By Art Toalston
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Charles W. Sullivan, who became the Indiana Baptist convention’s executive director after 42 years in the pastorate, died Nov. 27 at his home in Knoxville, Tenn. He was 88.
Sullivan led the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana for 12 years, retiring in 2003.
“All my life I have prayed that God would make my final years of ministry the crown of my service for Him,” Sullivan wrote a year earlier in announcing his retirement. “I truly believe He has answered that prayer.”
Still, he underscored “what I believe is God’s highest calling — the pastorate.”
Sullivan was “an esteemed pastor, a wonderful gracious man,” said Baptist historian Jerry Sutton, author of “The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
He was “one of many who helped bring about the Conservative Resurgence,” Sutton told Baptist Press today (Dec. 3).
Sullivan served two years as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, capping his service from 1984-1991. He also had been an SBC Resolutions Committee member and served as both chairman and vice chairman of the convention’s former Stewardship Commission.
Steve McNeil, Indiana Baptists’ executive director since March 2017, said, “Dr. Sullivan served the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana well. He developed key partnerships around our convention that helped our work. He was loved and respected by those here in Indiana and around our convention.”
Sullivan was “a great example to Indiana pastors about how to lead, how to minister and how to uphold the work of Southern Baptists in Indiana,” McNeil said. “We have missed him for years here in Indiana since his retirement, but today we rejoice that he is at home with the one he was serving. Our prayers are with Miss Delilah. The two were inseparable. You can’t think of one without the other.”
McNeil recounted that the Sullivans were members of Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis when he was an associate pastor there. “He opened some key doors in my life for ministry opportunity that at the time I was unaware of their significance. He gave me the opportunity to serve the SCBI on our Executive Board. Later when he retired, he helped open the door for me to serve on the search committee for our next executive director, Dr. Steve Davis. Each of these were foundational decisions by Dr. Sullivan that God used in my life.”
Sullivan led the Indiana convention to a 57.8 percent increase in its budget; 13 consecutive years of Cooperative Program gains; and growth of the Indiana Baptist Foundation’s assets from less than $150,000 in 1991 to more than $1 million in 2003. At the convention’s Highland Lakes Baptist Camp, a new all-purpose building was constructed with a worship center, motel-style rooms, dining hall and kitchen and paved roads.
Before his election as SBCI executive director, Sullivan had served as a pastor in Tennessee for 16 years, Texas for 16 years, Missouri for six years and Oklahoma for four years.
Sullivan had been president of the Tennessee Baptist Pastors’ Conference, first vice president of the Tennessee convention and a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Executive Board and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Board of Directors.
He led revivals in 21 states and 13 nations and had spoken at numerous state conventions, evangelism conferences and denominational training events.
A native of Clever, Mo., Sullivan held doctor of theology and bachelor of divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
In retiring, he said in a Baptist Press story, he yearned that his successor “will take this convention to the next level in Kingdom growth.” And in his final column in the Indiana Baptist newsjournal, Sullivan quoted 1 Timothy 6:18, “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.”
“Indiana Baptists, it is easy to say, ‘Well, if I had millions of dollars, I’d be happy to share what I have with others,'” Sullivan wrote. “But would you? What God would have you to do is share the riches of time, talent, or treasure that you have today. … He longs for you to be joyful and generous and pass it on!”
In addition to his wife of 68 years, Sullivan is survived by sons Charles David and Charles Stephen and daughter Cynthian Chyrel Little.
His funeral was Dec. 1 at Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville.