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Baptist Association director retires to new chapter of fellowship and revival

Sue Guinn Legg • May 17, 2020 at 7:53 PM

After 25 years at the helm of the local Holston Baptist Association, Ben Proffitt recently retired with plans to finally accomplish some long simmering tasks on his back burner.

Including the five years he spent as a mission strategist for the association, Proffitt said he has spent 30 years worth of Sundays as a special guest at nearly 100 churches in the four-county area and is very much looking forward to becoming a more active member of his own home church in Johnson City.

His wife has laid out what he says without joking is a years-long list of honey do projects to keep him busy at home. And then there is Proffitt’s long-held wish to steer an RV west for a church planting excursion much like the one that put him on his path when he was still a very young man.

With his April 30 retirement coming in the midst of a pandemic that robbed his friends at the association of a chance to give their leader a fitting sendoff, they instead paused the business of their last online meeting to gave everyone a chance to tell Proffitt how much they thought of him.

It was the best they could do under the circumstances. But still reluctant to let him go without a tribute to his decades of work for the association, Church Development Strategist Bryan Smith, who is filling as acting head of the association as a transition team searches for a new leader, twisted Proffitt’s arm to share a little of his story with with the Johnson City Press.

Looking back to where he came from, Proffitt said he was just a teenager emerging from a troubled youth when he hit the road for the great American West and spent some time living alongside the highway.

He landed in Colorado, where he became involved in the planting of some churches that sparked his love for coming alongside pastors and church leaders, discovering where their heart is and figuring out how to help them come closer to what they want to be.

In 1989, Proffitt came to Johnson City on yet another church planting mission. He worked as a counselor with an intensive in-home crisis intervention program for juveniles on the brink of being remitted to state detention and part time for the association as a smaller church development specialist.

When the state ended the juvenile program that was his livelihood, the association put Proffitt’s experience and ministry degrees to work full time as associate director of missions, second only to the director. Five years later, his boss retired and Proffitt became interim director of the association during a search for a new leader. That search ultimately led to his appointment to the post he would hold for the next 25 years.

At that time, Proffit said, church attendance was more prevalent, more culturally ingrained and something that most people assumed was “a good thing to do.” The 300-year-old association was program-driven, providing the churches with resources for worship and missions that were for the most part the same nationwide.

But over the years, society changed and so did the association’s approach. Proffitt said people no longer attend church “just because.” And instead of serving a funnel for standardized programs, the work of the association became more “process-driven.”

“We changed what we do to equip leaders and be a resource and the churches do all the work,” he said. “The point now is how to connect with the community, coming alongside people, being friends and sharing faith. It’s a different approach in a different era. I can’t say I accomplished it all, but I plowed the ground so maybe the next person who comes in can plant the ground and see something grow.

“At the last annual meeting of the churches I said, ‘Loving the Lord with all you’ve got and making disciples, that’s the whole thing. It’s the transformation, the metamorphosis of understanding the goodness of Jesus.’

“The church's business is to transform lives, then churches, then communities. Abide in Christ, be the branch, transform and bear fruit.”

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