TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The state's Baptist General Convention has rebranded itself to Oklahoma Baptists, and a local pastor has been tapped to fill one of its new positions.

Buddy Hunt has been at Tahlequah First Baptist Church for 11 years. Last week, he was in Oklahoma City for training, worship, and planning the year as a new regional ministry partner.

A little over a year ago, the state convention was revamped, according to Hunt.

"Our purpose is to encourage one another to advance the gospel," he said. "There is a three-prong strategy: church-centered, pastor-connected, and associational partnered."

Four goals were created for Baptists: to increase weekly attendance, baptisms, journeymen and career missionaries, and cooperative programs.

"We were reorganized from four teams to one team with two groups," said Hunt.

The state was divided into four regions, and each will have a regional ministry partner.

"Every county that runs through or is east of Highway 69, from Kansas to Texas, I'm over. There are 471 churches in the area," Hunt said.

Hunt will still live in Tahlequah, but most of his time will be on the road to visit those churches. While he has an office in the Northeastern State University Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Hunt joked that his real office will be his vehicle.

"I will be traveling throughout the area each week, unless I'm in Oklahoma City or Falls Creek for training," said Hunt.

He and his wife, Michell, and their family will remain members of Tahlequah First Baptist Church, but on most Sundays, they will attend other churches.

"She will minister to pastors' wives with me," he said. "The family will travel with me some so I won't be lonely."

The Hunts have two daughters. Hilary is married to Kevin Kirk, a deputy sheriff in Haskell County, and she is a federal law enforcement officer in the Eastern Oklahoma District federal probation office. Ashley owns the Polished Salon and lives in Woodall with her 8-year-old daughter, Blakely.

Hunt will also continue to serve on the Go Ye Village board and as chaplain for the Tahlequah Police Department.

Raised in Shawnee, Hunt began as a youth minister in Clinton and Duncan.

"I was called back to Duncan as an associate pastor and minister of education," said Hunt. "I felt God led me to pastoral, so I was led to Spiro First Baptist Church."

He was then approached by representatives of the state convention to be a youth and family ministry consultant due to his experience in those areas with the local church. For six years, he worked out of Oklahoma City, traveling to help with church growth, Sunday school, discipleship, and youth, family, and men's ministry.

God once again called Hunt, he said - this time to be a pastor. It took him to Alva, Perry, Duncan, and finally Tahlequah.

"I've had a wonderful experience serving the members of the community of Tahlequah the past 11 years," said Hunt. "The church has been very supportive of me. I feel like together, we've been able to come up with some great things for the Lord."

Part of his new job will be to visit all the Baptist collegiate ministries in his area.

"I'll try to partner with the BCM director to pray, encourage, and work with them. I won't do their job, but I'll be there to support them," said Hunt.

Ten areas of support and assistance have been outlined for regional ministry partners, and Hunt said this was the toolbox for his job. These are ways he will connect with pastors, churches, and ministries to assist "through personal support and the promoting and encouraging of church health and growth."

"Those 10 things, I've done all that throughout my ministry," he said. "I'm bringing the Oklahoma Baptists community basically to the churches. It's being out living and working and shopping with them. It's a personal touch. I know what they're going through. I know the culture and what it's like to live in Northeast Oklahoma."

Hunt will check on the personal and family wellness of pastors, as well as lead retreats with Michell for pastors and their wives.

He will assist churches that are struggling, and work to resolve conflicts - especially in churches are struggling to exist, he said.

Training pastors and staff will put Hunt into a leadership role, as well as help develop evangelism and discipleship strategies.

"I'll be helping church partners to do missions, be involved in missions, and adopt churches here and around the world," said Hunt.

Assistance to search committees will also be offered to churches needing new pastors, and he could be an intentional interim pastor.

"I could go to a church for six months to help them get through that, get organized and get ready for a new pastor," he said.

First Baptist Church has formed a search committee to look for a new pastor, which Hunt hopes they'll find by the end of the year.

"In January and February, different pastors are coming in. Hopefully by March we'll have an interim pastor," Hunt said. "The ministerial staff, along with deacons and Sunday school staff, will continue the mission of the church."

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