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Ethnic involvement gets added attention

NASHVILLE (BP) — The SBC Executive Committee has moved to update and expand its report on ethnic participation in Southern Baptist life, adopted at the 2011 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix.

The expanded report was initiated during the EC’s Sept. 22-23 meeting in response to a motion at the 2014 annual meeting in Baltimore asking the SBC president to form a task force to assess the convention’s progress on racial reconciliation.

The 2011 report, titled “A Review of Ethnic Church and Ethnic Church Leader Participation in SBC Life,” contained various recommendations for ethnic churches and leaders to be more actively involved in cooperative partnership at the national level. (See Baptist Press story from June 16, 2011.)

Also during the Executive Committee’s September meeting, the Baptist Convention of New England, now with more than 25,000 church members, received additional representation in Southern Baptist life.

Ethnic involvement

The updated and expanded report on ethnic SBC involvement, to be prepared by the Executive Committee’s communications workgroup, is to include:

— A detailed review of progress in ethnic church and leader participation in Southern Baptist life stemming from the recommendations adopted in 2011 and a general review of program since the racial reconciliation resolution adopted by the SBC in 1995.

— An analysis of various meetings between EC President Frank S. Page and the ethnic advisory councils he has appointed since 2011, encompassing 77 individuals from 23 ethnic and language groups, and including the final reports from the Hispanic and African American advisory councils.

— A review of the annual descriptive reports from the SBC’s entities of ethnic church and leader participation in their respective ministries submitted to the SBC Executive Committee during its February meetings from 2012-14.

The communications workgroup is to submit a preliminary report for the Executive Committee’s February 2015 meeting for inclusion in the 2015 SBC Book of Reports.

In addition, the Executive Committee encouraged:

— the current SBC president, Committee on Order of Business, Committee on Nominations and Committee on Committees “to give special attention to appoint, select, or nominate individuals to serve in leadership roles in Convention life in the coming year who reflect the intercultural diversity that comprises the SBC.”

— each SBC entity to provide “a robust, descriptive account” of ethnic involvement in their ministries for the 2015 SBC Ministry Report compiled by the Executive Committee.

New England representation

The Executive Committee approved the Baptist Convention of New England’s application to extend its representation to the boards of GuideStone Financial Resources, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and five of the SBC’s six seminaries.

In 1987, with 16,844 church members, the New England convention became eligible for representation on the SBC Executive Committee and the Committee on Committees and Committee on Nominations that are part of the process of nominating new board members to the various SBC entities.

In 1991, with 20,191 church members, the BCNE qualified for trustee representation on the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

In addition to GuideStone and ERLC, the BCNE now qualifies for representation on the trustee boards of Southeastern, Southwestern, New Orleans, Midwestern and Golden Gate Baptist theological seminaries. The charter of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, meanwhile, stipulates that a state or regional convention must have a minimum of 100,000 church members for representation.

The convention reports 120 church starts from 2007-13, with an 89 percent retention rate.

Southern Baptist work in New England began in 1958 when a group of Baptists who were Air Force families were transferred to Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H., from New Mexico, according to background material provided to EC members. In 1960, Screven Memorial Baptist Church in Portsmouth was constituted as the first Southern Baptist church in the six New England states.

In 1962, the New England Baptist Association, with eight churches and 10 missions, was formed as part of the then-Maryland Baptist Convention. In 1983, the Baptist Convention of New England was constituted with 114 churches and missions.

LifeWay camps’ $600,000 for missions

Also during the meeting, Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, presented checks totaling nearly $600,000 for the SBC’s two mission boards. The funds — $300,000 for the International Mission Board and $300,000 for the North American Mission Board — were mission offerings given this summer by participants in LifeWay’s Fuge, CentriKids and World Changers ministries. For the first time this summer, LifeWay camps surpassed 150,000 participants, Rainer noted.

David Platt, the new president of the IMB, was not present at the Executive Committee meeting but was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a meeting of IMB personnel scheduled prior to his election as the mission board’s president on Aug. 27.

Substituting for Platt, Gordon Fort, IMB senior vice president for prayer mobilization and training, told EC members that the meeting in Thailand offered “a great opportunity for [Platt] to get acquainted with our field leadership and strategy, and we are incredibly excited about his leadership in the days ahead.”

The Executive Committee adopted resolutions of appreciation for three state convention executive directors who are retiring: James C. (Jim) Wideman of the Baptist Convention of New England; James W. (Jim) Austin of the South Carolina Baptist Convention; and T.G. (John) Sullivan of the Florida Baptist Convention.

Wideman, who will retire later this year after 13 years as the BCNE’s executive director-treasurer, has led the six-state convention with “a passion for building missional churches,” according to the resolution, focusing on the “changing regional demographics by nurturing numerous ethnic congregations” and by nurturing “a growing number of native New Englanders who have chosen to establish themselves in their home region to serve as pastors, church planters and lay leaders.”

During Wideman’s tenure, the number of BCNE cooperating churches has increased from 230 to 340, baptizing more than 17,000 people, an average of 1,300 per year, the resolution states. In Cooperative Program giving, the BCNE has increased the percentage of church gifts forwarded to SBC Cooperative Program missions and ministry from 21 percent in 2001 to 25 percent in 2013.

Austin, who will retire Oct. 14 after more than seven years as executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina convention, has led with “a passion for promoting and experiencing Kingdom life and growth, promoting intentional church planting and evangelism, and partnering in missions,” the resolution of appreciation notes.

As an advocate for racial diversity, Austin led the state convention to expand campus ministry to South Carolina State University, an historically African American university; to welcome the first African American campus minister to the state convention staff; and “to see an increase in the number of ethnic churches participating with the convention,” according to the resolution.

In collegiate outreach during Austin’s tenure, South Carolina also has ranked among the top states in baptisms by campus ministries, the resolution states.

During the economic recession of 2007–08, the resolution states that Austin “continued to lead South Carolina Baptists to enthusiastically embrace the Great Commission and model sacrificial living and giving, forwarding more than $97 million to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program during his tenure.”

Sullivan, who will retire at the end of February 2015 after 26 years as executive director-treasurer of the Florida convention, is among the longest-tenured of state executives. In leading Florida Baptists, he has “emphasized the principles of evangelism without apology, planting New Testament churches, and developing healthy churches and church leaders,” the resolution of appreciation states.

He has led Florida Baptists in planting 2,500 new churches and church-type missions; baptizing 779,391 people, or nearly 30,000 per year; sending 385,000 volunteers on convention-sponsored mission and ministry projects; and establishing nine theological education centers in partnership with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Among 14 international and national mission partnerships during Sullivan’s tenure are 20-year commitments with the Western Cuba Baptist Convention; the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti, which grew from a nucleus of 60 churches to more than 2,300 churches and missions; and the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention.

As an advocate for the Cooperative Program, the resolution notes that Sullivan has led Florida Baptists in giving $670 million for outreach in Florida and across North America and the world.

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