The Montana Southern Baptist Convention is seeking a new executive director to lead the group of about 135 churches in a state where more than a third of the people reportedly don’t attend church worship services regularly – or at all.
The new executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC) will need to be a successful pastor, an exceptional leader committed to evangelism and must love pastors and local churches, said search team chairman Bruce Speer, who pastors Crosspoint Community Church in Missoula.
“Montana is a unique state. It is made up of a lot of rural churches in small communities and yet it also has some larger cities where pastors are trying to reach white collar workers,” Speer said. “It is a unique mission field because there are very few churches that are more than 40 years old and it is still a state where the average person … would tell you they have never been to church.”
Less than one percent of the state’s adults are Southern Baptists, and 38 percent of adults never or seldom attend church, according to the Pew Research 2015 Religious Landscape Study.
Fred Hewett, retiring in October as the current executive director, describes geography as a major challenge in the state where the nearest Southern Baptist pastor might be as many as 200 miles away. The state is the nation’s fourth largest in size, but only 48th in population, about 1 million people.
“From the southeast corner of Montana, it’s closer to Texas than it is to the northwestern corner of Montana,” Hewett said. “In this state convention, the executive director will have to have the ability to relate well to the rancher and farmer, as well as the white collar professional because we run a very diverse population.”
Hewett is only the third person to hold the post of executive director since the convention was formed in 2002 from the Montana Southern Baptist Fellowship. Southern Baptist work only began in Montana in 1952, he said.
“We are still very much a new work state, a frontier state convention,” Hewett said. “Our churches are first generation Christians” who require much pastoral care.
Southern Baptist church planting is a major MTSBC focus, with 23 churches planted in the past four years, according to MTSBC statistics.
MTSBC President Darren Hales, pastor of Big Sky Fellowship in Helena, said an effective executive director would need “a strong sense of calling to come and serve in Montana, first and foremost,” and would need to be able to connect with pastors and people in several different demographic categories. American Indians comprise four percent of the state’s population and live on seven reservations. The state is home to Glacier National Park and a small part of Yellowstone.
“We have a vision to reach our state for the gospel, and we have a heart for the people who live here,” Hales said. “Our executive director would need to be somebody who has a heart and a call for pastors, [and a calling] to serve in a variety of settings, from the small church that only has 10 to 12 people – because they’re a little outpost in the middle of Montana in a ranching community – to churches of 1,000 in some of our bigger cities.”
The MTSBC will conduct a thorough search with the confidence that God has prepared a person for the job, Hales said.
“I believe there is a qualified candidate who maybe has had a tugging or a longing to move out west and be a part of something new that God’s doing out in the West,” he said. “We want it to be a spiritual decision based on a clear calling from God.”
Montana Southern Baptist leaders describe the MTSBC as in excellent condition financially and spiritually, with a strong foundation and vision.
“The candidate we’re looking for will come and embrace all of the positive things that Montana is doing, while giving us, inspiring us to look ahead to the next steps,” Hales said. “We’re looking for someone who’s going to look ahead for the next 10 years. We feel very good where we are as a denomination, the growth and desire to grow, to touch people and sacrifice for the gospel, but a new leader is going to have to look to the next 10 years.”
Chad Scarborough came to Montana in 2013 to lead First Baptist Church in Shelby, the second oldest church in the state. The fulltime pastor is the only staff member of the church that averages 45 in Sunday attendance.
“Probably only 10 churches in our state, maybe a little bit more, … average over 100 people on Sunday. For the most part, all of our churches are small congregations,” Scarborough said. “An executive director … is going to have to have an understanding of how small congregations function and operate, and also the accessibility to training and resources. Many of our small churches don’t have the opportunity to have resources for their pastors to have continued training.”
Shelby is a transient community of 3,000 residents, not counting the 500 who live in the Crossroads Correctional Center, and is located just 26 miles from the Canadian border. Many residents have never heard the gospel, Scarborough said. Thirty miles away is the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where First Baptist of Shelby planted Glacier View Baptist mission before Scarborough’s pastorate. He characterized American Indians that the church encounters as quick to accept the gospel but prone to dualism, placing Jesus among many other spiritual beliefs.
“Montana is still the mission field,” he said. “There’s really no way else to say it. This is a really unchurched area…. As far as Evangelical Christians go, the work is still very new here in Montana.”
Among top responsibilities, the executive director will serve as the chief operating officer, the treasurer and chief financial officer, the official director of MTSBC work and ministries, the director and supervisor of MTSBC staff and North American Mission Board missionaries in the state, and the editor of the Montana Baptist electronic newsletter. A full job description and list of qualifications is available from Speer at [email protected], where the search team will receive applications through May.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)