By Aaron Weaver
Just shy of a year ago, Cooperative Baptists voted to elect Gary Dollar, a nationally-recognized nonprofit leader and former executive, to serve as Moderator-Elect for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2017-2018. Later this week, at the conclusion of the 2018 General Assembly in Dallas, Dollar will assume the role of Moderator, and succeed Shauw Chin Capps who has served as the Fellowship’s highest-ranking officer during 2017-2018.
A partner with St. Louis-based EMD Consulting, Dollar assists nonprofit groups in fundraising, leadership development and building organizational strength. He retired in 2013 as CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis after leading the organization for 12 years and building it into the nation’s fifth largest United Way chapter.
For more than 20 years, Dollar has served CBF churches in a variety of ministry roles, including as a full-time and bi-vocational pastor and associate pastor. He resides in Glen Carbon, Ill. with his wife, Gale, and they are members of Dayspring Baptist Church in St. Louis.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Dollar. Read our conversation below and get to know more about our new incoming CBF Moderator for 2018-2019:
Aaron Weaver: Will you share with readers about your childhood and educational journey? Where did you grow up and go to school?
Gary Dollar: I grew up in a pastor’s home. During my early years, we lived in rural communities in southeast Missouri and then, in my middle school and teen years, we lived in Illinois across the Mississippi from St. Louis. I was fortunate to get to watch the commitment and work ethic of a single staff pastor which greatly influenced how I understand responsibility and accountability to this day.
In our home, the lesson that education is a priority was taught every day. My mother graduated high school, but my father did not due to World War II. He finished the 11th grade and then went into the service. That said, my father may be the best-read person I know. His line, “It is not a shame to be ignorant, but it is also nothing to glory in,” remains with me.
In his early 30s, he experienced a call to ministry. So the first thing he did was pack up his wife and three kids and go to a junior college. With a family, even acquiring two years of education was a challenge; but he made it a priority. After that, he read everything he could and took every seminary extension class offered that was within driving distance. And he did this throughout his life.
I say all this to illustrate the importance of education in our home. I attended North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and earned a B.A. in history and secondary education. I did master’s work at Eastern Illinois University in historical administration (museum work) and then earned the M.Div. from Southern Seminary in 1980.
Weaver: In 2013, you retired from the United Way of Greater St. Louis after serving for 12 years as CEO and nearly 30 years with the organization. Please share with us about your ministry journey from the pastorate to nonprofit leadership.
Dollar: I joined the United Way of Greater St. Louis thinking it was because I needed to feed my family. I was pastoring a rural congregation and when I sensed God calling me to something else, even though things were going well at the church, I resigned. I resigned without having another job (not recommended, young people!) because both my wife, Gale, and I felt it was what we should do.
We moved to the St. Louis-area because of family and I started a job search to “hold us over” for a couple of years until we figured out what was next. I joined United Way because they offered me a job to support my family. Almost 30 years later, when I retired, Gale and I were still surprised that what I thought was a temporary stop was actually God’s plan for our lives.
At the United Way, I found joy and fulfillment in being a part of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam — repairing the world. I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with business and industry leaders and with “the least of these” to help people in need. I got to see young people find their voices and vocations in doing good. And I got to work with a diversity of people I would never have met had I stayed “in the church.” I was able to see lives transformed in many ways and the fact that I got to play even a small role in that has always felt like ministry to me.
Weaver: Who have been important influences in your life?
Dollar: My father, as mentioned earlier was one. Stan Wakeham, my first boss at United Way who taught me that working hard to achieve a mission is not exceptional, but expected. Charmaine Chapman, whom I succeeded as CEO, taught me the richness and rewards of diversity and inclusiveness, the gladness of being joyful in your work and reinforced in me the concept that being kind is the best way to do business. Charmaine was the first woman and first African-American to be CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.
Weaver: Your family has made a significant investment in our Fellowship. Your wife, Gale, is a CBF-endorsed chaplain, and your son, Jordan, has been a CBF pastor, a chaplain and now a coach for people leading Bible studies in the workplace. What has CBF meant to you?
Dollar: I am deeply grateful for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as it has given our family a faith home. We invest in CBF because we believe it is through CBF that the church has invested in us. We are Baptists and, for a number of years, we felt we were Baptists who did not fit in. It was CBF that enabled my wife to pursue ordination and commissioning to live out her calling as a hospital chaplain. CBF enabled our son, Jordan, to be his progressive self while still serving in a Baptist context. Our youngest son, Nathanael, is an anthropologist who found in CBF a place where he can be a scientist as well as a deeply-caring Christian.
CBF arrived in our lives at the right time. We have been fortunate to work next to CBF field personnel both in the states and internationally. We have worked with CBF personnel nationally, in CBF Heartland and, through field personnel, in Romania and Slovakia. We love their commitment to the work of Jesus and to their openness and faithfulness in carrying out that mission in a Christ-like manner.
