The Hamilton County Baptist Association has been in existence for 64 years, and David Myers has headed it for almost half that time.
During that period, the number of associated churches increased, and the churches themselves became more diverse, HaCoBACare Ministries emergency grocery assistance was established and English as a Second Language training became association-wide.
While those are quantifiable results, what's kept Myers coming back day after day for more than 29 years are the opportunities he's had to be a mediator or offer suggestions that might diffuse difficult or tense situations.
Those situations, where churches have had inner conflicts or issues between staff and congregations, have been his toughest challenges. But when something he said seemed to break the ice between the parties, the challenges seemed more like rewards.
Myers, a native of Wesson, Miss., is retiring as the association's fifth - and longest serving - director of missions at the end of September. A reception will be held for him and his wife on Sept. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Brainerd Hills Baptist Church.
"It's been exciting the things that churches are doing," he says, "and to feel like you're kind of a part of that, applauding, encouraging, working with some of the finest pastors anywhere and lay people. By and large, you're dealing with wonderful people. It's been a real joy."
While a director of missions provides general leadership and services to its member churches, Southern Baptist Convention churches are autonomous and can act accordingly. Yet, in spite of a national denomination that has endured a struggle between moderates and conservatives for ideological direction during Myers' period of leadership, he has tried to keep the Hamilton County Baptist Association focused on missions and ministry.
"We've not had that conflict," he says. "We've tried to bless every church for who it is. We've agreed to be on mission together. That has brought us through some of the tough years."
The biggest change in Myers' work over the nearly three decades, he says, has been a weakening of denominational loyalty to SBC-related resources. Once, he said, Baptist churches got all of their liturgical material and resources and did all of their missionary sending from strictly Baptist organizations.
"Everybody studied the same thing," Myers says. "Now there is a multiplicity of choices in liturgy. They don't even all choose Southern Baptist literature.
"That created less of a sense of our all being together in this thing," he says. "Perhaps the [moderate-conservative] controversy has added to that. But it's also part of the culture today, being anti-establishment.
"It's not particularly good or bad, just different," the Mississippi Baptist College and Southern Theological Seminary graduate says.
When Myers accepted the position of director of mission, the Hamilton County Baptist Association had around 100 churches. Some have gone and others have come, and the number now stands at 106. Unlike when he came, though, that group includes Spanish, Filipino and Cambodian churches and a growing number of black churches.
"I'm happy about this," he says. "It's a good thing. It broadened our ethnic base."
Myers also has overseen situations such as the planting of Dallas Bay Baptist Church, which has grown into the sixth-largest congregation in the Hamilton County association with more than 2,500 members, and the gift of Oak Grove Baptist's building by members of the once-thriving congregation to historically black Faith United Baptist late last year.
"Those kind of times, those things that happen ... the churches have done well," he says. "It's great to so those kind of things flourish."
Myers, who hopes to do some preaching and perhaps accept some interim pastorships after his retirement, says the first thing he'll tell his successor is what a privilege that person will have to work "with such wonderful people."
"I'm grateful I've been given this opportunity for 29 years," he says. "It's been wonderful. I thank the people and pastors and other ones I've worked with."
Myers, who believes he has preached in at least 71 of the 106 churches, says his successor also should become familiar with the wide diversity of churches and the culture of the individual churches.
"Appreciate that," he says, "and listen to them. Do what you can to bless them in their work. The churches are on the front lines today."
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.