I am personally grateful for Jim Richards. His retirement affords me the opportunity to pay him tribute for his leadership, and thank him publicly for his friendship. For the last 10 years, I’ve served on the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention board, and in that time I’ve worked closely with him. I have known many outstanding leaders in Southern Baptist life, and I rank Jim Richards among the best.
I met Jim Richards in the early 1990s when neither of us lived in Texas yet, and I served on the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention while he was on the Christian Life Commission. Then, later, when the SBTC was forming, and I was already the pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church, I invited him to Austin to visit with me about the future, and the formation of the new state convention. (He only half-jokingly reminds us today that in those earliest days, the SBTC office was the front seat of his car and the switchboard was his cell phone.) His tireless efforts on behalf of our convention since its inception have produced nearly miraculous results. His convictional leadership has helped make the SBTC what I believe is the best state convention of them all.
When the time was right for our church to examine our state convention alignment, our leaders interviewed two state convention executives representing different bodies. Both made appealing arguments about why we should align with their conventions. For us, however, the decision was made easier when our church leaders asked the two executives one simple question: Do you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture? One executive said he could not commit to that.
Jim Richards, on the other hand, enthusiastically assured us of his personal convictions about biblical inerrancy, and of the doctrinal conviction of the SBTC concerning inerrancy, which is woven into our founding documents and our statements of who we are and why we exist. Our church enthusiastically decided to align with the SBTC because they represent our beliefs about the Bible and the Great Commission. Executive Director Richards was a powerful and persuasive voice in helping our leaders know where the SBTC stands, and we have never regretted our decision.
Jim Richards is, in some ways, a local church pastor at heart. He has preached for us at Hyde Park Baptist Church and will again. He has led conferences which our people have loved. His book on Revelation ought to be on every believer’s library shelf. His commitment to personal evangelism and the proclamation of the gospel in his frequent preaching opportunities is representative of where we should all be. He has been the consummate leader of the SBTC and its ministry to our churches because he understands our churches.
He has called me on confidential and sensitive matters over the years related to convention business, and I’ve always admired his clarity of thought, and precision in decision making, backed by a spine of steel. I once heard a preacher describe another leader he trusted as “12 inches to the foot and 36 inches to the yard.” I trust Jim Richards like that. He’s the real deal. I’m certain the blessing of God has rested on our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in part because Jim Richards has those remarkable leadership qualities that have gotten us here.
One day, he told me in confidence he was considering retirement. I had hoped it wouldn’t have come as soon as it did. He later made that public announcement while the SBTC Board was meeting at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin. If anyone is keeping score, please don’t blame me that I’ve been SBTC president during a global pandemic and while Jim Richards retired. It just happened that way.
I’m a big Nathan Lorick fan, too. I was on the search team that recommended him. He is the best man to lead us into the future. I’m here to assist him in any way, and I’m excited about what God wants to do through all of us in the days ahead.
So as I look forward, I feel a lot of confidence because of what I see when I glance back. Jim Richards has done the impossible in one sense. From leading the SBTC in its infancy, less than 25 years ago, to the day when he passed the baton to Nathan Lorick, the SBTC has become, in one generation, the greatest state convention of them all.
Thank you, Jim Richards. You are a blessing to many and a leader with a lasting legacy in Texas and beyond.