The Baptist Messenger recently sat down with Anthony L. Jordan, who has served as executive director-treasurer since 1996. Jordan, who announced that he is retiring from that role effective April 15, 2018, shared reflections on his time of service and talked about issues he sees as the most critical facing the church and the denomination.
Baptist Messenger: You are perhaps best known for your commitment to the unborn. What victories and challenges have we seen?
Anthony Jordan: When I think back to the mid-80s, that is when God spoke to me personally about this. I remember a handful of us out in front of the Capitol on the first few times that we gathered around the infamous Roe v. Wade day. There was a sense of mission that could not be deterred by a lack of people.
Since those days, we have seen lots of ups and downs, but we have seen more ups than downs over these 30-some years that I’ve been engaged. I think the power of the 1990 rally, when more than 20,000 of us were on the steps of the Capitol and then going inside with Rose Day, has had a profound impact on the legislature and the governors. Now the voice at the Capitol is incredibly strong.
We are in a strong position in Oklahoma, and we have made great progress. But evil never gives up. We should never think that we have won the victory and that it will never be challenged. We have seen in recent days abortion clinics now being opened in Oklahoma, where we were down to two and now up to five—that’s just the rise of evil.
We cannot give up until unborn children are safe in Oklahoma. We need to stay on our knees. We need to continue to fund our pregnancy resource centers across this state—39 of them, I believe. They are all living on a shoestring. Christian people need to support these centers because they are making a difference in saving babies and ministering to women and men, showing them love and grace.
Baptist Messenger: Your retirement announcement came on the heels of the Falls Creek 100th Anniversary Celebration. Can you talk about the importance of Falls Creek to you?
Jordan: My heart is full and overflowing when I think about what God has done and is doing at Falls Creek over the years. As most know, I was called to ministry when I was at Falls Creek. My life has been forever changed because of Falls Creek.
To stand back and to see these now, nearly 22 years that I’ve had the privilege of leading, what God has accomplished is just amazing. Part of my call to come as executive director of Oklahoma Baptists was a call to do something about Falls Creek. Some people say to me, ‘Falls Creek, that’s going to be your legacy,’ and I appreciate that. But my legacy is not what’s important here.
All I did was try to be obedient to what God put in my heart, and to lead Oklahoma Baptists to take this treasure that God has given us and move it into a different day. To take it from an old, tired, beat-up camp and make it a crown jewel that God is using in incredible ways, (it is) beyond anything I could have ever dreamed or thought. I had a vision of a 5,000-seat Tabernacle and not much more. And thanks to God the committee ignored me and we built a 7,200-seat Tabernacle.
Again, this is not the work of one person. This is the work of God, first of all. Second of all, God may have put the dream in my heart, but when I shared that dream, it was owned by lots of people—the committees that served in leadership, the people who gave so generously so that we could be where we are today.
All of this was for a purpose, and that purpose is simply that lives can be transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ when people come on those grounds. People are saved. They are called into a nearness to God they don’t find in other places because they are alone with God, and there’s all kinds of places to go and sit and listen and hear the voice of God.
Baptist Messenger: What led you to announce your retirement at this point?
Jordan: I often say that I have more vision than I have time to fulfill. For lots of years, I have given, hopefully, unreservedly to the work of the Kingdom, whether in a church or in this role. And God began to speak to me in two different directions.
One is that, yes, there’s much more to be done, but it’s time for a new leader to come and cast a new vision. I have vision, where I would like to lead Oklahoma Baptists, but God just began speaking into my heart that it’s time for Him to raise up a new leader with a new vision. And when God does that, He makes it clear to you, and by the way, somewhere in this world, He’s made it clear to another person that they are to be that leader. And He’ll make it clear to the search committee.
Secondly, before God gave me a ministry, He gave me a wife. And Polla has been the most supportive person. Nobody has been more supportive. I’ve never had a greater prayer partner. Nobody has prayed for me more than she has. And God made it clear to me that it was time for me to go home and for her and me to have some time together before we get to heaven.
