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Changing pulpits, Brunson pledges ongoing support for CP

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Pledging ongoing support for Southern Baptists’ main funding channel for missions, Mac Brunson, newly called as pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he is “a product” of the Cooperative Program, to which he will continue giving strong support.

First Baptist Church in Dallas, where Brunson has served since 1999, gave 16.4 percent of their undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program in 2004 as well as giving more than $1 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Brunson told the Florida Baptist Witness his father was a Baptist deacon and his home church in South Carolina gave 20 percent through the Cooperative Program, though his father said he believed it would be good for a church to give 50 percent and operate on 50 percent.

“I’ve always tried to get my churches to do at least 10 percent, that we ought to tithe the tithe,” said Brunson, whose first Sunday in the Jacksonville pulpit will be April 8. “I’m a team player. I believe in the Cooperative Program.”

Brunson said his maternal grandfather was one of the first children to be cared for at Connie Maxwell Baptist Children’s Home in Greenwood, S.C., a ministry funded, in part, by South Carolina Baptists’ CP gifts. Additionally, Brunson said his father and two sisters came to faith in Christ through efforts of Baptist church planters.

“I owe a lot of what I am to Southern Baptists and I try in every way I can to support Southern Baptist work,” Brunson said. “I want to put our money where our mouth is. I think we will try to begin to incrementally increase [CP] and increase what we are [giving] to Lottie Moon and missions.”

Brunson said missions support involves “not just giving, but going. We’ll be very involved in both — in giving and going.”

On public policy issues, Brunson said he is aware that First Baptist Jacksonville collected a large number of petitions in support of a marriage amendment to Florida’s constitution, which leaders believe will garner enough signatures to be placed on the 2008 ballot.

“I will be vocal and will give leadership for conservatives in that area, for Baptists in that area,” Brunson told the Witness. In a news conference after the interview, Brunson told a reporter he intends to stay involved in public policy issues involving morality.

“… [A] lot of things that we adhere to cross over into the political realm,” Brunson said. “I have a right to speak out. Some people will call that separation of church and state. In the area of moral issues, I think that the church has a command to speak out. And we will.”

Brunson is not new to such issues in Southern Baptist life either. Reacting to a news report from some years back which characterized him as somewhat middle of the road on the issue of women’s ordination — something with which Southern Baptists have wrestled — Brunson said he does have a definite idea on where he stands as a church pastor.

“Well, back then, I was the second conservative ever elected in North Carolina [as president of the state convention]. And that paper was and is in the hands of the moderates and that was an issue they wanted to use in an attempt to get me to feed it,” Brunson said. “And you know, I made the statement, ‘That’s up to a local Baptist church.’ Well, it is. That’s up to a local Baptist church.

“Now, the church I’m pastor of, we’re not going to do that. I don’t believe Scripture teaches that,” Brunson continued. “If you read Acts, chapter 6, it says you choose six men [and] it’s very specific…. So I think Scripture’s very clear about that.”

Theologically, Brunson said, it is that his people are “tied to the Word of God.”

And, he said, “[W]e are to be evangelistic, we’re to constantly be lifting Jesus Christ to a lost world and we are very committed to missions.” Brunson said his personal commitment to missions includes involving his family in mission trips. His daughter Courtney was a missionary to an unnamed country for a two-year period prior to getting married last year. Brunson’s wife, Debbie, is a trustee for the SBC’s International Mission Board.

Calling the annual Pastors’ Conference at First Baptist Jacksonville “incredibly influential,” Brunson said he plans to continue what has become a two-decades long ministry to pastors throughout the United States.

“It has filled a need in a lot of churches in the lives of not only pastors, but in the lives of a lot of laypeople as well,” Brunson said of the conference in which he has been a featured speaker.

Brunson responded to an assortment of questions by Jacksonville news media Feb. 19 after First Baptist voted to call him as pastor.

On “filling Dr. [Jerry] Vines’ shoes,” Brunson said, “I can’t do that…. I can be me, that’s all I can do. I can be me.” Admitting it will be a “big learning curve” to understand the workings of the church’s large staff and “huge congregation,” Brunson said it will take him some time to get his hands “around some of this.”

At First Baptist Dallas, the church sanctuary seats 2,000 for three morning worship services; First Baptist Jacksonville’s seats 10,000.

If he had any hesitation in leaving First Baptist Dallas, Brunson told the Witness it would be because of “all of the things” happening there — like 600 visitors on one Sunday in January.

“Things … are growing there, things are going in a great direction, and to see the work there — that’s hard to leave,” Brunson continued. “It’s like watching your children. I got a daughter that’s just got married right at a year ago. I’ve got a son who was engaged last week. And seeing these children get out of the house — it’s kind of like when you lose something.”

Brunson said it’s the same with First Baptist Dallas. “That’s the difficulty, turning loose of it after you’ve cared for it, and prayed for it, bled for it, all of those kinds of things. It’s difficult to let it go.”
Reprinted from the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

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