Frank Page loved church, knew calling from early age
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--When Frank Page was a child, his parents were not Christians, but God used an older couple, Raymond and Elsie Hampton, to draw him to Christ, Page said as he recounted some formative influences on his path to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.
His family was very poor and new to the Greensboro, N.C., area when the Hamptons reached out to them by inviting the children to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School at Southside Baptist Church, a small conservative congregation.
"We began going, primarily my older sister and myself," Page told Baptist Press. "It was a fascinating experience for me because the truth is my home was not always a happy one, and that's probably a mild and kind way to say it. Perhaps because of that, there was a deep need in my life for a place of peace, a place of lovingkindess, and I found that at the church.
"I think God used that need in my life to reveal His character to me. I just loved everything about the church."
Even before he was saved, Page was 4 years old when he told the pastor during a VBS commencement service he was going to be a Baptist preacher when he grew up, and the pastor announced the boy's decision to the congregation.
"I have no conscious memory of not knowing God's call upon my life," said Page, who assumes the role of EC president Oct. 1.
In those early days, Page would find his own ride to church. One Sunday night when he was 9 years old, he had arranged for someone to take him to church, and as he listened to the pastor, he became more aware of his need for Christ.
"In one of those somewhat classic situations, during the invitation I went forward and I asked the pastor if he would help me come to know Christ," Page said. "He prayed with me, and I prayed a prayer of confession and repentance and of begging God to come into my heart.
"Right there in front of the congregation there at Southside Baptist Church on that Sunday night I gave my life to Christ. I was baptized shortly thereafter, and then later my brother, my sisters, my mom and dad were as well."
As Page began growing as a Christian, he accompanied older men on soul-winning visits.
"I would ask them if they'd come pick me up, and they'd pick me up at my house and we would go," he recounted. "I was too frightened to say anything as a little boy, but I loved to watch them share Christ.
"So I began learning at an early age the importance of being a witness for Christ and sharing the Gospel. I learned a great deal from those dear gentlemen, and I remember some of those witnessing encounters to this very day."
Even now, one of the greatest joys of being a Christian, Page said, is winning people to Christ. Over the years, he said God has given him a particular ministry of winning some "hard-headed men" to Christ.
"That's something I love to do, winning very calloused, hard men to Christ. I pray God will continue to give me relationships so that I can continue winning those type of men to Christ," Page said, adding that he has joined a secular health club in Nashville in an effort to interact with people outside his Christian workplace.
Another joy of being a Christian, Page said, is fellowship with the Lord, and he sets aside time each morning to read God's Word.
"I read the Bible through once a year and have since 1974 when professor Bill Tolar at Southwestern Seminary challenged the seminarians under his tutelage that we ought to be reading the Bible through once a year. I had never done it. I had read the Bible through but not all in one year at that point."
Page acknowledged some struggles that are part of the Christian journey.
"Certainly there are many challenges of being a Christian. The ongoing struggle with sin in life as Paul talked about toward the end of his life, how he struggled even at the end to do what he should do and not do what he shouldn't do," Page said. "That's a continued challenge for me and I know for every believer to deal with the sinful nature that besets me and besets us.
"And certainly many other challenges of growth and sometimes non-growth are a challenge of being a Christian. Those certainly afflict me and affect me just like they do everyone else."
As he begins his tenure as president of the Executive Committee, Page, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and former pastor for 34 years, said he believes he has been called by God to fill the role, and he cited an awareness of how God has ordered his life to shape him for the position.
Looking back, Page said he can see that in those 34 years God led him to pastor churches of varying sizes and styles, from small country churches to large city churches. Along the way, Page cooperated with Baptists on the associational, state and national levels.
"I can just see not only the call of God but the formative hand of God as He has pushed me, sometimes kicking and screaming, but pushed me into the place where I have now said, 'Lord, I will accept this call. Your servant hears Your call, and I see how You have formed me both vocationally but also personality-wise and character-wise,'" Page told BP.
His wife Dayle is supportive of the call, he said, noting that sometimes she has been more keenly aware of God's leading than he has been.
"She and I have prayed about coming here and she felt a real awareness also that God had formed me for this," Page said. "Sometimes wives have a clearer perception than us stubborn husbands."
In his personal life, Page has endured some grief experiences during the past year. In July, his mother died.
"But that was somewhat of a normal type setting in which she had declined in health and was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. So the truth is that I am grateful to the Lord for His mercy so that my mother did not have to suffer in an Alzheimer's-type setting longer than she did," Page said.
Last November, Page's oldest daughter, Melissa, died tragically at age 32. In subsequent days, Page said he, his wife and his two younger daughters "have truly experienced God's graceful hand."
"God's grace is sufficient, and we have seen it, we have experienced it. He doesn't give us more than we need, but He never gives us less than we need. So we've seen His hand of provision," Page said.
"Someone once asked, 'How have you handled the death of your daughter?' And I always respond and say, 'I could never put that in the past tense. I handle it every day.... You deal with it every day. Some days are harder than others.'"
As he gears up for the task at hand, Page is cognizant of the joys and challenges of being a Southern Baptist.
"Many of the joys are related to the partnerships that we have. It's a great joy to be a Southern Baptist in that we do partner together, and I like that," he said. "I think that is a great joy of being a Southern Baptist.
"Everybody knows Southern Baptists are independent in nature and in polity, but to know that we do try hard to work together, I believe God has blessed that, and that's a joy for me to know that I have partnerships at various levels with various people all over the world who are Southern Baptists."
At the same time, the autonomous nature of being a Southern Baptist means everyone is entitled to his opinion, and sometimes people express their opinions in ways that may not be as collegial as they should be, Page said.
"One of the great challenges is the fact that in our 21st century world we're in a time of unbridled individualism and that, to me, has affected our churches and our ministries as people have pulled away from, to a certain degree, the kind of cooperative mindset to say, 'We think we can do it best ourselves. We can do our own work best,'" Page said. "I think that unbridled individualism has sometimes caused a challenge for us as we try to do some things together."
Undergirding any strife, though, is a rich heritage of missions education and missions involvement that "is probably unparalleled in the evangelical world," Page said.
"To have been a child even in the little church where I went to be a part of the missions education that was going on in those days encouraged my little heart," he said. "In going through Training Union, I was discipled and learned about the way of the Lord and about the Word of God. Those are just joys.
"And then to go to a college and a seminary and be taught in ministry -- those are joys that again are precious to me. The missions involvement and the educational opportunities, Southern Baptists are so blessed."
With reporting by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston. Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.