FBC Arnold calls MBC’s Qualls as co-pastor, beloved Davidson to retire in June 2006
By Don Hinkle
March 10, 2005
ARNOLD – Several hundred souls among the 5,000-member First Baptist Church, Arnold, voted unanimously Feb. 27 to call Kenny Qualls, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) associate executive director, as co-pastor effective April 1.
Qualls, 42, will assume senior pastor status upon the retirement of Gerald Davidson, 69, the beloved three-decade-long pastor of one of the largest and most dynamic churches in Missouri. Davidson has told the congregation he wants to retire June 1, 2006 – a move that will mark 50 years in the Gospel ministry.
Located just south of St. Louis, FBC Arnold has grown from 273 members when Davidson arrived Memorial Day weekend 1976 to become the fourth-largest Southern Baptist congregation affiliated with the MBC. It is one of the most loyal Cooperative Program-giving churches in the state, annually contributing 12 percent of its offerings.
Even though Davidson is some 30 years Qualls’ senior, the two remarkably have much in common and indications are that the transition will be seamless, possibly even textbook. On Sept. 12, Davidson told the church about his desire to retire and that they had three options: wait until he retires and begin their search for a successor; form a search committee now; or trust his judgment to find and recommend the man best qualified to become pastor and bring him in as co-pastor so that there could be overlap before his departure. The church, in an extraordinary display of love and trust in their pastor, chose the third option.
“When I began to think about retirement three years ago, the Lord laid Kenny on my heart,” Davidson said. “Kenny has the qualities, capabilities, temperament and spirit. Of all the people that I could think of across the country, I couldn’t think of anybody I’d like to have come here more than Kenny.”
Davidson, key church leaders, and Qualls began talking about the possibility several months ago. Their discussions grew more intense as they discerned God’s will and Davidson began preparing the congregation for his recommendation. FBC Arnold’s congregation enthusiastically affirmed Davidson’s recommendation with their strong unanimous vote to call Qualls. Their vote was preceded by an hour-long question-and-answer period in which Qualls – among other things – affirmed the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. It should not surprise anyone for such a topic to arise given FBC Arnold’s long-time reputation as a fountainhead of conservative theology among Missouri Southern Baptists.
“We are thrilled to have a chance to minister with such a wonderful, godly couple like Gerald and Verlena Davidson,” Qualls said. “We are overwhelmed with the love and support they are showing us. We are blessed to be going to minister to a congregation that has faithfully followed – and so deeply loved – its pastor for so many years.
“The burning passion of every born-again believer should be to know God’s will and to do God’s will. We have heard His call and it is with great joy that we obey His call. It is hard for me to understand and believe that I would have the privilege of becoming the co-pastor of a great church like First Arnold and serving with Gerald,” Qualls said.
Even beyond their theology, the similarities in ministerial experience between Davidson and Qualls are striking. Both have taken small congregations and guided them through years of exponential growth. Both have been deeply involved in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and MBC life.
Davidson has not only seen FBC Arnold’s membership steadily grow, but has established the church as one known for its strong Sunday School attendance, which during his ministry has grown from 300 to approximately 2,000.
Qualls, meanwhile, was called to pastor Springhill Baptist Church, on the northern outskirts of Springfield in 1990. When he arrived the rural church had 20 members. When he left to join the MBC staff in 2002, attendance for Sunday morning worship had grown to more than 800. Qualls led Springhill through five building programs in nine years as it grew to become one of the largest open country churches in the Midwest.
Davidson is presently SBC first vice president. He has served as a trustee for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and the North American Mission Board. He was first vice president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference in 1988 and was chairman of the Resolutions Committee for the SBC’s 2002 annual meeting.
Meanwhile, Qualls has served on the SBC Executive Committee and as the MBC’s liaison to LifeWay Christian Resources, an SBC entity.
The contributions made by both in MBC life are voluminous. Both were leaders in the conservative resurgence in Missouri and actively supported the powerful Project 1000 movement that enabled conservatives to regain control of the MBC after a decade or so of theological moderates flirting with liberalism. When MBC moderates let the state evangelism conference die, Davidson opened his church to Missouri Baptists, partnering with long-time friend and flamboyant Southern Baptist evangelist Bailey Smith. Together they brought the popular Real Evangelism Conferences to Missouri for years, thus filling a void.
Qualls became a courageous and respected apologist for the conservative movement, often debating – and thrashing – moderate leaders in churches where members were pondering on whether to leave the MBC or join the new, moderate Baptist General Convention of Missouri. In addition, Qualls has become an articulate spokesman for the MBC Legal Task Force, which is overseeing the MBC’s legal effort to retrieve five renegade agencies where moderate trustees voted to become self-perpetuating.
Davidson, like Qualls, has served as MBC president and on the MBC Executive Board. Davidson has been president of the Missouri Baptist Pastors’ Conference, while Qualls was chairman of the MBC Executive Director Search Committee that led Missouri Southern Baptists to call David Clippard as MBC executive director following the October 2001 resignation of Jim Hill. Since joining the MBC staff, Qualls has been the associate executive director of the Church and Family Equipping Team, which assists churches in the areas of worship, family ministry, leadership, Sunday School/Discipleship, collegiate ministry and ministerial services.
“We aren’t losing his leadership in the MBC,” Clippard said, referring to Qualls’ departure. “Kenny is only moving his office out of the Baptist Building. He is a true Nathaniel, his heart is golden. He is one of the finest preachers and leaders that the SBC has.
“Almost without exception, when we have faced difficult decisions in our executive team meetings, Kenny’s contribution to the decision-making process was a biblical analogy. He has so thoroughly immersed himself in Scripture that all his decision-making processes are done with a biblical world-life view. His first thought has always been, ‘What will honor the Lord and help our churches fulfill the Great Commission?’” Clippard said.
Prior to FBC Arnold, Davidson pastored seven other churches in Tennessee, Texas and Missouri. He is a 1958 graduate of Hannibal-LaGrange College, 1960 graduate of Northeast Missouri State University and earned his master of divinity degree in 1968 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. HLG bestowed the doctor of divinity degree on Davidson in 1986 and Southwest Baptist University awarded him the honorary doctorate of sacred theology in 1992. Davidson and his wife of 49 years, Verlena, have three children, Douglas, 44, Debra, 42, and Darla, 34. They also have 10 grandchildren.
Qualls has attended Southwest Missouri State University, Southwest Baptist University, Drury College and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Qualls and his wife of 20 years, Donna, have two children, Dustin, 16, and Lauren, 10.
“Everyone needs a friend that they can sit down with and spill their soul to with full confidence, without having to carefully choose one’s words. I have such a friend in Kenny Qualls,” Clippard said.
Soon, FBC Arnold will as well – and more.