LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – The new president of the Kentucky Baptist Foundation hopes to bring a pastor’s touch to the position.
French Harmon, who has served as a Kentucky Baptist pastor for more than 30 years, took over as the organization’s new leader last week. His vision includes building bridges to pastors, churches and institutions.
His experience in the pulpit and connections with pastors across the state will allow him to be a spokesman for what the Foundation brings to Kentucky Baptists.
Harmon is well-suited for his latest assignment in the ministry having served decades as a successful Kentucky Baptist pastor, including his last pastorate at First Baptist Church in Somerset where he said “leaving was bittersweet after watching the Lord do some amazing things” over 13 years. “It’s a pace I was well suited for. I saw all three of my children baptized (at Somerset). That was a season (in life) I’ll never forget. It was just a blessing. God allowed me to be in Somerset at the right time.”
He’s following God’s leadership in taking over at the KBF, which has had strong leadership and outstanding support from a well-versed board. Harmon hopes he can help take them to a different level through the generosity of Kentucky Baptists and their churches.
“I’m excited about the new opportunity to grow the Kingdom,” Harmon said. “We’re in Kingdom-building mode.”
Connecting with churches and pastors is necessary to advance the work the Foundation can offer, he said. Part of that process will be to build the brand of the Kentucky Baptist Foundation, including more involvement on the digital side. They are reaching out to Southern Baptist Foundation leaders in Nashville about what needs to be done to spruce up the marketing side of the Foundation.
“We want our website to be more user friendly for people to see how money can be multiplied,” Harmon said.
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director-Treasuer Todd Gray said Harmon's experience will be a valuable assest as he leads the Kentucky Baptist Foundation.
"I am excited to see Dr. French Harmon take the helm at The Kentucky Baptist Foundation. His history with, and intimate knowledge of, Kentucky Baptists will prove exceedingly helpful as he seeks, with God’s help, to fulfill his vision of building bridges, building the brand, and building the business," Gray said. "The Foundation is a vital and healthy part of our Kentucky Baptist family and French will do a great job of leading this organization forward."
Harmon looks ahead with anticipation of the Foundation becoming the hub of stewardship for Kentucky Baptists.
“We want to build Baptist life and Dr. Gray wanted me specifically to look at stewardship development,” he said. “The Foundation is a natural tie-in. We will be Stewardship Central for Kentucky Baptist churches.”
Part of the process will include education on what the Foundation already does and how Kentucky Baptists can be part of it. Plans and brochures will be developed explaining how giving works in church, Harmon said.
Harmon said he has determined four specific avenues that he will be taking to enhance the Kentucky Baptist Foundation's already strong presence.
Tithing the estate
“I’m going to come at this position as a pastor, using terms perhaps more church friendly,” he said. “Number one, I want to encourage people to tithe their estate. Many Baptists in Kentucky have tithed their whole life but, when it comes to the end of their life, they don’t think about that. The money can go right back to their church.”
He quoted the late Rev. Harold Cathey, the pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Ashland where he was ordained and licensed. “Harold Cathey said: ‘God can do more with 90 percent than you can do with 100 percent.’ I’m going to encourage men and women to tithe their estate.”
Harmon said he will be starting the Baptist Bluegrass Fund, which will be used specifically for evangelizing the commonwealth. His goal is to have 500 members who donate part of their estate or generously give to the goal of leading souls to Christ.
“We need to be on the offense and not the defense,” he said. “We’ve been on the defense for too long. We need to pool our money together and be on the offense. We are hindered by money because it’s going to other secular institutions. We really need to focus on evangelism and taking our state.”
Practice what you preach
Prior President Richard Carnes and the board have scrutinized the investments over the last five years. Harmon wants to better communicate how the investments are socially screened. Money will never be invested in anything that dishonors Baptists, he said.
“99.8 percent of our investments are what I call Baptist values,” he said. “No money is going to abortion, gaming, marijuana, tobacco or alcohol. When people begin to hear this, they will be switching funds to the Kentucky Baptist Foundation. I would encourage the churches to let us help manage it (money). They can get their money whenever they need it. We are investing in Bible values.”
KBF board chairman Charles Barnes, a banker, is excited about exploring and explaining that aspect of the vision, Harmon said. The maintenance fees at KBF are lower than the industry standards and it supports only what Baptists value, he said, so it is going where the money would do the most good.
“I’m going to start trumpeting that, being a mouthpiece for the Foundation,” Harmon said.
Be a blessing
Harmon said the Kentucky Baptist Foundation will seek to build the Kingdom and be a blessing in the process. He said his Somerset friend Ward Correll once told him: “It’s all God’s. It’s our job to build the Kingdom.”
Harmon called Correll “was the greatest Christian philanthropist I ever met.”
“We, as Baptists, need to be a blessing to the world and to the Kingdom, be generous with our life and our lifestyle,” he said.
The new president said he doesn’t have “a magic wand to bring in a million dollars” but he will be sure to get the word out among Kentucky Baptists about the Kentucky Baptist Foundation and what it can offer. The partnership could lead to the kind of Kingdom building that Harmon is sure can happen when everybody works together.
"The investments of Kentucky Baptists to fund ministry and missions, including the work of their local church, will prove even more needful in the days to come," Gray said. "French will do a great job leading the team at the Kentucky Baptist Foundation to invest well and seek additional donors for our Kingdom work."
Harmon will be proceeding Carnes, who retired after serving the last five years in his second stint as president of the Foundation, which stands on solid ground.
"Richard and Barry (Allen) before him are solid Chirstians and have a financial background - both of them are great minds with money - and the Foundation board is so strong. I'm moving into a really solid place and also where they want to go a little further in connecting with churches and pastors."
The new KBF president said he understands the pace of Convention life having worked with the KBC from 2004-2007 in church development.
Harmon and Rachael, his bride of 25 years, have three children. Trae is in college at the University of Kentucky where he is on the baseball team; Madison will be attending Western Kentucky University in the fall and Jack will be a junior at Somerset High School.
Harmon was heavily invested in the Somerset communty including being a middle school baseball coach with multiple state championships to his credit, although he's quick to say "it's because of the great players" he's been able to coach. In his hometown of Ashland, he was to be inducted into a baseball hall of fame for his youth league coaching there but COVID-19 postponed the ceremony until next summer.
He has recently written a book, God’s Ordinary Giants, that will be published this fall. It is a New Testament characters study with reviews after each chapter making it suitable for Bible studies.