The following interview is reposted by permission from SBC Today:
SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the SBC?
Dr. Lance: In my mind and heart, our greatest challenge has been and it always will be a matter of faithfulness to the Lord and to His Great Commission. As a long term former pastor, I have felt the tensions of trying to help churches stay focused on our mission and purpose as His people in the world today. That ministry assignment is still a major part of what I am seeking to do as a state missionary in Alabama Baptist life. Followers of Christ can lose focus on our mission, just like a football team can lose focus on their objective. We have to take care of the daily devotion to being on mission with the Great Commission. As long as I serve the Lord, my passion is to be a faithful example of following Christ and leading His people.
Additionally, Southern Baptists will need to do all we can to work together as a missions people as we look to the future. I have learned from the past that, in working with people, we as human beings do not naturally unify. We tend to divide in various ways. Building partnerships among our family of faith represents hard work. Partnership is a two way street. Paternalism is a one way street. This is an integral part of team building leadership. In the future, the SBC will, by necessity, need leaders who are called and gifted in developing and nurturing partnerships.
SBC Today: What do you think are the greatest opportunities opening to the SBC?
Dr. Lance: Southern Baptists have an opportunity to celebrate what the Lord has done through us in the past, despite the mistakes of judgment we have made along the pathway of history. As a people of the Book, we have branded our name with conservative theology and an effective missions methodology. This has come as a result of a commitment to the cause of Christ by generations, past and present.
For the future, we will have to seize the opportunities to make sure we are reaching all kinds of people in all kinds of places. This is where Acts 1:8 becomes the Biblical methodology for the Great Commission. We have Jerusalem, local missions, Judea, state missions, Samaria, North American missions and the ends of the earth, international missions all described for us in that one verse. Some years ago, IMB and NAMB set forth this template for us to follow. I believe that was a wise course of action. To be deterred from that strategy, in a balanced way, is fraught with dangers for us.
SBC Today: What is one of the key mistakes you see pastors and other staff members making in their ministries which causes them problems in their churches?
Dr. Lance: Years ago, I remember then pastor, Joe Stowell, being asked the question, “What is your number one problem in ministry?” I loved his answer to that rather simple question. Without much hesitation, he responded, “My number one challenge is managing myself”. Perhaps that succinct reply says it all. Managing ourselves comes first. The late Peter Drucker made that point over and over again in leadership books, articles and conferences. I have reminded myself of this basic leadership principle an incalculable number of times.
If we cannot manage ourselves, we cannot lead others. Without trying to sound like a conflict managing expert, which I am not, I believe this principle is most applicable to church leaders today, perhaps more than ever before in the past. Managing ourselves means more than controlling the calendar, staying morally and ethically pure, reading the latest books, keeping family time balanced, and running things smoothly in one’s ministry. I am convinced this means staying in touch with Lord and with yourself in such a way that you make the right decisions and lead in the right direction.
SBC Today: What is the toughest lesson you have learned in ministry?
Dr. Lance: This is the easiest of all the questions to answer. My biggest problem in ministry is learning to have patience with others and with myself. People who are not patient are people who are constantly frustrated. That may sound like a no brainer to some, but I believe patience is not a natural inclination of mine. I have struggled to be patient with people when trying to lead them. I have wrestled with myself numerous times when I wanted to see more progress in my life and ministry. When our girls became teenagers, I learned patience the hard way. Those lessons learned as a parent helped me in ministry as a leader.
SBC Today: What are some of the best things happening in Alabama Baptist life?
Dr. Lance: Alabama Baptists, I believe, represent the heart and soul of the SBC. That may some too immodest for the readers of this feature, but let me explain. Alabama Baptists lead the SBC in giving through, not to, the Cooperative Program for SBC causes. Remember, we are not the wealthiest state, far from it. In fact, we are among the poorest in per capita income in our country. However, despite the Great Recession and the worst one-day outbreak of tornados in U.S. history, Alabama Baptists remain the top contributors through this God given, God blessed channel to support missions in an ACTS 1:8 way!
To me, that borders on the miraculous. Please forgive me if that sounds over the top, but our state has been devastated by 62 tornados in one single day. We had five F5 tornados in one day. Given the fact that we average only one F5 annually, that is something historical indeed. Disaster relief volunteers from our state convention and twelve others were in action in short order meeting the needs of people. This is a 21st century way of “giving a cup of cold water in Jesus name.”
I know this may sound a bit old fashioned to say, but in Alabama, we really emphasize Vacation Bible School. As a person who can date his conversion experience to VBS, I am glad that is the case. Each year, we will have as many as five to six thousand professions of faith during VBS, as reported by our churches. I praise the Lord for this fact. I believe VBS has just as much relevance in the 21st century as ever before. If done well, it can be the best outreach tool most churches have annually.
