John Sullivan, 26 years with Florida Baptists, to retire in February
Sullivan shared his plans to retire, effective Feb. 28 of next year, with the State Board of Missions, the convention's governing body, during a worship service held at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center Thursday evening (Sept. 18) and then gave an official statement during today's full board meeting.
In his statement, Sullivan cited four factors leading to his decision:
-- health, noting that he had had several health setbacks in the past two years, although many of the issues have improved.
-- travel required to do the job effectively by visiting churches.
-- family, adding that he and his wife Nancy had missed family time with out-of-state children and grandchildren because of distance and schedule.
"All of these are factors, but the reason for retirement is this is God's timing," Sullivan said. "I came to the Florida Baptist Convention believing it to be God's will and I leave with the same conviction. My prayer in ministry has always been to do the will of God and preach the Gospel with boldness. This has not and will not change."
During the Friday meeting, a nine-person search committee of state board members was appointed to find Sullivan's successor. Board chairman Marvin Pittman will chair the search committee.
Sullivan's 26 years of service is the longest of all Florida Baptist executive directors and places him among the longest-tenured state execs in the Southern Baptist Convention. This Oct. 20, Sullivan will mark his 78th birthday.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said, "I know I can speak for Southern Baptists of our universal affection for and appreciation for Dr. John Sullivan. He has been mightily used of God in denominational leadership but also as one of the most effective pastors in our convention. God has blessed us with a great gift in John Sullivan."
Page said he was pastoring in Texas when he first met Sullivan, who had come to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to speak. "I was impressed with his statesmanlike presence even those many years ago," Page said. "Over the many years to follow, John Sullivan has been a friend, an encourager and a man who commands respect because of his integrity and great leadership."
Sullivan was elected as the ninth executive director-treasurer of the Florida Convention on Jan. 20, 1989, as a unanimous choice of the state board's search committee.
As executive-director, Sullivan called Florida Baptists to three core principles -- evangelism without apology; planting New Testament churches; and developing healthy churches and church leaders.
His tenure has marked significant growth for Florida Baptists and together they:
-- planted 2,500 new churches and church-type missions.
-- baptized 779,391 persons.
-- gave $670 million through the Cooperative Program to support Southern Baptist mission and ministry causes and $20,600,000 for Florida missions through the Maguire State Mission Offering.
-- led the State Board of Missions to increase the percentage allocations to the SBC Cooperative Program despite declining gifts from churches through the Cooperative Program since 2008.
-- established 14 international and national mission partnerships including 20-year commitments with the Western Cuba Baptist Convention; the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d'Haiti, which grew from a nucleus of 60 churches to nearly 2,302 churches and missions; and the newest one with Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention.
-- sent 385,000 Florida Baptists on convention-sponsored volunteer mission and ministry projects.
-- responded to Hurricane Andrew in South Florida in 1992, one of the most destructive storms of its time. Sullivan and convention staff lived in the community for nearly six weeks, sleeping on church floors and setting up a long-term rebuilding program.
-- responded to every natural disaster in the state since Andrew as well as many in other states and nations, training nearly 40,000 disaster relief volunteers.
-- established nine theological education centers in the state where 900 students are enrolled in New Orleans Theological Seminary degree programs.
Sullivan also has served a statesman within the Southern Baptist Convention, including SBC first vice president, 1982-1984; member of the Executive Committee, 1980-1988, National Task Force on Planned Growth and Giving 1983-1988, Peace Committee, 1986-1988; and SBC parliamentarian, 1986-2012.
Prior to coming to Florida as state exec, Sullivan served as pastor of the Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., from 1975-89; pastor of First Baptist Church in Sulphur Springs, Texas, 1971-75; and several other churches in Texas and Arizona.
During his 26-year tenure in Florida, John Sullivan and his wife Nancy have driven over a million miles, preaching in churches, leading revivals and speaking at conferences. He has preached nearly 5,900 times, averaging 234 times a year, in 3,067 locations. He has spent 4,128 nights at home and 5,003 nights in hotels on the road.
"Florida Baptists have been good to us," Sullivan recently said. "No Baptist preacher has been as fortunate as I have. God is so good. His blessings are manifold."
Looking over the past 25 years, he added, "Only eternity will reveal the wonderful work of the Florida Baptist Convention. It brings great joy to know Florida Baptists included me in the journey. I am so grateful."
Pittman, from First Baptist Church in Bristow, will be one of two laypersons on the search committee seeking Sullivan's successor, along with Elaine Nasworthy from Land O' Lakes. Seven pastors named to the committee are Odany Augustin, Bethesda Christian Church, Pompano Beach; Wayne Briant, Southside Baptist Church in Sarasota; Steven A. Davies, Village Church in Destin; Otto Fernandez, Riverside Baptist Church in Miami; Ted Traylor, Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola; and Walter West, Anastasia Church in St. Augustine.