Dr. M. E. Dodd, pastor of First Baptist Church, Shreveport, LA for forty years (1912-1952) founded the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference in 1935 and served as its chairman (president) for fifteen years. Herschel Hobbs succeeded him and became president in 1950, serving for two years. Even though Dodd’s health was deteriorating, Hobbs insisted that Dodd be co-chairman with him in 1950 and again in 1951, and the pastor’s agreed. C. C. Warren and Ramsay Pollard followed, each serving a two-year term. (All four men would also serve later as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.) From 1956 until today, the Pastors’ Conference presidents have served one-year terms.
M. E. Dodd was a remarkable man. During his forty-year pastorate, the church grew from 600 members to more than 4800. He served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1933-35. He was a popular radio preacher. FBC Shreveport was the first church in the world to own and operate its first broadcasting radio station. Dodd was also the guiding force behind the development of the Cooperative Program. When M. E. Dodd died, a tombstone of marble in the shape of his pulpit was cut, and engraved on it were the words that had been engraved on his pulpit behind which he preached for forty years: “Sir, we would see Jesus!”
Dodd believed that an annual pastors’ conference held just before the Southern Baptist Convention “could prepare a fine atmosphere for the Southern Baptist Convention.” The first conference was held on Monday night, May 13, and Tuesday morning, May 14, 1935, in the First Baptist Church of Memphis, TN. For fifteen years the conference meet in church auditoriums.
In a letter to C. C. Warren after Dodd completed his fifteen year tenure as president, Dodd laid out what had been his vision for the Pastors’ Conference: “In method it was to be a conference and not a convention. It would deal definitely with pastors’ problems, spiritual, missionary, evangelistic, doctrinal, practical.”
Here is the original program:
PROGRAM PRE-CONVENTION PASTORS’ CONFERENCE First Baptist Church, Memphis
Monday Night, May 13
7:30 Song Service and Prayers
8:00 Address, “Evangelistic Meetings on the Basis of a Great Book of Scripture,” Dr. John R. Sampey, Louisville, Ky.
8:45 Address, A New deal in Evangelism,” Dr. L. R. Scarborough, Seminary Hill, TX.
9:30 General Discussion
Tuesday Morning, May 14
9:30 Song Service and Prayers
10:00 Address, “The Pastor, His Own Evangelist,” Dr. Henry Alford Porter, Charlottesville, Va.
10:45 Address, “The Shantung Revival and How to Have One in America,” Dr. M. E. Dodd, Shreveport, La
11:30 General Discussion
Attendance grew annually, from appx. 1500 in 1942 to an estimated 15,000 in 1968. In addition to pastors who preached regularly at the conference, a number of some of America’s best-known leaders were also invited to speak, including businessman and entrepreneur R. G. LeTourneau, professional golfer Gary Player, astronaut John Glenn, and radio personality Paul Harvey, to name only a few.
Harvey was asked to speak on the subject “If I Were the Devil.” Instead, he spoke on “The Mop, the Broom, and the Hoe,” addressing national problems.
This year, Southern Baptists will hear an array of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference in Birmingham. They will stand in a long line of preachers stretching back to 1935.
If you’re interested in more about the history of the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference through 1968, pick up Gerald Martin’s Sir, We Would See Jesus (Memphis, TN: Wimmer Brothers, 1968).