By Art Toalston
PLANO, Texas — Ernie Myers, founding executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, died Tuesday, April 2, in Plano, Texas. He was 93.
Myers was elected as executive director when the Nevada convention was constituted in 1978 in Las Vegas during an Oct. 16-17 meeting at Red Rock Baptist Church.
He led Nevada Baptists until his retirement in June 1992.
He also served as the Southern Baptist Convention’s second vice president, elected at the SBC’s 1989 annual meeting in Las Vegas.
“Dr. Myers provided stability as this new convention was learning to be a convention,” Kevin White, the convention’s current executive director, said in comments to Baptist Press.
“He ever sought to keep the vision and purpose before the churches — of a convention of churches working together for the Kingdom,” White said. “He also made a priority of teaching the Cooperative Program to many of these churches and leaders, as he truly believed in the CP” as Southern Baptists’ key channel for supporting state, national and international missions and ministry.
The convention grew from 65 churches and missions to 135 during the 13-plus years of Myers’ leadership, with 17,341 baptisms.
Working in the nation’s seventh-largest state with 110,567 square miles, “Dr. Myers had a grand endeavor as the new executive director,” White said. “He was responsible for establishing a budget [of $135,000], locating office space and hiring staff to perform the needed tasks of the new convention.”
And he moved to establish partnerships for the 14,000 Baptists in Nevada with the former Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) and other state conventions.
The convention’s first offices were in a converted Victorian home next to the University of Nevada in Reno. The convention sold the home in 1982 “as Dr. Myers saw the need to buy the current building that now houses the Nevada Baptist Convention offices,” White recounted. “His experience in running capital campaigns was pivotal in fundraising for the purchase and remodel of the current convention building. We currently reap the blessing of a debt-free building as a result.”
Michael Rochelle, retired pastor of Shadow Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas and a former convention president, said “Nevada has been blessed by the visionary leadership of this trailblazer in the West.”
“Leaving the security and comfort of a solid ministry for the risk of giving birth to a new state convention evidences the walk of faith in this man’s life,” Rochelle said. “Patience and persistence characterized his life. His willingness to invest himself in the lives of churches and church leadership was undeniable.”
The Nevada convention “would not enjoy its current position without the foundation laid by Dr. Myers,” Rochelle said. “Nevada has lost a great leader and the SBC has lost a great man.”
Mike McCullough, associate executive director for the California Southern Baptist Convention who formerly worked on the Nevada convention’s staff, said Myers, a Mississippi native, “loved serving in the West and advocated for the needs of Nevada and other new work conventions.”
“In the early 1980s representation on SBC entities and boards required 25,000 church members, something few of the western states could claim,” McCullough said. “Ernie was instrumental in leading the SBC to change membership guidelines, giving the small new work conventions representation on the Executive Committee and major boards.
“That one action helped Nevada to believe it was really part of SBC life,” McCullough said.
Prepared for leadership
Myers, at the time of his election to lead the Nevada convention, had served as the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention’s director of assemblies development and architectural consultant since 1975.
He also worked for the Arizona convention from 1956-1961 as training union (discipleship) secretary and, later, Sunday School secretary, recording Sunday School growth from 29,000 to 45,000 in his five years on staff. He also served concurrently as an architectural consultant, assisting more than 150 Arizona churches in their building plans.
From 1961-1975, Myers worked at the former Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) as a consultant in the church architecture department, serving more than 4,300 churches in states west of the Mississippi River, including Alaska and Hawaii. He helped develop the widely used “Together We Build” fundraising program for church construction; authored several resources, including “Essentials of a Church Building Program”; and lectured on church buildings and finances at several SBC seminaries each year.
Upon his election as Nevada Baptists’ executive director at age 53, Myers told messengers he intended “to be out there where the churches are … to feel the excitement of our people in sharing Jesus.”
“My purpose and desire is to provide all the help as often as possible that our churches will need,” and he noted that “if we are going to make an impact upon Nevada we must start new work.”
His son, Ernest Myers Jr. of Plano, Texas, in comments to Baptist Press, highlighted “his leadership in church planting in the West and his desire for healthy evangelistic churches.”
White told Baptist Press, “I will always be extremely grateful for Dr. Myers and how God used him in the early days of my ministry. I was honored that he preached the message at my ordination and always sought to give me guidance as a new pastor. When planting my first church, Dr. Myers sought out funds to purchase our first meeting place and was always excited to hear how God was moving there. But he influenced my life most when I began to feel the call to go to college. It was Dr. Myers, sitting alone with me in the sanctuary of the church, who not only encouraged me to go, but shared with me a path to do such while continuing to serve the church I was planting. He encouraged me that God would help me complete this great task.”
Recalling his last personal visit with Myers, White said, “When I walked into Dr. Myers’ apartment, he wrapped his arms around me and began to cry. This young pastor he had ordained and encouraged was now the new executive director of the very same convention he had helped to begin. He pushed me back holding onto my arms as to take a deep look into my eyes. His next words, true to form, were of great encouragement: ‘I always knew God had great plans for you and that you’d be faithful.'”
Myers was a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Mississippi College.
During World War II, he served three years in the Navy in the Pacific Theatre, receiving a Purple Heart.
Myers is survived by his wife June, married since December 1950, his son Ernest and a daughter, Kay, an actress in Franklin, Tenn. His son was a Southern Baptist missionary from 1983 to 1994 first in Belize and then with the then-Foreign Mission Board’s Cooperative Services International. He also pastored churches in California, Nevada and British Columbia and retired from GuideStone Financial Resources as director of planned giving in 2010.
Services for Ernie Myers will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, April 10, at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville.