MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission voted to extend the ministry of President James D. Williams as a consultant of the North American Mission Board through 1999, in action during their Feb. 28-March 1 meeting at Brotherhood’s Memphis, Tenn., headquarters.
Trustees also honored the agency’s staff and focused on issues related to transition during the final meeting of the full trustee board of the 90-year-old agency.
The commission will be dissolved in June when its ministries will be joined with those of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board and the Radio and Television Commission to form the North American Mission Board.
Following an executive session of the trustees, Williams read a statement by the commission’s executive committee that trustee chairman Donley Brown of Missouri said was unanimously approved “with tears of joy.”
The statement contained the terms of a “contract of agreement” between Williams and the Brotherhood Commission “and/or its successor agency, the NAMB.”
Following the announcement, Williams acknowledged the agreement will be contingent on the approval of NAMB trustees. “As the agreement points out, I would be serving at the wishes of the NAMB,” he said.
The agreement empowers Williams to continue employment as both a consultant with NAMB and to assume the duties of executive director of the Baptist Medical-Dental Fellowship “until his planned normal retirement date, Nov. 1, 1999,” following the merger of the commission into NAMB June 19. The salaried position also will include benefits through his retirement date.
Williams will succeed current medical-dental fellowship executive Henry Love, who has served 18 years as the leader of the 1,700-member, Memphis-based group that provides volunteer services for Southern Baptist missions-sending agencies.
The board also noted in the agreement “Williams anticipates opportunity to use his broad knowledge and experience in Southern Baptist life in supporting NAMB’s mission, giving special attention to the assignment given to NAMB in missions education and involvement.”
Williams’ announcement capped a trustee meeting which Brown noted at the beginning of business “will certainly focus on history, but I want our focus to be on our future with the NAMB.”
Brown, during a later interview, emphasized “while the commission’s history is important, our focus needs to be on the future and the opportunities that we have through NAMB to continue some ministries that have been a part of the Brotherhood history.”
“I do feel that there are some areas that need to be a part of NAMB,” he said. “They may not be called by the same names, but the ministries need to be carried on through missions education, disaster relief, volunteerism and men’s ministry.”
Following Brown’s emphasis on transition, trustees and Brotherhood staff focused on their future roles in the new missions entity.
Williams, in his presidential address, shared three “hopes” for NAMB. “I have a hope for the North American Mission Board because of the legacy which the Brotherhood Commission leaves behind,” he told trustees. “It is a history replete with men and boys involved in missions. My prayer is that the North American Mission Board will be used to extend these important emphases of the Brotherhood Commission, to support and be supported by the Cooperative Program … and to serve Southern Baptists in such new and powerfully creative ways that every last person on earth has a chance to hear and respond to the gospel.”
He said he also has hope for NAMB “because of the promise of God’s future. You trustees who will be trustees of the NAMB, I charge you, I challenge you to keep NAMB focused on the very reason that NAMB was created, to serve the churches in winning North America and the world to faith in Jesus Christ.”
Third, he said, “I have a hope for the future of NAMB because there is tangible evidence of a new interest in missions education among our Southern Baptist people.” Reflecting on growing Brotherhood ministry areas, he added, “we move into the NAMB not from a position of weakness but from a position of strength, not as a dying organization, but one that is alive and dynamic.”
During his financial report, Jack Childs, vice president for business services, showed trustees financial losses for two reporting periods, adding “it looks like the Brotherhood Commission will take an indebtedness of $200,000 to $250,000 into NAMB.”
Childs explained in a later interview that the commission owes money to both a printing company and local bank.
“With our normal cash flow, we had projected … that we would just about take care of all of that indebtedness before we went through the fiscal year,” he said, “but due to the fact that we’ve had some early severance, we’re having to take that money out of our cash flow and we have some expenses related to transition.”
Childs said another financial obstacle faced by the commission is a “retention bonus” trustees approved in 1995 “to pay the staff that would stay through the end an amount of 25 percent of their annual salary. We’re not budgeted for that and, frankly, we don’t have the money to take care of that. It has got to come from the sale of this building.”
The commission’s entire indebtedness, he noted, can be offset by the sale of the commission’s 40,000-square-foot physical plant, with an asking price of $1.4 million. “If we sell this building, we should be able to pay our debts and the retention bonus.”
Trustees empowered their executive committee to take any needed steps in behalf of the agency prior to its closure, with reports to be forwarded to the full trustee body.
The move into NAMB also was the focus of a Logistics Transition Team panel, who discussed their roles in the transition to the new agency and answered questions from trustees. Much of the their report and many of the questions from the board focused on personnel issues.
“Will Brotherhood Commission personnel have an opportunity to serve in the NAMB and when might they know?” asked Williams, a panel member. “It’s a question you have asked me 100 times and a question that the staff has asked me at least a thousand times.”
“Most certainly,” answered panel member Mike Day, Brotherhood executive vice president. “But there will be some employees of the Brotherhood Commission who will not have that opportunity. When will they know? ‘Soon’ is the answer of choice these days.
“I know this sounds empty to you as trustees, but you don’t have any idea how empty it sounds to those who ask every day,” Day said. “We’re hoping within the next two to three weeks we will know something.”
He added employees will not officially be offered a job with NAMB until the board has taken its hiring action on June 19. The current Brotherhood staff numbers 53 employees.
“I have a concern about the staff — the uncertainty of a job and where will it be,” Brown added. “Many of them have families and own homes here. So, if they are offered jobs at NAMB, it’s going to be upsetting their family routine.
Trustees also honored Brotherhood staff with a banquet at First Baptist Church in Memphis and approved a resolution stating their “heartfelt appreciation for the staff and volunteers, past and present and … commit to continuing prayerful support of the Brotherhood Commission staff and those individuals who continue the legacy of the ideals of the Brotherhood Commission with men and boys in missions.”
The meeting did offer opportunities for reflection as 14 trustees who will not be recommended to the NAMB board were honored for their service. While a measure of grief was evident among most of the retiring trustees, many saw hope in the future.
Trustee Dave Partin, a Florida layman, said he thought the transition “at first, was a bad, bad situation. But I think now that the Southern Baptist Convention is going to open up into things that we don’t yet know about or understand, and I sincerely hope that’s the way it works out. It will depend on our attitude and the way we go about handling it will determine if that’s the way it works out.”
David Raddin, a trustee from Mississippi and pastor, said, “Even in the midst of difficult days, even in the midst of the times of transition and days of closure, how my heart has been blessed to see the spirit of Christ lived out by this group and this staff. The most powerful witness we have comes in times like these.”
Both trustees and staff consistently urged when the Brotherhood officially closes its physical plant and operations June 19 that ministry for men be kept prominent in Southern Baptist life.
“We don’t want to lose momentum in a movement that has been significant for men,” Day emphasized. “The assignment for men’s ministry has been given to the Sunday School Board and the assignment of involving church members in missions through missions education and volunteerism has been given to NAMB.
“Those two should work very well in presenting a comprehensive approach to spiritual development, missions education and missions involvement,” he said. “I hope they can achieve balance and not try to choose one dimension over the other. Spiritual development is a necessary, right and proper thing for every Christian, but if spiritual development becomes solely an introspective exercise that doesn’t lead to real involvement in the world, then it can be an empty exercise.”