LITTLE ROCK – Emil Turner, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) since 1996, will retire effective February 2013.
Turner announced his intention to retire at the Aug. 2 meeting of the ABSC Executive Board.
“For almost 16 years, Mary and I have enjoyed the privilege of serving the Southern Baptist churches of Arkansas; we have enjoyed the kindness of the pastors and the tolerance of the church members and have enjoyed the friendship of the other ABSC entity leaders,” said Turner, who was joined by his wife, Mary, for the announcement.
“I have been the beneficiary of the competence and hard work of the ABSC staff members. We are grateful for each kindness shown us by these good people. But Mary and I have prayed about this decision and have concluded that my most effective ministry service at this time will be found in some other capacity,” Turner continued.
“We have been treated with grace and compassion by Arkansas Baptists, and I will miss serving the churches as executive director,” he said.
Following the announcement, the Turners stood at the front of the meeting room as members of the board stood and applauded. Don Blackmore, chairman of the ABSC operating committee and discipleship pastor at Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, led the board in prayer for the Turners.
ABSC Executive Committee Bylaws call for the current executive director to serve until replaced, but Turner expressed during his announcement the “hope that the operating committee can find a replacement by the time of the December meeting” of the board.
“If not, I am prepared to serve until my replacement can be found and elected,” he added. “And in the event of such occurring by the December board meeting, I have requested that I be allowed to continue until the end of February 2013 that I may effectively orient my replacement.”
Turner has served as executive director since Jan. 15, 1996. He followed the retirement of longtime state executive director and Arkansas Baptist Pastor Don Moore, who served from 1982 to 1996. Turner was serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Lake Charles, La., when he was elected to lead Arkansas Baptists.
Jason Noel, president of the ABSC Executive Board and pastor of East Side Baptist Church, Paragould, expressed gratitude for Turner’s friendship and leadership over the years.
“The thing I have loved about Dr. Turner so much is that, every time I am with him, he pours into me. The ministry that God has given to me, it matters to him,” said Noel.
“He is going to be greatly missed in the state of Arkansas,” Noel added. “When it comes to Southern Baptist life, I don’t known anybody on point and as well versed. What we really miss is that he is a friend of pastors. That is what he will be known for (and) remembered for.”
Building relationships among pastors and other church staff has been a focal point of Turner’s ministry in the state, Turner shared in an interview with the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) as he marked his 15th anniversary in 2011. Turner, who has served on church staff and as a pastor of churches in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mount Olive Baptist Church in Crossett, said he has a “deep admiration” for pastors and the difficulties and challenges they face.
During Turner’s tenure, the ABSC has grown from 1,378 congregations in 1996 to 1,545 churches and missions today – an increase of about 12 percent. Baptisms in Arkansas Baptist churches have averaged about 13,000 annually under Turner’s leadership. Giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) has increased from $15.5 million to more than $21 million.
In addition to presiding over the growth in churches, baptisms and CP giving during his tenure, Turner led Arkansas Baptists through the construction and completion of a new building to house convention ministries in Little Rock. The 45,000-square-foot facility was dedicated March 2, 2009, with funds provided from ABSC reserves, according to a report about the dedication published in the ABN. The building and property value was estimated at more than $9.8 million at the time of the report.