A. Rudolph (Rudy) Fagan, who led the former Stewardship Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention for 20 years, died Wednesday (Oct. 3) in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He was 88.
Fagan served as president of the Stewardship Commission from 1974 until his retirement in 1994.
The Stewardship Commission, which was closed in the SBC’s Covenant for a New Century restructuring in the mid-1990s, was the convention’s primary advocate for the Cooperative Program channel of support for state, national and international missions and ministry. It also assisted churches in capital campaigns as they built new facilities. The commission’s duties were moved to the SBC Executive Committee and LifeWay Christian Resources (then Sunday School Board) under the SBC restructuring.
In his 1976 book What the Bible Says About Stewardship, Fagan noted that ‘it is not a primary objective of mine to attempt to increase the amount of money given, but rather to lead those persons who have not done so to discover the joy of Bible stewardship.’
‘If only an additional few can have released through them the power of a Holy Spirit that has been ‘quenched by stinginess,’ along with the compelling and convincing witness of an abundant life, the effort and expense of this work will then be good stewardship,’ Fagan wrote.
Before being named to lead the Stewardship Commission, Fagan pastored churches in Kirbyville, Texas, and Boca Grande, Sebring, Orlando and Bradenton, Fla. He had served as president of the Florida Baptist Convention and chairman of its State Board of Missions and moderator of the Orange Blossom Baptist Association in central Florida.
The SBC Executive Committee, in a resolution of appreciation upon Fagan’s retirement, also noted his work in behalf of Bold Mission Thrust, the convention-wide initiative during the latter 1970s and first half of the 1980s to share the gospel worldwide by the year 2000. Fagan chaired a Stewardship Commission task force to set forth ways for Southern Baptists to support the global evangelistic effort.
He led evangelistic campaigns in South Africa, Brazil, Hong Kong, Spain, Panama, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, according to the EC resolution.
Fagan earned a divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1955 and a bachelor’s degree from Samford University (then Howard College) in Birmingham, Ala., in 1951.
He dated his conversion and baptism to age 8 in July 1938 under the preaching of his father, Lemuel, who was enrolled at Southwestern and serving as a student pastor at First Baptist Church in Grand Prairie. The family – with five children and one on the way – had moved to Fort Worth with a few clothes, their furniture and a milk cow, according to a 1998 article in The Baptist Program, formerly published by the Executive Committee.
In 1947, when Fagan voiced his call to the ministry, his father had him preach the following Sunday at the church where the elder Fagan was then serving, First Baptist in Arcadia, Fla.
‘I stumbled through my message based on Proverbs 11:30, ‘He that winneth souls is wise.’ My call was further confirmed when a woman in her 60s came forward and trusted Christ,’ Fagan recounted. He was licensed to preach that night.
During his college and seminary years, by one friend’s account, Fagan ‘missed no opportunities to preach, teach, sing, sponsor, supervise or counsel in any Southern Baptist church or association work.’
As a pastor, Fagan said, ‘Each church I ever served had financial problems. This was a topic every pulpit committee raised with me. In each case, the Lord helped me lead them to financial stability. … I encouraged my churches to manage well what they did have. We paid bills promptly, and I encouraged the members to experience the joy of giving.
‘That was a real hurdle for me,’ he said, ‘for I grew up in a time when a dollar was so big that you thought twice before turning it loose.’
Fagan, as the Stewardship Commission’s president, noted on the 75th anniversary of the Cooperative Program, ‘The genius of this cooperative plan for supporting missions was it would enable individuals and churches to make one gift and thereby support all Southern Baptist causes.
‘Southern Baptist leaders took this step at great risk,’ Fagan wrote of the Cooperative Program’s creation in 1925. ‘Could individual Baptists and churches who had previously responded to personal appeals for each cause be relied upon to adequately support missions in general? Southern Baptists have responded with a clear ‘yes’ to that question.’
Fagan is survived by his wife of 64 years, Florrie; a son, Max; three daughters, Vicki, Myra and Amanda; 12 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.
His funeral will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at Woodfin Memorial Chapel in Murfreesboro, with burial in Evergreen Cemetery.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)