Michigan Baptistsí new exec brings new ideascomment (0)
March 24, 2011
By Neisha Fuson
It was 1990 in a Shoney’s Big Boy in Ardmore, Okla. Brenda Gilstrap looked at her husband, Bobby; motioned toward his father, a director of missions (DOM) in Georgia; and said, “That’s what you need to do one day, isn’t it?”
Bobby Gilstrap, recently elected executive director of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan (BSCM), was in only his second pastoral role at the time, and his wife was already telling him the direction he should head.
“I learned a long time ago, the smart thing to do is to listen to your wife,” Gilstrap said with a smile.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, he and his parents moved to Guatemala with the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) when he was just 7 months old. The family moved to Georgia seven years later. After graduating from high school, Gilstrap went on to Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon, Ga., and Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, where he earned a bachelor of arts in sociology. He earned a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and a doctor of ministry from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
A licensed pastor since 1981, he felt the pressure from seminary and those around him to be a “good pastor.” After serving four churches in Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas, Gilstrap recognized his strengths and skills as a person who supports and provides resources to others, but not necessarily as a person behind the pulpit. “I looked back on my personal history and realized everything was about starting, re-creating or restructuring to become more effective. I think in the ‘How can we do better?’ kind of mind-set,” he said.
In 2001, Gilstrap and his family, including sons Robert and Andrew, moved to Ypsilanti, Mich., and he assumed the role of DOM for Huron and Southeastern Baptist associations as an appointed missionary for the North American Mission Board. He was offered several positions outside the state but no door was opened and the family felt called to stay in the North.
In November 2010, Gilstrap was elected executive director of the state convention.
“It was incredibly affirming and very humbling when they chose me for the position,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “I’m not the sharpest crayon in the coloring box. I’ve just been laboring in the field, sometimes in difficult or good situations, but up and down, you try to stay faithful.”
Once again, it was his wife who recognized his potential even before he did.
“In the process of nomination, I was hesitant to have my name be submitted for the position,” Gilstrap admitted. “Brenda told me, ‘I think you need to allow them to put your name in, because I think this is what you were created for.’”
Chuck Turner, DOM for Central and Lendale Baptist associations, and the other members of the executive director search committee agreed.
“I knew him when he first came to Michigan,” Turner shared. “Bobby’s resumé jumped out when we started going through the characteristics we felt we needed in a leader.”
Many at the BSCM are supportive of the new executive director and have high hopes for the future.
“We have not had a well-stated vision of why we are here,” said Ted Stephens, the church-planting team leader. But after Gilstrap’s first three weeks, he was already seeing “very positive” signs of change.
“I know he’s got a vision and knows what he wants to get accomplished here in the state, and he’s brought a freshness to the office,” Stephens said.
Gilstrap’s first day on the job, he set a new direction for the BSCM. The ministry team, formerly known as the administrative team, left the office to help a church plant, The Tree, on the University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor.
“There’s been a huge response to the staff of the BSCM getting out with the churches and working in a ministry together,” Gilstrap said. “In the history of our convention — that’s 53 years — that work and cooperation has never been done before.”
And the BSCM may be doing a lot more things it’s never done before because “tremendous change needs to happen structurally” if Michigan Baptists are going to be effective in “pushing back lostness,” he said.
“Churches need to know we are here for them,” Gilstrap said. “We are trying to cast a vision for our churches and for how to reach the lost.”
He also said the BSCM needs to do a better job of planting churches. “When we plant a church in Michigan, [it needs] to last,” Gilstrap said.
After living and serving in Michigan for more than a decade, he recognizes it is different from any other state. It is a labor-union state, is a recreational state, has harsh winters and is ethnically diverse.
“The way we need resourcing is going to be different from [other states],” Gilstrap said. “We need to find our own way, and then ask others for help.”
Some of those “others” will be Alabama Baptists. The BSCM has a partnership with the Alabama Baptist State Convention that runs through 2012.
However, Gilstrap hopes to encourage relationships between the two state conventions that look at “end-vision, not end-date.”
“We need long-term, committed partners,” he said, noting that 21 of Michigan’s 83 counties don’t have a Southern Baptist witness and there are new church plants in need of nurturing and existing churches and leaders in need of strengthening.
For more information on partnership missions opportunities, see page 9.
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