James Porch, who served as executive director of the executive board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) for 18 years (1992–2010) died Aug. 3 at the age of 81.
A native of Pelahatchie, Mississippi, Porch was elected to succeed D.L. Lowrie as executive director in September 1992. He came to the position from the pastorate of First Baptist Church Tullahoma, where he had served since 1977.
Porch was known for his strong support of the Cooperative Program. When he retired in 2010, he noted in an interview with the Baptist and Reflector that he made it clear at the beginning of his tenure that the Tennessee Baptist Convention would only support the Cooperative Program. When he was elected, there was turmoil in the Southern Baptist Convention and some state conventions offered multiple giving options and some even formed other state conventions.
At his retirement, Porch said, “One of the things I take great joy in is that there is only one Tennessee Baptist Convention today,” he said.
‘One Servant Family’
He also is known for coining the phrase “One Servant Family” within a few years after becoming executive director. The phrase became the driving force behind all the ministries offered by the Executive Board through his retirement.
“My appreciation for Porch has grown deeper and deeper the longer I have served as his successor,” said Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“Porch served during some very tumultuous days in TBC and SBC life. But at the end of the day, under his leadership, our network of churches remained together,” Davis said.
He noted that he had a “delightful conversation” just weeks ago with Porch.
“He spoke very fondly of Kelly, his family and his boyhood years in Mississippi. He also spoke of his desire to finish a book of his memoirs. That would have been a book I would have loved to have read,” he said.
“He did a great job serving the Lord by serving Tennessee Baptist churches. I am honored to have followed Porch,” Davis added.
Remembered by many
Steve Holt, church services director for the TBMB, joined the staff under Porch’s tenure.
“I will always remember Porch as the person who gave me an opportunity to fulfill God’s calling on my life to move from serving a church to serving churches,” Holt said.
“Porch’s leadership philosophy was to identify individuals with a passion for a particular area of ministry and empower them to live out their calling in service to Tennessee Baptist churches. Over the years he brought together quite a team. I was blessed to be one of the members of that group,” he noted.
William Maxwell, administrative director for the TBMB, joined the staff one year into Porch’s tenure.
“Porch had a great passion for the church, especially the church in the small towns and rural areas,” he said. “He always led our staff to develop resources and ministries to serve those churches,” he recalled.
Maxwell also noted Porch “was a great student of church history, especially Baptist history. He always sought to apply the lessons learned from history to project the future of the church so that it would be more effective in Great commission ministry.”
Tony Rankin, minister of pastoral care at First Baptist Church Nashville, was a former staff member under Porch and a longtime friend. “Porch loved to tell you stories,” he noted. “The stories included people, places, relationships and details of history.”
He added that Porch “loved the people in the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. … He surrounded himself with a staff of servant leaders that were interested in ministering to the small and the large church, to meet the needs of all types of congregations.”
Porch was preceded in death by his first wife, the former Lynn Sullivan. Survivors include his wife, Kelly; son, Scott Porch; daughter, Terri Porch; and grandson, Aaron Porch.
A graveside service will be held Aug. 8, at Rose Hill Memorial Gardens in Tullahoma. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at First Baptist Church Nashville, preceded by visitation at 1 p.m.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Lonnie Wilkey and originally published by Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector.