For over twenty years, I have come to a moment in the week when I had to finish pulling my thoughts and words into phrases and sentences and paragraphs and prepare an article that would appear in The Baptist Record. The article that would be known as Directions would appear in The Baptist Record week by week for over two decades. Rarely was it ever a struggle and probably over 95% of the time it simply flowed together into a framework that would become the article for that week. Then, finally, I would come to that moment when I would begin to put it together and to share with Mississippi Baptists a thought or a word of encouragement.
Never was it an historic achievement or a literary masterpiece. I doubt anyone ever had thoughts of Shakespeare or Chaucer or even John Grisham when they started reading Directions. That was not the goal. No, I was writing to folks across our state, most of whom were Baptists that received The Baptist Record, to talk with them about life as we lived it and how God wanted to come and be a part of His people and to be on the front lines of the activities that we were involved in and to use us to impact this world and to share the love of His Son, Jesus.
It was out of the busyness of life, communicating to people living in pressurized situations in their own lives who needed to know that God does care about them and that God wants to work in them and through them to bring blessings to this world. Frankly, if the goal in my writing was not to be profound, I think that most of you would agree that I succeeded. Though I have rarely struggled with having something to write about in the column, this article, today, is different.
More than the over 1,000 Directions I have written, this one is the most difficult of all. How do you say goodbye or so long? It is for me virtually impossible. I guess you could just line up all the various ways that around the world people say goodbye – sayonara, adios, arrivederci, or maybe even as the citizens of our 50th state say when they express, aloha, it can mean hello or it can mean so long. Truth is, it is hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to sign off and say so long to people you love and people who have cared about you. That is the struggle that I wrestle with in writing you today.
One of the problems that I have in the struggle is that I am retiring from the position of Executive Director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, but I will still be here. I will be doing most of the things that I have been doing for the past 21 years as Executive Director or beyond that, 55 years in ministry. From the time God called me, I have never preached to live, but to be honest I have oftentimes lived to preach. God has given me the privilege to do that not only across our great state but across the nation and to countries around the world. I have shared the Lord’s message and been blessed 10,000 times in serving Him. How do I stop writing, or what can I say? Three things come to mind.
First — Mississippi Baptists … thank you! You have been so good to my family and me. I have been blessed over and over. My cup runneth over as I have been blessed by our institutions and agencies, our camps and our celebrations, our churches and associations. I have been blessed by our pastors and our lay leaders, our children and our senior citizens. Thank you for the glorious privilege you have given me to be your Executive Director over these years. More than a title or a position, you have allowed me to be and encouraged me to be your preacher, your fellow worker, your helper, your fellow servant in the work of Christ. I know those two little words can ring hollow, but I wish I did have the capability of expressing it with greater impact for that’s what I would say. From the depths of my heart and overflowing with love towards you and emotion at the highest level, I say to each of you, thank you.
Second — Mississippi Baptists … bless you! We all only have a brief time to do our part and to live out our calling, and I want to encourage each of you wherever you serve and whatever the opportunity it is that God gives you to participate in His Kingdom work, God bless you, and keep up the great work. I am keenly aware of the fact that every ending also has a beginning. Sometimes we fail to see that. It is true for me today that the ending of this phase of my life and ministry and service opens doors of opportunity for new beginnings, new opportunities, and new ways which time and rushed schedules never provided. It is a beginning and I pray that God is going to guide me as He also will continue to guide you.
The other thing that so clearly comes to my mind is that every beginning also has an ending. It is always that way, but there is so much more that we can do, so many more needs that are out there, challenges that call for us and responsibilities that will need us. Answer the call, there in your local church, there in your family, maybe to the ends of the earth, and let God use you and in fact bless you.
Third — Mississippi Baptists … be enlarged! There are people to reach, churches to start, people to be saved, men and women and young people who need to become true, living disciples of Jesus. The responsibility is yours and mine. I think about the way God has led and so blessed our convention in providing for the new leader who is coming to this position. Dr. Shawn Parker has faithfully served Jesus throughout his ministry, and here in our own state for 17 years he has been the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Columbus and parallel to that has been involved with our state convention and the work of Christ around the world. He did not seek this position, but over the weeks and months of searching, the position sought for him.
There was a long list of great leaders who were looked at, prayed over, and I am confident could have done the job, but the reality is that God spoke to our committee that was in constant contact with the living Christ, and He brought them to Shawn Parker and brought Shawn Parker to us. He deserves our support, our prayers, our involvement and he is deserving of the affirmation and help that you have given to me. It is a fact that without followship, no leadership makes any difference. He is a leader, but he needs all of us to say, “Here am I. You can count on me.”
God has done mighty things through not only decades but centuries of Mississippi Baptist life because of the kind of quality of people that fill our churches and follow the living Christ. Stay close to the Lord, and like Aaron and Hur, lift up not only the hands of our leader but the heart of our leader as he looks to the Lord and will guide us in the days that are ahead. From the day that I became aware of the fact that he was being recommended by our Search Committee, I have not failed to pray for him and his family as he comes to lead. He is remarkably capable, but it can’t be done just by the strength of will or the characteristics of brilliance. It is a work of God. God will guide him, and he will lead us. We will follow and celebrate what Jesus is doing among us in the days ahead.
With all of that said, a final thought. Sincerely. I look forward to seeing you soon.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral