Roundtables. Huddles. The language used around the Discipleship Network of Alabama points to where network leaders say they believe things happen — in relationships.
Just ask Daniel Edmonds where his life has been changed, and he points quickly to his relationship with Andrew Smith, a longtime pastor and leader of the Sunday School office at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Edmonds, current director of the SBOM office of Sunday School & discipleship, said Smith took him under his wing as a young man and mentored him in ministry and disciple making until Smith died in 2015.
“But I wasn’t the only one — I was one of many,” Edmonds said.
He started naming people who also would bring up Smith’s name if asked who had influenced their life toward making disciples.
Steve Layton, lead strategist for groups in the office of Sunday School & discipleship, said it’s because of stories like this that DNA presented three new awards at their January gathering.
Layton said several months ago he was at a meeting listening to Topper Reid, vice president of Unlimited Partnerships’ church coaching division and a longtime minister of education, share his story. Then Edmonds got up and began sharing his story.
“I realized it was important to capture some of these stories and pass them on,” Layton recalled.
And as he talked with others “we came to the realization that we needed to continue to celebrate excellence among some of the leaders in the state of Alabama,” Layton said.
Three new awards will be presented annually to honor men who have poured into others — the daily, life-on-life kind of investment that doesn’t often get recognized, he explained.
“We have these great men who have given and mentored others, and we wanted to celebrate them and create this culture of learning from those who have served and led well.”
The inaugural awards honored six — the three for whom they are named, and this year’s recipients.
The new awards are:
*The Andrew Smith Legacy Leader Award, in memory of the man who mentored Edmonds and many others. Smith grew up at Chisholm Baptist Church in Montgomery and served as a pastor of churches in Florida and Alabama, and as the first pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Montgomery.
He began serving with the Sunday School office in 1986 and became director in 1996.
The award was presented posthumously to Carl P. Wells, who served 40 years on the pastoral staff of First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa. He began his ministry there in 1963 and retired in 1996, returning in 2002 to serve another seven years as minister of senior adults. He died in 2020.
“Carl knew more than the rest of us and had certainly done more than the rest of us, and he would come to our conferences and I would say, ‘We should switch places’ and he would say, ‘No, I’ve come to learn,’” Edmonds remembered. “He was such a great person and a great encourager.”
Joe Armour, minister to adults and outreach at FBC Tuscaloosa, presented the award to Wells’ wife, Eleanor.
*The Daniel Edmonds Disciple Making Leader Award, in honor of Edmonds, who has served at the helm of the office of Sunday School & discipleship nearly 26 years and was instrumental in starting DNA.
The award was presented to Jay Gordon, adult and small groups minister at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, whose passion is to lead small groups, equip others to lead and connect with leaders across the state to equip and encourage them.
*The Topper Reid Emerging Leader Award, in honor of Reid who was a minister of education for 28 years. From 1991 to 2004 he served at Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, where his Sunday School grew from 900 to more than 3,200 in attendance, with enrollment topping 8,000. During that time he helped start more than 260 Sunday School small groups.
The award was presented to Kris Henderson, discipleship pastor at Macedonia Baptist Church in Ranburne. He and his family served as missionaries to Honduras for seven years, during which he was pastor of International Christian Fellowship in San Pedro Sula. God gave him a burden then for disciple making in the local church context, and he now puts that into practice at Macedonia Baptist, where he’s helping start new small groups and developing a culture of evangelism.
Edmonds said the three awards are “to celebrate people who are leading the way and doing what they’re God-called to do.”
The next set of awards will be announced at the January 2023 DNA gathering.
For more information visit makingdisciplesal.org.