WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptist leaders representing several entities expressed hope that churches will accomplish their missions and ministries cooperatively in their comments to editors at the Association of State Baptist Papers annual meeting.
SBC President Bryant Wright of Marietta, Ga., as well as leaders from the Executive Committee, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and Woman’s Missionary Union addressed the editors during their Feb. 14-17 sessions in Williamsburg, Va.
Challenging Southern Baptists to replace idolizing materialism with reprioritizing the Great Commission, Wright said giving by Southern Baptists can turn around with a focus on biblical stewardship. “If individuals would be faithful to God, giving would be far beyond anything we could imagine.” But, he lamented, “people are in bondage” to materialism.
While seminary students in his day were anxious to pastor churches in county seat towns, Wright said, “With these young guys it’s not even on their radar. They want to plant a church. We can moan and groan about people not being denominationally loyal, but it’s the world we live in, so let’s think about how we can do ministry in the most Christlike, spiritually impactful way.”
Describing a post-denominational era as an exciting challenge, Wright said, “If we have something to offer them such as the finest church planting ministry in America, don’t you know these young guys would be excited about that?”
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, FRANK PAGE
SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page identified “the massive individualism we see in the 20th century” as one of the most significant factors to address. “Everyone seems to think they really know better than everyone else how to do what we do. It’s impacting our work denominationally.”
Pleased that the Executive Committee is “back in a fiscally responsible position” following a 19 percent reduction in personnel costs, Page said CP promotion now is housed in his office.
“I am also taking the primary role of being the greatest Cooperative Program promoter you’ll ever find.” All of the vice presidents have accepted greater responsibility in working with individual states, associations and local churches as partners in promotion, he noted.
“I do believe the Cooperative Program is going to continue to be the glue that’s going to help hold us together to fund missions and ministries,” Page said.
Success is dependent on two factors, Page said — Christlike selflessness and a high level of trust. “When there is selfishness and a self-promoting agenda, CP will fail, but where there is Christlike selflessness, what you’re doing matters and the Cooperative Program will flourish.”
Page repeated his pledge not to micromanage the work of Baptist Press after combining the news and convention relations operations into one division. BP Editor Art Toalston said, “The cornerstone of … our effort has to be to do news well.” While feature articles have a place, he said BP would have no credibility if it is filled with features or fluff.
Asked whether BP would include reports from entities without adding the Executive Committee’s spin, Toalston said that editors should judge BP’s work on a case-by-case basis. “Our publisher is the Executive Committee and our command is to do news in a cooperative venture with all of the entities and state [Baptist] papers.”
Toalston said he hopes any person or entity who is in a disagreement with the EC would feel their material was treated fairly. Even in articles such as those relating to pro-life issues, BP includes a statement by a pro-choice spokesman, he said, so that readers will know there is another point of view. “My hope is that anybody that’s been written about in BP will see that it was fair.”
LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES, THOM RAINER
LifeWay recorded $473 million in revenue during the 2010 fiscal year ending last Sept. 30, with LifeWay President Thom Rainer reporting that the overall financial contributions of the entity’s divisions were not as high as previous years due to economic constraints, but that he was pleased with the performance in the midst of tough economic times. He said the Holman Christian Standard Bible is continuing its steady growth into market, with a 4 to 5 percent market share, a strong number for a relatively new translation.
LifeWay likely will continue to operate with a 4,700-4,800-member workforce in the next few years, counting permanent part-time employees at LifeWay Christian Stores, Rainer said.
Rainer acknowledged that LifeWay’s work faces the challenge of declining denominational loyalty, stating, “We can count on a smaller percentage of [Southern Baptist] churches purchasing [LifeWay products] just because we are LifeWay.”
One positive result of the decline in brand loyalty, Rainer noted, is that it can “help make us better” by forcing new efforts to strengthen its product line, such as a yet-to-be-released curriculum to provide added depth in Bible study.
Rainer said LifeWay’s Transformational Church initiative, based on a large-scale research study of several thousand churches, is a “grassroots” approach to revitalizing churches by addressing needs as identified by the churches themselves, rather than an approach that the entity generates.
