By John D. Pierce
Whenever Bill Self’s name appeared on an incoming phone call I had a pretty idea of how the conversation would go.
It would begin with Bill telling me about some great idea. And it always ended with me agreeing to do something to help make that idea come to life.
In many ways that sums up Bill’s remarkable success as a pastoral leader: envisioning something grand and then recruiting others to see and help implement the vision. Add to that his remarkable and well-honed gifts as a preacher — something that he did consistently and passionately beyond traditional retirement years.
Then there was that trademark smile and infectious laugh along with great comedic timing. He was a master communicator and motivator who loved the church and desired it to reach its fullest potential.
Bill was my pastor when I made the vocational move to my current publishing venture 16 years ago. He was encouraging and supportive — even though it meant his church membership number would drop just a bit.
Don’t think that didn’t matter to Bill; he had a knack for church growth. And he wasn’t afraid to let newcomers know that church membership comes with expectations.
When welcoming new members to Johns Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., Bill would smile and say with the right consistency of seriousness and humor: “We want you to do three things: be here when we’re here; get involved in a small group; and help us carry the load.”
Then he would note how miraculously a pledge card could actually beat the new members back to their house.
On one occasion Bill called to tell me that Johns Creek Baptist Church would soon dedicate a new building with President Jimmy Carter coming to speak. Bill buttered me up for a minute or two before convincingly asking — uh, telling me how much my help was needed with communications for that event.
I’ve seen Bill grin many, many times. But at the end of that Sunday service, as the Carters and the crowd departed, he smiled and whispered to me: “This was one of the best days ever.”
It’s hard to say no to a good leader.
Bill had no use for fundamentalism and was one of the strongest opposition leaders when its ugly head rose within his beloved denomination. However, Bill felt that more-moderate Baptists overreacted to the strict authoritarian leadership of fundamentalism.
To Bill, the rejection of an autocratic leader doesn’t require the inability to follow good, trusted leadership. He harped on that a time or two (or a thousand) and was probably right.
Bill said lots of things worth considering. And he modeled leadership that defied the can’t-do excuses that might derail churches and keep them from fulfilling their mission potential.
His death on Jan. 9, just a day before his 84th birthday, came as no surprise. He was battling ALS. But it still has an element of shock that he’s no longer among us.
Our prayers go out for his wife, Carolyn, and the rest of the family. They and many friends will flock to Johns Creek Baptist Church on Thursday afternoon to pay tribute to this remarkable preacher, pastor, leader and friend.
An obituary is available here.