Tolliver keeps emphasizing church health
By Allen Palmeri
ST. LOUIS—David Tolliver, interim executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), would not be opposed to a good dose of persecution right about now.
“Then perhaps the churches in all Missouri, from the northwest corner of the state to the Bootheel, from Joplin to Hannibal, maybe all the churches of Missouri then would be at peace,” he said. “And we would be restoring fellowship.”
He made his remarks Oct. 27 at the Millennium Hotel during his address to messengers of the MBC’s 174th annual meeting. His text was Acts 9:31, and the theme of his sermon, “Restoring Fellowship … Reaching People,” was also the theme of the Convention.
Tolliver has been the interim since April 10, 2007. Before that he served nearly two years as the MBC’s Cooperative Program leader. He is well known throughout Missouri, having served as the 2004 MBC president, and his burden is for our congregations to get healthier.
“We’ve got to come together and understand the health of our churches is critical to the health of our Convention,” he said.
As the MBC heads into a celebration of its 175th year, the man who finds himself supervising the Baptist Building staff can sense much of that history. To him it is deeply personal, from great-grandfather R.L. Maness to grandfather Max Payne to father Phillip Tolliver. He is a fourth-generation Missouri Baptist preacher who is very much at home at an annual meeting.
“We ought to be becoming like Jesus Christ,” he told the St. Louis gathering. “The Bible tells us that we are to be holy just as He is holy. Now, none of us have arrived. I get that. But I believe holiness and sanctification ought to be our lifelong goal, and it’s a process in the life of the Christian. Holiness, or righteous living, must be our goal.”
Tolliver inherited a situation where evangelism, church planting and missions were the three legs of the MBC stool. He chose to not be negative about what he saw while at the same time suggesting that church health ought to be glued to every single inch of the stool and then some. St. Louis was just another setting for him to preach the obvious.
“We’re in a down period in the Missouri Baptist Convention,” Tolliver said. “The fact is, we’re in a 30-year decline in the Missouri Baptist Convention. Some of you, I hope, are going to get tired of hearing about that. I hope you get so tired of hearing about it you do something about it. The fact of the matter is, we are not reaching Missouri for Christ.
“I know that you know that the baptismal statistics are at an all-time low. And hear me carefully, I am not here to throw blame around, but what’s the problem? Has the power of God been diminished? I don’t believe that. Has God decided not to save anymore, or only a few? None of us believe that. I don’t know anybody of any theological bent that believes that.
“Calvinism is not the problem in the Missouri Baptist Convention. The problem in the Convention is the closed mouths of Missouri Baptists. Someone said that too many Christians are just like the rivers of the north—frozen at the mouth. Folks, listen, all we’ve got to do is tell the story.”
Tolliver went on to introduce messengers to one of his proposed reforms. He wants to move away from the current practice of counting the number of baptisms in a year and move toward counting the number of times the Gospel is presented in a year. The audience applauded his idea.
Tolliver closed his message by quoting his text: “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified, and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied. Amen.”