TBMB retiree Tim Bearden excitedly prepares for the ‘next chapter’ of his life
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
LINDEN — Longtime Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff member Tim Bearden has had a love for Christian camps since his early childhood in Georgia, growing up in a preacher’s home.
“There never was a time in my life that I did not know the love of God because of loving parents,” recalled Bearden, who is retiring Dec. 31 after nearly 40 years in denominational ministry.
Bearden has held several roles since joining the TBMB staff in 1995. Most recently he has served as senior manager of the two Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers — Linden Valley in Linden and Carson Springs in Newport.
While he has enjoyed all of his positions (which includes serving as Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief director), his final position is perhaps the most fitting for Bearden.
“Camp has always been a significant part of my life,” Bearden said. “I didn’t accept Christ at camp, but the significant decisions of my life have been a part of camp life.”
Bearden attended RA camp as a boy and still remembers “the significance of the influence of camp pastors and missions, along with Christian counselors.”
Two significant camps are still vivid in Bearden’s ministry. The first was during a Royal Ambassador Congress. The theme song that year was “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Bearden recalled. “I learned the chorus of that song during camp and it impacted my life forever. Every so often, in those hard times, that chorus still comes to my mind,” Bearden said.
The second happened while working at summer camps during his college years. “That’s really where I felt my call to ministry,” he related.
Life-changing events continued in the camp setting for Bearden. He met his first wife Janet (who died of cancer in 2013) at camp and his daughter accepted Christ one summer while Bearden was directing a camp. “A lot of my strongest memories are related to camp,” he observed.
While serving in several roles with the Georgia Baptist Convention and the former Southern Baptist Convention Brotherhood Commission and the TBMB, Bearden became less involved with Christian camps, but his love for that ministry never waned.
One summer, Bearden and his wife Janet were serving for a week as camp chaplains at a park near Land Between the Lakes in West Tennessee. As they were walking through the campground one day, Bearden recalled that his wife looked at him and said, “Have you ever thought about getting back into camping ministry?”
That kindled a spark and “one thing led to another” and Bearden was named senior manager of the TBMB conference centers in October of 2004.
Since then, God “has done some amazing things,” Bearden affirmed.
“I have watched the conference centers really blossom and they need to continue to blossom,” he noted.
Bearden is quick to point out the health of the conference centers today is a reflection of the hard work of a lot of people, both in the present and in the past. “We built on the foundation of those who came before us,” he acknowledged.
Shortly after taking on his new position with the TBMB in 2004, Bearden realized a new worship center was definitely needed at Linden Valley.
“Sometimes you have to be careful about what you pray for,” Bearden laughed.
“I’m not saying that God did this because I prayed but a flood did occur in 2010 and, as a result of that, Linden Valley has a new worship center. That is very significant to the life of the camp and God allowed me to be a part of that.”
As he reflects on his career, Bearden is grateful for the opportunities God has given him to impact and mentor others for Christ.
During most of his ministry, Janet walked every step of the way with him, until cancer took her life. One of Bearden’s last tasks has been helping to build a new welcome center which will house administrative offices. The welcome center will be named in honor of Janet Bearden.
And though God called Janet home to heaven, he did not leave Bearden without a life partner. Three years ago, Bearden married Carol Smith, a volunteer who worked on the RA Camp-O-Ree staff at Linden Valley along with her first husband who also died after an extended illness.
As Bearden leaves the TBMB and moves to Collierville, he hopes he will be remembered as a person “who made a difference. I’ve been able to be a part of something great. God allowed be to be part of something great. “I’m looking forward to the next chapter of this amazing story,” he said.
William Maxwell, administrative director of the TBMB said it has been his “honor to have Tim Bearden as a friend and co-laborer for Christ for these many years. We have worked together in disaster relief, partnership missions, and for the last 14 years, camping ministry.
“Tim is passionate about his compassion and his desire to see young and old come to Christ,” Maxwell observed.
“He has always been the one that brings every discussion back to how does what we are considering make Christ known, and how does it serve churches? The loyalty of the conference center staffs and the churches that come back year after year are a testament to his ministry heart,” Maxwell said.
Contributions to the Janet Bearden Welcome Center fund at Linden Valley can be made at www.easytithe.com/tnbaptist.