Ryan Jespersen was recently elected executive director of the Dallas Baptist Association. From the depths of a Texan’s heart, Jespersen shares his experience and thoughts on church associative ministry. To suggest a leader affiliated with the Texas Baptist General Convention for inclusion in this column, or to request to be introduced yourself, click here.
Where have you worked elsewhere and what were your positions?
I was a pastor for seven and a half years, a position I thought I would still hold, at Grace Temple Baptist Church (2006-2013) when God called me to a series of positions in denominational life.
I was Director of Urban Missions for the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 2013 to 2017 and Director of Faith Relations for Dallas Baptist University from 2017 to 2021.
Where did you grow up
I grew up in Duncanville.
My grandparents on Jespersen’s side were from Lincoln, Neb. After being repeatedly moved across the country with the Kresge Company, later Kmart, they decided they had to settle down.
The most logical thing to do would have been to return to Nebraska where both their parents were and where my great-grandfather Jespersen was well established in the community. Still, they chose to open a Ben Franklin store in Duncanville on Main Street in 1964, which is still there today.
The street adjacent to the store is now named after my grandfather, and everywhere I go in southwest Dallas, I’m asked if I’m related to the “Duncanville Jespersens”.
One of the interesting things in my life is that I have always told the Lord that I will go wherever He calls, and yet until now I have never lived further than about 10 miles away. the place where I grew up. I keep this vaguely in my life, realizing that God could call me across the world, and I would be willing to go, but I’m grateful that I was able to stay so close to home.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
On August 8, 1986, during vacation Bible school, I walked down the aisle to give my life to Jesus Christ. I was 7, so I didn’t know much, but I knew I needed a Savior and that Jesus could save me.
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I grew in my faith and was not baptized until a few years later when I had greater understanding.
Where did you study and what diplomas did you receive?
• Duncanville High School has been such an important part of my experience, and I am proud to be a Duncanville panther, as are my dad, uncle, aunts, siblings and many cousins.
• Dallas Baptist University, Bachelor of Arts.
• Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity.
• Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry.
About the ministry
Why do you feel called to the associative ministry?
For me, the call to the associative ministry only became evident more recently. What I realized was that the three full-time positions I held after seminary, while incredibly important ministry in and of itself, prepared me to lead the Dallas Baptist Association.
DBA is one of the two largest local Baptist associations in the country. So when the job first opened, I didn’t feel at all worthy of applying. I was approached by a few people to whom I sent my resume, still not feeling worthy, but realizing that the work of helping and coordinating with churches to reach an area as populated as the counties of Dallas and Rockwall was an important job, a job that I had to do.
Tell us about your association – where it is located, the main focus of its work and ministry, etc.
The Dallas Baptist Association is not a paracclesiastical organization, however wonderful it may be. We are made up of over 480 churches, with an office in East Dallas near the geographic center of the association.
Our work as associative staff is crowned with success when our churches reach out to their communities with the gospel – fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am walking in the footsteps of one of the most respected community leaders in Baptist life over the past 20 years: Bob Dean. He never made the association on himself; thus, the association is strong. The absence of his daily presence did not create an incumbent void, as he did so about work, not himself.
To meet the great need to reach a large and diverse area with hundreds of thousands of people who lack a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we need strong churches, including new, revitalized and re-implanted churches. .
To get the number of churches we need, we need healthy, spiritually trained leaders. One of our main initiatives will be the identification and development of new leaders, with particular attention to the development and health of our existing church leaders.
What do you like most about running your association? Why?
I enjoy working with our staff and our churches. We have great people who are passionate about what they do and were so kind to me at the start. Long-time staff help me understand our work better.
The greatest joy for me is being able to wake up in the morning and understand how we will help our churches best reach our two-county area with the gospel.
Something else that has always been a passion for me is camp ministry. DBA owns what may be the largest Baptist encampment in Texas: Mt. Baptist camp in Lebanon. I am actively involved in the monitoring of the camp, with a manager and staff on site. The ministry of camps and retreats can change the lives of so many people; thus, having a part of the work devoted to the camp ministry has been a real joy for me.
How do you see the development of your association and / or its mission over the next 10 to 20 years?
Jesus said the church will never be defeated (Matthew 16:18).
If I have a plan for the next 20 years, it is to bind the association as close as possible to the churches. If a Baptistbody moves away from its churches, then it is no longer fulfilling its ultimate goal of combining resources to do what a church cannot do on its own.
As I have prayed and thought about our work every day, one of the things that comes to my mind is, “Look at the map”. We are constantly going to find out where we have people who are not effectively reached by a church. We will seek to start new churches and help revitalize existing churches in these areas.
We will also seek to see where strong existing churches can begin a new ministry. We pray for the leaders and workers needed to see these churches started. I think if we focus on that and pray that God will place the right people in these areas then we will see an evangelical movement through the counties of Dallas and Rockwall bringing a lot to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
About the Baptists
Why are you a Baptist?
Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the other forms that have been tried. The same can be said for Baptists if you think about it.
Our system of voluntary cooperation, self-governing churches, churches calling our pastors and leaders, and pooling our money to send missionaries is certainly not a perfect system, but I believe it is the best system.
What are the main issues – opportunities and / or challenges – facing Baptist churches?
Churches face a number of challenges – such as declining attendance, declining respect in the community, dwindling resources – but perhaps the greatest challenge facing churches today is lack of spiritually trained missionary leaders willing to enter or remain in ministry roles, especially in the role of pastor.
What are the key issues facing Baptists as a church or denomination?
Our biggest challenge is the need to be together and to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
I am a “big tent” Baptist. I have a good relationship with people from a variety of Baptist backgrounds, and the Dallas Baptist Association is made up of all of those backgrounds. If people who love Jesus and believe in the Bible want to see a lost world believe in Christ, I want to try working with them.
Are there any issues that we just cannot compromise on? There certainly are. DBA has dealt with these issues in the past and will not make any compromises in the future.
However, I realize that some will approach things like style of ministry, church governance, and certain areas of theology differently from me or my fellow pastors. This is not only OK, but it must be celebrated. We can work together in the midst of our differences.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination – state, national, or local?
If I could change anything, I would meet more of us in the room. The reason why we see so little fighting at the level of local associations is that we are more together. We know each other and take care of each other. Therefore, when we have a disagreement, we don’t put it on social media. We pick up the phone, or drive through town, and talk about it.
Instead of using our phones to tweet, we need to use them to call a sibling and talk about our differences.
Tell us about your family.
I am married to Joanna and we have two wonderful children, Rachel and Mary Kate.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
At this time, probably Ephesians 3: 20-21. God can do so much through a burning church for him.
Who is your favorite biblical character besides Jesus? Why?
Rock. He had a great triumph and sometimes a great failure, but God always used him. Peter reminds me that God can use a person who is passionate, but who makes mistakes, to do his amazing job.
If you could make it a “remake” in your career, what would it be and why?
I would pray more and worry less. It probably sounds like a life-long “remake”, but when I spend time in sincere prayer – seeking God not only in my personal life, but for the work of the ministry – I find myself much more effective.