Brewton-Parker College elects new president

Steven Echols and his wife, Julie. (Courtesy/Brewton-Parker College)Steven Echols has been elected as the 17th president of Brewton-Parker College, one of three educational institutions affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Echols, 59, an Atlanta native, emerged as the top candidate for the BPC presidency, four months after the college announced a search committee following the Jan. 20 resignation of Ergun Caner after just more than a year of service. Echols' duties are effectively immediately following BPC trustees' unanimous vote May 19.

Echols comes to Brewton-Parker from the former Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, where he served as president from January 2012 until its closure in a merger with Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem, N.C., earlier this year.

From 2005-11, Echols was New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's associate regional dean for its Alabama/Georgia Extension Center System and professor of leadership while occupying the Nelson L. Price Chair of Leadership. At NOBTS' main campus from 2001-05, Echols was director and then associate dean of professional doctoral programs and associate professor of leadership.

Trustee Lynda Yawn of Statesboro, Ga., who chaired the BPU presidential search committee, indicated the search team's confidence in Echols was due to his "impressive credentials, vast experience and a spiritual background that fully supports Brewton-Parker's vision and mission."

Echols was instrumental in stabilizing the former Tennessee Temple University during his two-and-a-half years there.

In January 2012, TTU had $4.5 million in debt, was $500,000 in arrears to its vendors and was facing a year-end shortfall of $1.8 million with no cash reserves. With the exception of a $500,000 lien by a trustee who loaned the school the amount years ago for the TTU radio station, all debt had been paid.

Also during Echols' service at Tennessee Temple:

• The university experienced a 33-percent increase in residential enrollment from the 2011 fall semester to the 2013 fall semester.

• Upon becoming president, he immediately led the trustees to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as the university's doctrinal statement, which was then required of all faculty members. The university reported 100 percent of the faculty signed the statement.

• TTU was affirmed in a unanimous resolution at the Tennessee Baptist Convention's 2013 annual meeting. Messengers affirmed "the actions of Tennessee Temple University in embracing Southern Baptist doctrine and Tennessee Baptist life," though TTU was not part of the Tennessee convention's budget.

J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, described Echols as "imminently qualified" to serve as Brewton-Parker's next president. Echols is a "serious-minded, conservative theologian" who will offer "long-term, stable leadership" to the liberal arts college, with 550-plus students located in Mount Vernon in south Georgia.

Echols holds a doctor of theology degree in preaching and a master of divinity degree from New Orleans Seminary; a doctor of ministry leadership degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.; a master of arts in public and private management from Birmingham-Southern College; and an undergraduate degree in religion from Mercer University in Georgia, after attending the Atlanta-area Kennesaw State University for two years. Currently, he has completed all coursework except a project thesis for the doctor of educational ministry degree from New Orleans Seminary.

Echols has written several books and has been published in scholarly journals and currently serves as a commissioner for the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools based in Forest, Va.

He has held full-time pastorates at First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Ala., from 1993-2001; Bethel Baptist Church in Moody, Ala., from 1988-93; Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., from 1986-88; and First Baptist Church in Kentwood, La., from 1983-86.

Echols, in a statement released by the college, said he and his wife, Julie, "feel privileged and very blessed to have the opportunity to serve at Brewton-Parker College. The school has impacted so many lives for Christ and has a unique place as the only regionally accredited Christian college in Georgia that is south of Macon. We are grateful to Georgia Baptists and the many friends and alumni who believe in and have supported the mission of Brewton-Parker College. We believe the school has a great future and are especially excited about partnering with local Georgia Baptist churches in carrying out the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Trustee chairman Ray Sullivan described Echols as "a proven leader who not only understands and embraces Brewton-Parker's mission, but also understands and embraces Georgia Baptists' historical legacy."

In addition to trustee Lynda Yawn, other members of the BPU search committee were incoming trustee Fred Evers, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, and current trustees Dannie Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lyons, and Tim Redding, a southeast Georgia businessman. Longtime faculty member Vance Rhoades rounded out the five-member committee, which included White of the Georgia convention as an ex-officio member.

Echols and his wife have two grown children, Jeremy Franklin Echols, a New Orleans Seminary graduate who is a clinical assessment specialist for Pathway Counseling in New Orleans, and Joy Echols Dixon, 26, a school teacher in Canton, Ga.

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