NAMB launched GPS, God’s Plan for Sharing, in 2010. Through the State Board of Missions Office of Evangelism, led ably by Sammy Gilbreath, Alabama Baptists have been engaged in this long term effort of making Christ known in our state and beyond. We have taken this challenge seriously, and we pray that it will be effective tool in helping our people share Christ with others, who need to know the Truth.
Collegiate and student ministry is a huge emphasis in our state too. We have three hundred thousand college and university students and we see them as a mission field. Some may be surprised to know how many internationals number among those collegians. Reaching them for Christ is a very high priority in our Great Commission ministries strategy. This is a generation about whom we have ready and studied for a while now. They may be different from previous generations, but one commonality remains the same. They need to know Christ.
Our state convention has numerous North American and international missions partnerships as well. For years now, we have partnered with Michigan Baptists in an effort to strengthen churches there and to plant new ones. At the same time, we have been involved in doing similar work in Ukraine, Guatemala, and Haiti.
Haiti is a special effort, which followed their horrendous earthquake in January of 2010. We currently have them as a partnership, similar to the aforementioned ones. Recently, we began efforts in metro NYC in assisting in church planting efforts. Our first partnership is with the Cornerstone Church in Brooklyn. We do look forward to helping other church starts in the Send New York City emphasis fostered by NAMB.
SBC Today: Who are some of your heroes in ministry?
Dr. Lance: I have already mentioned my friend, Charles Carter. I have known him most all of my ministry. He is one of the best of the best expository preachers I know. I have heard many of his sermons and I have never listened to one which was not both Biblically based and practically applied to the lives of people. I admire that about him and I wish I could embody that kind of approach even more in my ministry.
I loved to hear Adrian Rogers preach. He had the best preaching voice I have ever heard. His style of presenting his messages was noteworthy as well. Adrian Rogers had a commanding presence, which filled up a room when he appeared and stood tall on the platform. I miss that presence among us today.
Since I am from Alabama, I would have to name Herschel Hobbs as a one I admired greatly. He was a pastoral scholar and so well beloved during his ministry. To this day, his practical commentaries serve so many very well as they prepare their Sunday School presentations to adults. A few years before his passing, Herschel Hobbs was with me for a week at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. That is a pleasant memory for me.
I loved Landrum Leavell too. He took an interest in my ministry in ways I cannot describe. He was an encourager and a dear friend, not just the president of my alma mater. Landrum Leavell was a man’s man in the truest sense of the word. He was serious minded, but he possessed a unique sense of humor as well. I miss him greatly, but I am proud of my colleague Chuck Kelley, who is offering stellar leadership for NOBTS.
SBC Today: How do you balance ministry and family responsibilities?
Dr. Lance: Since our children are grown now, I may not be the best person to ask this question for an answer in the present tense. However, I am married and that has been the case for forty years. Therefore, the question is a fair one. It also is a key one and the answer lies with the earlier response about managing one’s self in ministry. If I could toggle backward in time, I really would try to achieve more balance in my life and ministry.
As a younger pastor, I spent ten years on the board of trustees with what is now called IMB. This is by far the most time intensive board on which to serve in Baptist life. During that period in my life, I served our state convention in various ways too, including serving as president two terms. This meant a lot of time away from home. One could say these experiences helped prepare me for the current ministry assignment and I would agree with that assertion. Still, I believe I could have done a better job of managing myself in terms of overall priorities.
SBC Today: What are your two or three favorite TV shows? Movies?
Dr. Lance: Okay, we are entering dangerous territory here. Yet, I do admit I watch some television, mainly news channels and I have been known to take in a movie, although that is less and less for me as the years have passed. Since I am a history buff, I have enjoyed the movies about famous people and interesting periods of time. One of my all-time favorite movies is The Passion of Christ. I think Jim Caviezel captures the essence of that drama better than any other actor who has sought of take on the daunting task of trying to play the role of Jesus Christ.
SBC Today: What do you do for fun?
Dr. Lance: Thanks for asking this question because I do believe it is a very important one. I am not a golfer. I had a deacon to take me to the golf course years ago and after that one effort, he said, “pastor, I bought you a tennis racket”. I was lousy at tennis too, so I gave it away. I am not one who loves to fish, although I think that is an excellent outlet for down time. I do have an annual quail hunt I take each year near my birthday with my longtime friend, Charles Carter. To this date, I have not done a Dick Cheney on him, that is, I have not accidentally shot him.
I love reading good books and my favorites are biographies and other historical works. In recent years, I have gone to electronic books and I have been surprised how much I love it. I am ashamed to say that I own 8-10 thousand print books. On the Kindle, I have already purchased 700 books. Many of these are reference works I use on the road. This has been a fun way to read and to lessen my packing for travel. Regrettably, I did not major in history, but I am doing so now with my current reading habits.
SBC Today: Thanks, Dr. Lance. We appreciate you and your leadership of Alabama Baptists. We’ve also heard that you enjoy watching University of Alabama football games!