Rev. Bruce Baxter is about to make a big move in one sense, but geographically he isn’t moving at all. He will be the next Southeast District superintendent.
“The district office is about a mile from my house. My commute will be shorter than it is to La Croix,” Baxter said.
For the past three years, Baxter has been executive pastor at La Croix UMC in Cape Girardeau, the largest church in the Missouri Conference. In that role he provided leadership to the staff and is responsible for driving the vision and initiatives set by La Croix’s Leadership Team. As leader of that team, he has helped the church live into their Next 25 vision, a course the church set in 2013, the year of their 25th anniversary, to guide their development in the next 25 years.
Baxter wasn’t a preacher at La Croix. That role remained with Senior Pastor Ron Watts and Rev. Brett Cheek. Being a non-preaching pastor was a big shift for Baxter. In his previous appointment at Wesley UMC in Springfield, he was preaching four times every Sunday morning.
Wesley UMC is a large church, but Baxter has plenty of small church experience. The church he served previous to Wesley was as small as you can get: zero members. In the summer of 1990, Baxter started working on a new church start in O’Fallon through the Gateway Regional District, called SunRise. When purchasing land, they had the option of the five acre parcel that they bought, or a 40-acre parcel elsewhere. Baxter thought that with the expected growth in the area, they might exceed the capacity of what they could do on five acres, but it was decided that when the church grew large enough, it would plant another church.
It did that in its eighth year, bringing someone on staff to plant a new church. That person, Rev. Mike Schreiner, planted Morning Star about two miles away.
“When I planted a new church, I experienced some resistance from established churches that thought we would be taking people who might start going to their church,” Baxter said. “I told Mike that if I hadn’t been able to reach the unchurched people in our community in eight years, it would be a good thing for him to have a shot at it, and I didn’t care if he sent invitation cards in the mail to my house. And he did.”
Being supportive rather than competitive worked well for both churches. SunRise did not experience a loss of members, and Morning Star sent invitations to more homes than Baxter’s, as the church grew to what is now the second largest church in the Missouri Conference. Morning Star has maintained that church planting ethos, and has planted The Word at Shaw and The Way in Wentzville and is currently involved in additional new church plants.
Baxter has been married to Audrey for 34 years. His daughter, Bethany, is married and living in Houston, Texas, where she is a professional vocalist at the Episcopal Cathedral. His son, David, is a bass player in the praise band at The Way in Wentzville, and David’s wife volunteers in hospitality there.
“Now my granddaughter attends a church (The Way) that is the granddaughter church of SunRise,” Baxter said.
Baxter was introduced to the new church start way of thinking early. Soon after his family moved to St. Louis in 1968, a Lutheran pastor knocked on their door, inviting them to church. They politely declined, saying that they were United Methodist. He told them he knew of a new Methodist church just getting started that was meeting in a local high school, so they decided to check it out. That was Green Trails United Methodist Church, the church Baxter was part of during his middle school and high school years.
Like most Missouri Conference pastors, Baxter has also served rural churches, starting out his ministry at the Defiance and Shiloh (Pleasant Hill) charge, followed by Wellsville-Middletown charge.
When he makes the rounds in the Southeast District, Baxter will have some transportation options. He’s an avid motorcycle rider and also has his private pilot license.
Baxter has a love of learning and a stack of degrees to show for it. He has a Bachelor’s of Science from the University of Missouri – St. Louis in business administration with an emphasis in accounting and is a Certified Public Accountant, a Masters of Divinity (concentration in Biblical studies) from Asbury Theological Seminary, a Masters in Theology from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a PhD from St. Louis University in Higher Education Administration. His dissertation was on the experience of internet-based online Master of Divinity education of students in the Wesleyan tradition.
Missouri Bishop Bob Farr said Baxter’s knowledge and experience in education, particularly how it relates to mentoring pastors, will serve him well in his role as a district superintendent. Bishop Farr said it wasn’t his intention to make changes to the cabinet this year, but it was clear to him that Missouri UMC in Columbia was in need of the qualities that current Southeast District Superintendent Rev. Fred Leist possesses.
“We’ll miss Fred on the cabinet, but the needs of the local church are a priority to me,” Bishop Farr said.
He’s looking forward to Baxter coming onto the cabinet.
“Bruce has demonstrated a lifelong ministry of growing churches and being fruitful. He has been a great leader as chair of our Board of Ordained Ministry and in his work on Conference staff in Congregational Development,” he said. “This will be a seamless transition in which Bruce can continue the great work that Fred has been doing in the Southeast District.”