Bounds, first woman to chair NAMB trustee board, has history of stepping out of comfort zone

By Mike Ebert

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Erin Bounds was a 16-year-old at a Lifeway (then Baptist Sunday School Board) Centrifuge camp when she realized she was at a crossroads.

“I had accepted Christ when I was a child but was faced with the reality of what that really meant,” Bounds recalled. “Do I want to be who God wants me to be or a regular teenager that just went to church. I decided to be completely sold out to Christ and let the Lord be Lord of my life.”

That decision to choose the less-traveled path is a characteristic Bounds has practiced consistently throughout her life, and she encourages the same for others.

Erin Bounds is the first woman to chair the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Board of Trustees. Bounds, a native of Georgia who now lives near Birmingham, Ala., with her husband Larry and their two children, has a lifetime of involvement in Southern Baptist missions. Photo provided by NAMB.

“I love getting people out of their comfort zones,” Bounds said. “The Lord speaks to you there. Sometimes, it’s hard for Him to get your attention in everyday life.”

That willingness, even desire, to step out into the new and unknown led Bounds to accept the role of chair for the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Board of Trustees when she was asked in 2022, making her the first woman to serve in that role in NAMB’s history.

“I’m definitely very grateful for the opportunity to lead,” Bounds said. “But it wasn’t on my radar or really a desire.”

The 16-year-old who made a decision to step out in faith at a Centrifuge camp had no way of knowing that God’s path for her would one day lead to presiding over trustee meetings for the world’s largest protestant domestic missions entity, much less many of the other experiences Bounds has had in life.

While still in high school, a poster on the wall at her rural Georgia church caught her eye. It said, “Get more out of your summer than just a tan.” She sent for information and wound up serving as a Home Mission Board (soon to be North American Mission Board) Sojourner summer missionary.

Serving in Michigan, Bounds and her fellow summer missionaries helped lead backyard Bible clubs, assisted local church planters and served at Bambi Lake, a nearby Baptist retreat and conference center.

“I learned a lot that summer,” Bound recalls. “It was my first hands-on exposure to church planting and missions.”

While attending the University of Georgia (UGA), Bounds was involved in the Baptist Student Union (now Baptist Campus Ministry) and spent her summers working at a local 4-H camp where she had gravitated to the leadership track. When another BSU student backed out of an upcoming mission trip to Nashville, Bounds said yes to an invitation to step into the spot.

“I still had my sights set on 4-H leadership, even though God kept putting Centrifuge in front of me as well,” Bounds said. “Deep down, I knew the Lord was calling me to serve with FUGE, but I kept fighting it.”

As it turned out, a Centrifuge staff intern was on that Nashville mission trip.

“I have matured a lot since then, and I don’t communicate with God like this anymore,” she said, “but I told God, ‘If you want me to talk to him about Centrifuge, you are going to have to kick me in the rear.’”

A few days later during a mission team recreation activity—basketball on roller skates—Bounds fell and broke her tailbone.

“The Centrifuge intern took me to the emergency room, so while I waited for medical treatment, we talked about Centrifuge,” Bounds said. “There is nothing like praying for God to kick you in the rear then realizing you have a broken tailbone to get your attention. I surrendered and told the Lord I was down with His plan.”

Since Centrifuge was based in Nashville, the intern offered to take Bounds by to meet the staff.

“I humbly took my donut pillow and interviewed on the spot,” Bounds recalled. Soon after that, Bounds graduated from UGA with a consumer economics degree and headed out for the first of what would be four summers serving at Centrifuge camps. She met her husband Larry while he served as a fellow FUGE student staffer on the Charleston, SC, project in 2001.

Thinking she might want to work in Christian camping full-time, Bounds enrolled at New Orleans Theological Seminary, where she eventually graduated with a Master of Divinity degree.

Her FUGE experience led to a job with Serve Management Group a missions mobilization ministry that provided turnkey mission projects focused on construction and home repair for high school and collegiate student groups. She later went on to work with Student Life Missions Camps.

All of the exposure to audio visual (AV) technology through mission project work, combined with Larry’s interest music and performing arts as a worship leader, led the couple to form an AV company with a third friend in 2003, with a focus on serving churches. Starting off slowly, the company grew to the point that by 2006, the Bounds’ transitioned their full vocational focus to running the business.

While living outside of Birmingham, Ala., Erin and Larry started a family where they still reside. They have two children—a daughter and son. The Bounds family joined North Valley Church in Odenville, a one-year-old church plant in the late 2010’s. Larry leads worship and Erin has been involved in the children’s ministry, hospitality and the new members class.

Erin Bounds, second from left, is the first woman to chair the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Board of Trustees. Bounds, a native of Georgia who now lives near Birmingham, Ala., with her husband Larry and their two children, has a lifetime of involvement in Southern Baptist missions. This photo, from NAMB’s Feb. 6-7 trustee meeting in Miami, includes, from left to right, NAMB president Kevin Ezell, and NAMB’s three trustee Officers: Bounds, chair, Eric Thomas, first vice chair and Jonathan Jarboe, second vice chair. NAMB photo by Joseph Ibarra.

Bounds was elected a NAMB trustee in 2015 and with her business expertise and economics degree, she was appointed to the Financial Services Committee where she eventually became chair.

The economic crisis touched off by the COVID-19 pandemic gave Bounds some of her most memorable times of service while a trustee. Half of NAMB’s income comes through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®, which most churches collect in the Spring each year—just as COVID restrictions were closing churches throughout North America in 2020.

“When we first started seeing churches shut their doors, the reality hits home—we rely on Annie to do what we do. Everywhere we looked it was looking bleak,” Bounds recalls. “Instead of just saying ‘Let’s put on a happy face and tell trustees it’s going to be ok,’ NAMB leaders were saying, ‘We want to meet weekly.’ That inclusiveness, as opposed to exclusiveness, just drove home the point to me that these guys are solid. They are over here asking for additional counsel, additional wisdom. It was a challenging time for everybody, but it was one of those things that demonstrated how well the trustee-staff relationship can work.”

NAMB president Kevin Ezell said he is grateful for the leadership Bounds has provided.

“Erin is incredibly gifted,” Ezell said. “What could have been a huge financial crisis during the pandemic was navigated wisely and calmly. No missionary missed a check. No bill went unpaid, and her leadership was a key factor. Erin’s history and background with Southern Baptists and in the business world gave her the perfect experience to lead our trustees, and it has been a privilege to serve with her.”

Bounds concludes her term as chair and as a NAMB trustee in June after eight years of service. But just as she has done her entire life, she will continue to step out of her comfort zone as she encourages others to do the same.

“It has been a great experience,” she said, looking back on her years as a trustee. “There are so many decisions made in that room that have an impact for years to come, so many things that are set into motion. There is a lot to it and a sense of responsibility. I will be praying that NAMB continues to have many ministry successes.”

Published May 4, 2023

Mike Ebert

Mike Ebert is executive director of public relations at the North American Mission Board.