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Church to vote on Sutton retirement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Members of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., will vote July 27 on an early retirement package for senior pastor Jerry Sutton.

The church has been embroiled in controversy over Sutton’s leadership since July 2007 when a church trustee was removed from membership. A group of about 50 current or former church members filed suit in September seeking access to detailed financial records and launched a website listing their grievances against Sutton.

In October, church members voted 1,101 to 286 to affirm Sutton as pastor and in January 2008 a judge dismissed the lawsuit but gave the plaintiffs access to records, including meeting minutes and financial documents. On May 4 of this year, a vote to dismiss 71 church members fell four votes shy of passage but that vote was reversed May 11 when the congregation voted to disallow ballots cast by the members who were the subject of that ouster motion.

A July 17 statement released by John N. Levesque, chairman of the congregation’s human resource team, said discussions between Sutton and the church’s lay leadership had resulted in “an outline of terms … that allow Dr. Sutton to take early retirement from his position with the church.”

The church’s human resources committee, budget and finance committee and trustees formulated a retirement package that will be presented to the congregation for a formal vote July 27, the statement said. The terms of the package were not disclosed in the statement.

“We are grateful for the leadership and spiritual guidance Dr. Sutton has provided to our congregation over his 22 years of dedicated service to Two Rivers,” deacon chairman Andy Dunning said in the statement. “Church leadership agreed with Dr. Sutton’s view that it is time for the next phase in the life of this church, and in his life as well.”

If the proposal is approved, Sutton’s retirement would take effect “near summer’s end,” the statement said. Following that, interim leadership would assume preaching duties and “at an appropriate time in the future” a search for a new senior pastor would begin.

Statistics provided by the congregation as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual church profile show that in 1997 Two Rivers’ total membership was 6,406, with average worship attendance of 1,963 and 167 baptisms. Total receipts were just over $5 million. In 2007, total membership was 6,900, average worship attendance 1,621 with baptisms of 106. Total receipts stood at nearly $4.4 million in 2007.

Sutton has served the 45-year-old congregation church since 1986.

The statement released by the church said that when Sutton became pastor, membership stood at 4,600 and more than 3,000 people have been baptized since then. It also credited Sutton with leading a $12 million building campaign in 1992 that included a 2,500-seat worship center and education space and added 20 acres to the church campus on McGavock Pike.

Sutton is a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2005-06) and has written three books: “The Baptist Reformation,” “The Way Back Home” and “A Matter of Conviction: A History of Southern Baptist Engagement with the Culture.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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