Weaver: A favorite former pastor of mine always asked new members, ‘What makes your heart sing?’ as a way of public introduction to the congregation. Let me pose that question to you.
Dollar: My heart sings when I see people working to make life better for others. This is especially true when they are open to discovering how God is working in the world today and when they are willing to change and grow to be in concert with the movement of God. I love it when people focus on the outcomes more than the process.
The kind of things I am doing now with Lake Institute and consulting and teaching allow me to see young people discovering their gifts and putting them to work in a 21st century context for the cause of Christ and for the sake of their brothers and sisters. In St. Louis, I get to meet with people who are committed to simply creating community and giving everyone a chance at a quality of life. When I see the creativity and passion of these people, it makes my heart sing. While the needs and the divided nature of communities today can easily depress one, I am inspired by the number and creativity of people who work to make their community a little better. Most, but not all of these people, work from a place of faith.
Weaver: Back in April, you participated in Civil Rides, a three-day bicycle ride from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King. What was that experience like? (Note to readers: Civil Rides is an initiative of Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition, and aims to raise awareness about rural poverty and racial injustices in the U.S.)
Dollar: Civil Rides was one of the best experiences of my life. First, I was just thrilled that I could ride that far and survive in spandex (not my fashion animal)! Second, I met some of the most wonderful people who rode and volunteered in the event. Third, it was an incredible learning experience that touched Gale and me deeply
When I signed up, I saw this as a chance to do something challenging for me while raising money for Together for Hope, a CBF initiative that makes me proud because of the way it approaches the work it does. I did not realize the ride would become one of the most touching events of my life.
Beginning at the MLK50 commemoration and then riding through Mississippi and stopping at important civil rights locations made me realize how little I really know about the civil rights struggle. We all know the leaders who put civil rights on the national stage; but via this ride, we had the opportunity to see the places and hear the stories of the people who worked, struggled and died in their local communities simply out of the desire to be treated as human beings.
I was deeply moved as we heard the stories and rode through the communities at a pace that allowed us to see the impact of injustice and disinvestment. But, we also heard the stories and saw the work, past and present, of people who are making a difference and changing the storyline of communities.
Weaver: Your expertise in development, including your role as a liaison to the Governing Board during CBF’s 25th Anniversary Campaign, has been invaluable to the Fellowship. What would you say sets CBF apart from other options for charitable giving? Why should Cooperative Baptists support CBF missions and ministries?
Dollar: We support CBF because we believe it is a unique Baptist expression of bringing the Gospel to the world in loving and respectful ways. CBF is on the cutting edge of what it means to do mission in the 21st century. The Gospel is effective, but old methods used to share it are not applicable today. We must be creative in caring for people in ways that do not rob them of their dignity; we must respect and empower the assets individuals and communities bring to the work; we must realize that we can do more together than we will ever do alone if we truly want to effectively do the work God has called us to do.
As the proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far go together.” CBF has earned our support because it is how each of us, as Baptists, can uniquely join together to go far in making a difference in the world. There is room for all of us inside CBF to carry out the individual and corporate mission and work of God
Weaver: At the conclusion of the upcoming General Assembly, you will transition into the role of CBF Moderator for 2018-2019. What are your hopes for CBF in the upcoming year?
Dollar: My hope for CBF in the coming year is that we grow our work in bringing the Gospel to the world through tangible acts of love and care in the name of Jesus. This is the power of CBF and it is my hope that we seize the chance to move our new Global Missions strategy forward to enable us to love more people in more places.
My hope is that we each give more to support the mission of missions — in terms of money, but just as importantly in terms of personal engagement. There is nothing like getting involved in a mission and service project in your local community to energize your faith and awaken your heart to the need around you and to the understanding that God is meeting that need through you!
Once we experience that, our eyes become sensitive to the needs beyond our local community, to those around the world and to the understanding that God is meeting those needs through us!
We can’t all be that daily missional presence needed to develop local leadership and create change. But we can, together, support those who are doing the everyday, year in-and-year out work in communities around the world that stands as a living witness of the good news and love of Jesus.
My second desire for CBF is that we understand the power of our diversity and our unity. We are a diverse group coming from many different places and that can be powerful as we seek to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might win some.” While theology and belief are important, love for each other is more important and that is the source of our unity. Jesus tells us that it is by our love that the world will recognize us, and by it we will show ourselves to be His disciples. It is my hope that we can vigorously debate our theology and beliefs — I love doing this as I learn so much — but will never let our debates get in the way of our love for each other and the mission God has called us to do together.
Weaver: Best question for last—what are you reading right now?
Dollar: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Katie Bowler, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris, and the letters of Paul.
Weaver: Thanks for your time, Gary.
Dollar: Thanks. See you in Dallas.