Milton Hollifield nominated as N.C. convention’s exec
A search committee chaired by Mooresville pastor Robert Jackson recommended Hollifield to the convention’s executive committee and board of directors Jan. 24. After a closed-door session Tuesday morning, the executive committee voted to affirm the search committee's nomination. The board of directors approved the nomination with no opposition during a session Tuesday evening and gave Hollifield standing ovations after he made remarks and as he returned to the auditorium following the vote.
The board also voted to empower various BSC committees to prepare for a special called convention to vote on Hollifield’s nomination, with recommendations concerning the time and place to be approved by the executive committee. The search committee had recommended that the meeting be held April 11 at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
The executive director-treasurer position became vacant when Jim Royston resigned last July after seven and a half years as executive director-treasurer.
Hollifield, 55, has worked for the North Carolina convention for the past 12-and-a-half years, joining the staff in 1993 as director of the evangelism division. During a restructuring in 1999, he became executive leader of the newly formed mission growth evangelism group. In that role, Hollifield has supervised the church growth and evangelism team, the church planting team and the campus ministries team. Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute also relates to the convention through the mission growth evangelism group.
Hollifield worked as director of missions of the Gaston Baptist Association for two years prior to joining the BSC staff. He served previously as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Stanley, N.C., and as associate pastor of West Asheville Baptist Church.
During his nine-year tenure at First Baptist in Stanley, the church nearly doubled its budget income, increased Cooperative Program giving to 22 percent and received an Eagle Award from the Southern Baptist Convention for "significant growth in attendance and effective ministries."
A native of Swannanoa, N.C., Hollifield is a graduate of Mars Hill (N.C.) College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Hollifield’s wife, Gloria, recently retired after more than 33 years of teaching school.
Jackson, who is pastor of Peninsula Baptist Church in Mooresville, said members of the committee -- which included both conservatives and moderates -- were unanimous in their support of Hollifield, believing him to be, as Jackson put it, "the candidate best suited to lead North Carolina Baptists."
"His heart for evangelism and respected place of leadership in our convention along with his team approach to leadership seemed to be the strongest factors in selecting him as our nominee," Jackson told the Biblical Recorder, the convention’s newsjournal.
In a written statement accompanying his application to the search committee, Hollifield said he was convinced that God had impressed him to submit his name for consideration.
"Through much time spent in prayer, searching the scriptures and waiting before God, I believe he has chosen me for this tremendous responsibility," Hollifield wrote.
Ultimately, the committee agreed. Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville and a former state convention president, said Hollifield "has a proven track record of cooperation, fairness and inclusiveness. He is a strong proponent of unity. His passion for missions and evangelism will keep us focused on what really drives and motivates our cooperation.
"Milton fits the profile of the person North Carolina Baptists need at such a time as this," Mathis said.
Lucille Yancey, from Rowan Baptist Church in Clinton, said the committee believed Hollifield to be God's choice as a leader who can maintain stability among the state’s Baptists. "Our prayer from the beginning has been to follow God's leadership toward the person who has the greatest potential to keep all North Carolina Baptists together, knowing that even if diversified, we can be unified," she told the Recorder.
"As we prayerfully studied, evaluated and discussed resumes and interviewed candidates, the committee came to the conclusion that we could heartily, by consensus, recommend Milton Hollifield to be the executive director-treasurer who will meet today's needs among North Carolina Baptists," Yancey said.
Committee member Wanda Dellinger, of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, echoed the theme of seeking a leader who would promote unity. She said the search committee is a very diverse group but came together "with one heart" in supporting Hollifield as "someone who will help encourage Baptists with backgrounds as diverse as ours to work together."
"He has a desire to find common ground among Baptists," Dellinger said, and "is someone who understands the difficulties facing pastors, associational leaders and Baptist State Convention employees, because he has worked in each of these capacities.
"Milton believes that God has called him to this position," she said, "and we agree."
