NAMB’s first woman chair has history of stepping out of comfort zone

Erin Bounds was a 16-year-old at a Lifeway (then Baptist Sunday School Board) Centrifuge camp when she realized she was at a crossroads.

“I had accepted Christ when I was a child but was faced with the reality of what that really meant,” Bounds recalled. “Do I want to be who God wants me to be, or a regular teenager who just went to church? I decided to be completely sold out to Christ.”

That decision to choose the less-traveled path is a characteristic Bounds has practiced consistently throughout her life, and she encourages the same for others. “I love getting people out of their comfort zones,” Bounds said. “The Lord speaks to you there. Sometimes, it’s hard for Him to get your attention in everyday life.”

That willingness to step out into the new and unknown led Bounds to accept the role of chair for the North American Mission Board’s board of trustees in 2022, making her the first woman to serve in that role in NAMB’s history.

“I’m definitely very grateful for the opportunity to lead,” Bounds said. “But it wasn’t on my radar or really a desire.”

The 16-year-old who made a decision to step out in faith at a Centrifuge camp had no way of knowing that God’s path for her would one day lead to presiding over trustee meetings for the world’s largest Protestant domestic missions entity, much less many of the other experiences Bounds has had in life.

While attending the University of Georgia, Bounds was involved in the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Campus Ministry) and spent her summers working at a local 4-H camp. When another BSU student backed out of an upcoming mission trip to Nashville, she stepped into the spot.

“I still had my sights set on 4-H leadership, even though God kept putting Centrifuge in front of me as well,” Bounds said. “Deep down, I knew the Lord was calling me to serve with FUGE, but I kept fighting it.”

As it turned out, a Centrifuge staff intern was on that Nashville mission trip. “I told God, ‘If you want me to talk to him about Centrifuge, you are going to have to kick me in the rear,’” Bounds said.

A few days later during a mission team recreation activity — basketball on roller skates — she fell and broke her tailbone.

“The Centrifuge intern took me to the emergency room, so while I waited for medical treatment, we talked about Centrifuge,” Bounds said. “There is nothing like praying for God to kick you in the rear, then realizing you have a broken tailbone, to get your attention. I surrendered and told the Lord I was down with His plan.”

Since Centrifuge was based in Nashville, the intern offered to take Bounds by to meet the staff.

“I humbly took my donut pillow and interviewed on the spot,” Bounds recalled. Soon after that, Bounds graduated from UGA and headed out for the first of what would be four summers serving at Centrifuge camps. She met her husband, Larry, while he served as a fellow FUGE staffer on the Charleston, S.C., project in 2001.

Thinking she might want to work in Christian camping full-time, Bounds enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Her FUGE experience led to a job with Serve Management Group, a missions mobilization ministry that provided turnkey mission projects focused on construction and home repair for high school and collegiate student groups. She went on to work with Student Life Missions Camps.

Erin and Larry joined North Valley Church in Odenville, Ala., a one-year-old church plant in the late 2010s. Larry leads worship, and Erin has been involved in the children’s ministry, hospitality and the new members class.

Bounds was elected a NAMB trustee in 2015, and with her business expertise and economics degree from UGA, she was appointed to the Financial Services Committee, where she eventually became chair.

NAMB president Kevin Ezell said he is grateful for the leadership Bounds has provided. “Erin is incredibly gifted,” Ezell said. “What could have been a huge financial crisis during the pandemic was navigated wisely and calmly. … Erin’s history and background with Southern Baptists and in the business world gave her the perfect experience to lead our trustees, and it has been a privilege to serve with her.”

Bounds concludes her term as a NAMB trustee in June. But just as she has done her entire life, she will continue to step out of her comfort zone as she encourages others to do the same.

“It has been a great experience,” she said, looking back on her years as a trustee. “There are so many decisions made in that room that have an impact for years to come, so many things that are set into motion. There is a lot to it and a sense of responsibility. I will be praying that NAMB continues to have many ministry successes.”

— Mike Ebert is executive director of NAMB public relations.