Q&A With BBA’s Tally Wilgis

Editor’s Note: For 2022, we’ve started a new feature to introduce a variety of associational leaders, pastors, pastors’ wives, and lay leaders. Read about their ministries, spiritual journeys, challenges, and struggles they have overcome. 

Please share a bit about yourself and your family.
Born and raised in Baltimore, I am the first in my family to graduate high school. With God’s provision, I earned an undergraduate degree in government with a focus on law and a master’s degree in religion from Liberty University. In April, Kristy and I will be married for 21 years. She works at a law firm in downtown Baltimore. We are blessed with two amazing children, Caleb (16) and Ainsley (13). A few years ago, they teamed up and convinced me to get our dog, a mini Goldendoodle named Cooper.

Tally and his wife, Kristy, will celebrate 21 years of marriage in April (photo submitted).

How did you come to the Lord?
I was born to a 17-year-old unwed mother and raised in various neighborhoods in and around Baltimore. I met Jesus through the faithfulness of a layman named Mr. Don. Mr. Don worked at a factory during the day and studied the Scripture like a Harvard professor at night. One day, he pulled up to my friends and I in his Ford Mustang and asked us if we were going to heaven or hell. I said, “Hell. God wouldn’t want me with all the bad I do out here.” He replied, “It doesn’t have to be that way.” Mr. Don rented out our local recreation center in Armistead Gardens, and we started playing basketball with him and some of his friends. It became the place to be in a window of time between running the streets and going to parties. After about six months, he asked if we would like to study the Bible together on Sunday mornings at his church, Second & Fourth Baptist in East Baltimore.

In the basement of a rowhome on Luzerne Avenue under a single lightbulb, I gave my life to Christ at the age of 13. I ultimately preached my first sermon there a few years later, leading most of my family to the Lord. That building is currently my church’s inner-city mission location for our G.E.M. Program (which stands for Gospel, Education, Mentoring), where we attempt to reach kids just like I was almost 30 years ago.

Each association has its own culture – how would you describe yours?
In October 2015, my peers in Baltimore asked me to become the moderator of our association, the Baltimore Baptist Association (BBA). The sober reality was that, without major changes, we were on a clear path toward financial insolvency. It was just a matter of time. We had not met quorum for our executive board in 14 of the previous 16 meetings. We were spending 106% of our church giving on salaries, and our pastors were disengaged and, in many cases, disillusioned with the usefulness of the local association. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the majority of Baptist associations nationally are in this exact situation.

Upon my arrival, I knew that turning things around would only occur with increased pastoral engagement. Many of our pastors just became apathetic to any change coming out of the association. Several leadership team members even later admitted that they were lulled into a sleep even though they knew that things were not going well.

A Baptist association is only as strong as its churches’ engagement.

In my first few meetings, I shared a 32-page document called “A New Day BBA,” where I called attention to how and why we were in need of change. “We pay staff like we are a Walmart, but we really are a corner store,” I said. The changes were not easy, but we blessed everyone with extremely generous severance pay. We were blessed to retain our office administrator, Theresa Sassard, in a part-time capacity.

With staffing reduced, we went without a formal director of missions (DOM) as I volunteered my time as the moderator and fulfilled some DOM responsibilities as needed. I asked our leadership team to grab a whiteboard and imagine how an association would need to be designed to be most effective in our generation. We have more technology in our phones than NASA had at their disposal when they landed an astronaut on the moon! Unfortunately, most of our Baptist associations haven’t changed much since the “one small step for man” quote. Associations are a little over 300 years old but, in general, haven’t adjusted very well. I asked our team, “If we started over today with each of us pushing our money to the middle of a table, what would we value? What would we build?”

We have built a brotherhood among pastors that is in partnership and not in competition with the North American Mission Board or the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D). Our question was, “What can we do most effectively that cannot easily be done from Atlanta, Nashville, or Columbia?” We are now known for ministry to our churches and mission through our churches. We are diverse. We became a majority-minority leadership team because our mission field is majority-minority. We run efficiently. We reduced payroll to no more than 35% of our operating budget. We are focused. Our budget has three categories: Overhead, Mission, and Ministry. We are generous. We give 65% of our budget dollars back out to our churches. We are compassionate. We meet the needs of our pastors first and foremost. From gym memberships to counseling, from car repairs to conference fees, we bless our pastors and their families in times of need. “We are not alone” is more than a motto; it is our way of life at the BBA.

How has God been blessing your association?
Everything is “up and to the right.” This pandemic was not a significant burden on our association as much as it could have been because we were nimble enough to not only survive but thrive. We have more participation and more financial resources than ever before, even after a two-year pandemic. Because we did not allocate our whole budget to staff or predetermined and arbitrary line items, we were able to make decisions in real-time under the prompting and power of the Holy Spirit.

We launched four video broadcasting sites in four churches around the city to help pastors record and upload sermons to YouTube and Facebook. This helped ensure that churches didn’t have to stop their ministry because they may have lacked technology. The hosting sites were blessed with the equipment purchased in exchange for their service. We also launched a giving portal called TitheOnline.org so our churches without online giving could point their people to an online giving platform. We later helped those churches build and launch their own giving platforms. We have a report that goes back years where our churches can see where their money is going because we share in a clear and concise report every month with our meeting minutes. What is going well is that we have a culture of cooperation that extends well beyond Cooperative Program giving. The local churches and their active love for one another make this a great association.

What are some challenges?
At the association level, we are in a very good place right now. We have a unified team and a clarified calling. The challenges we have are not unique to us or our churches. The pandemic has brought about lower attendance and financial contributions within many of our churches. Many pastors do not feel they can make a “right” decision for their congregations. Unity around the gospel has sadly given way to division brought on by politics. Our pastors need prayer, love, patience, and understanding in this season. We want to be a better and stronger association so that we can be here to support those great men of God.

How can we pray for you and the association?
Please pray that we do not settle. The only constant is change. As circumstances change, we pray that we will not become complacent or comfortable. We also do not want to go back to relying on a singular DOM to solve our problems. As a team, we pray that we will be unified, humble, and compassionate toward one another. We also pray for a dependence on the Lord and that Jesus will give us clear direction as we face the challenges that await us in the days ahead.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We are thankful for our friends and family within the BCM/D. We appreciate the diversity expressed across our two-state convention, and we hope to be a faithful partner in the gospel with each of you. Pastors, I encourage you to become engaged in the life of your association. Understand everything from the bylaws to the budget. Show up for lunches and meetings. Seek the Lord on how to improve your mission field by serving and loving the brothers around you. We wish nothing but God’s best in every corner of our convention. If we can help you in any way, we are an open book, and we’ll be glad to lend a helping hand. Feel free to contact us at [email protected].