Since June 1999, Randel Trull has been the director of missions for the Harmony-Pittsburg Baptist Association in Pittsburg, 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?
Immediately before becoming director of missions, I served two years as pastor of FBC Ore City. Prior to that, my family and I served as missionaries in Ecuador with the International Mission Board for 14 years.
During two of our furloughs, I served as missionary-in-residence at East Texas Baptist University. Before becoming a missionary, I served five years as a pastor in Jackson, Mississippi, and two and a half years on staff at FBC Oklahoma City.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Diana, Texas, just north of Longview, where our family attended First Baptist Church. My dad was the song leader and my mom was a leader in WMU. I finished high school in Daingerfield.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
At an early age, I began pestering my parents to let me make my profession of faith. Finally, when I was seven, they had our pastor come to the house where he talked to me about being born again out of John 3. I prayed to receive Christ and that was the beginning of many life changes the Lord would take me through.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
- East Texas Baptist College, Bachelor of Arts, 1971
- Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity, 1975
- Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry, 2006
Why do you feel called to your particular vocation?
I wouldn’t say that I was called to be an associational worker. I was called to preach/teach the gospel and to make disciples that make disciples. I was led to serve on church staffs, to pastor, to serve as a missionary, and now to serve an association.
Each step along the way, the Lord was preparing me for the next position he wanted me to serve. It has always been about advancing the kingdom.
Please tell us about your association—where it’s located, the key focus of its work and ministry, etc.
Our office is located in Pittsburg in northeast Texas, about two hours east of Dallas, an hour north of Tyler. Our 74 churches are located in eight different counties. Our area is rural with small towns.
In the early years of my service here, the focus was on church planting. In addition to traditional churches, we have planted cowboy churches, country churches, a biker church, and ethnic churches. Lately, our focus has shifted more toward church revitalization.
What do you like best about leading your association? Why?
My greatest joy comes from hearing reports of God at work in various congregations. The flip side of that is the pain from hearing about church problems.
What aspect(s) of associational ministry and/or its mission do you wish more people understood?
I wish church members and church leaders understood that it is just as important for congregations to be active in a fellowship of churches as it is for a believer to be active in a specific local church. The kingdom functions through relationships. The kingdom is weakened to the degree that believers focus on themselves and congregations focus on themselves.
How has your association and its mission changed since you began your career?
I have already mentioned the shift from church planting to church revitalization. Other changes include:
- less emphasis on associational camps, and camps themselves have shifted from an emphasis on youth to an emphasis on children;
- a shift of financial support for BSM on community college campuses from state conventions to the association;
- the rise of disaster relief ministries; and
- the attempt to serve as a resource center for the churches. Some things never change — the challenge to keep churches focused on mission, the burden of caring for ministers and churches in time of need, and the duty to help churches through conflict and crisis.
How do you expect your association and/or its mission to change in the next 10 to 20 years?
The focus on providing resources will diminish as the ease of online resourcing increases. The ministry of the association will increasingly depend on the gifting and experience of the director of missions (or whatever he is called). His services as counselor, coach, and consultant to the churches and the pastors/staff/leaders of the congregations will be the primary “product” that the association offers.
In New Testament churches, pastors and teachers have always been supplemented by external ministers (apostles, prophets, evangelists in Ephesians 4). All congregations can benefit from the ministry of a godly man who has the perspective of an impartial outsider and the interest of a committed insider.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your association.
- Church members’ declining awareness of the association’s work which leads to declining financial support — the pull for churches to cater to the consumer mentality of their members resulting in greater consumption of resources by local congregations and in fewer resources for ministries beyond the local church;
- the increasing difficulty of finding pastors and staff members, even musicians, for small churches;
- the increasing number of churches that disband after spending all their resources in a losing effort to survive, often leaving the association with the responsibility for maintaining properties that in rural areas may not be attractive to buyers.
What one aspect of your job gives you the greatest joy or fulfillment?
Serving as a sounding board and confidant for pastors, staff members and other church leaders. Everyone needs a safe person to whom we can share our dreams, fears, burdens and plans without it being used against us at a later time.
What are the key issues—opportunities and/or challenges—facing Baptist churches?
All Christian ministries face the challenges of an increasingly secular, what’s-in-it-for-me culture and increased competition for the discretionary time/resources/attention of individuals and families. Ministry, especially evangelism, must be much more intentional than traditional. We have the opportunity to develop more authentic disciples and churches.
What are the key issues facing Baptists as a people or denomination?
Our denominational organizations face the same problems of all aging institutions: mission drift, end-means inversion, increased bureaucracy, resistance to change and decreased innovation.
At some point, all institutions take on a life of their own and fight for their own survival. Associations are small enough that they can and should continually re-invent themselves. Such change is more difficult for larger entities.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
If it were up to me, more of our resources would go to getting the gospel to the nations. We spend too much time and money on ourselves. Our priorities don’t correspond to those revealed in the Bible.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I have never had anyone that I would call a mentor, but I have benefited from the ministries of many evangelists, professors and pastors. I have learned the most from those who put up with me while the Lord was changing me, especially my wife and family, my missionary colleagues, and the members of the churches I pastored both in the states and on the mission field. They helped me move from being overly task-oriented to being more relationship-oriented.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
Over fifty years of ministry, there are too many to mention.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
My life verse since high school has been and continues to be Matthew 6:33: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” If I seek him first, everything else falls into place.
Who is your favorite Bible character, other than Jesus? Why?
No one comes close to Jesus.
Name something about you that would surprise people who know you well.
I can’t think of anything. I’m pretty ordinary.
If you could get one “do over” in your career, what would it be, and why?
It would be dangerous to change anything. Even my mistakes have contributed to who, what, and where I am today.