MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–Messengers to the annual meeting of the Alabama Baptist State Convention at First Baptist Church in Montgomery Nov. 18-19 adopted a record $46 million budget and marked record attendance for the Tuesday evening inspirational service.
As they gathered at the church for the first time since 1962, messengers unanimously approved a Cooperative Program budget goal of $46 million for 2009, an increase of 3.17 percent from the current goal. That includes an allocation of 42.5 percent to Southern Baptist Convention causes, an increase of 0.2 percent over this year.
The 2009 budget was adopted after the convention also approved a recommendation to modify the funding formula for higher education, capping Samford University’s allocation at its 2008 level.
The change, which was requested by Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland earlier in 2008, will provide increased funding to two other Alabama schools that receive Cooperative Program funds: Judson College and the University of Mobile.
After a two-year study of Samford’s funding, Westmoreland said the university saw this “as another way to support all Alabama Baptist ministries.” He expressed gratitude for the convention’s “historic relationship” with Samford and acknowledged the allocation could be adjusted upward in the future if the convention and university officials agree.
The convention continued to hear reports and viewed videos celebrating the passing of the $1 billion mark for Alabama Baptist gifts through the Cooperative Program since the funding method’s inception in 1925.
Nine Baptist associations in Alabama were recognized as having 100 percent of their churches participating in supporting missions through the Cooperative Program. The associations include: Autauga, Bessemer, Bethlehem, Chilton, Hale, Judson, Pine Barren, Sand Mountain and Sipsey.
New officers for 2009, all elected unopposed, include: Jimmy Jackson, pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, president; Mike Shaw, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pelham, first vice president; and John Killian, pastor of Maytown Baptist Church in Maytown, second vice president.
The Alabama convention registered 961 messengers from 441 churches but drew what officials estimate to be a record attendance in recent decades for the Tuesday evening session when the 1,800-seat sanctuary filled to capacity with chairs in the aisle and standing-room only attendance for worship led by Christian musician Kevin Derryberry and radio personality Rick Burgess.
Rick Lance, the convention’s executive director, and church officials estimated that more than 2,000 Alabama Baptists and other guests were in attendance to hear a testimony of God’s faithfulness and sustaining grace following the death of Burgess’ two-year-old son, Bronner, who drowned last January in the family swimming pool.
In the immediate aftermath of learning his son was near death, Burgess recounted that he asked God, “My son is dying — why?”
“God said, ‘I want them to be perplexed,'” was the response, said Burgess, an active member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills.
A video posted on YouTube and similar video sharing sites received more than a million views and likely perplexed the many who saw Burgess give a eulogy that pointed to the glory of God. Those viewing the video also saw Burgess’ wife, Sherri, lift her hand in praise during the service.
“We have seen people saved through [Bronner’s] death,” said Burgess, who urged the audience toward a deeper level of commitment to Christ.
Many people are believers in Christ but not followers of Christ, Burgess said.
“Our problem in America is not that we don’t have good pastors …, and it’s not that a bunch of guys with bad hair have deceived a bunch of people,” he said. “It’s that we need more Bible-believing, John 14:6-followers of Jesus Christ.”
Burgess said if he asked the crowd who wants to be where God wants them to be, then the “overwhelming majority of you would raise your hand and raise it proudly.”
“But if I asked, ‘Are you OK with God doing anything He has to to get you there?,’ many hands would go down…. Can we make a commitment tonight that we’re going to be followers of Christ, not just believers in Christ?”
That call to commitment brought a number of attendees to the altar, answering his plea for their salvation and challenge to get their life right with God. “You need to get right so you can spend your time on things that glorify the Kingdom,” Burgess said.
Messengers also heard reports on the convention’s international mission partnerships with Baptists in Ukraine and Guatemala. During 2008, five project teams and 46 volunteers participated in trips to Ukraine.
The Guatemala partnership is a two-fold effort, including work with:
— Operation Gospel Outreach (GO), coordinated by International Mission Board personnel in Guatemala. Operation GO ministries for 2008 have involved 14 projects and teams with 147 volunteers.
— Guatemala Baptist Convention. In 2008, mission trips have involved 10 teams, 21 projects and 170 volunteers.
The Alabama convention heard reports on its ongoing mission partnership with the Baptist State Convention of Michigan with remarks from Michael Collins, BSCM director, who affirmed the efforts and thanked Alabama Baptists for their involvement.
Messengers viewed a videotaped testimony from Ed Thomas, pastor of Russell Farm Baptist Church in the Tallapoosa Baptist Association, who participated in a series of simultaneous revivals around Michigan in September.
Thomas recounted that the church he partnered with, Lake St. Helen Baptist Church in St. Helen, Mich., was on the verge of closing its doors in August, could not pay their pastor and had to pay their electric bill in two installments.
Since the revival services, the church has averaged 68 in worship and 28 in Sunday School, Thomas said. “This experience has rekindled my passion for evangelism,” he added.
In all, 36 Alabama pastors and worship leaders partnered with 29 churches in 10 Michigan associations to hold revival services, leading to 14 professions of faith and 81 rededications.
Though statistics for 2008 are not yet complete for other Michigan trips, teams from numerous Alabama associations have participated in projects in the Midwestern state.
Messengers unanimously adopted resolutions on several topics, including: affirmation of the Cooperative Program, support for a federal marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution, commendation of California citizens for their passage of Proposition 8 defining marriage as between a man and a woman, affirmation of open Sunday School enrollment, opposition to electronic bingo gambling, affirmation of the Gideons International and opposition to the so-called Freedom of Choice Act supported by Planned Parenthood and other advocates of abortion on demand.
Resolutions of appreciation were likewise adopted for the host church and association as well as for Lance who recently celebrated 10 years as leader of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 17-18 at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville.
Keith Hinson writes for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. With reporting by Grace Thornton of The Alabama Baptist and Doug Rogers of the State Board of Missions.