While describing most churches that utilize LifeWay resources as holding beliefs akin to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and seeing themselves as Bible-believing and within the evangelical tradition, Rainer said LifeWay nevertheless must address wide differences among churches in such matters as how they engage in Bible study (from Sunday School to small groups), worship styles and congregational governance.
Acknowledging a decision to drop informational bookmarks anecdotally referred to as “read with discernment” tags for various books in LifeWay Christian Stores, Rainer said there had been “hardly any interest” in the practice among customers. He also noted LifeWay’s ties with the upcoming movie “Courageous” from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.; an inaugural simulcast of David Platt’s “Secret Church” slated for April 22; and plans for a more simplified Annual Church Profile asking churches to report on 13 items relative to attendance, baptism and finances, with seven optional items.
INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD, CLYDE MEADOR
With 5,000 missionary personnel and a quarter of the world’s population lacking access to the Gospel, the International Mission Board’s interim president, Clyde Meador, told editors, “We cannot depend simply on missionaries.” Partnerships with churches, associations and state conventions are essential to seeing the Gospel carried around the world, he said.
In spite of budgeting challenges, the IMB is not backing off its commitment to deploy personnel, he insisted, anticipating 300 new long-term missionaries will be appointed this year.
Meador clarified changes in how statistics are reported, noting that the work relating to work with which IMB personnel have direct involvement is tabulated apart from statistics relating to Baptist conventions and unions overseas. New IMB categories have been added to document the number of gospel presentations, challenges to make commitments and professions of faith.
“This doesn’t mean we’re devaluating baptisms, but we understand better the kind of interactions our people are having,” Meador explained.
Even with the new approach, Meador said the number of baptisms stemming from IMB-related work remained strong at 360,000 and the number of new churches started was even greater than the previous year.
NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD, KEVIN EZELL
Convinced that the North American Mission Board can accomplish “more with less,” Ezell said, “You cannot judge the success of an entity by the size of its headquarters.” He said NAMB now intends to utilize pastors and laymen who want to be part of an evangelistic church planting effort instead of hiring “everyone to come to Alpharetta to be a specialist in every area.”
Putting it more bluntly, he stated, “We’re not looking to build little ‘NAMBies’ all over North America. We’ll start small, not glamorous, and move from there.”
State conventions are being asked to make do with less NAMB funding, but they will have a say in deciding where the reallocated money is invested, Ezell said. In addition to working with the state conventions that relate geographically to a particular region, he said NAMB will involve the state conventions that choose to invest in that region as well, forming an advisory board that develops an appropriate church panting strategy.
While church planters can expect a faster track to start new work, Ezell also promised greater accountability, making sure all of the partners are “using the same dictionary” when defining what constitutes a church, a church plant and a missionary.
“We’re not just doing things to do things,” Ezell told the editors. “We want believers to connect with churches — existing churches or a new church plant. Everything has to be driven to the church.”
Preferring to refer to that priority as evangelistic church planting, Ezell said the combination of terms better communicates NAMB’s primary purpose.
WMU, JULIE WALTERS
Editors also received an update from Julie Walters on an extensive website redesign for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union) and the July 13-16 missions focus in Orlando for teenage girls and collegiate women known as Blume. Preferring the use of WMU to identify the ministry, Walters explained that the 122-year old auxiliary organization engages all ages -– and both men and women — in missions.
Asked whether she expects NAMB to pass to WMU the assignment of missions education for boys, Walters only said Ezell had visited with the staff soon after taking office at NAMB. “If that were to be offered I think the [WMU] board would be interested in talking about it,” she said.
A key feature of the meeting were sessions led by Donald S. Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; novelist and pastor Randy Singer of Virginia Beach, Va.; and International Mission Board photographer Bill Bangham. Whitney instructed editors in the spiritual discipline of prayer, utilizing the words of Scripture as a guide, while Singer offered motivation for writing works of fiction and Bangham discussed the impact of visual elements in news reporting.
ASBP President Martin King, editor of the Illinois Baptist, passed the gavel to James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, who pledged to see the organization “reflect the highest standards of Christian journalism.” Georgia Christian Index editor Gerald Harris was chosen president-elect.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Baptist Press editor Art Toalston assisted in reporting on the presentation by Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources.