Buddy Champion and Rick Lance sitting in front of microphones recording a podcast
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This conversation is a transcript from One Mission Podcast. If you would like to listen to this episode, visit ALSBOM Podcasts.

Rick Lance:

Welcome to One Mission, the podcast. Thank you again for joining us. I am Rick Lance State Missionary for with the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. And this is an opportunity for us today to hear from our convention president Buddy Champion. Buddy is currently being the pastor of First Baptist Church Trussville for a number of years. He’s been a pastor in First Baptist Decatur, Shiloh Church in the Selma area, and he’s an outstanding leader. He’s proven that. You think about being president of the convention, which he’s served now for more than a year in that capacity presiding over any convention meeting, even the easiest one is not all together easy. And he did a remarkable job with that. So we have a leader among leaders for Alabama Baptists among us today, and we’ll have an opportunity to hear from him. But let me first say, as an aside with a little bit of humor. You’ve heard of Rick and Bubba, today you have Rick and Buddy. So we begin that and just simply getting to know our convention president better. Buddy, good morning.

Buddy Champion:

Good morning. Probably believe in there was a fat joke somewhere if we’re Rick and Buddy because I see your physique and I see mine. I’m the Bubba of the group I guess I don’t know.

Rick Lance:

I don’t know about that necessarily and I’m not real sure we’d be as popular as they are.

Buddy Champion:

Not at all.

Rick Lance:

Nonetheless. And for those of you who are listeners, this is an informal conversation that we’re having. It’s nothing formal about it and so you’ll detect that as we go on. Buddy, we’ve had several of these episodes and previously we’ve had Dr. Willie McLaren, who’s the interim president of the SBC Executive Committee. We’ve had Robert Smith, one of the premier preachers in my mind, and Alabama Baptist life, Southern Baptist life. We kind of make adopt him and make him one of our own. And then we’ve had recently Dr. Paul Chitwood, who is currently the president of the International Mission Board.

Well, today we want to talk to you as an Alabama Baptist and also with a word of gratitude lets you know how much we appreciate you and I, that is meaningful. Everywhere I go and your name is mentioned, it is always mentioned with a sense of gratitude and praise. And I’ll tell you, not everyone gets that. So you’re one among few to be able to get that. Buddy, tell us a little bit about this, more than a year now serving as president. Maybe some surprises, some times of gratification. What it’s meant to you, what you’ve seen, and what you foresee in days to come.

Buddy Champion:

I think as the presidency, in the presidency, you’re allowed a lot of opportunity to see the different facets of the convention and of the missionaries and their work. And I was thinking this morning as I was driving down, really, I see my role as more of a servant support for what… I mean, you know better than I do ’cause you’re a part of it every day. We’ve got a great team of missionaries here in the facility, but literally around the state as they go every day to serve in different areas. And wow, if there’s anything we can do in the servant role of the presidency, it would be to enhance their work that they’ve been called to do. And no one knows their work better than they do ’cause they’re in the trenches every day. And whatever we can do to support their needs and support their vision and things that they’re seeing that needs to happen in the state convention. Whether it’s disaster relief or discipleship or whatever, maybe through my leadership, we could enhance that and help them do what they’re called to do.

And I just think they do it with a great attitude. They serve with a great attitude and it’s just a privilege that First Baptist Trussville and Baptist Churches all over the state can come together and make it happen. As we join our forces together, do far more together than we can individually. And it’s just a neat thing to see that unfold and see that take place. Whether it’s right now in Selma with the disasters that are going on there and all kind of seminars and opportunities and meetings and just a privilege to see that and witness all that come together.

Rick Lance:

Yes. And Buddy, thank you for that. We don’t often get a lot of kudos because we are kind of behind the scenes. I had a sermon series years ago, if you allow me to reflect on it. The series was entitled Saints Behind the Scenes: Unlikely People who did Unlimited Things for God. And I have been amazed at some of the unsung heroes, not only in church life and convention life, often are those who we might use in military terms do the grunt work. They’re never necessarily going to be on the platform, but what happens on the platform they’ve helped make happen. They’re always going to be supportive and every now and then at opportune times, and we can say thank you just like you did, that means the world to them. And I know our state missionaries will be listening to this and they’ll take very much homage to that. They’ll recognize that you’ve done that with a heartfelt.

Buddy Champion:

Yeah. And I found in my ministry, Dr. Lance, that the hard work is often done behind the scenes. The stage and the platform, that’s, I don’t say it’s easy, but nor it’s important as well. But the grunt work, as you mentioned, the hard work, the difficult decisions, that happens often where no one ever knows. And if missionaries, and they are, behind the scenes, you know, they’re doing the hard work. They’re helping churches that are struggling, they’re helping pastors that are hurting and feel like throwing in the towel, and they’re encouraging people all across the state in areas that no one ever knows. And it’s a privilege to be a part of that.

Rick Lance:

Well, while we’re talking about the presidency, I might mention to our listeners, not everyone knows this, and not all Alabama Baptists for certain, and not all the decision makers sometime know this, but the way we’re set up in our Alabama Baptist State Convention work, the president of the convention is not a functionary person who just presides over the convention. It’s a working position. He is automatically the chair of the Executive Committee of the State Board of Missions and that’s where a lot of the action happens. Things begin there. And in one respect, I would have to say from my standpoint as my executive leadership point of view, I have to work, I need to work and should work, and I’m delighted to work with all the board members, but the executive committee is a smaller steering committee. And as chair of that, that’s almost like being chairman of deacons and chairman of the personnel and chairman of finance all rolled into one at a local church.

There’s only one other state convention that’s like that and we’re not modeled after the SBC in this regard. The SBC president is not, he’s a member of the executive committee, but he’s not the chair. So therefore, proportionately the president of the convention is far more influential on Baptists, called Alabama Baptists, and in proportionality than the SBC president is because of the function of the chair of the executive committee where a lot of this grunt work we’re talking about takes place in convention life. So, you’ve done that remarkably well. I’ve been in your chair before eons ago, and I recognize there’s a lot of heavy weight sometimes that has to be lifted, but you’re a big, strong guy.

Buddy, tell us about your family, if you will, and especially bring us up to date. Those of us have been really praying for Grace. Give us a update on how she’s doing as well as tell about the rest of the family.

Buddy Champion:

Yeah, Lynn and I, my wife, we grew up at Lakeside Baptist Church and my mom was a pianist there, so I grew up on the piano bench and was part of Lakeside all my life. And my mentors, my examples, were Earl Tew and then of course Mike McLemore after that, and Ray Wood a little bit as well. And so as I look back on that journey, I think, “Wow, that’s some good men to watch in the pastorate.” And they both did a wonderful job, or all three did a wonderful job, in their tenures at Lakeside.

And we met at Lakeside and went to Southwestern Seminary and after we got married and came back to Shiloh, and then First Baptist Decatur, and now in First Baptist Trussville. So we fortunately and kind of unreal that we’ve bounced around Alabama all these years and we have three daughters. Macie is our oldest. She works at UAB Hospital and her husband is a coach and a teacher, and they love the journey they’re on right now. Another daughter is Dailey and her husband’s a pharmacist down in Mobile and they live in Fair Hope and she’s a therapist down there. Then Grace is the one that’s been on this 11 year journey now of an undiagnosed condition that we really can’t determine what it is.

It’s some kind of inflammation in her cerebellum that causes balance and tremors and that difficulties there. And it comes and goes. They find medicines that help for a little while and then the medicine’s effectiveness goes away; and then some medicines you can’t stay on forever because of the negative impact of that. So we’re still on that rollercoaster. We go to the Mayo Clinic often trying to discover what else could be done, but it’s just an undiagnosed condition that they’ve not seen before and the inflammation they can’t identify even with biopsies. And so it’s just one of those unreal deals that you find yourself on. But, you know, sometimes you see her and she’s looking great and sometimes she’s not looking so good. It just depends on whether we’re on the high of the rollercoaster or the low, so.

Rick Lance:

Well, you tell her, especially after the meetings we have going on today and tomorrow, when you get back home, tell her that we are continuing to pray for her.

Buddy Champion:

And we also have a fourth daughter, a niece that came to live with us. That is now number four, so I have a house full of girls.

Rick Lance:

Well, you have a dormitory!

Buddy Champion:

Yeah. They’re growing up though.

Rick Lance:

That’s good. And it’s always good to see children launch well and do well and sound like yours are doing remarkably well. And tell us a little bit about First Baptist Trussville. It’s one of our premier churches. If you don’t know much about Trussville, the city of Birmingham has expanded in different directions. South is one that’s certainly been a direction of growth and now, demographically, it’s grown east and northeast. So it’s certainly encompassed and even gone beyond Trussville. So, you’ve been there more than 15 years, and tell us a little bit about the journey there.

Buddy Champion:

It’s been a good place, but really it’s a good place that I, in a sense, had nothing to do with. Serving at Shiloh down in Selma Association, it’s got its own demographic and its own unique specialness. Decatur is a whole different realm and Trussville is that suburban outside of Birmingham, neighborhoods everywhere. It’s a good city, but you know, there I had an opportunity, or have an opportunity, to follow Richard Francis, Dewey Corder, Gary Hollingsworth -great pastors and leaders. And so they’ve, you know, as Andy Westmoreland used to say that they planted trees that I enjoy the shade of. You know, and they’ve done such a wonderful job leading up to my coming that I just try not to mess it up, you know, just try to keep the baton running.

And it’s been a good journey that the culture of that church is one of reaching people. They have a passion and I don’t know for how many years, but a real passion to reach the next generation, the children, the students. They’re always willing to invest resources in that, whether it’s building or budgets or energy or whatever. They’re excited about that.

But we’re a church. We’re not a young church. We’re not an old church. We’re I say healthy numerically across the board. Strong senior adult presence, bed babies everywhere, you know. So it’s kind of a neat, as a pastor trying to lead those just different generations, it’s kind of a challenge. But as far as the strength that that brings to the table is pretty fun. That you’ve got all kind of different backgrounds and even in the demographics of who we are as a community now, there’s those that have lived there when there was one red light in Trussville years ago and then where they are today. And some rarely leave Trussville and some travel around the world every week. You know, so it’s just a different demographic, but it’s a lot of fun.

Rick Lance:

Yeah. You’ve just described having served in a rural area, essentially having served in a county seat town and now in a solid suburban church, which is, as I say, one of our premier churches. And I might add to personalize it a bit. And as a host, you had to be careful about doing that. I’ve known, or I know all three of those predecessors you’ve mentioned. Richard Francis was about a third cousin by marriage and knew him well. He was the one who witnessed to me and led me to the Lord. And we go way back. We went way back and I had part of his funeral in 1988. I remember that real well.

Dewey Corder, I kind of helped recommend him there at that particular time. Dewey did a good job. He was highly relational as you well know, and you are too, packaged a little bit differently. But Dewey served well and served, continued up to his death by means of Covid, at a church that grew rather significantly, mainly by senior adults in that area.

And then Gary Hollingsworth has been a friend for a long time. Gary served with the North American Mission Board. He’s been at Emmanuel Church in Little Rock, which is a significant church. And then, again, I was instrumental in recommending him to the South Carolina convention position of my counterpart there. And he is one that I cherish as a friend. So you’ve had three outstanding predecessors and you’re doing a very fine job too.

Tell us about the staff. What kind of staff do you have?

Buddy Champion:

Oh, we’re all knuckleheads in a way. But we’re all struggling and working, trying to stay on the same team. Staff, for me, I think it was George Bush that said, I don’t have to be smart, I just gotta have smart people around me.

Rick Lance:

That’s right. He’s not the first that said but he said it.

Buddy Champion:

Which works by the way.

Rick Lance:

Yes, it does.

Buddy Champion:

The staff there, they are incredible in their area, field of service, if I could use that terminology. Whether it’s preschool or children or middle school or high school, we got some outstanding leaders on the staff. And, you know, I’m 60, turned 60 not long ago. It to me sounds incredibly old, but I find myself watching the middle school ministry or watching the high school ministry, some of the crazy things they come up with that I think, “that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” but it works. I mean, they’ll have kids show up out of the woodwork. You know, it’s just amazing.

So I find myself having to really trust the staff and I do. And some of their unusual approaches to reaching children or middle schoolers or high schoolers or whatever, I’m like, well, I would’ve never tried that. But then you have, you know, 25 kids come to Christ and you think, well, who am I to critique that or whatever. So they’re great staff and do a wonderful job.

And for us, not only do you need people smarter than you in their areas of service around you, but the team aspect is very important for us. We eat lunch every week together and it’s kind of a mandatory time that we spend not talking about work. We just talk about life. And so we really work hard on developing a team and having a team. It’s a true team that I’m one of the many members. Then, we try to keep those relationships strong. We’re really friends and I love it when they hang out with each other and go out to each other with their families on Friday night or whatever, cause they just like each other. And that doesn’t always come easy. But we really worked, trying to make sure we are what we would think of or imagined a true team that really cares for each other and likes each other. And so they do a great job.

