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American Bible Society Dismisses Doug Birdsall as President

(UPDATED) Weeks before official inauguration, Birdsall and ABS cite 'significant differences' over how to get more people reading the Bible.
American Bible Society Dismisses Doug Birdsall as PresidentCourtesy of American Bible Society

Editor's note: The official statement from the American Bible Society has been added to this post.

Late Sunday night, one small but significant word was changed on the Wikipedia page of evangelical missions leader Doug Birdsall. The "is" in the opening sentence, "Rev. Dr. S. Douglas Birdsall is the president of American Bible Society," now says "was."

CT noted when Birdsall became president and CEO of ABS this past March after organizing the most diverse meeting of global evangelicals ever for the Lausanne Movement's Cape Town 2010 congress. But today, weeks before his Nov. 8 inauguration ceremony at ABS, he wrote in an email to "Lausanne friends":

I am sorry to tell you that the plans for the inauguration have been cancelled. Last week the Board of Trustees at American Bible Society brought my service to a close.

American Bible Society Board Chairman Pieter Dearolf confirmed that Birdsall's tenure "has come to a close." He wrote:

While both the Board and Dr. Birdsall shared the same passion for all generations to engage with God's Word, there were significant differences of how to move the organization towards that goal.

(The full text of both announcements is at bottom of this post.)

Birdsall, who was named Wheaton College's alumnus of the year this past May, explains how he "left what I considered to be the best job in the world of missions to take on this new challenge in New York City," and has "enjoyed working with [ABS] outstanding leadership team and staff." But he wrote:

I was excited about giving this decade of my career to leading the American Bible Society into the future with a strategic vision for cultural engagement.

However, there are times when the vision and style of a new leader does not mesh satisfactorily with the culture of an established organization or with the expectations of a board. Unfortunately, things did not develop as we had hoped.

Now, we must deal with a new reality and look to God for comfort and guidance.

Birdsall wrote that he and his family are "experiencing sorrow and a sense of loss," but plans to "move forward knowing that I gave my very best to [ABS]." But first he plans to rest for a season, given that the Cape Town event "left me more exhausted than I was willing to admit."

"Already, I am thinking about many things I would love to do," he wrote, "but for now I must heed the words, 'Be still and know that I am God.'"

CT reported how the Third Lausanne Congress–held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010–demonstrated that global evangelicalism has been transformed. The congress was the most diverse evangelical gathering ever, drawing a cross-section of 4,000 world leaders.

CT has also reported on ABS's launching .Bible as a new website domain name, its efforts to understand Hispanics, and its assessment of how Americans read the Bible.

Below is the full text of Birdsall's email, followed by the full text of the ABS announcement:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I trust you are experiencing the reality of his presence and the richness of his grace.

I have been looking forward to seeing many of you four weeks from now in New York City at the services planned in relationship to my installation as the President of American Bible Society. A year ago I left what I considered to be the best job in the world of missions to take on this new challenge in New York City. For months now, Jeanie and I and our children have been looking forward to November 8 and the joy of seeing Asian Access and Lausanne friends who have shared with us of their plans to attend. The prospect of seeing members of our extended family, friends from Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell, the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and our church family in Massachusetts has been a source of joyful anticipation for us.

However, I am sorry to tell you that the plans for the inauguration have been cancelled. Last week the Board of Trustees at American Bible Society brought my service to a close.

Three years ago this month when we were in Cape Town for the Lausanne Congress, the theme of "Eradicating Bible Poverty" captured my imagination. Everyday for the last seven months at ABS I have enjoyed working with our outstanding leadership team and staff in response to this global challenge.

Our driving passion was to get the Bible into the hands, the minds and the hearts of every person in our country under the age of twenty-eight. This is a group of 125 million people, the Millennial Generation and those following, who are abandoning Bible reading and Bible living by the millions. These were energizing new challenges. I was excited about giving this decade of my career to leading the American Bible Society into the future with a strategic vision for cultural engagement.

However, there are times when the vision and style of a new leader does not mesh satisfactorily with the culture of an established organization or with the expectations of a board. Unfortunately, things did not develop as we had hoped.

