Randel Everett is president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. In addition to formerly pastoring many churches, he has also served as the executive director of the Baptist General Convention of 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 did you grow up?
I was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, but my family moved to Fort Worth when I was in the third grade for my father to attend Southwestern Seminary. We remained in Texas until Dad finished his studies at SBTS and we returned to El Dorado, Arkansas, when I was in the eighth grade.
After graduating from high school in Crossett, Arkansas, I attended Ouachita University.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was blessed to be in a family that had family devotionals every night. One night, when I was very young, I sensed that God had been speaking to me, and I asked my Dad what it meant to make Jesus the boss of my life.
My father shared with my older sister and me about our need for Jesus, and we prayed that night to receive Christ. We made our decisions public the next Sunday and were baptized soon afterward.
Why did you feel called into ministry?
I began to believe God was calling me to preach when I was in the sixth grade. I struggled with that decision and suppressed it until the spring of my senior year in high school.
One Sunday afternoon, I believed that God was convicting me to follow him as a pastor and made the decision publically that night at church. Someone stood up and said if God has called Randel to preach, I move that he preach next Sunday night.
I preached my first sermon a week later. My text was the whole Bible, and I was able to fill about 15 minutes.
In addition to your most-noted position, where else did you serve in ministry?
My main passion has always been to be a pastor. I have served as pastor of churches in Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Virginia.
In Texas, I served the First Baptist Church in Gonzales, Inglewood in Grand Prairie, University in Fort Worth and the First Baptist Church of Midland. I had the privilege of being the founding president of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies.
My wife, Sheila, was actually the inspiration and founder of the seminary. God gave her a burden for starting a seminary that was church-based, multi-ethnic and urban-centered. She was the first staff member of the school while I served first as interim president while pastor of the Columbia Baptist Church. Later, I resigned from the church to become full-time president of Leland.
For the last three years, I have served as president of a new ministry: the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative based in Falls Church, Virginia, and Dallas. We are a nonprofit organization that seeks to represent the persecuted church and work for religious freedom becoming a universal right.
When did you leave your most-noted position and/or retire from full-time ministry?
Sheila and I loved our position as pastor of FBC Midland but believed God was calling us to begin a new work to awaken the church in the West to the atrocities Christians were facing around the world from religious persecution. I resigned from the church in July of 2014 and began our new ministry.
How have you occupied yourself since then?
My role with Wilberforce may be the most demanding position I have ever served with travel back and forth between DC and Dallas and numerous international trips, especially to countries of concern.
Where do you live now, and where do you go to church?
We live in Flower Mound and belong to the FBC of Lewisville. I recently served as interim pastor of FBC Temple.
What was your favorite or most joyful aspect of ministry? Why?
I enjoy people. God has brought some wonderful folks (and some difficult ones) across our paths. The relationships with the folks in the congregations where I have served as pastor, the colleagues, staffs and constituents of our other ministry opportunities, as well as the folks in the public and global arena where we have connected, have brought rich life experiences to my family.
What part of ministry delivered the greatest heartache or headache?
Denominational controversies have created the most grief. Of course, I am greatly troubled by the erosion of morality in the world and the global persecution of Christians and other faith groups. It is painful that we have not made more progress in race relations.
However, the wasted energy and resources used to fight over power and control of our denomination have left us weakened, bitter and divided. In 1979, I honestly thought we had a strategy with Bold Missions to make an incredible kingdom impact both domestically and internationally. Instead, we entered one of the most bitter denominational disputes from which we have never recovered. Of course, there were and always will be theological issues worth fighting for, but I think they were overshadowed by greed and ambition.
Name the most significant challenges and/or influences you faced during your ministry.
The rapidly changing cultural shifts have been the most significant challenge. Our methodology, networking, training, mission strategy and styles of worship continue to change. Even though much of it has been frustrating, a lot of it has been great.
