Executive Secretary-Treasurer, 1979-1992
Harold C. Bennett retired as executive secretary-treasurer of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1992 following thirteen years of EC service. Early in his ministry, he served Southern Baptists as superintendent of new work for the Baptist Sunday School Board and secretary of the Home Mission Board’s department of metropolitan missions. He was also director of the missions division of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Prior to his election to serve the Executive Committee, Bennett was executive secretary-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention for twelve years. During that time, he served as president of the Association of Southern Baptist State Executive Directors, was president of the Association of Baptist State Convention Church Bond Plans, was a director of the board of governors of the American Bible Society, and was a director of the board of trustees of Religion in American Life. He also served as vice president of the Baptist World Alliance.
In addition to his ministry service, Bennett was as a pilot in the United States Navy in World War II and worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A resolution of appreciation adopted by the SBC at Bennett’s retirement noted that he had set a lifelong goal to live out his 1948 ordination charge: “Be first of all a real Christian, then a minister.” To that end, he ministered for two years in prison chaplaincy in Kentucky and served as a pastor for eleven years at churches in North Carolina, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Bennett was a graduate of Wake Forest University and received the master of divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Four Baptist universities conferred honorary degrees on him: the doctor of laws from Stetson University, the doctor of divinity from Campbell University, the doctor of divinity from Wake Forest University, and the doctor of sacred theology from Southwest Baptist University.
Bennett authored Reflections of Faith and was editor of God’s Awesome Challenge: Compelling Messages for Winning the World in This Century.
He and his wife, Phyllis Jean Metz Bennett of Joliet, Illinois, raised their three children, John, Scott, and Cynthia Ann, in a Christian home.
- Elected to his role the same year that many date as the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence (1979), Bennett led the Executive Committee during a time when many decisions at the SBC annual meeting were approved by the slimmest of margins. A resolution of appreciation presented to him upon his retirement noted that Bennett “offered gracious and effective leadership through some of the Convention’s most challenging years.”
- Despite often rancorous floor debates, numerous motions directed to specific SBC entities, logistical challenges associated with unprecedented attendance at successive SBC annual meetings, and divided camps over SBC officer elections, Bennett perennially kept Bold Mission Thrust, a twenty-year initiative designed to take the Gospel to the whole world by the year 2000, before Southern Baptists.
- Inheriting the nascent Bold Mission Thrust initiative, Bennett worked tirelessly to gain broad-based support from the Inter-Agency Council (SBC entity leaders; now the Great Commission Council), leading the Convention to adopt a succession of five-year measurable goals in every area of Southern Baptist ministry.
- During Bennett’s tenure, Cooperative Program gifts from churches for SBC missions and ministries were consistently in the 9 to 10 percent range of churches’ undesignated gifts.