I hope Polla and I get to do ministry together. I hope we get to enjoy some of the wonderful things that God has in this world. I have seen a lot of it, but we want to enjoy them together. I understand people say we need to retire to something. I am. I’m retiring to my wife and to our marriage and our home. And God’s going to show us how to use that in the future together.
Baptist Messenger: From your perspective, what are some key strengths of the BGCO, and what challenges are before us?
Jordan: When I think about Oklahoma Baptists’ strengths, I think about the unity we have. It was there before I came, but it has been sustained. Oklahoma Baptists are unified in ways that I don’t necessarily see in other states. There are other good state conventions, for sure, but we have had a uniqueness about that. We have stayed focused and have stayed unified in that focus. So I think our strength is our unity.
I think our second strength is our focus on our mission. That mission is to carry the Gospel to every street, every little town in Oklahoma, where there is someone who needs to hear the Gospel. That is the mission of our churches. And then to carry the Gospel to our nation and to our world.
I love Oklahoma Baptists because we have our world on our heart. We are not just about Oklahoma, but that ought to be our priority. That is where God has placed us. Nobody else is coming to Oklahoma to do our job for us. But Oklahoma Baptists have lifted their eyes, and they see the needs of our nation and our world. And they have not only seen them but have engaged in them.
As a pastor we were always engaged in partnership missions, but in my early days here, we did not have partnerships. And that is one of the first things God led me to lead us to do, and now those partnerships are strong and healthy, in Latvia and Guerrero, Mexico and in Edmonton. But truth is, Oklahoma Baptists now have caught that vision, and we are everywhere, for which I am thankful.
The challenges we face include engaging this new culture we are in. It always has been a challenge to engage the culture, no matter what era, but it is more so today. This is not the same Oklahoma I grew up in during the ‘50s and ‘60s as a kid and a teenager. The hippie movement was simple compared to the horrible situation we face in our state with meth and drugs. The results that come from that are now 10 or so thousand foster kids who’ve become so because parents have been engaged in that activity. The sexual immorality of our day looms so large that it is not just the culture. It is in the church. There are many in church who see nothing wrong with living (together) outside of marriage. That’s tragic to me. It’s unbiblical. It’s sin.
So how do we face that? We just go back to the New Testament because that’s what Paul faced. That’s what the church in Corinth faced. How do we face it? We face it with the Gospel and with God’s love.
Next, I think we have made a lot of progress in Southern Baptist life and in the BGCO in relationship to race. I don’t hear our people rejecting people because of race. I didn’t say it’s not there; I just don’t hear it. I go back to the founding of our convention. Our first church was multi-ethnic.
This convention ought to be filled with people of every race, every background, and they ought to be people who not only become a part of us but rise to leadership. That’s beginning to happen, and I’m very thankful for that.
I admit, I don’t understand all the challenges that other races face, that our Hispanic, Native American and African-American brothers and sisters face. But I want to understand, and I believe people in this convention want to understand. So I’m excited about that. I think it is a challenge, but I think it’s a huge opportunity.
The last thing is embracing young leaders. I’m about to celebrate 50 years in Southern Baptist ministry. As a young leader, I looked up to the people who were ahead of me. I saw Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, W.A Criswell and others as people whom I had such regard. When I finally got to sit in a room with some of them, I was overwhelmed.
I think the heroes of our young leaders are different today, and that’s okay. I think the great challenge is going to be showing young leaders why the Cooperative Program is the most effective and efficient way.
We must teach young leaders to embrace the Cooperative Program and its impact. They’re not going to buy into it because we tell them. We’ve got to show them why is it more strategic to do things through the Cooperative Program than it is for ‘my church’ to send a missionary or ‘half’ of a missionary.
What many people fail to realize, a lot of our leaders of today on a national level who are in the big churches fail to understand, they can send some missionaries—four, five, six or 10— but Gotebo can’t. We need each other. Those of us who are bigger and stronger need to reach out to those who aren’t and embrace them and work together for the greater good.
We can do more together than we can do alone. That’s why the Cooperative Program is so central to us. The Cooperative Program is not the only way to support missions, but I think we ought to embrace young people and help them to see why it is the best.