It is no longer a cultural advantage to be prominently involved in church. Folks now more often participate in church because of a hunger to know truth, build meaningful relationships and make a difference in the world. We can’t miss this opportunity to connect with Jesus, his Word and his call to discipleship.
What element of ministry do you wish you could have changed?
There are many things I could have done better, but I’m very grateful for the incredible opportunities God has given my family and me.
How did your perspective on ministry change?
Initially, ministry was Baptist-centric. I attended a Baptist college, a Baptist seminary, got most of my ideas from Nashville and had fellowship primarily with other Baptists. Yet, over the years, God has allowed me to see how he is working in so many different churches, denominations and networks.
What would you tell the young you, just starting out in ministry?
Get ready for an exciting adventure.
If you could go back and launch any new ministry, what would it be? Why?
I have helped to start a new church, a new seminary and a new human rights organization. I would not have wanted to launch anything else.
What do you wish more laypeople knew about ministry or, specifically, your ministry?
I want them to know we are all called of God. He has a kingdom assignment for all of us. Those he has called to be public school teachers and nurses have a calling just as significant as those of us who are called to preach.
How do you expect ministry to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
Unless there is a significant cultural shift, I believe Christian leaders will be more marginalized and face more persecution in our country than we have in the past few generations.
What were the key issues facing Baptists during the heart of your ministry?
I think the greatest theological issue was the authority of Scripture. I believe the most personal challenge was finding a place in denominational networks where our ministry and mission opportunities could be optimized.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
Our Baptist heritage has been a good boat for me to fish from (pardon the dangling preposition). No denomination is without faults, challenges or frustrations. However, the local associations, the BGCT and the BWA have provided opportunities to build friendships and mission/ministry opportunities that have allowed me to participate in much more than I could have ever done alone.
The emphasis in the past was how to “control” Baptist institutions to be sure they remain Baptists. I think today we need to think more in terms of collaboration and partnerships.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My parents were my main models. My wife, Sheila, has been my closest partner, friend and companion in ministry. I had wonderful professors at Ouachita and Southwestern (like Jimmy Nelson and Roy Fish) who helped to shape my theology.
Some preachers I didn’t know, like George W. Truett, have inspired me. Some older pastors like Jim Pleitz and Jimmy Allen were my encouragers. Laypersons in every church I have served have been my best friends.
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned in seminary?
What was the impact of ministry on your family?
My dad was a pastor, and he and my mom have always been models of ministry for me. Sheila and I have been equal partners in ministry. My children have tried to keep me honest and continue to give me insights into life and faith.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
I enjoy reading and therefore it is difficult to name a few. I have read most of the books written by Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Colson, Philip Yancey, Eric Metaxas, Os Guinness, Brian McLaren and Calvin Miller.
I have frequently referred back to Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy” and John R. W. Stott’s “The Cross of Christ.”
Many of C. S. Lewis’ books, including the classic “Mere Christianity,” and Charles Spurgeon’s collections of sermons continue to guide me.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books, “The Cost of Discipleship,” “Life Together,” and “Letters and Papers from Prison” probably contributed to my concerns for the persecuted.
Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” challenged me that a single life lived well has the potential to change culture.
Some of the books on preaching that have helped me include “Christ-Centered Preaching” by Bryan Chapell, “Preaching” by Fred Craddock and “Biblical Preaching” by Haddon Robinson.
I’m grateful for the books by Peter Drucker, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, and by Jim Collins on leadership. I enjoy reading for pleasure by novelists such as Dan Brown and John Grisham.
A recent book I recently read that opened me to the needs of the white working poor in our country was “Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D. Vance.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Psalm 23 always encourages me. Luke 4:18–19 reminds me of the focus of Jesus’ ministry. Hebrews 12:1–3 challenges me to persevere.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
I think the apostle Peter. I can relate to some of his failings but am inspired by his faithfulness.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.
I choose to continue to keep them in the dark.
If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
I might not take the time to answer this questionnaire.