A life in leadership — government and academia
Lanny Hall served 50 years in education and government, 11 of which in government. He has served as president of Wayland Baptist University, Howard Payne University, and Hardin-Simmons University. He is Chancellor and President Emeritus of Hardin-Simmons University.
From the bottom of a Texan’s heart, Hall shares his experience and thoughts on Christian higher education. To suggest a leader affiliated with the Texas Baptist General Convention for inclusion in this column, or to request to be introduced yourself, click here.
Where did you grow up
I was born in Fort Payne, Ala. When I was in first grade my family moved to Fort Worth. Most of my public school years were spent in Northeast Tarrant County.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
Conversations about faith and salvation were common in my wonderful Christian home. During my early years, my father was a Baptist deacon and part-time choirmaster in two churches.
I still fondly remember the flannel lessons in the main department of the Second Baptist Church in Fort Payne, Alabama, and at Parkdale Baptist Church in Haltom City, Texas. The biblical account of Samuel’s interaction with Eli spoke to me in a powerful way. The Sunday School sermons and lessons piqued my interest, aroused my heart, and provoked my reflection.
Like it was yesterday, I remember a conversation with my sweet mom in my bedroom when I was 7 years old. I asked him about the stages of salvation. Shortly thereafter, I âwalked the aisleâ after our Pastor Orvel Brantley preached a Sunday night service at Parkdale Baptist Church. A week or two later, I was baptized. My decision was real, my young life was changed, and a new life in Jesus followed.
Why did you feel called to leadership?
I felt God was leading me on the path of leadership and I remember struggling with what God wanted me to do for a living.
I remember in my late teens responding for a period of invitation, asking our pastor to pray with me to see if I was called to full-time Christian ministry. My pastor, mentor and special friend Dwaine Greene encouraged me and devoted serious prayer to such a decision.
Over time, I experienced the Lord who led me to become a teacher and that I should eventually explore public service and administration in public secondary and higher education.
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In addition to your best-known position, where else have you performed leadership functions?
In addition to being a professor and professor of political science and university president, I was assistant to Congressman Jim Wright in Washington and special assistant to the House majority leader of the United States. I was elected to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives, then as Deputy Executive Director of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
When did you retire from full-time academic leadership?
I retired from full-time service at Hardin-Simmons University in 2016.
How have you been doing since?
In addition to serving as HSU Chancellor and President Emeritus, I have assisted universities in fundraising and counseling. Carol and I have traveled and spent a lot more time with the family.
Where do you live now and what church do you attend?
We live in Abilene and are members of the Berry Lane Baptist Church.
About the management
What was your favorite or happiest aspect of leadership? Why?
Dream big dreams for universities and develop action plans to make them come true. It was also a joy to see the students achieve their goals and to watch students follow the Lord’s direction in their lives.
What part of leadership caused the greatest grief or headache?
Financial and personal challenges can be extremely stressful.
What would you say to the young people you have just started in leadership?
1. Start as you hope to end.
2. Pay attention to the little things, realizing what General Colin Powell says: âThere are no small things. “
3. Read the 139th Psalm regularly.
What would you like more people to know about leadership or, more specifically, your leadership?
I wish more people knew about the dedication of the staff and faculty at the universities where I served.
How do you think leadership will change over the next 10 to 20 years?
Competition for resources will become increasingly fierce. The ubiquitous assault on values ââwill intensify. The polarization will continue at the local church level and at the denominational level. Leaders will need to understand their core values ââand commit to modeling and following them.
What has been the impact of leadership on your family?
On the positive side, my leadership roles have given my family the opportunity to meet some very interesting and successful people. We have welcomed many wonderful Christian leaders into our home and have had rich and meaningful conversations.
On the negative side, the demands of serving in leadership in the hectic worlds of government and higher education take an inordinate amount of time. Much of that time would have been better spent with the family.
If you could do a âredoâ in leadership, what would it be and why?
I would avoid procrastination by doing the uncomfortable tasks first.
About the Baptists
Why are you a Baptist?
I firmly believe in the priesthood of the believer, in the dedication of Baptists to the missions and to the Great Commission. I believe in the commitment of Baptists to the words of Jesus in John 14: 6: âI am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
What were the key issues that Baptists faced at the heart of your leadership?
Baptist higher education is filled with landmines. I have been repeatedly discouraged by the “extremists” on the right and on the left. If these extremists on either side were sometimes unhappy with me, I felt I was doing my job right.
During my service in the government, I had the same feeling vis-Ã -vis the partisan extremists. One of my professors in my doctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin would often say, “If you want to be effective as a college administrator, you have to have a high tolerance for ambiguity.” . The same goes for the Christian life and leadership.
The key is to maintain the forward movement through the minefields of ambiguity, without compromising its principles.
What key issues do you see for Baptists in the future?
Extremists will continue to exert pressure. The word of God will continue to be challenged. As has always been the case, Baptists must resist indoctrination and work to learn to develop the spiritual discipline to think for themselves.
Each year, during orientation for new students to Howard Payne University, a wise friend and colleague, Paul Butler, asked and answered two key questions: “What’s the best thing in college life?” After a pause he replied, “This is the freedom you have. He then asked, “What’s the worst thing in college life?” Again, he stopped and then replied, âThis is the freedom you have. “
For the next 25 years, I asked and answered these same two questions every referral to Wayland, Hardin-Simmons and Howard Payne.
Freedom must be exercised with responsibility by Baptist leaders and church members, by all of us who follow Christ.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination – state, national, or local?
I wish we all spent less time bothering and splitting our hair, and spending more time on the Big Commission.
Tell us about your family.
The love of my life and my wife for 53 years is Carol Bardin Hall. She has been a rock in my life and is the nicest person I know. I am so blessed to have him with me. We discovered each other at Camp Copass youth camp in 1962.
God blessed us with two children. Our talented daughter Lana Carol McCutchen lives in Abilene and is married to Johnathan McCutchen. They have two beautiful daughters Lilly and Ada who have brought great joy to our lives.
We lost our only son Chad Lanier Hall when he was 35 years old. He blessed us with a third beautiful granddaughter Chloe Michelle, who lives in Amarillo.
Who were / are your mentors, and how have they influenced you?
Dwaine Greene, longtime pastor of Birdville Baptist Church, was a lifelong hero, mentor and pastor. He became my pastor during my first year in high school and was the biggest influence in my life, besides my parents, until his death. He encouraged me to respond to the leadership of God in my life to be a public servant. I continue to use the lessons he taught me.
The late Congressman Jim Wright gave me the opportunity to achieve an important goal while working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I can always hear him say to me, âLoyalty is a two-way street. He also stressed that helping those who cannot help themselves is a laudable effort.
Bill Pinson, former executive director of the Texas Baptist General Convention, modeled the strength of leadership with humility in Christian service. He was masterful at the head of the BGCT. I am so grateful for his continued influence on my life.
My former boss Don Newbury gave me a huge gift when he invited me to become Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at Howard Payne University. I learned from him that you can have fun while taking on very difficult challenges as president of a university.
My parents Doyle and Rachel Hall wanted the best for me. Although they could not afford to provide the resources I needed for my college education, they affirmed, encouraged and supported me in my dreams of life.
My fifth grade teacher Mary Sieber, a devout Nazarene, showed me a grace and affirmation that lives in my heart.
Outside of the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors and explain why.
Diary of the future by Mark Victor Hansen helped me structure my dreams.
A goal is a dream with a deadline by LÃ©o Helzel. I love to plan and read books on goal setting and vision.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Proverbs 3: 5-6 and Philippians 4:13. These were my mother’s favorite scriptures, and she reminded me of them often. These two scriptures inspire me to persevere, to continue, and to try to follow God’s direction in my life.
Who is your favorite person in the Bible other than Jesus? Why?
From the first time I experienced the story of Samuel in this flannel lesson, I have loved the story of God’s leadership in the life of young Samuel. I pray that I will continue to say as Samuel said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The apostle Paul is a hero. Although I cannot understand his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, I identify with his humanity and his struggles as a Christian. His words often remind me, âI have not disobeyed this heavenly visionâ (Acts 26:19). It inspires me to strive for obedience in my life.
Name something about yourself that would surprise people who know you well.
I love to sing and play guitar and ukulele, and I would love to sing baritone or bass in a gospel quartet. I was once in a singing duet with my high school best friend Lee Feris. We sang several times in high school and college. One of our favorite songs was “I Believe”.