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MOUNT WASHINGTON - After serving nearly a decade at the helm of First Baptist Church Mount Washington, the Rev. Paul Chitwood addressed his flock for the last time on June 19 to answer God’s call to serve the Kentucky Baptist Convention full-time.
Chitwood, 41, was recently elected executive director of KBC, a cooperative missions and ministry organization made up of nearly 2,400 autonomous Baptist churches in Kentucky.
And while Chitwood said the prospect of leaving First Baptist was the most difficult part of accepting the position, he’s excited about what God has in store and the opportunities that await when he takes his seat at the head of the largest Baptist organization in the state.
Longtime First Baptist member and deacon, Murrell Porter, said that he’s sad to see Chitwood go, but he’s happy to see him in a position to continue benefiting First Baptist and other churches across the state.
“We’re delighted by the opportunity Brother Paul has been given,” he said.
Since Chitwood joined First Baptist in 2003, Porter has grown to know him, not just as a pastor, but as a friend.
Porter praised Chitwood for his leadership and the compassion he’s shown the congregation and the community as a whole.
Porter said Chitwood touched the lives of many during his tenure.
First Baptist minister of music, Steve Florence, has grown close to Chitwood and his family over the years, and, like Porter, he said he would miss the man he’s come to know as a colleague and friend.
Florence said despite Chitwood’s busy schedule, he has built and maintained strong relationships with the staff.
Speaking on behalf of the staff, Florence said they were all proud to see him named KBC executive director.
“No one was surprised that he was chosen...We all recognize his extraordinary gifts,” Florence said.
What has most impressed Florence about Chitwood has been his ability to relate with people, not to mention his sense of humor.
Florence fondly recalled last year’s annual First Baptist Christmas program when Chitwood portrayed Leroy the Redneck Reindeer. Florence said the role was characteristic of his “country boy” nature and how he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
While Florence said the church hated to see Chitwood go, many view his exit as an opportunity.
“We wish him well. We’ll miss him, but we’re excited about what God has in store for us in a new pastor,” Florence said.
Chitwood said the church has been very supportive of him and his family since he announced his resignation. He said many have congratulated him and wished him well.
Though the farewells from the congregation have been bittersweet, Chitwood assured he would work to maintain the connection he’s built with First Baptist.
“It will be a different relationship, but there will be a relationship,” Chitwood said.
The veteran pastor’s journey to becoming KBC executive director began unexpectedly last year when he was asked to consider slating himself as a candidate for the job at the request of then KBC president, Don Mathis.
Chitwood was hesitant and declined. Still wanting to serve however, Chitwood accepted a post on the 15-member search committee charged with recommending candidates to the KBC mission board, which approves the executive director.
After weeks of meetings and talks with prospective candidates, committee members were at an impasse, unable to reach an agreement on any one contender.
With the process apparently stalled, search committee chair Paul Badgett approached Chitwood and asked if he would reconsider putting his name in the hat for executive director.
Still hesitant, Chitwood turned to God and his wife, Michelle, for guidance.
Chitwood sensed that God wanted him to take part and he became excited about the prospect of bringing churches together, encouraging pastors and helping spread the gospel through KBC.
Having decided to seek the position, Chitwood resigned from the committee and awaited his fate.
Chitwood underwent a rigorous interview process with the search committee before members made their recommendation on May 12.
“We wanted character,” said chairman Badgett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pikeville. “We wanted someone with the right chemistry, someone who could relate to all Kentucky Baptists, and we wanted competence.”
On June 2, Chitwood went before a special meeting of the KBC mission board held at the Kentucky Baptist Building in Louisville, where members elected Chitwood executive director 88-7, making him only the fifth man in 50 years to hold the position.
“It was affirming,” Chitwood said of the nearly unanimous vote.
Chitwood will assume his role as executive director on July 1, at which time he will be responsible for collaborating with all nearly 2,400 KBC member churches.
His new job will also entail directing the KBC mission board ministries and staff and appropriating more than $15 million to a number of Baptist initiatives within the state, which includes missions work, disaster relief, ministry training and support, and church development, just to name a few.
Chitwood admitted serving as KBC executive director would be a challenge, but he said he would strive to be a “pastor to pastors” when he assumes his position, someone who will listen, serve with integrity and be a cheerleader for missions.
His primary objective is to strengthen the relationship between KBC and its member churches, to promote collaborative efforts to help Baptists accomplish their work and to foster church planting.
Chitwood’s service to KBC spans nearly a decade, in which time he has served as president and first vice president, in addition to his service as president of KBC’s Pastors’ Conference in 2002.
He was also a member of the special study committee that led to the development of KBC’s Kentucky Baptists Connect goals in 2002-03 before serving on the Mission Advisory Committee related to those goals from 2004 to 2009.
Chitwood chaired the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2008 to 2010 when the IMB launched a global reorganization.
His commitment to KBC stems from his belief in the great potential that Kentucky’s Baptist churches have when they pool their resources and work together.
“I believe in what we’re doing,” Chitwood said. “I’ve seen the success cooperation brings.”
Most recently, Chitwood has served as a trustee and adjunct professor of missions and evangelism at the University of the Cumberlands, a Kentucky Baptist university in Williamsburg where he received a Bachelor of Science degree.
Chitwood has also been a professor of evangelism and church growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville from which he earned a Master of Divinity degree and doctoral degrees.
As Chitwood leaves his role at First Baptist, he is also resigning from his teaching positions to focus on his new responsibilities.
Chitwood felt a calling to ministry when he was an 18 year-old college student in Williamsburg, near his hometown of Jellico, Tenn.
With a slow southern drawl, Chitwood told how, as a teenager, he prayed that God show him what to do with his life.
It was at his boyhood church, First Baptist Church of Jellico, that Chitwood was inspired to preach.
Even as a child Chitwood was active in his church. One day, his pastor asked him to address the congregation, but he had a terrible fear of public speaking.
He overcame his fear and when it was all over, Chitwood sensed that God wanted him to enter the ministry.
Chitwood’s faith was strengthened when he was involved in a car accident as a teenager.
That experience, he said, made him realize how fragile life was and the importance of faith.
He credits his strong sense of purpose to what he called “a debt of gratitude” owed to God for saving his soul and blessing his life.
“It’s the greatest privilege to be able to serve,” he said.
Prior to becoming pastor of First Baptist Mount Washington, Chitwood pastored First Baptist Church of Somerset from 1999 to 2003, First Baptist Church of Owenton from 1995 to 1999, and South Fork Baptist Church in Owenton from 1993 to 1995.
Chitwood resides in Mount Washington with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Michelle, a seventh grade language arts teacher at Mount Washington Middle School. Together they have three children: Daniel, 14, Anna, 12, and Cai, 4.