Two years ago I sat in a dimly lit auditorium struggling to take notes on the address coming from the stage. At the time I was content editor for the Biblical Recorder. My assignment was to cover the executive director-treasurer’s report at the state convention’s annual meeting, but tears blurred my vision.
I couldn’t write. I couldn’t read. I could only sit and listen with a heart full of gratitude.
One thought filled my mind: that’s what Christian leadership looks like.
Milton Hollifield Jr. was boldly asking North Carolina Baptists, “Who is your neighbor?”
He challenged us to obey the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. And he was doing so by way of personal example.
“God taught me a lesson,” Hollifield said, explaining what he had learned with emotion in his voice. “You cannot reserve your compassion for only those who deserve it because, Milton, you did not deserve the compassion that I had for you.
“As Christ followers, my brothers and sisters, we must be willing to love all people in their world, regardless of any labels including ethnicity or nationality, cultural, moral or religious differences.”
I’ll never forget that moment. It stood out to me partly because of the stillness in the room, but mostly because it highlighted the consistent, godly leadership that I observed in Hollifield’s ministry – on and off the stage.
That experience made a tremendous impact on me as an aspiring young leader.
In that spirit and in light of his coming retirement, I offer three reasons why I am grateful for the leadership of Milton Hollifield.
1) He is a unifier.
In a day when it is easy for so-called leaders and influencers to build high profiles on grievance and division, Hollifield brings people together. Put simply, he’s kind to everyone. He’s a diplomat and statesman in Southern Baptist life. I pray for more like him – less tribal, more partnerships.
2) He has integrity.
There have been occasions over the last few years that I found it very difficult to work in Baptist news. Some weeks it seemed like story after story revealed yet another Christian leader involved in moral scandal. Enduring those hard times makes me ever more thankful to celebrate leaders like Hollifield.
He will be the first to tell you he is imperfect, and we should never lionize our leaders. I understand that, and even still, I am deeply grateful for his character throughout the course of his ministry.
3) His legacy is an invitation, not a barrier.
Hollifield has consistently invited young leaders to the table. As he steps out of one ministry assignment into whatever the Lord has next, his tenure at the convention paves the way for another leader to pick up the baton and continue in the same direction.
He is not leaving our partnerships, vision and values in need of repair. Instead, we have a foundation to build upon. I thank God for that.
I ask you to join me in praying for the Hollifields as they enter a new season of ministry.
May the Lord continue to bless churches across North Carolina through their lives.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3).