Down the Road a Piece

No doubt, living ‘off the Plantation’ has been an adjustment, and a big one. Moving was difficult in the abstract, but practically so has been most difficult. You see, I lived in the ‘Big House’ for 50 years or more; first as a student and I was a student a long time before being admitted into the Seminary in Fort Worth. “Thee” Seminary as we students called it was only to prepare our minds for the task ahead. By the time I had completed my Seminary studies in 1977, as my wife did also, there was now a child in the mix. Now, it was ‘off to the races’ so to speak. We were moved from living in the ‘Big House’ to working in the fields. Often I would return to the House along with the others who were now in the fields of labor. The Big House is where the officials lived and worked and we pastors, missionaries and other field laborers returned for conferences and the like. We lived on the Plantation which is all over the world, somewhere ‘out there.’ The Southern Baptist Convention is a very large operation with laborers scattered across the globe. 185 countries or so including missionaries and pastors in the United States, too. My guess is that no one really knows just how many SBC pastors and missionaries are really out there in the Labor of God. The Plantation is a big deal, to say the least. 

The Southern Baptist Convention is a very big operation, but contrary to what some may believe, there are no ‘home offices’ as such. Traditionally we call Nashville, Tennessee or simply ‘Nashville’ as home. The SBC headquarters are located there, but there is no one person ‘presiding over’ the more than 47 thousand churches, 14 million members and 41 state conventions across America. Not one of these churches receives administration instruction from Nashville for each church is autonomous and is a part of the SBC voluntarily.

Many years ago a very good book, “Rope of Sand With the Strength of Steel” by James L. Sullivan was published in 1971 briefly describes how the Southern Baptist Convention functions without a single ‘head’ of operations; for there is none. Briefly stated, the 47 thousand churches are autonomously joined together by a covenant relationship, tithes and offerings through the Cooperative Program through which all money is collected and distributed for various ministries across the Convention. There are other offerings collected for supporting home, state and foreign missions across the world. All of this is done autonomously through participating churches. This is what Southern Baptists do best, missions through selfless giving year in and year out since 1845.

All of this brings me to this place in my life. I have said that I have ‘moved off the Plantation,’ and I guess I have in many ways for I no longer work on the Plantation although I will forever be tied to it. The place I call ‘The Big House’ was my office, so to speak for I was a pastor/missionary and evangelist for more than 50 years. Officially, I retired as a state missionary in 2011, but remained active as an ‘interim’ pastor for about 6 years when my wife and I moved from Hope, Arkansas to Arlington, Texas. For personal reasons I am no longer able to pastor a church or even teach a Bible class at the local church I am a member of. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic is the reason church attendance is now no longer possible. 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 fully explains why I will forever remain a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and a member of a local Southern Baptist Church which presently is the First Baptist Church of Mansfield, Texas. 

No, because I am no longer engaged in ministry as a pastor/missionary/evangelist per se, I will always be a personal evangelist whereby I will find myself often asking someone, “How will you get to Heaven?” This means I am no longer living on the Plantation nor work out of the Big House as such. In retirement I have moved and this has been very, very difficult for I now see the SBC in a very different light. Everything appears different now.

As a pastor and missionary there was an ‘always’ connection to everything because there were meetings to attend somewhere almost on a monthly basis. Where I previously lived there were connections with many churches, pastors and folks in the State Convention offices that were severed when we moved from one state to another. That was a rural setting and now I live in a very large city connected by busy highways, and the Seminary I graduated from in 1977 is only 20 minutes away. Connections of the previous sort are difficult because of many circumstances.

Being ‘out of touch’ with what is going on in the SBC is really easy to do even though I read magazines through print and online. There is so much happening with rapidity. For many years I have been out of sync with much of what goes on as there is no longer personal contact with people in ‘high places’ that helped to make sense of what has become so very confusing. Reading in a communication is not the same as sitting across a desk and speaking with someone who has shared experiences. Those opportunities no longer exist for these folks continue to have the meetings I once enjoyed and shared ‘privileged’ information. Being on the outside does not help. Yes, I have moved off the Plantation and I live in a small house some distance away and without the same kind of communication of years gone by.

Therefore, I do a lot of writing and personal introspection concerning many subjects from politics to spiritual and biblical perspectives. Sometimes I paint an oil painting about what goes on in my heart and mind, and there is my Nikon camera that I hang with on occasion. 

Mostly there is my dear wife with whom I have shared 50 years of life and ministry. She has made this journey much richer and more valuable to say the least. There are not enough words available to me to carefully explain the depths and heights of the many events of our life experiences. 

Off the Plantation is difficult for many reasons and to express those images that come to me are more than difficult, but worth the time. Yes, I have stated that there is no longer a place at the table for me for two reasons, the Convention has changed and I have moved; there is no way to bridge the chasm that has developed because of those things. I do wish there were bridges to be constructed, but there are none. No animosity there nor bad feelings; simply lost time and emotions that cannot be fully explained nor recovered. Time and space are vast sometimes. And, yes, I now live down the road a piece from the Plantation.

One thing I find great comfort and encouragement from is listening to the preaching and teaching ministry of my pastor I call ‘friend,’ Dr. Spencer Plumlee. I have said this more than once and will write here, he is one of the very best Bible expositors I have ever heard anywhere over many years. Some have done things differently from the pulpit, but none do it better than he. “Thank you, Spencer.”

I guess the best way to end this whole experience here is what the Apostle Paul explained, “For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher,  and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.“ 2 Timothy 1:11-12 HCSB.

Jesus is Lord. 

About Bob Williford

Conservative Southern Baptist pastor, missionary, and personal evangelist. An avid supporter of Texas Tech Athletics. Enjoy oil painting, writing and woodworking. My wife, children, and grandchildren are my joy. Reading and writing are great for relaxing......
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