SBOMís Mizzell retiring after 21 years in Christian ethics officecomment (0)
July 19, 2012
By Sondra Washington
As a young preacher, Joe Bob Mizzell outlined his greatest dreams and set out to achieve them. Those dreams were to serve as pastor of a church running more than 500 in Sunday School attendance, earn a doctorate degree in ministry, become a full colonel in the Army National Guard, work for the Baptist denomination and have enough savings to live on after retirement. Fifty-seven years later, Mizzell looks back at that list and sees check marks beside each item.
As he prepares for retirement from his position as director of the office of Christian ethics at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), Mizzell is thankful for accomplishing much more than he could have hoped for or imagined.
“I think that God is extremely great and wonderful that He could use someone with so little talent, like me, to accomplish so much for His kingdom,” he said. “I came out of a very poor home. No one had an education except one of my sisters.”
Mizzell has come a long way from Isabella, his Chilton County hometown, and his many life achievements have remained centered on education and ministry. He was saved at age 11, called to preach at 18 years old and named pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Maplesville, in Chilton Baptist Association at age 19.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you want me to be a minister and serve you, you’re going to have to help me,’” Mizzell remembered. “Less than a month later, I was called to a church. We got it up to 100 in Sunday School. I went to visit people everywhere and people started coming in. The church started growing.”
Mizzell said he was not afraid of such a large responsibility, despite his youth. “My philosophy always was wherever God calls me, I will attempt to do it,” he said. “This is what God called me to do, and I was being prepared to do it. I didn’t think about it. I just spent my time working on sermons and studying.”
Meanwhile, Mizzell also studied to receive his bachelor’s degree from Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham then began teaching junior high school and coaching football, basketball and baseball. Although his desire to attend divinity school never left, he made the best use of his time while waiting for his wife, Peggie, to graduate from Birmingham Southern College. He earned a master’s degree in secondary education from the University of Alabama.
“The day that Peggie graduated from Birmingham Southern College in May 1963, we loaded everything we had in a U-Haul trailer and went to New Orleans,” Mizzell said.
There he continued his ministry.
“The first nine months, I didn’t have a church,” he noted. “Then I went out to supply (preach) at a church three miles from campus, and they ended up hiring me as pastor. They furnished us with a house to live in and paid $62.50 per week. We saved money in seminary.”
That was one of many more doors God opened for new opportunities in Mizzell’s ministry. After graduating from seminary, he spent the next 27 years leading several Alabama Baptist churches including First Baptist Church, Guin, in Marion County Baptist Association; First Baptist Church, Childersburg, in Coosa River Baptist Association; and Alberta Baptist Church, Tuscaloosa, in Tuscaloosa Baptist Association.
During this time he began a new ministry as a chaplain in the Army National Guard, a military career that spanned 24 years. Mizzell said he would preach to the soldiers first and then preach during his church’s normal worship services.
“I was based in Childersburg, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and state headquarters in Montgomery,” he said. “I was state chaplain over all the chaplains in the Army National Guard for two years.”
Twenty-one years ago, Mizzell became the first person to serve in his current position at the SBOM. Still he was not worried about his new responsibility to fight to maintain and strengthen the state’s moral and ethical atmosphere.
“I didn’t even have a job description,” Mizzell said. “I did not know how to do it but the door was open and I stepped in. It’s been a great 21 years.”
At times, many of Mizzell’s ministry activities intertwined.
“I spent 10 days traveling throughout South Korea preaching to the Korean Army each night,” Mizzell said. “I was sent by (then executive director) Dr. Troy Morrison through a partnership with the South Korea Baptist Convention and the Alabama Baptist Convention. We would have from 500 to 2,500 soldiers at each service. Six hundred people came to know Christ during those 10 days.”
SBOM Executive Director Rick Lance said these ministries reflect Mizzell’s “pastoral heart … servant spirit and concern for others.”
“Joe Bob Mizzell exemplifies and epitomizes the essence of second-mile Christianity,” Lance said. “His attitude is one of ‘going beyond the call of duty’ in ministry for the Lord.”
Some of Mizzell’s duties have included promoting the World Hunger Offering, organizing a chaplain/spouse retreat, training and deploying chaplains for disaster relief, planning the SBOM’s legislative prayer luncheon, working with the Christian Life Commission and serving as liaison for the state convention’s resolutions committee. He considers his role in helping defeat the lottery in 1999 one of the most important highlights of his SBOM ministry.
“I came up with a list of nine things that churches should do in helping the people to know that the lottery was not wise and good in Alabama,” Mizzell said. “I went from church to church, put out signs by the hundreds and got the people involved.”
He has received countless awards including the 2001 Distinguished Service Award from The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and a 2012 resolution from the Alabama Senate for his outstanding achievement and dedicated service.
When Mizzell officially retires Aug. 15, he plans to return to full-time ministry as pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church, Marion, in Cahaba Baptist Association, where he currently serves as interim pastor. He also will continue working with Joe Godfrey and Dan Ireland through Alabama Citizens Action Program. His SBOM colleagues say he will be missed.
“It has been a joy and a privilege to work with Dr. Mizzell for the past 21 years,” said Joanne Farmer, who has served as his ministry assistant during his entire tenure at SBOM.
“His dedication, positive attitude, work ethic and values have been a tremendous influence and blessing in my personal life and work. ... Dr. Mizzell’s life reflects Christian character and integrity and he has shown exemplary leadership in his spiritual, personal and professional life. He is a compassionate servant and a committed witness for our Lord and Savior.”
“I first met Joe Bob Mizzell while I was a student at New Orleans [Baptist Theological] Seminary,” he said. “My first impression of him was that of a friendly Christian gentleman and a faithful servant of the Lord. In the decades since that initial encounter, my impression of him was even more concrete concerning these admirable traits as well as others. He has been an excellent communications liaison between the SBOM and the churches in the Alabama Baptist family.”
Overall, Mizzell is grateful for all of the opportunities God has provided for him through the years.
“It’s amazing how many friends I have over this state — in the military, preachers, pastors, politicians,” he said. “God has blessed me and I thank Alabama Baptists for providing funds through the Cooperative Program for my education and ministry and allowing me to serve my state convention.”