When Dr. Ronald E. Baker became the pastor of the Southside Baptist Church in Fulton in 1978, he told friends he thought he might stay as pastor for four years at the most.
"At the time, I had no idea I would be the pastor for 32 years. Keep in mind that the national average for pastors is 30 months. Before I came to Fulton, I had been at one church for two years and at another church for five years. It is typical for Baptist pastors to move frequently," Baker said.
A retirement reception for Baker is planned from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 19, at the Southside Baptist Church, 501 Business Highway 54.
The previous pastor at the Southside Baptist Church was the Rev. Carl Swiney, who had served as pastor for about 12 years.
Baker said the Southside Baptist Church now has about 800 members and had about 600 members when he became pastor.
He said the membership of the church changes and evolves over the years. People attend church based on personal needs and attendance is not affected much by world conditions or the economy, Baker explained.
"Situations they face in their lives draws them to church, including difficulties that come along. Relationships change over the years. People develop new friends. Sometimes their friends are involved in the church, and they also become members of the church," Baker says.
Baker said he has been pastor so long at the church that in recent years he has been doing weddings of children whose parents he married.
"It's wonderful. That's the advantage of being pastor for so long. I have had the opportunity to see families grow and all of the situations they have faced. I know their background. I know their needs, their struggles and their triumphs. When a pastor is there for only two years, they barely get to know the people. Staying here this long has been a real blessing to me."
Baker says the thing he enjoys the most about being a pastor is the interaction with church members.
One of those members is Gary Douglas of Fulton. "Pastor Baker is friendly and outgoing and has been a tremendous leader of our church. Most of all, he does the work of the Lord. He spends a lot of time with members of the congregation. He will be very difficult to replace as our pastor," Douglas said.
"Ron is a good people person with a good heart," Douglas added.
Baker said the Southside Baptist Church has chosen to bring in an interim pastor who will stay for about a year while the church searches for a new pastor.
While he was pastor, Baker developed the Trucker's Ministry in Kingdom City. Baker and other members of the congregation met with over-the-road truckers at the Kingdom City truck stops and provided support for their spiritual needs.
For his efforts with truckers that year, Norman Vincent Peale's "Guidepost" magazine presented Baker and the Southside Baptist Church its "Church of the Year" award.
Baker has been active not only in his local church, but also in Baptist organizations. He participated in the Bold Mission Taiwan revival Crusade in 1982. For many years, he has been a leader of the Missouri Baptist Children's Home and the Missouri Baptist Convention.
When he retires, Baker plans to spend most of his time with a prayer initiative that he hopes will develop into a nationwide movement.
"The prayer initiative is an opportunity that I believe God has given to me. America is a polarized, divided and angry nation. The greatest power we have available is prayer. God will hear our prayer and heal our land if we believe," Baker said.
Baker calls his plan the "2C714" prayer initiative. After explaining his concept, Baker introduced the idea to members of the Southside Baptist Church.
The concept is based on scripture from 2 Chronicles 7:14, which states: "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land."
That's just what Baker believes the people of the United States need to do.
Baker says the "2C" in the initiative also represents two Christians sticking to a prayer program and the "7" represents the need to pray for seven specific concerns. They are: Personal, community, church, Congress, U.S. president, adherence to the Constitution and healing for the United States.
The "14" indicates the two prayer partners sticking together for 14 days to pray. At the end of 14 days, each of the two should find another partner and keep 2C714 going.
Baker envisions his prayer initiative multiplying much like the Evangelism Explosion developed by Dr. James Kennedy.
So far, more than 50 members of the Southside Baptist Church have committed to 2C714 and have started praying for the nation.
Two members of the church participating in the prayer initiative are Herman and Jane Hall of Fulton. They have known Baker since the day he became pastor of the Southside Baptist Church.
"Ron is a devoted man of God. He preaches what he believes in his heart that the members of the church need to hear. Not only has he been a wonderful pastor, he also has been a personal friend. He is like a brother I never had. I don't think anyone who knows him would say anything other than that he is an honest and devout man of God. I was his first 2C714 prayer partner. I would like to see that prayer initiative spread throughout the world," Herman said.
"Ron has been like a rock for the church and the community," Jane said.
Baker said several other churches also are interested in his concept. So is the Missouri Baptist Convention. "It is not just a Baptist initiative. 2C714 is open to all Christian churches," Baker said.
Baker is cautioning other churches against using the trademarked 2C714 in a political way. "There have been obvious mistakes made by both political parties. 2C714 is a spiritual solution to the problems of our nation, not a political one," Baker said.
"After I retire," Baker said, "I hope to be able to do some seminars on the prayer initiative. I also plan to spend some time on the golf course."
Baker said he and his wife Donna enjoy making trips to Branson to see shows and shop.
"During retirement, we also will travel and see members of our family."
Baker was married in 1966. Donna retired in May as a fifth grade teacher in Fulton Public Schools for the last 30 years.
"We will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary on Dec. 18, and I will preach my last sermon the next day on Dec. 19," Baker said.
The Bakers have two sons. The older is Ronald Lance Baker, 37. His wife is Laura, and they live in Oklahoma City. They have two children, Elizabeth, 10, and Harrison, 8. His other son is Brandon Clark Baker, 33. His wife is Erin, and their son Benjamin is 18 months old. They also live in Oklahoma City.
Baker grew up as a Baptist in Poplar Bluff and is a 1960 graduate of Poplar Bluff High School. He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1966 from Union University, Jackson, Tenn., and a Mastor of Divinity degree in 1971 from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas.
While he was pastor of the Southside Baptist Church, Baker commuted to Kansas City to attend Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and obtained a Doctor of Ministry degree 25 years ago in 1985.
While attending Union University, Baker became the pastor of Midway Baptist Church, where he served from 1965-1968.
He also served as pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Kennett from 1972-1974, and the First Baptist Church in California, from 1974-1978.
"I'm as Baptist as you can get," Baker says. "I grew up a Baptist. I attended a Baptist University and Baptist seminaries. I'm a Baptist pastor. You can't get any more Baptist than me."