Now, we must deal with a new reality and look to God for comfort and guidance.

As you might imagine, we are experiencing sorrow and a sense of loss. This is not a pleasant place. But it is a divine space. Jeanie and I believe God does his best work in the most difficult circumstances of our lives. So we surrender to God's purposes in the midst of this crucible and join our Savior in praying the words, "not my will but thine be done." And we move forward knowing that I gave my very best to American Bible Society.

We are blessed with wonderful friends. A few weeks ago, I called a circle of valued friends and asked if they would help us. We have been meeting each week on a conference call. These people are a strong source of wisdom, support, and protection. Among them are Ken and Jan Wendling, founders of our mission, and mentors who have known us for our entire ministry career. Dorington Little, our pastor here on the north shore of Boston, is a friend who cares for us as a wise and loving shepherd. These friends are God's angels for our family.

Their collective counsel is for us to get rest. The three years leading up to Cape Town were exhilarating, but they also left me more exhausted than I was willing to admit. Following the congress, we needed to guide Lausanne in the transition from "event mode" to "movement mentality." To ensure that the transition to new generation of leadership would be sustainable, I worked hard to raise money to multiply the impact of Cape Town 2010. That involved meeting all remaining obligations related to the Congress and for the on-going work. That has all been successfully completed, but it was taxing. Finishing the Ph.D., moving to Manhattan, and dealing with surgeries for lung cancer took more out of me – a lobe of my lung to be precise! It will be good to rest.

We will work in the yard, travel to visit family and friends, pray, and seek to hear God's voice. Already, I am thinking about many things I would love to do, but for now I must heed the words, "Be still and know that I am God."

Thirty-five years ago this week during my last year in seminary, we sensed God re-directing our paths in an unanticipated way. Though I had planned to go back to Illinois to be a pastor, we discerned that God was leading us into cross-cultural ministry. That eventuated in our going to Japan for 20 years, serving there with Asian Access, and later serving globally with the Lausanne Movement.

We are grateful to have been shaped by these two organizations, with their people of faith, godliness, and vision. We have been developed by leaders willing to take risks for God's Kingdom and blessed by colleagues who shaped cultures of trust and innovation. We worked with people who believe in the God of the impossible.

Our missionary hero is America's mission pioneer, Adoniram Judson. His words, "The future is as bright as the promises of God," have been an inspiration our entire career.

Thank you for your friendship and for your partnership in the gospel. Please pray for us. We love you and thank God for each of you. May he continue to bless you richly.

Yours in Christ,

Doug Birdsall

-----

A Statement from American Bible Society:

American Bible Society Board Chairman Pieter Dearolf announced that as of last week Dr. S. Douglas Birdsall's tenure as president and CEO of American Bible Society has come to a close.

"Doug served American Bible Society with commitment and enthusiasm. While both the Board and Dr. Birdsall shared the same passion for all generations to engage with God's Word, there were significant differences of how to move the organization towards that goal," said Dearolf.

Birdsall commented saying, "I wasexcited about giving this decade of my career to lead American Bible Society into the future with a strategic vision for cultural engagement. However, there are times when the vision and style of a new leader does not mesh satisfactorily with the culture of an established organization or with the expectations of a board. Unfortunately, things did not develop as we had hoped."

The Board confirmed that American Bible Society's Chief Operating Officer Steve King will assume interim responsibility for day-to-day operations until a search for longer-term presidential leadership is successfully completed.

"While releasing the reins of leadership here, I'm certain Doug will continue to have significant impact to further the Gospel," said Dearolf.

About American Bible Society:

Headquartered in Manhattan, the 197-year-old American Bible Society exists to make the Bible available to every person in a language and format each can understand and afford, so all people may experience its life-changing message. One of the nation's oldest nonprofit organizations, today's American Bible Society provides resources across a variety of platforms enabling first-time readers and seasoned theologians alike to engage with the best-selling book of all time. For more information, visit AmericanBible.org.

Related Topics:Bible; Lausanne Congress
Posted:October 7, 2013 at 3:52PM
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American Bible Society Dismisses Doug Birdsall as President