Editor’s Note: As the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) approaches (Nov. 15-16) Emerson Falls, senior pastor of Oklahoma City, Glorieta, nears the conclusion of his two years as the first Native American president of the convention. The Messenger takes a look in this two-part, Q&A series at his presidency and the challenges he sees remaining for the BGCO as he leaves office.
Messenger: You have said you are pleased with the report of the Convention’s Mission Advance Team. Why?
Falls: Yes. I believe Oklahoma is way ahead of some of the other state conventions in responding to the recommendations of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force passed at the national Convention in June.
I think the recommendations of the Mission Advance Team are the right ones. They have said, ‘these are the priorities.’ I think the challenge is going to be this: it’s difficult to stop doing some things that we have traditionally done, because we’re not doing anything that’s bad. Everything that we do is good.
So the hard thing for Christians, churches and Conventions to do is to just stop doing some good things to focus on the best things. So I think the real challenge for us is to recognize we have an economy that is down. That may turn around. But we also have the fact that with the recommendations of the GCRTF at the Southern Baptist Convention, we’re doing away with things such as cooperative agreements, so dollars are going to be even tighter than ever before and we’re going to be dealing with a greater challenge with declining dollars at least over the next few years.
So what happens—just like in your personal finances—if you lost your job or got a cut in salary, you’d have to make hard decisions in what to cut back in or out of your budget.
I think we’ll do that, but I think we’ll struggle with that and I think we’ll probably weep about it. We’ll have to realize we can’t be everything to everybody. I think the Convention has tried to do that in the past, and we have to continue to be more strategic and say ‘this is who we are and this is what we’re going to do. This is good, but we can’t do it.’ Those are going to be the tough decisions for us.
I think if we focus on the recommendations of the task force, they will produce results for us. I am especially excited that the task force focused upon leadership development—particularly pastoral development—because I believe that is going to be the key. We are going to have to have strong churches to have a strong convention, and churches will never rise above the leadership. I think looking at ways we can raise the level of leadership in our local churches is one of the key things that came out of the report.
Plus, I’m personally excited that we’re looking at upgrading our technology because I believe in the long run that’s going to make more resources available to bivocational pastors—people who can’t always come to a meeting or training—and I think we can, through technology, make that available to them where they are.
I think a lot of good recommendations came out of the report, and they are where we want to place our resources.
Messenger: The BGCO Board, at its September meeting, also approved a “trial run” of live streaming the annual meeting in November. Is that a positive move in your opinion?
Falls: Absolutely. I think we have needed to do that for some time. We need to be more visible to people who normally can’t come to the annual meeting. But, with it comes the issue of voting, and the problem is this: it’s a different dynamic when we’re all together and can hear the issue and talk about it together as opposed to listening to it over the Internet in our homes. That’s a real challenge.
The live streaming will make it available to more people, sure, but what you don’t get—which I think is a key part of the convention—is the interaction and the fellowship. I would not want to lose that; I would not want to get to the place where we are not gathering together anymore, because there’s something about sitting down together—even going out to lunch with one another—that binds us as Oklahoma Baptists.
So, this is just me personally, but I think there is always going to be a need for us to have high touch as well as high tech, and I think there is always going to be the need for us to sit down and have coffee together at the convention.
It’s a business meeting, but it provides an opportunity to interact, to see people and put a face with a name, and I would never want to lose that. I think it would hurt us if we lost that.
Messenger: As your term as BGCO president ends, you are in the midst of helping to plan a major Native American event coming to the state next March. What exactly is The Gathering?
Falls: The Gathering will take place at Oklahoma City, Southern Hills. Native Americans have been exposed to the Gospel for more than 500 years, yet 95 percent of our people are still not Christians. We have many, good Native American Christians, but the vast majority are not. We can’t seem to break the Missional Code for reaching Native Americans.
So, some of us thought about putting together a conference not about where we talk about our successes, and not just an inspirational meeting, but a time when we bring in people who have broken the missional code with tribal people around the world, and let them come in and talk to us and see if we can discover what it’s really going to take to break through and reach Native Americans.
So, the conference is going to focus on some things people are doing around the world. One of them will be narrative and storying. A lot of our Native American preachers learned to preach the western model that the missionaries taught us, which is good and effective and God uses it. I don’t mean to sound like it’s a bad thing, but it’s not culturally relative because our people are an oral people, and we are storying people, so it just doesn’t make sense that we use three points and a poem in church and, everywhere else, they use stories.
So, one of the conferences is going to focus on that.
We’re bringing some people in to help us discover some things that maybe we’re missing in trying to reach the Native American people. So it’s a unique conference, and I’m excited about it. People from as far away as Canada are planning to come.
And, even though it’s a BGCO event, other Native American leaders and workers from other state conventions are planning to come.
Messenger: So what’s on tap next for you?
Falls: (Laughing) My wife and I have been talking about this. The fact is, I was busy before I became BGCO president, and I’m going to stay busy after. But, it’s a good busy. I’m involved in a lot of things. Trying to help all people for Christ, in addition to Native Americans.
For example, I’m going to be one of the speakers at Missions Fest Seattle (He spoke there Oct. 8-9). I do a lot of speaking nationwide in the area of missiology and evangelism. I expect I’ll still have a pretty heavy travel schedule.
Being BGCO president does take a lot time because there are just a lot of meetings to attend, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I have learned more about state conventions, particularly the BGCO, by being president. As a pastor, I have always been active, attending state conventions, serving on executive boards and that type of thing, but you don’t see it in the way you see it as the convention president and having the chance to see it from the inside. Also, I have just been really impressed with quality of the staff we have at the Baptist Building. And seeing some of the issues that Dr. Jordan has to deal with. It has really opened my eyes to the importance of the state convention, and I’ll always treasure these two years. They will always be the highlight of my ministry, I’m sure.
Messenger: Any final comments?:
Falls: I can’t conclude without thanking my home church for its support the last two years. When they approached me about putting my name in nomination I went to my home church, Glorieta, and I said, ‘Chances are I’m not going to win,”—because that’s what I thought—‘but, in the event that I do, you need to know it will take some time, and I need you to let me know that you support me.’ And they overwhelmingly let me know that they did. They have done that. I have been away a lot of Sundays. They have helped me financially, and in many other ways. I have a great church, and I enjoy being a part of this great fellowship.
Editor’s Note: Emerson Falls was ordained into the gospel ministry on May 16, 1982. He served as pastor of churches in California, Arizona and Colorado, director of the Rocky Mountain Campus of Golden Gate Seminary in Denver, Colo. and president of Cook College and Theological School before returning as senior pastor of Oklahoma City, Glorieta in June 2003. He earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Golden Gate in May, 1995. He and his wife, Shirley, have one son, Rendon, and one daughter, Shera, both of whom are involved in ministry. They also have two granddaughters, Kylie and Zoey.