New SCBC president touts relational evangelism

Tommy Kelly, pastor of Varnville First Baptist Church, is the new president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

The 51-year-old was elected by messengers to the SCBC annual meeting in Columbia on Nov. 12. He succeeds D.J. Horton. Convention presidents serve one-year terms.

Kelly was one of two nominees for the office and received 235 votes. Rocky Purvis, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Lexington, was also nominated and received 204 votes.

Tom Tucker, pastor of Sisk Memorial Baptist Church in Fort Mill, was elected first vice president with 232 votes. Shane Donald, pastor of Cedar Shoals Baptist Church in Belton, received 197 votes.

Others elected to office without opposition were:

Bart Kelley, pastor of Bethel Baptist in Westminster, second vice president;

Brenda Barnes of Beaverdam Baptist Association, recording secretary;

Clark Carter, dean of students at Charleston Southern University and transitional pastor at Portside Baptist Church in Charleston, registration secretary.

At a press conference following his election, Kelly said he has been a “Baptist from birth” and looks forward to visiting pastors and other Baptists across the state and asking three questions: “How has the convention served you well, how has it failed you, and how can it help you more?”

Kelly grows animated while talking about relational evangelism and believes it is foundational to the future success of church growth and denominational effectiveness. “If we’re not relational with people, we’ll lose them,” he said. “We’ve got to go out and engage them and not be afraid.”

“Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost the next Billy Graham because he had too much ink on his body [with tattoos],” he said. “We’ve got to be willing to get our hands dirty.”

Kelly said he looks forward to speaking in churches and at associational meetings and hopes churches will invite him. He also asked for the prayers of South Carolina Baptists, that he would “have the ability to lead them in the way God wants me to lead.”

Asked why he remains active in denominational life when many Baptist pastors no longer do, Kelly said he is a Southern Baptist by choice even though he was raised in a Southern Baptist church where his father was a deacon, his mother the organist and his aunt a “tremendous influence” in his life. “I believe in the doctrines of the Baptist church,” he said. “Also, we’ve done it better.”

“But we can do even better,” he added, saying that South Carolina Baptists have a “bright future” despite “uncertainties” that include finding a permanent SCBC executive director-treasurer and deciding what the convention’s financial support for its institutions will be after GCR-mandated funding models expire in 2016.

Asked how it felt to be elected state convention president, he laughed and said the news might come as a surprise to some educators who told his parents that he probably wouldn’t advance much further than high school because of a learning disability. He went on to earn advanced degrees, including a doctorate. “Mom found all those teachers and wrote them a letter,” he said.

Kelly has served at Varnville First Baptist for more than 20 years. He and his wife, Phyllis, have been married for 26 years. They have a daughter, Rebekah, who is a senior at Charleston Southern University.

The new SCBC president enjoys turkey and deer hunting but needed crutches to get around during the annual meeting after recently falling 20 feet from a deer stand and injuring his foot.