There was a time when Tony Wolfe wanted to be full of hot air.
No, he wasn’t prone to lying and didn’t intentionally spread any seeds of deception. Wolfe, elected unanimously last month as executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, began his young adult life as a concert tuba player and spent several years teaching low brass lessons all over South Louisiana and Texas.
This part of his music pedigree isn’t something one encounters every day. He was first chair tuba in the intercollegiate honor band in Louisiana, took lessons with famous low brass players, and played in the New Orleans Civic Symphony for one year.
“How many concert tubists do you know?” he said, laughing. “I have not touched a tuba in 11 years, so I’m pretty sure if I tried to pick one up today my performance would be quite painful, both literally and figuratively. But the next time you see your executive director-treasurer addressing a Baptist business meeting, just imagine him blowing hot air through a 16-foot-long brass tube, and it will do wonders for your ability to stay tuned with unexpected delight.”
Wolfe probably hasn’t touched the tuba lately because he has been far too busy with ministry. After surrendering to God’s call at 17, the 40-year-old Wolfe began as a music minister the summer before his senior year in high school. In the 23 years since, he’s served in his native Louisiana and Texas in numerous ministry positions, including pastor, worship leader, counselor, educator, and denominational leader.
From 2017 until last month when he began work as EDT in South Carolina, Wolfe served as associate executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas. Both his father and father-in-law are pastors, so ministry has been a massive feature on the landscape of his entire life.
Wolfe said his new position in South Carolina is merely an extension of his original call to ministry.
“I believe God first calls us to Himself, then vocationally to His church, and He maintains the right to shape or change that vocational calling as He sees fit through the years,” he said. “I began as a music minister at 17, and four years later, I remember a distinct call to ministry early one Sunday morning in the copy room — the Lord Jesus inviting me to invest the rest of my life in vocational service to his local churches.
“Stepping into my new role with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, I would say without reservation that not only is serving Christ’s churches a high calling, but it is also a high honor and one of the greatest joys of my life.”
LONGTIME FAMILY MAN
Relative to his age, Wolfe has been in ministry for a good number of years. It’s the same story as a husband and father. Wolfe met his wife, Vanessa, while the two were singing in their high school choir. They were married at 18 and have one grown son and another who is a junior in high school. Their oldest son, Ethan, is a student pastor in Oklahoma and is engaged to be married this summer.
The Wolfes have been married for 22 years, and Vanessa is a highly active part of local church and denominational ministry, too.
“Vanessa and I dated off and on for almost two years, then were married when we were both 18 years old,” he said. “Yes, we were married very young (we tell everyone we don’t regret it, but we don’t recommend it). Vanessa is a gifted, devoted servant of Christ and His churches. She and I have led pastor and wife events and marriage conferences all over Texas and in several other states.
“She’s the star, really, and is full of wisdom. I just show up and try to sound like I know what I’m talking about. Vanessa has been entrusted with a powerful personal testimony of God’s goodness and grace and shares it regularly at women’s ministry events. Currently, she works for the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation in cash management and client services.”
MANY SHAPING INFLUENCES
Both Tony’s father and Vanessa’s dad have served as excellent ministry role models for South Carolina’s new EDT the past 22 years. He also named men like Adrian Rogers, Alistair Begg, Haddon Robinson, and John Piper as among those who have shaped his preaching, teaching, and leading.
But many of his ministry heroes are precisely the average Southern Baptist pastor Wolfe is serving in the Palmetto State — men who will scarcely be known outside their own churches.
“Many preachers who have been most influential in my life have been those faithful, unknown, normative-sized church pastor friends in rural areas who prayerfully and carefully exposit the Word and exhort their people to action week-in and week-out,” he said. “They will never be heard on radio, television, of from a convention platform. They are my heroes.”
Already, Wolfe has had a significant and lengthy time in ministry — as in music and marriage. What has surprised him most during his 23 years in gospel ministry?
“The most surprising thing God has done in my life is anything at all. I know me,” he said. “I know my limitations, my shortcomings, and my inadequacies very well. But for some reason God continues to work in me and through me in ways I have never expected or imagined.
“To lead this amazing SCBC staff team in helping South Carolina Baptist churches advance the Great Commission together is an indescribable honor no one could earn. It is a solemn stewardship.”
A TIGER IN CAROLINA
Like many native Louisianans, Wolfe is an avid supporter of the LSU Tigers. In a state like South Carolina that loves its college sports, Wolfe knows people will understand his allegiance to the purple-and-gold Tigers instead of the purple and orange Tigers or the garnet, black, and white Gamecocks. He also enjoys reading, fishing, and playing golf.
“A local Columbia wings restaurant absolutely heard me let out an audible ‘Geaux Tigers!’ when our women’s basketball team won their first national title April 2,” he said, “but for some reason no one else in the restaurant seemed to share my excitement. Our South Carolina friends may have to extend a special dispensation of grace our way, especially during football season every year.”
Sports allegiances aside, Wolfe believes he and South Carolina Baptists will make sweet music together in serving the kingdom of Christ by faithfully upholding God’s Word and helping local churches do God’s work, God’s way, for God’s glory.
“You have a family of associations and institutions who share the same passions and willingly work together to reach your neighbors and the nations with the gospel,” he said. “The staff spirit is electric. The opportunities before us are compelling. The future is bright. The time is now. Each church can. Every life counts. Let’s give it all we’ve got, together.”