Published on January 10, 2024 by Neal Embry  
Newly elected officers of the Alabama Baptist State Convention: Second Vice President Ryan Whitley, President Craig Carlisle and First Vice President Jarman Leatherwood. Sam Evans/The Alabama Baptist

Two men with ties to Samford University will spend 2024 serving Baptists in the state of Alabama in new roles.

Craig Carlisle, ’83, and Beeson alumnus Ryan Whitley, DMin, ’96, were recently elected as president and second vice president, respectively, of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

Craig Carlisle

Carlisle began serving Alabama Baptists in 1998 when he began working for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

In more than 35 years of Christian ministry, he has served three churches as pastor, and has been the director of missions for the Etowah Baptist Association since 2017.

“It’s not anything that I’ve ever aspired to,” Carlisle said. “It’s really a humbling honor to be elected.”

In his new role, Carlisle will continue praying for and encouraging Alabama Baptist pastors and church members. He said he’s also passionate about encouraging bivocational pastors and helping them see it as a good option for ministry.

Craig Carlisle and his wife, Tammy. Photo courtesy of Craig Carlisle.

As a young man, when Carlisle felt the Lord calling him to ministry, the next step wasn’t difficult, he said.

“When I accepted the call to ministry, there was only one school I was going to attend, and that was Samford University.”

Carlisle majored in religion and history while at Samford.

“It was always a dream to be a Samford (alumnus),” Carlisle said. “I had really become acquainted with Samford just through Baptist life back in those days. The Lord allowed me, and my father worked hard and made a way for me to attend Samford.”

Carlisle lived at what was then called Crawford Johnson Hall (affectionately known as “CJ”), which now houses Beeson Divinity School.

Being on campus allowed Carlisle to meet friends and build relationships with professors, he said, and helped him train for a lifetime of ministry.

Carlisle continues to be involved with Samford, encouraging students he meets to check out the campus, helping them earn scholarships and more.

“All of my experience with Samford and my continued relationship with the university … has always informed me and helped me and been a center point of my life and ministry,” Carlisle said. “After 40 years, Samford’s never really been out of my life. It’s always been a part of me and always will be.”

Carlisle and his wife, Tammy, have one daughter, Jordan, who graduated from Samford’s Cumberland School of Law.

Ryan Whitley

In January 2023, Whitley asked the Lord to “make (his) last few laps count.”

“I don’t know how many laps I’ve got left,” Whitley said. “However many laps I’ve got left, I want to influence people for Christ.”

In his role, Whitley will serve Alabama Baptists “in whatever capacity they require me to serve,” he said. Whitley will serve alongside Carlisle, First Vice President Jarman Leatherwood and ALSBOM Executive Director Rick Lance.

Ryan Whitley and his family. Photo courtesy of Ryan Whitley.

Whitley graduated with the inaugural DMin class at Beeson in 1996, and now serves as a mentor to current Beeson students as part of the Ministry Reflection Groups program, which is part of the supervised ministry practicum at Beeson. For the past 27 years, Whitley has served as the senior pastor of CrossPoint Church in Trussville.

“I would not be doing what I’m doing today if it were not for Beeson Divinity School,” Whitley said. “I wouldn’t be the pastor at CrossPoint; I wouldn’t be the second vice president at the Alabama Baptist State Convention.”

Beeson challenged Whitley in a way that he said he had not previously been challenged.

“The Lord opened my eyes to rigorous study habits and discipline,” Whitley said.

During his time as a mentor, Whitley has not only helped numerous students be better prepared for ministry but has hired a couple of them at CrossPoint.

Reflecting on his nearly 30 years of ministry, Whitley said he is convinced that nothing can substitute for complete faith in God.

“Nothing can ever take the place of trusting God with all your heart,” Whitley said.

Ministry has given Whitley the “joy” of preaching through God’s Word expositionally, “book after book, paragraph after paragraph,” and taught him the importance of loving the people God has given him to shepherd unconditionally.

While Whitley is still a pastor, he sees his role now as more akin to a father.

“Paul talks about that (in 1 Thessalonians),” Whitley said. “I don’t think you get to that point until you’ve been somewhere for many years.”

Whitley recalled holding a baby during a baby dedication recently and realizing that “20 some odd years ago,” he was holding that child’s father in his hands.

“I know I’m a pastor; I know I’m a shepherd, but I’m a father to a lot of those kids, to a lot of those young couples,” Whitley said.

Whitley and his wife, Vonda, are parents to Taylor and Kelsey. Taylor, also a Beeson alumnus, and his wife, Lydia, a Beeson alumna, are church planters in Berlin, Germany, and are parents to Whitley’s grandsons, Luke Elijah, 5, and Caleb Ezekiel, 2. Kelsey, a Samford alumna, lives in St. Petersburg.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.