Lloyd Elder died Nov. 3 after a lengthy illness. Southern Baptists lost a statesman — and bivocational and small church pastors across the denomination lost a friend.
Many people will remember Lloyd Elder for his years as president of the former Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian Resources). He served as head of the Baptist publishing agency during the “conservative resurgence” which began in 1979 and lasted through the early 1990s.
Baptist News Global described Elder as the last “moderate” leader of the Baptist Sunday School Board. Elder led the Board from 1984 until he was “forced out” in 1991 by trustees who were appointed during the resurgence. An earlier attempt to force him out in 1989 failed, but two years later the trustees negotiated an early retirement.
Baptist News Global reported that “trustee leaders said Elder’s departure was not due to theology or politics but was about management style, philosophy and performance.” Elder was later replaced by conservative leader and Texas pastor Jimmy Draper.
Gary Cook served as a vice president at the Board with Elder. He told BGN that “Elder was the kind of leader who helped shape the Southern Baptist Convention back in the day. Unfortunately, there came a day when his kind of leader was no longer appreciated.
“As a result, he was cast aside. Lloyd Elder, being the kind of man he was, stayed in Nashville and watched up close and personal what happened to Southern Baptists. In all the conversations we have had since we both were no longer employed by the Baptist Sunday School Board, I never heard him utter a harsh word concerning those who cast him aside. That was Lloyd Elder,” Cook told BGN.
‘A Christian gentleman’
I knew Elder during those years but not well. Others can debate where he stood in the conservative resurgence. I would rather define Elder as a Christian gentleman who loved the God he served faithfully for more than six decades because that is how I best knew him.
Elder taught at Belmont University and later directed the university’s Moench Center for Church Leadership. He wrote leadership materials for pastors and he would have a booth at the annual meetings of the Tennessee Baptist Convention where he would provide resources at no cost to the pastors.
He had a strong desire to help bivocational and small church pastors because that’s how his ministry began in 1953. He served as pastor of five bivocational churches during his early ministry before moving to full-time pastorates and later a denominational career.
Ray Gilder, former bivocational ministries specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and recently retired pastor of First Baptist Church Gordonsville, also noted Elder had “a passion” for helping to train, support, encourage and to provide resources for bivocational and small church pastors.
Elder later expanded that ministry across the SBC. The Baptist and Reflector wrote a feature on Elder in 2016 when he “retired for the final time” in his then position of volunteer administrator and chair of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN) which at the time had offices at Tusculum Hills Baptist Church, Nashville.
Gilder, who later became executive director of BSCLN (now retired), noted in the article that Elder approached him 20 years ago while he was on staff with TBMB and offered support through resources and training among pastors of churches with Sunday School attendance of 125 or less.
“He became a volunteer in BSCLN in 2006 and then established the national office in 2014. It’s been amazing to watch him give his time and talents to this organization. He’s been at work five days a week even when he developed health issues. He has always maintained a positive and courageous attitude,” Gilder related in the 2016 article.
“He was a true friend to me personally and provided wise counsel and encouragement as we served bivocational and small church pastors across the SBC. He will be missed,” Gilder said, following Elder’s death.
Baptists may have differing opinions on the ministry of Lloyd Elder, but I believe with all my heart that when he entered heaven on Nov. 3, he was greeted by the Lord he loved with a “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”