Barrett Duke will begin in January as the new executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention after his near unanimous election to the post.
"We are very excited about the opportunity the Lord has opened up for us in Montana. The convention confirmed for us what we believed God's call to be with a very strong vote. And we're in preparation now to be on the field and beginning the new position on Jan. 1," Duke told Baptist Press of himself and wife Denise. "As we look at what God is doing in Montana, we are extremely optimistic about what we believe we will be seeing happening in our churches."
Messengers to MTSBC annual meeting Oct. 6-7 in Missoula elected Duke to succeed retiring executive director Fred Hewitt by a vote of 87-3, search committee chairman Bruce Speer said.
"Fred Hewitt left our state convention in excellent condition financially and spiritually," Speer told BP. "And Barrett is coming to take us to the next level to accomplish a couple of key things … planting more churches and revitalizing churches that are stagnant."
Duke, former vice president of the Washington, D.C., office for Public Policy and Research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and director of the ERLC Research Institute, said this is "a good time to be a Montana Southern Baptist."
There is an influx of people coming into the state, he noted, the convention is making progress in church planting and the state of Montana is poised to have for the first time a representative on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee by a recommendation coming before messengers to the SBC 2017 annual meeting in June. The recommendation, approved at the Executive Committee September meeting, would amend SBC Bylaw 18 to exempt Montana and three other regions/states—the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin—from Bylaw 30's requirement that territories have 15,000 members in cooperating Baptist churches to qualify for EC representation.
"If approved by messengers at our (SBC 2017) annual meeting," Duke told BP, "we're looking forward to sending our first representative [from Montana] to the Executive Committee."
Duke will lead the convention of about 135 churches in the state where less than 1 percent of adults are Southern Baptists and 38 percent of adults never or seldom attend church, according to the Pew Research 2015 Religious Landscape Study. Duke will serve as the MTSBC chief operating officer, the treasurer and chief financial officer, the official director of MTSBC work and ministries, the director and supervisor of MTSBC staff and North American Mission Board missionaries in the state, and the editor of the Montana Baptist electronic newsletter.
"Montana Baptists have been led by some very gifted men and the state is benefitting from their superb leadership," Duke told BP. "I'm looking forward to coming alongside a very dedicated and godly group of men and women to do my part in what God has in store for us in this next chapter of Baptist life in Montana."
During his leadership of the ERLC's advocacy arm, Duke communicated Southern Baptist convictions to elected and public officials, including President Obama, Congress and their staffs to encourage sound public policy. Duke was a founding fellow of the ERLC Research Institute, where he oversaw research on pressing moral and religious liberty issues, and worked with a group of 70 distinguished fellows.
In August, ERLC trustees awarded Duke the Richard Land Distinguished Service Award that recognizes excellent service to God's Kingdom. A former pastor, he is also active as a teacher, preacher, speaker, writer and editor, and holds a Ph.D. in religious and theological studies from the joint doctoral program of the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. He and his wife have three grown children.