Rick Lance:

And that translates because of that kind of arrangement and that kind of camaraderie and synergy just lends itself to have a healthy church – healthy leaders and healthy churches go together. If you have unhealthy leaders, you can’t expect to have a healthy church. So, therefore, if you’ve got the right kind of team, even a slightly unhealthy church or even profoundly unhealthy in time can become healthy. It’s just, it’s a process. So thank you for sharing that.

As we look to, if we could, look under the hood a little bit in your life, and could you give us one or two lessons that you have learned in ministry that you think were really turning points, lessons, and of experiences that were just really turning. I’m not talking about textbook lessons, I’m talking about life lessons that really made a difference.

Buddy Champion:

I think in the ministry. One of the things I’ve learned, I need to have vision. I need to understand where God wants the church to go. Not as Buddy Baptist Church, but as here’s the people that God wants me to shepherd, and where does God want? Because this church existed before I got there and it’s gonna exist when I leave. And that little 78 year old lady has been there for 50 years. So, I don’t want to come in as a pastor and totally disjointed her journey with Christ, with whatever change that may be. I don’t like change a lot. I like transitions. So I really trust God to help me to lead in such a way that he or she or I, I don’t have an agenda. I just wanna follow God. Where do You want this church to go during my tenure? And it’s Your church and I’m just shepherd of it for this season, so where can I servantly lead that place?

So that’s…I kind of had to get me out of the way and my what I like and what I want, ’cause it really doesn’t matter. It’s where does God want His church to go? And I’ve discovered I don’t have to have all the answers. But those pews, in any church I feel, there’s some great people in those pews that want to help their pastor.

Last night I had a meeting that I was, I mean, I was stuck. A difficult situation in the church and didn’t know how to manage it and walk through it. So I bring some men around saying, what do I do? And they’re so willing to invest and help and guide, and so that, in my life lessons, I don’t have to have the answers. I’ve just gotta trust people to help me. And they so want to help their pastor and their church and the cause of Christ. So I’ve just learned that, if I can surround myself with great men and women of the faith that are full of wisdom and grace, together we can see God do some cool things.

Rick Lance:

Well that’s well stated. And just an observation right off the top of my head, that’s strong leadership, but in a soft and subtle way. What you’re doing then is not just making a…you’re not singing a solo. You’ve got at least an ensemble singing along with you. Now that’s very good.

You made a statement that I think is very important. When people talk about change, they’re okay with it if they think the change is for somebody else to do and not themselves. So change can be a negative experience and your idea of transitions, that’s very good. I think the best change, unless you’re in an emergency, the best change is incremental change, which brings those transitions and you look back and it is hardly new that you had a change happen. It just incrementally, you brought people along and it really made a big difference.

Well, one other thing I’d like for you to do for our listeners, would you offer an encouraging word for ministers and laypeople today and this chaotic environment in which we live, just from the bottom of your heart? What would you say to them?

Buddy Champion:

Yeah. And it seems like yesterday I was a young gun. You know, I was one of the young guys and all of a sudden you wake up and you’re 60, or you’re 55, or you’re, you know, you wonder about retirement. Will I ever get there? And what does that look like? And it happens so fast and the journey that we’ve been on is so fast. And yet during that course of the journey, you get so tired sometimes. And you get so exhausted of the ministry and the demands and being a dad or mom or whatever. And wow. Don’t give up. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t get so tired you make poor decisions that are gonna hurt your ministry. And it’s worth it.

As I look at 60 I think, man, I just wanna finish well. I don’t want all that God’s done in the last 30 something years as I’ve been a pastor, I don’t wanna mess that up for the cause of Christ. He doesn’t need me for His reputation, but I certainly don’t wanna hurt that. I just want to finish well. And it just happened so fast that now I’m worried about finishing as opposed to starting and then that transition was so quick.

Rick Lance:

Somewhere in the continuum of beginning well and finishing well, we have this continuing well. And that’s what you’re talking about doing. Continuing well, so that you can finish well. That is very well stated.

Well, dear people, we have had an enjoyable time of discussion and conversation with our convention president Buddy Champion, a dear friend, a very loyal servant of the Lord, and certainly someone who’s endeared himself so much to Alabama Baptists. And today, uniquely, we’ve had our own version of Rick and Bubba. So it’s Rick and Buddy, and it has been a joy to have convention President Buddy to be with us. And he is a very approachable, amicable individual, and an outstanding leader. This time has been well spent.

Thank you again for listening, and we’ll look forward to the next time we gather for One Mission, the podcast.

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