Jim Wells, a 15-term Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) registration secretary known for his humble leadership style, died June 17 following a seven-year battle with cancer. He was 69.
First elected registration secretary in 2002, Wells oversaw messenger registration, ballot counting and reporting of vote totals at SBC annual meetings among other duties. He served alongside eight SBC presidents.
SBC President Steve Gaines called Wells “a humble servant of Jesus Christ.”
Wells “was a diligent servant and a godly, Christ-like man,” said Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. “He was a great encouragement to me and to many other presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention. We will miss him.”
When the advanced stages of cancer prevented Wells from attending this year’s SBC annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix, messengers adopted a resolution of appreciation that stated “countless volunteers” on the SBC Credentials Committee and among convention tellers “have witnessed transformative servant leadership through Wells’ humble, yet principled leadership style.”
As recently as June 9, the resolution stated, Wells said he was “confident in these final hours that God is in control” and that he was “looking forward to a day when we will worship at the feet of Jesus together.” Wells intended to devote his final days of life to “praying for the lost,” according to the resolution.
Messengers expressed in the resolution “their deepest and most sincere gratitude to God for the life and ministry of Jim Wells.” The resolution commended Wells for “assuring that each duly elected messenger … was properly certified and that each messenger’s ballot was accurately counted.”
Highlights of Wells’ service as registration secretary included at least two SBC presidential elections decided by narrow margins. In 2016, Wells teased messengers when illegal ballots prevented either Gaines or North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear from achieving a majority on the second ballot. In 2006, Wells certified the vote count when Frank S. Page was elected president by a slim 50.48 percent majority.
Page, who now serves as SBC Executive Committee president, told Baptist Press (BP) Wells “was a truly good man” and “a man without guile.”
“He never sought the limelight but was always faithful to serve out his duties with integrity and competency,” Page said. “He was a friend to me as well as to many. His Christ-like demeanor was evident to all. He will be missed.”
Wells told BP June 2 he wanted to explain in an interview following this year’s SBC annual meeting “how much it meant” to him to serve Southern Baptists as registration secretary.
He also served the SBC on various committees over the years, including the Executive Committee from 1991-2001, winning election twice as the body’s secretary and serving two years as chairman of the Administrative Subcommittee.
Wells’ five-decade ministry included pastorates of nine Missouri churches, nearly 12 years as director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in southwest Missouri and four years on the Missouri Baptist Convention staff as a liaison to DOMs.
SBC recording secretary John Yeats, who served with Wells all 15 years he was in convention office, told BP, “Very few men I know have the passion to know the ways of God like Jim did.”
“As [my wife] Sharon and I watched Jim and [his wife] Judy through his battle with cancer, they [conducted themselves] with grace and character that is an exhibition of their faith in our Lord Jesus,” said Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
“As a convention officer, Jim and Judy worked hard at the annual meeting in the behind-the-scenes work so that every duly elected messenger was registered and every ballot was accurately counted. They worked many more hours than just the sessions to help messengers and maintain protocols. We will miss their thoroughness and industriousness,” Yeats said in written comments.
Immediate past SBC President Ronnie Floyd, who nominated Wells in 2002 when he was first elected to SBC office, told BP Wells “did an outstanding job through the years” of serving the convention.
“While dealing with cancer, he served sacrificially,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. “We talked numerous times through those two years and he took the ball each time and finished his assignment in a wonderful manner.”
Wells’ chief registration assistant Don Currence, minister of administration and children’s pastor at First Baptist Church in Ozark, Mo., was elected June 13 to succeed him as registration secretary.
Wells received undergraduate degrees from Hannibal-LaGrange University and Central Missouri State University and a master of divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was granted an honorary doctorate from Hannibal-LaGrange.
Wells is survived by his wife of 50 years Judy, a daughter and a granddaughter.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, June 24 at First Baptist Church in Ozark. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations in Wells’ honor to Hannibal-LaGrange to help fund education for ministerial students.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)