Next week, Mississippi Baptists from all around the state will gather in Jackson’s First Baptist Church for our annual convention. It is the 184th convention of Mississippi Baptists. Through the decades, it has been an incredible, wonderful experience for me personally, but also for so many who gather for fellowship, inspiration, encouragement, challenge, and celebration of what God is doing all across our state and beyond to the world. In a few years, Mississippi Baptists will be celebrating the 200th anniversary as a convention and I can only imagine what a great time that is going to be. This year will be filled with blessings: the presidential address from Mark Vincent, the convention sermon from Greg Warnock, Bible Treasures with Richard Blackaby, and a message from IMB President Paul Chitwood.
As I approach the convention in 2019, my mind is filled with reflections of the decades gone by as I have had the privilege of being a part of this great statewide fellowship of Baptists. I was reflecting on so many of the years that have gone by that began with my first time to ever come to the convention as a young pastor. It was 1964. I remember the excitement of coming to the convention, seeing people that I knew already in the work, and being close to people that were giants in the leadership role of Mississippi Baptists who I only knew by name and recognition but had never met and doubted that I would ever get to shake their hand and meet them, but there they were sitting in the pews near me and walking the hallways by me.
For the most part, I was blessed and impressed and encouraged because I was a part of something that I was convinced was a work of God. I had the privilege of being a small part of the big team. I recall that in 1969 the president of the convention asked me if I would have the closing prayer after his address at the convention. I never dreamed or ever thought about such an honor being bestowed on me. Jokingly I tell that he asked me to lead in silent prayer, but he actually asked me to come to the podium and lead in the closing prayer of that session. I was shocked and at the same time grateful just to participate.
Through the years I had the privilege of serving on several committees, serving as a trustee at some of our institutions through the years, but in 1988, I was overwhelmed when the convention elected me to be the president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. That meant that I would be bringing the presidential address that year and the following year. Little did I realize, in fact I never had a thought, of having other opportunities to address the family of Mississippi Baptists, but the opportunities were far beyond anything I could ever have thought or imagined. The two presidential addresses: one entitled “He Is Able … Are We?” and the other focused on the cross of our Lord Jesus and being captured by His cross. A few years after I had served as president, I was invited to preach the convention sermon. Again, I was stunned by the opportunity and so blessed by the privilege.
Then in 1998, I was asked by the search committee to become the new executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. I honestly had never thought of doing such a thing. I never desired to be in that position, but weighing it before the Lord, felt the burden of His leadership in my life to pursue doing my best to fill that position. It indeed was an honor that became a joy but always a weighty responsibility before the Lord in seeking to give direction to our convention.
One of the most meaningful pieces of that responsibility was just an hour a year that I had the privilege of giving the report from the executive director-treasurer that turned into a worship experience on Tuesday night with the people of God. As I look back over those experiences, it became a high point in my life that I prayed would become a meaningful point in the life of others. While I had the privilege of preaching hundreds of times over the course of a year, that one time each year was always on my heart.
This year will be the 22nd address as executive director that I have given to the convention, and it will be my last. Looking back over those moments, just from my perspective, some of them are memorable. Others of them are forgettable. Some are regrettable, but interestingly enough, none of them are repeatable. For good, bad, or otherwise, they have become a part of Mississippi Baptist history as I sought to find and deliver a word from the Lord that would lead a step further in doing His Kingdom work.
As executive director-treasurer of the convention, it will be my last convention and my last convention report and address. As in the past, I pray for this Tuesday night that I, and you, will hear a word from the Lord and not from Jim. Even as I prepare for that moment, I am so excited about the next convention, a new executive director-treasurer no doubt filled with anticipation and excitement, fresh ideas, new opportunities, and a renewed sense of our living Lord moving among us to use us to touch the ends of the earth. God leads His people, and God leads His leaders. We will look forward to hearing, following, and celebrating together.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral