David Bunch, longtime Southern Baptist leader, dies

By NAMB Staff

SMYRNA, Georgia — David Bunch, who helped Southern Baptists launch Mission Service Corps (MSC) in the 1970s and played an integral role in three Southern Baptist state conventions, died Monday, July 24.

“He was one of those quiet individuals, always in the right place at the right time, did all the things he was supposed to do, created things behind the scenes, got it done,” said Jim Haskell, pastor of Bridgepoint Church at Toco Hills in Decatur, Georgia. “Just consider the immense accomplishments of Mission Service Corps volunteers over the years. He has truly left a profound mark on Christianity in the United States, yet most people are unaware of his immense contributions. His name may not be widely known, but his influence is felt, nonetheless.”

David Bunch, who helped Southern Baptists launch Mission Service Corps (MSC) in the 1970s and played an integral role in three Southern Baptist state conventions, died Monday, July 24. Photo provided by the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.

Bunch became the first national director of Mission Service Corps as it launched in 1977. The former Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) created the MSC program after a meeting between Southern Baptist leaders and U.S. President Jimmy Carter who met at the White House that year.

The MSC program provided a funding pathway for Southern Baptist missions that was not available under current convention-wide funding methods. In its first 25 years of existence, the program provided missionary service opportunities for more than 76,000 volunteers. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) still offers Southern Baptists an opportunity to learn about and support self-funded missionaries, a direct legacy of the MSC program.

Bunch also served as the national director for church planting at the Home Mission Board.

Haskell, then an engineering major at the Georgia Institute of Technology, first met Bunch in the summer of 1974 while serving as a summer missionary in Iowa. At the time, Bunch was the executive director and treasurer of the Iowa Southern Baptist Fellowship (today the Baptist Convention of Iowa), a position he held from 1968 to 1977. On Haskell’s first night in the state, he stayed with Bunch and his wife, Joann. Over the summer, Bunch stayed in close touch with Haskell. In just 10 weeks that summer, Haskell, Larry Bowser and their team started a church.

“I went to Iowa that summer planning on being an engineer, and 10 weeks later, I came out with a ministry calling,” Haskell said. “I finished up my final year of engineering and headed to seminary. David’s fingerprints are all over that whole process for me.”

Haskell says that was just the beginning of Bunch’s involvement and mentoring in his ministry. It was a relationship that extended into recent years when they met regularly while Haskell served as NAMB’s Send City Missionary in Atlanta until his retirement six years ago.

“From the beginning, when we met in 1974, all the way through all these years, he always believed in me,” Haskell said. “He just had a way with younger guys, the ones that he worked with, the ones that he kind of pulled in under him, to nurture, to advise and mentor. He always had a way of letting us know he believed in us. That was probably the greatest thing that he ever did for me.”

Bunch was one of the first people pastor Tom Nesbitt met after answering God’s call to pastor Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa, in 1976.

“David Bunch was a very sweet, welcoming voice of encouragement to us as we launched our ministry here. We happily affirm his great leadership at the early stages of Iowa Baptists, where we have made our home for so long,” Nesbit said. “Heaven is richer for his presence and the world better for the Lord sending him forth.”

Bunch also served as the executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention (CBGC) for six years before retiring in 2000.

“Dr. Bunch came to the Colorado Baptist Convention when we needed a man of his integrity and administrative prowess,” said Doug Lohrey, who served as the president of the CGBC board and later on the state convention staff with Bunch. “He brought organization to a convention that needed it badly. He was such a gentleman to us all and built lasting friendships. Pastors commented on that long after he retired.”

Buch served as interim executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England in 2001.

Bunch was born in 1930 in Eldon, Missouri. He came to faith in Christ and was baptized at Aurora Springs Baptist Church in Eldon, Missouri, in 1941. He had degrees from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry), Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Master of Theology and Bachelor of Divinity), and William Jewell College. He pastored several churches in Missouri before serving at the Home Mission Board.

Bunch is survived by his wife, Joann, and two sons, Jeffrey and Javan. A memorial service was held last Friday in Smyrna, Georgia. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to be made in his name to the general scholarship fund of Gateway Seminary’s Rocky Mountain Campus.

Published August 1, 2023