Retiring General Secretary Lee B. Spitzer shares about his ministry foundation, his passions in ministry, and his plans for the future
Early time in seminary and as a local church pastor
1) Where was your foundation built?
My spiritual journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ began when I discovered that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah by reading the first chapter of Matthew. Verse 21 changed my life, for the angelic announcement to Joseph convicted my heart: “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” As a senior in high school three years later, I accepted God’s call to serve the body of Christ as a “pastor and teacher” (Ephesians 4:11). Like Paul, I felt led to be “a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Thus began my life-long commitment to the Great Commission and in time, my devotion to American Baptist missionaries and their work.
2) Did early relationships influence your ministry along with way?
Dr. Robert Cook, the President of The King’s College in New York, was the first pastoral role model God brought into my life (while I was an undergraduate Biblical Studies major). A fellow seminarian introduced me to ABCUSA by encouraging me to apply for a youth ministry field education position at an American Baptist church. That led me to Trinity Baptist Church in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, where I met my life-long mentor and inner circle friend, Rev. Dr. Howard Keeley and his wife, Hazel. Howard and Hazel became spiritual parents for Lois and me, and grandparents for Joshua and Larisa. Howard poured his wisdom and prophetic understanding of the art of pastoring into numerous seminarians, and I owe a tremendous debt to him as both a pastor and a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Time in ministry and as General Secretary
1) What have been your biggest passions throughout your years as ministry?
Throughout my pastoral ministry, I have always sought to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with passion and integrity, and search for wisdom and truth through the diligent study and teaching of the entire Bible, from cover to cover. My goal has been to help churches, clergy and lay disciples of Jesus Christ embrace their spiritual journeys and fulfill God’s will.
I have also focused on increasing the Church’s appreciation of the Jewish roots of our faith. In the past decade, this has led to the publication of a Judson Press book on Baptists and the Holocaust and several articles and a book chapter on the subject. I was honored to author the initial draft of the 2019 Baptist World Alliance resolution on anti-Semitism and other forms of religious prejudice.
2) What verse of scripture speaks to you? How has this applied in your role as General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA?
Paul’s letter to the Colossians has provided great inspiration and guidance for my service as General Secretary. Alongside my team, I have sought to “proclaim him (Jesus), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Our “purpose” has been to visit regions, churches and pastors so “that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2-3).
3) What accomplishment are you most proud of from your time as General Secretary?
In less than 3 years, the Office of the General Secretary team has accomplished a great deal! We have articulated a new and vital pastoral vision for the ministry of our organization. Our team has visited virtually every region, strengthening and encouraging churches and clergy through our preaching, teaching, and consulting. We have strengthened existing ministries, such as women in ministry and ecological justice, while launching new initiatives such as the Golden Rule 2020 civil discourse campaign (in partnership with the National Institute for Civil Discourse), creative church planting (in cooperation with Fresh Expressions) and this month’s inaugural Hopevale Martyrdom Commemoration (in cooperation with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, the American Baptist Historical Society, Green Lake Conference Center and International Ministries). I have been most gratified that the pastoral letters I have published (in cooperation with national and regional leaders) have been widely distributed and well received in our churches.
When I became General Secretary, ABCUSA/the Office of the General Secretary did not have a clear sense of where it would move in light of the sale of the Mission Center. In a very brief time, we identified and purchased a new ministry home, renovated it for the future, and moved in officially last month. I believe that God led us to 1015 W. 9th and that the Roblee Ministry Building will be a blessing to the whole ABCUSA family.
Looking to the future
1) Following your medical leave last year, what did you learn that might help others in ministry moving forward?
First, it is so important to attend to one’s health. For 10 months before my surgery, I traveled all across the country, while minimizing the warning signs and symptoms my body was sending that my congenital heart condition (a defective valve) required radical attention.
Second, the 6 months of medical leave served as a spiritual context for me to connect intimately with God and attend to the quiet voice of the Spirit. It was from that place of solitude that I discerned God’s invitation to embrace the promise of a meaningful future by retiring at the end of 2019.
2) Looking into the future, how do you plan to spend your time?
For each of us, the future contains endless possibilities. Personally, I am looking forward to spending increased quality time with my family and friends. As my best friend and spouse for more than 4 decades, Lois deserves more of my time. Everyone knows that Joshua and I are as close as can be, and I enjoy experiencing life alongside him. The same is true for Larisa and Travis, and of course, Restyn, who calls me “gampa!”
Vocationally, retirement opens up exciting doors for a new season of significant ministry. I plan to continue my research and writing on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. I am honored that the Baptist World Alliance has called me to serve as their Historian, beginning in 2020. I am also working with others to give birth to an exciting new global movement of Jewish disciples of Jesus, whose members will span the full spectrum of ecumenical life – Messianic, Catholic/Orthodox and Reformation churches (from Lutheran to Pentecostal). I look forward to writing about other matters that reflect my lifelong passions, such as photography as a spiritual discipline for the 21st century. The academic world has always been one of my vocational homes, and I hope to continue teaching on the university/seminary levels. I care deeply about the next generations of pastoral leaders and the church, and so I plan to continue mentoring emerging leaders and supporting creative initiatives such as Fresh Expressions.