Dale Fisher received quite the surprise on his 70th birthday.
Not only did ministry colleagues serenade him with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” during the N.C. Associational Missions Conference in early April, they also recognized Fisher for his long tenure of service in leading the Caldwell Baptist Association in Lenoir, N.C.
Fisher, who has served as the Caldwell association’s executive director and associational mission strategist (AMS) since 1986, retired on April 30 after serving in the role for 36 years. His retirement also represents a culmination of 50 years serving in vocational ministry.
“This is kind of a special year,” Fisher said, reflecting on his recent birthday and long tenure in ministry. “After a lot of thought and prayer, I just felt like it was time.”
While Fisher has been quick to deflect the attention and praise that has come his way during various recognitions and receptions during his final weeks as Caldwell’s AMS, colleagues have described him as a committed and cooperative ministry leader with impeccable character and humility.
“Dale Fisher is one of the most respected associational mission strategists I know,” said Ray Gentry, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders (SBCAL). “He has a sterling reputation among his peers.”
Fisher served a three-year term on the SBCAL executive team and a one-year stint on a study team that in 2018 suggested “associational mission strategist” as the new recommended title for local Baptist associational leaders formerly called directors of missions (DOMs).
Fisher also contributed a chapter to a book released in 2020 titled “The Baptist Association: Assisting Churches. Advancing the Gospel” that expounded upon the various qualities and proficiencies of an effective associational leader.
“We chose Dale to write on character because he is a person of exemplary character,” Gentry said.
Bob Lowman, longtime AMS of the Metrolina Baptist Association in Charlotte, N.C., echoed Gentry’s sentiments.
“Dale’s chapter on being a person of character as an associational mission strategist was the perfect assignment for him,” Lowman said. “He modeled that character for us for over 30 years.”
Lowman served alongside Fisher on the SBCAL executive team, and even served as a pastor in the Caldwell Baptist Association from 1989 to 1997 before becoming the AMS of the Metrolina Association.
In fact, Lowman is one of five individuals who served as pastors in the Caldwell Association before being called to serve as AMSs in other associations. The other four are Phil Frady, former AMS of the South Roanoke Baptist Association; Duane Kuykendall, former AMS of the Catawba Valley Baptist Association; Jim Kilby, current AMS of the South Mountain Baptist Association and David Roberts, current AMS of the Bay Area Baptist Association of Michigan.
“(Dale) modeled for us the ways to be most effective in this important ministry,” Lowman said. “He was and is one of the best examples of an associational leader I’ve ever encountered, steady and caring in his role, thoughtful and strategic in ministry.”
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 2006-21, said Fisher was admired by the pastors and congregations of the churches that make up the Caldwell Baptist Association.
“He is loved and appreciated by the pastors and people in the churches of that association,” Hollifield said. “When they needed help, Dale was always ready to provide it to them.”
Fisher said he made it his goal to visit each of the 72 churches in the Caldwell association at least once each year. He became a “pastor to pastors” by providing numerous opportunities for training and fellowship. Fisher says one highlight for him has been a ministers’ study group he helped launch in the early 2000s.
Fisher provided numerous missions opportunities for the churches of the Caldwell Association and saw active participation. He helped facilitate over 40 combined international and North American mission trips.
One highlight for Fisher was a five-year partnership between the Caldwell Baptist Association and the Osasco Baptist Association in Brazil. During the midway point of the partnership in 1990, a group of 30 Brazilians traveled to Lenior, N.C., and spoke in 44 different churches in the Caldwell Association.
Additionally, Fisher helped coordinate several disaster relief trips with N.C. Baptists on Mission in the aftermath of various hurricanes and storms, and the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
In addition to cultivating mission opportunities for pastors and churches, Fisher helped build bridges in the local community that have opened doors for ministry in the local school district and community service organizations. In 2018, following the Caldwell association’s involvement in the N.C. Baptist “Coats for the City” partnership in New York, Fisher helped spearhead a similar effort on the local level called “Coats for Caldwell.”
Fisher has also served in a variety of leadership roles in N.C. Baptist life. He previously served as a president of the N.C. Associational Missions Conference. His service also includes terms on the board of directors and executive committee of the Baptist state convention, the board of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute (now College), as a trustee for the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, and as a member of the board of directors for the N.C. Baptist Foundation.
Prior to coming to the Caldwell association, Fisher led the work of the French Broad Baptist Association in Mars Hill, N.C. He also pastored or served on staff at several churches in western North Carolina and one church in Texas while he was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In retirement, Fisher says he hopes to do some traveling with his wife, Barbara, and spend more time with his family. Even as he retires, Fisher says he looks forward to serving the Lord in new ways.
“I’ve told a lot of people, ‘I’m not retiring from ministry,’” Fisher said. “I’m just retiring from this position.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chad Austin serves as content strategist and editor at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)