ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – James W. Nelson, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Fellowship (now Montana Southern Baptist Convention) from 1985 until his retirement in 1994, died July 4 in Albuquerque, N.M. He was 88.
Nelson moved to Montana after serving with the then-Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) from 1975-82 as director of the associational missions division and, earlier, director of the rural-urban missions department.
Nelson and his wife, Annis, were missionaries in the Panama Canal Zone from 1960-63 and regional missionaries working with Native Americans in northwestern New Mexico from 1964-71. He then served with the Baptist Convention of New Mexico as director of the mission ministries division from 1971-75.
In 1979, Nelson was the coauthor of “Future Talk for Southern Baptists” with Don E. Hammer, director of the HMB’s then-metropolitan missions department.
James W. Nelson, former executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Fellowship
William G. Tanner, then-HMB president, wrote in the foreword, “It is my hope that these chapters will provide needed insights and encouragement to denominational strategists and church leaders as we endeavor to shape the future to His will.”
The book by Nelson and Hammer included chapters titled “A Theology of Change,” “Population Dynamics,” “Racial and Ethnic Diversity,” “Loyalty and Relationships” and “A Bold Mission Strategy for the Future.”
“Often, problems are compounded because we fail to deal with them before they reach the ‘runaway’ stage,” Nelson and Hammer wrote in the 1979 book. “A modest amount of thought and effort, if invested early, could make a difference in handling the careening change. The adages are still true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; or, a stitch in time saves nine. Yet, these old truths from the past are often forgotten in the busyness of making decisions in today’s world.”
The son of a farmer and homemaker in Albertville, Ala., Nelson earned a divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1959 and a bachelor’s degree from Howard College (now Samford University) in Alabama in 1953. He dated his conversion to faith in Christ to 1938 at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Albertville at the age of 14. He entered the ministry when he was a businessman and father of three in Pine Lake, Ga. The Nelsons later had three more children.
Also during his ministry, Nelson was a director of missions in Alabama and pastor of churches in Alabama and Mississippi.
Nelson served in the U.S. Navy from 1942-46.
Following his retirement as Montana’s executive director in 1994, Nelson and his wife returned to their native Alabama, where he pastored for three years. The couple then moved to Albuquerque, where he continued to assist churches in a variety of ways, serving more than three years as pastor of First Indian Baptist Church in Espanola and filling the pulpit at Indian Nations Baptist Church in Albuquerque.
Nelson is survived by his wife of 66 years and their six children.
A memorial service was held Saturday, July 7, at Highland Baptist Church in Albuquerque, where he was a member. Memorial contributions may be made to the Highland Food Pantry, Highland Baptist Church, 417 Palomas SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108 or Noon Day Ministries, P.O. Box 25451, Albuquerque, NM 87125.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by John Loudat, editor of the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, and Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)