Barry Bledsoe jokes that his favorite topic is most people’s least favorite.
“It includes both money and dying, and people don’t like to talk about either,” he said. “But both are facts of life. Both are realities. And talking about them can make a big difference in the kingdom of God.”
For two decades — when he retires April 1, 2021, it will be 20 years exactly — Bledsoe has been at the helm of The Baptist Foundation of Alabama. While there, one of his biggest goals has been to help Alabama Baptists think more positively and proactively about the two topics they like the least.
“Never in my life have I been as passionate about anything as I have about this Kingdom opportunity,” he said.
And it shows. In his time as TBFA president, Bledsoe has led the foundation to secure about $280 million in estate commitments, the bulk of which is earmarked for Baptist causes. His vision for the role was to get Christ followers all over the state to think of their last act as an act of stewardship — to consider leaving part of their estate, whether large or small, to go toward ministry and missions.
“When you connect the dots, it’s a natural thing for a believer to do,” he said. “There’s an unbelievable untapped resource available for Kingdom ministry through mature believers seeing that last act of planning final affairs as a biblical stewardship decision.”
He acquired his vision one day when he realized he and his wife, Judy, hadn’t looked at their end-of-life plans as a biblical stewardship decision. God laid on his heart that everything they owned — not just the paycheck they tithed — belonged to God.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
“My belief is that there are tens of thousands of Barry Bledsoes sitting in the pews — people who are trying to be good stewards but never thought about this being a stewardship decision,” he said. “So far, we’ve only served around 1,000 families. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the opportunity that’s available.”
To help families plan — both for giving and for providing for their families — Bledsoe has built a world-class staff ranging from CPAs to attorneys. They travel around the state meeting with people to help them plan how to steward their assets after they’re gone, whether that be through the Foundation itself or not.
“This is really important to us; we just want to serve the church so the church can equip its people,” Bledsoe said. “We’re not trying to build assets of the Foundation; we’re trying to connect people with resources to fuel Kingdom ministries wherever they choose.”
It’s a model he’s been able to share with other states too. His vision is for churches all over to be equipped to help their members make good end-of-life decisions.
“Why wouldn’t the church be the place that helped families make sure they are taking care of their families in this arena and being a steward should they choose to do so? It’s so natural for people to want to do that, and they don’t know who to trust to help them,” Bledsoe said. “The church can step into that space.”
That would help people care better for their families but also fuel the future of missions and ministry, he said. If 1,000 families can amass $280 million for the cause of Christ, imagine what 15,000 or 20,000 could do.
“It’s a huge opportunity and responsibility for the next leader because I do think the best days are ahead by far,” he said.
A search committee is in place with hopes of naming a candidate for Bledsoe’s position by the end of the year.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said Bledsoe’s legacy “is one of integrity, innovation and insight.”
‘Man of integrity’
“He has helped to establish The Baptist Foundation of Alabama as a preeminent leader of state convention foundations,” Lance said. “He is a man of integrity who leads people to be the same. His honesty with people and his fidelity to the cause of Christ are admirable. He has led TBFA to be the gold standard of excellence in every aspect of the ministry.”
Bledsoe says the vision was never his; he’s convinced it was always God’s, “because it wasn’t on my radar when I first came to TBFA.”
“I’ve been blessed to be a tool in the hand of a mighty God who’s got some ministries to fund out there,” he said. “That’s how we feel at the Foundation — we’re just tools in the hand of the Lord.”