Glenda Reece, a member of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh, said Hollifield is "an excellent choice" because "He comes from within and knows the BSCNC and its work in progress."
"We need someone who will seek to bring us together and not push us apart," said Jeff Roberts, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh. Roberts said the diverse committee was able to reach a unanimous decision "because we chose to seek harmony and unity."
The committee's unity was not based on uniformity of thought and practice, Roberts said, but "of intentional acts of humility, kindness, respect and Christian love."
"It is my hope that Rev. Hollifield can lead us all to make similar choices," Roberts said.
Phil Ortego, pastor of Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington, said the diverse committee "put aside some differences and in the character of Christ we worked together for God's glory. The result was unity, not uniformity. Together we came to a unanimous decision on who should lead North Carolina Baptists as we continue to reach the world for Christ."
Both unity and missions were important concerns of the committee, said Kendall Cameron, pastor of First Baptist Church of Whiteville. "We desired to nominate a candidate that held that there was a place for all North Carolina Baptists under the umbrella of missions and evangelism, and we feel Milton Hollifield is that candidate," he said.
"As a committee, we were of unanimous agreement on many things, and two of those things were that we wanted the North Carolina Baptist family to stay together and that Milton was a leader who could help us do that," Cameron said. "We understand the challenge is great; we also understand that our desire for unity must be matched by the churches of our state for this vision for North Carolina Baptists to become a reality. Milton cannot do it himself; mission-committed North Carolina Baptists must join him."
Hollifield, in an interview with the Recorder, was asked to describe his theological position. "We have to recognize that labels are subjective terms: different people have different understandings," he said. Nevertheless, the nominee said, "I am comfortable being labeled as conservative in doctrine and theology, but I'm not angry about that. I have enjoyed my work with all facets of people who are part of our convention and am comfortable working with our different churches and church leaders."
Hollifield said some have labeled him as moderate, and others as conservative. "I have tried to be an individual who can work with all N.C. Baptists," he said.
Among his accomplishments at the BSC, Hollifield said he was especially proud of having created a position to promote prayer for spiritual awakening and evangelism. Chris Schofield came from the North American Mission Board to fill that position. An annual "Great Commission Prayer Conference" and a "Women's Prayer Evangelism Conference" have been developed in conjunction with that thrust.
Hollifield said he was pleased with the BSC's accomplishments in church planting: Last year, a record 103 new congregations were birthed. "The establishment of new congregations is important part of our future," he said, adding that the BSC has made important strides in the process of evaluating and training church planters.
Hollifield has worked as the BSC's primary liaison with the SBC's North American Mission Board and said he enjoyed it very much. "I have a lot of appreciation for the SBC," he said, "but my love for the SBC is rooted in a unified plan for supporting our missionaries around the world."
BSC President Stan Welch, pastor of Blackwelder Park Baptist in Kannapolis, said he is thrilled with the committee's unanimous choice. "The search committee was made up of both conservatives and moderates but all of them feel with one voice that Milton Hollifield is the man to work with and lead all North Carolina Baptists. It is crucial that we have someone at the helm who can work with all people.
"I could not be more satisfied with the search committee's selection," Welch said.
The search committee also included Cloyes Starnes, a layperson and retired missionary to Korea from First Baptist in Waynesville; Keith Stephenson, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Rutherfordton; Michael Barrett, pastor of Pleasant Garden (N.C.) Baptist; Craig Hamlin, pastor of Fairview Baptist near Apex and a former member of the BSC executive committee; Jeff Roberts, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Raleigh; and Jay Westmoreland, a layperson from First Baptist in Charlotte.
Michael Cummings, director of missions for the Burnt Swamp Association and a former BSC president, was originally on the committee but resigned when he was appointed as acting executive director-treasurer.
"I feel very comfortable with Milton as a choice," Cummings said. "As executive director, he will bring a sense of calm to the overall convention," he said of Hollifield, "because people already know and trust him."
Tony Cartledge is editor of the Biblical Recorder, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.