He's pastored five churches ranging in size from a 2,300-member megachurch to two that he helped start from small congregations. While in college, he served as a Baptist Student Union summer missionary; as an adult, he was senior assistant to the president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
That adaptability to situations large and small, in addition to more than 30 years as a pastor, is what helped Dennis Culbreth's resumé rise to the top of nearly 200 applicants for the position of Hamilton County Baptist Association director of missions, essentially the chief executive officer of the association. The position has been vacant since the retirement of David Myers in 2013.
About Dr. Dennis R. Culbreth
Hometown: Evergreen, Ala.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in religion from Samford University, master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Doctor of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Previous Positions: Pastored five churches, two of which he planted; senior assistant to the president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, currently pastor of First Baptist Church of Jasper, Ala.
Family: He and wife Marybeth have two grown sons and one daughter, who is engaged. The couple met while students at Samford and have been married 33 years.
Hobbies: Golf, fishing, hunting, reading and watching college football — specifically Auburn.
Community Service: Member of the Rotary Club, served on several nonprofit boards in Alabama.
Little-Known Fact: He proposed to his wife at the Chattanooga Choo Choo in the summer of 1981.
The association is comprised of about 110 Southern Baptist churches around the county, and the director works to advance mission work, found new churches, increase cooperation among association churches, create partnerships between member churches and provide counseling and resources to churches and pastors.
Culbreth is "a bridge- builder," says Becky Scearce, who chaired the nine-member search committee.
"We have large churches, we have small churches and a lot of churches that are wealthy enough they can run programs on their own," she describes. "But there are churches that need to come alongside of them to see how to do things and perhaps work with them.
"We have young pastors in our association who have lots of fresh ideas and we need to hear from them. Yet we have older pastors who need someone who they feel has walked where they've walked."
The Rev. Alan Rogers, search committee member and pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, agrees that Culbreth's track record of being involved in changes and planting new churches fit the profile of the leader they needed.
"The way that churches relate to the association is changing," he says. "Some churches don't see as much need to be involved as maybe they did in generations past. Some of the strategies and approaches we've used in the past may not be appropriate for today. Dr. Culbreth is going to pursue focusing on the partnership aspect of association work."
Culbreth describes himself as an encourager more than a bridge-builder, adding that he wants to meet all 110 pastors personally and discover how he can work with them to meet their needs.
"I plan on spending a lot of time with the pastors. I want to have coffee with them, take them to lunch, and visit the churches in the association. Relationships are vital to this ministry," he says.
The new director starts his job Monday. He talks about why he was willing to leave his Jasper, Ala., megachurch to support pastors in Hamilton County.
Q. What interested you in the HCBA director's position? You were the pastor of a 2,300-member church, why uproot to move here?
A: I am a missionary at heart and love pastoring and working with ministers. I have the gift of encouragement. I have walked where other pastors have walked. I understand the joys, frustrations and pain that pastors deal with in the ministry. I hope to use my experience to help them.
Q: Why make the change from the pulpit to administration now?
A: It was the right time in my life. My kids are pretty much grown and gone. I had done what I came to do at First Baptist Church in Jasper. I felt that God was through with me there. I like the challenge of working with 110 churches to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). I don't plan on spending a lot of time shuffling papers. I want to be out helping churches and ministering every chance I get.
Q: How do you see social media boosting the work of the HCBA?
A: Having been a church planter and trying to keep up with social media, I know that it can be a useful tool for communication. We have to utilize all forms of social media to get the word out about what is happening in the association. We will use Facebook, Twitter, an updated website and other tools to better communicate with pastors and churches of the association. I have already emailed pastors of the association to let them know that I want to be of service to them. Social media will allow me to communicate with pastors more effectively.
Q: So you hit the ground running Monday. What's on your agenda?
A: First, I want to get to know pastors and their churches. I look forward to seeing ways that we can work together to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have some wonderful opportunities for service with HaCoBa (the association's food bank) and with English as a Second Language ministries. I want to serve through those ministries. I need to experience the "boots on the ground" work that is vital to an effective association.
Q: The Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage; the Southern Baptist Convention stands opposed to it. Is this issue one you believe will be addressed association-wide?
A: An overwhelming majority of Southern Baptist churches would agree that marriage is only between one man and one woman. The association should provide workshops to help local churches update their constitution and bylaws to help protect the church with the Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage.
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.