eventually led to me being called into associational staff ministry.
Please tell us about your association—where it’s located, the key focus of its work and ministry, etc.
Soda Lake Baptist Association is the third oldest association in Texas, having formed in December 1847. It comprised a large portion of Northeast Texas originally, but over the years churches formed smaller geographical associations from it. The last was Gregg Association in 1954.
Today, we have churches in Harrison, Marion and Panola counties. The office is located in Marshall. The majority of our churches average less than 100 in attendance, with the largest congregation averaging around 500. The primary focus is to be a resource to these congregations and their leaders, providing training, materials, equipment and guidance for their understanding of God’s direction for them. We also work together to provide benevolent services to our community.
What do you like best about leading your association? Why?
I enjoy association ministry for many reasons, but the one that stands out is the variety of the work. There are so many aspects of the work that it simply is never routine.
What aspect(s) of associational ministry and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?
I would like people to understand the association provides a means for churches to work together cooperatively to reach their area for Christ. It serves to break down a competitive attitude and jealousy and eliminates isolation. It helps churches embrace each church’s unique contribution to the Kingdom’s work.
How has your association and its mission changed since you began your career?
In years past, the association was seen as the primary means of resourcing churches. Now there are so many conferences offered for everything imaginable by an ever-growing number of people and organizations. Added to that is the internet and all it provides.
Many years ago, churches began to discard missions education for its members, especially children. We have young ministers who never learned about associations and so they do not value them. They choose to find help from the internet and networking with friends through social media.
How do you expect your association and/or its mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
Associations are being challenged today to prove their value in an ever-changing environment. I believe that we no longer will have an “associational model” that is followed, but churches will customize their association to meet their distinctive needs and mission.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your association.
- Lack of support from churches, both financial and in participation.
- The changes taking place in the SBC and state conventions. These entities have played a role in diminishing the role of the association.
- The need for Anglo churches to transition to reaching the people in their communities who are now different than when they were started.
What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?
One aspect of my job that is a great sense of joy for me is the fellowship of the pastors and staff in our Association.
What are the key issues—opportunities and/or challenges—facing Baptist churches?
As our society continues to change in moral values, churches are faced with addressing these issues with the truth of Scripture, but with loving attitudes/behaviors. Legal changes on the horizon are putting doing church as we have in the past more difficult. Giving patterns show that the next generation of adults will give less to the church, thus affecting the way churches will budget in the future.
What are the key issues facing Baptists as a people or denomination?
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
Having lived in a time when the SBC, BGCT and Associations worked together like a fine-tuned machine, I would like to return to those days. That is not likely to happen again. I do think we have put behind us the denominational “war” that raged in the eighties and nineties. I hope to see in the future better communication between our denominational entities founded on trust and cooperation.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
One continuing mentor is my former pastor and now longtime friend, Dr. Franklin Atkinson. Dr. Atkinson was my pastor when I was in high school and when I surrendered to ministry. His preaching and pastoral style has had a profound effect on my life. When I came to the East Texas area, he had become a religion professor at East Texas Baptist University, and we rekindled our relationship. Even now, while he and his wife are residents in a local nursing facility, he continues to encourage and inspire me.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
Phillip Gulley’s “Harmony” series and Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series books have been a real source of enjoyment. I read so much serious stuff that I need an escape. These books are humorous and hit the nail on the head when it comes to the life of a pastor, his family, and his congregation. Calvin Miller’s trilogies also mean a lot to me. For heavy stuff, I like anything by N. T. Wright.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
I guess I stand in a long line of folks who claim Proverbs 3:5–6 as their favorite Bible verses. It just states succinctly how we need to order our lives.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
My favorite Bible character has always been Paul, but he became more meaningful when I came to see him as the first Associational missionary.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.
I cannot think of anything that folks who know me well would be surprised to learn.
If you could get one “do over” in your career, what would it be, and why?
Although it has not hindered me in any way through my ministry, I would have liked to have completed my Doctor’s degree.
Write and answer a question you wish we had asked.
For relaxation, I enjoy doing handyman-type projects. I love tools.