Reading Dead People, Leading Life Giving Community: An Interview with Wade Burleson

Former President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and Trustee with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Wade Burleson is not currently involved in denominational politics. Church, community and family take up his time.

If my memory serves me correctly I served on the Nominating Committee of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma when Wade was President. Those elected to serve the BGCO as President generally serve two terms unless there are unusual circumstances.

We caught up with each other last week at the memorial service for our friend Art Rogers. Wade made the comment about his current priorities and it served as a nudge to reach out for a conversation for the podcast.

Long Obedience in the Pastoral Direction

Wade is pastor of Emmanuel Enid. Still a Southern Baptist Church the name reflects both the reality of damage to their casino sign and the awareness that God is with Enid. You could say Wade is a fixture after twenty-five years. But don’t let that tenure fool you.

The recent stir over a Eugene Peterson interview reminded me of one of Peterson’s books on discipleship, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Ever pastoral, Peterson reflects on the Psalms of Ascent. It seems apropos to refer to a long tenured pastor as a long obedience. If that appears an odd description, take it as a reference to the ministry of the Apostle Paul who makes a long argument in his letter to Roman Christians that he had, “been given grace and his apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among the nations.

Wade’s time at Emmanuel follows a narrative. That is it illustrates the desire to be faithful to the Kingdom of God.

I doubt he has ever read one of Eugene Peterson’s 314 books identified on Goodreads.

He is energized by reading dead people.

Reading Dead People

Who influences you? Most pastors would admit to reading a few dead people as part of their education, seminary or self-trained. It would be hard to understand Church History without reading historical influences. For Wade that means 18th and 19th Century American Baptists with a mix of Charles Spurgeon, his paper mentor.

One may think that reading dead people creates a rigid anachronistic leader. Some may think Wade idiosyncratic but he is hardly stuck in another place and time.

As I listened to Wade I could not help but think of another, now dead, Christian leader, Robert Weber. One of Weber’s little books, On the Canterbury Trail, describes the narrative of faith. We are given the faith of our parents/family. We question the faith we were given. We embrace a faith that emerges from what we were given and the responses to our questions. Though he has his own telling of this story, Wade certainly would find Weber a dead but kindred spirit.

Most of us do not think of dead humans when we think fertilizer. Decomposing life in the forest becomes the food of the future. It gives life. Maybe that would also obtain to the way one might understand Wade’s interest in dead American Baptists and the way it breathes life into his calling as pastor in Enid.

Life Giving Community

Once the vision was cast that the Kingdom of God was in Enid, Emmanuel embraced the mission to identify and participate in that Kingdom wherever they found it. And found it they have. Where? They have found the Kingdom among the captive – in prison, to mental illness, to addiction, to poverty, in homelessness and more.

These stories are better listened to than re-written.

Be encouraged for the long haul. Whether you are a pastor, a church leader, or someone wondering what it looks like to make the long journey, you will find inspiration.

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.