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Hill eyes retirement, as ministry continues

November 26, 2018 at 5:00 a.m. | Updated November 26, 2018 at 5:01 a.m.
Pastor of Administration Jim Hill sits in his office Tuesday at First Baptist Church. Hill has worked as Pastor of Administration for more than seven years at First Baptist Church and will be retiring this year.

The Rev. Jim Hill already has made the announcement - after 47 years in the ministry - he'll retire at the end of the year from his post as pastor of Administration at Jefferson City's First Baptist Church.

"I have other things that I want to do, that you can't do when you're employed full time," Hill, 65, explained just before Thanksgiving. "I'm still going to stay active, and do a variety of things I tell people I have a pretty big bucket list, and my wife has a bucket list, too.

"So, we decided it's a good time to start the process."

Hill and his wife, Bettie Jo Hill, will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary in January.

"I met my wife at college (Southwest Baptist College - now University - Bolivar), and we dated for a couple of years, then got married before our last year."

Hill was born and raised in Northwest Missouri - the fifth of eight children, and the second boy.

"Dad was pastor at this church in Maryville for 15 years," Hill said. "I was in high school before I found out that ministers move."

Hill graduated from Windsor High School in 1971 and, when he headed to Southwest Baptist College, he wasn't planning on a religious career.

"I actually went there to study English and Journalism," he explained.

However, he was active in a college Bible study group and, "during the latter part of my freshman year in college," he said, "a close friend asked me one night (if) I had ever considered the fact that God might be calling me to the ministry."

Hill said the more he prayed about it, "the more convinced I became that, maybe, he was calling me to ministry."

So he changed his major in college to religion, and philosophy and history.

And, although some times have been more difficult than others, Hill said, "I've never had a sense that I've chosen the wrong path, and I have really found a lot of fulfillment in what I've done."

Hill acknowledged some of his comfort-level with his career choice "has come in retrospect, in looking back over my life and (seeing) how God has used me and helped me to grow and change. I'm a very different person than I was when I first entered the ministry" - and he hopes he can "keep growing" in the coming years.

"I think all of us ought to desire for God to continue his work in our lives," Hill said.

And that extends to living with people in our country who aren't the same as we are.

"We have to reach out to people who are like us, and people who are not like us," Hill said, "people who agree with us and people who will never agree with us - with the same compassion that Jesus reached out to people all the time."

And he attributes his overall success to liking people and enjoying relationships.

For about 5 years, while Hill was in college and seminary, he also served a small, rural church north of Sedalia.

After graduating from seminary in 1977, he became pastor at First Baptist Church in Iberia - and also began his doctoral studies in a Midwestern Baptist Seminary satellite program at Fort Leonard Wood.

He became part of a program that helped young pastors learn about starting new churches and, in late-1978, Hill resigned from the Iberia church and moved to Blue Springs.

There, he, his wife and their two pre-school-age boys moved into a house "on 6 acres" that had been acquired for a future church building.

Starting with just three couples, he recalled, the church met in the Hills' "home and garage" as the new church's numbers "grew to about 100" and construction began on what now is a church complex.

Then Hill was named to head the Baptist church's "starting and language missions work" for the Kansas City metropolitan area - and he spent about four years in that work before the Baptists' National Mission Agency asked him to move to its Atlanta headquarters.

After eight years in that Atlanta-based job, that included traveling about 60 percent of the time - and as his then-three sons were growing older - Hill decided to return to parish ministry.

Hill said he was interested in that career direction because "I missed the pastorate. I think the local church is the primary agency of God's redemptive work in the world."

Ultimately, he accepted a job with a new church in south St. Louis County - meeting first in "temporary facilities for five years" until they were able to build the first building on 10 acres the congregation had purchased.

When Don Wideman retired in 1997 as executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, the executive board asked Hill to succeed him. Hill served in that position for four years.

However, he resigned "when it became apparent they (the Convention) were going to sue their institutions" over operational control of those institutions.

(As part of a philosophical and legal battle for control of the convention, often described as a fight between moderates and conservatives, the MBC in 2004 sued five of its institutions - and some parts of that legal battle are still going on today.)

From his perspective, Hill said the dispute damaged some of the Missouri Baptists' historical diversity.

"I had never resigned a position (before) where I didn't know where I was going," Hill said. "I did some consulting with nonprofits and Christian ministries for a couple of years."

In time, the moderates founded a new organization known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri (also known as Churchnet).

After the new convention's first director retired, Hill served one year as an interim director, then became the BGCM's full-time executive director for 13 years - retiring in April 2017.

"It's a smaller convention, and all of our staff were, also, serving in local congregations," he noted, which is how he came to agree to a temporary, interim position as First Baptist's administrative director - a job he ultimately has held for 7 years, until he retires at the end of the year.

Hill is also a founding member of the Missouri Faith Voices group, and became the organization's first president.

He's been active in several other statewide organizations that have worked on advocacy issues, he said, "primarily working on the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities, and I plan to continue to do that in my retirement."

Also in his retirement, Hill said, he plans to spend more time with his grandchildren and do some writing, "I've started several (non-fiction) writing projects that I've never really had the opportunity or time to complete."

One of those projects likely will involve looking at Jesus' last week before his execution, and the impact those events had on his followers.

He plans to do work on his family's genealogy.

He wants to do some national and international travel - where he can enjoy the visit, rather than rushing to attend meetings.

Also, he said, he and his wife are big baseball fans, "We'd like to visit all of the (nation's) baseball stadiums.

"We've visited about nine - but we have 20-some to go." The work is an outgrowth of his personal faith and his family's legacy, Hill explained.

Hill said his life's ultimate goal is for churches to be successful.

"I want everybody who's working in (God's) Kingdom to prosper," he said. "I want their ministries to prosper.

"I want us to care for a nation that needs a lot of healing."


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