Twenty-five years ago, Ron Madison stood before a board of peers and recommended Rick Lance to be Alabama Baptists’ new executive director.
At that time, Lance — then pastor of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa — had been the name circulating as the candidate for the role.
“Because of his length of service, both in pastorates and the state convention, [Lance] brings a perspective that reaches back three decades in Alabama Baptist life,” said Madison, who chaired the search committee, as he presented Lance in June 1998.
Today Madison, whose own length of service is now four decades long, stands by that — and more. He said putting Lance up for the executive director role was one of the most meaningful moments of his own ministry career.
“I’ve been privileged to serve Alabama Baptists in a number of ways over the past 40 years since I came to Alabama, but I have never felt as grateful for and proud of any service that rises to the level of the opportunity to chair the committee to recommend Rick Lance to be executive director,” Madison said.
Moving toward unity
His gratitude boils down to one reason, he noted — the way Lance has led Alabama Baptists toward unity around the Great Commission for 25 years and counting.
“I think that over the last two-and-a-half decades, Alabama Baptists have walked through some challenging times, but those challenging times have never threatened the unity of our focus on our ‘one mission’ that Dr. Lance has articulated so clearly and effectively through the years,” Madison said.
Other states have faced challenges and sometimes not been as effective at staying on task, he said, but “we’ve been able to work through all of those challenges and emerge as a unified state convention.”
“Though there have been many people who have helped and have played a role in keeping us together, I think Rick Lance is singularly responsible for keeping us focused and on task,” Madison said.
When Lance moved into the role in July 1998, he told Alabama Baptists that singlemindedness was his goal.
“I believe that we as a family of Alabama Baptists need to maintain a clear focus on our mission — the Great Commission,” he wrote in a column in The Alabama Baptist.
Over the years, that story has played out in state Baptist life in a variety of ways.
For starters, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions has been intentional about helping to launch new church plants with every culture and background in mind. In recent years, they’ve also reached globally by establishing Acts 1:8 Connections to help churches partner with Alabama Baptist missionaries serving in other parts of the world.
Making financial strides
Financially, state Baptists have made strides too.
Nearly eight years ago, the SBOM established the Myers-Mallory State Missions Offering, named after Alabama Baptist missions heroes Martha Myers and Kathleen Mallory. Up until then, there had only been an Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union offering in Mallory’s name and a disaster relief offering.
“Combining the two and renaming the offering was a huge cooperative step for Alabama Baptists,” Lance said.
Then a few years later, the SBOM made a move from Montgomery to a new facility in Prattville and remained debt free through the process. The state also became a “true 50–50 state convention,” Lance said, meaning that 50 cents of every dollar received through the Cooperative Program is forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention for missions and ministry efforts, and the other half focuses on Great Commission ministries in Alabama.
“This means that the Alabama Baptist State Convention is the leading contributor to the SBC,” he said.
“We are not the wealthiest state convention. We don’t have many larger churches or megachurches, nor do we have the largest number of churches, but we are a generous people. We praise God for that, and we pray we can do more in the future.”
As he celebrates 25 years in this role, he said he’s thankful for the opportunity to have served and to continue serving, and he’s “excited about the potential of the future we have as a Baptist family.”
Source of wisdom
Buddy Champion, Alabama Baptist State Convention president and pastor of First Baptist Church Trussville, said Lance “personifies leadership reflecting a passion for Christ and the oneness that Christ prayed for in John 17.”
“His wisdom, intuition and vision has been a key factor in keeping Alabama Baptists focused on the Great Commission,” he said.
Over the years, Lance has become a source of wisdom for leaders in other state conventions, Champion said. “He is a resource who has quietly and calmly influenced our nation. We are blessed to have his continued leadership in Alabama Baptist life.”