LAKELAND, Fla. (BP) — Florida Baptists said farewell to John Sullivan, the ninth executive director–treasurer of the state convention for the past 26 years, during the 153rd annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention, Nov. 10-11 at First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland.

Sullivan, in his final sermon to the convention as the state exec, preached on “‘An Attitude of Gratitude”‘ from Colossians 1:9-15. “‘Never has there been an executive director who has received more cooperation and love from their constituents and for that I am grateful,”‘ said Sullivan, who will retire in February. “‘We have accomplished much together in these 25-plus years.”‘

As he looked on his own life, growing up in the coal fields of West Virginia and led to the Lord in his early 20s by his newlywed wife Nancy, Sullivan said he had “‘an attitude of gratitude that God knows my name.”‘

He has sought to be faithful the finish, he said. “‘I have been praying all my life, ‘God don’t let me live my life in the deep water and die in the shallow.'”‘

Sullivan received several recognitions for his service to Florida Baptists, including a plaque from the SBC Executive Committee presented by William Townes, vice president for convention finance.

A resolution of appreciation from the State Board of Missions noted that in his tenure Sullivan had led Florida Baptists to plant more than 2,500 new churches, baptize 779,390 people to faith in Jesus Christ and contributed over $670 million through the Cooperative Program and an additional $21 million to the State Mission Offering.

A delegation of Cuban Baptists, including Juan Carlos Rojas, president of the Western Cuba Baptist Convention, and Joel Dupont, president of the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, presented plaques and gifts. Under Sullivan’s leadership, Florida Baptists have been in partnership with the WCBC for nearly two decades, at times providing more than 50 percent of convention’s budget. Sullivan has spoken in Rojas’ church, Calvary Baptist Church in Old Havana, on numerous occasions. The ECBC partnership was established two years ago.

More than 1,200 people — including 1,078 messengers — attended the two-day meeting. Its theme, “‘Shine,”‘ based on Acts 13:47-49 (ESV), was symbolized by a 10-foot-tall candle towering on the stage.

In an unscripted moment to close the meeting, Sullivan brought the crowd to their feet when he joined musicians Daniel Crews and the Jason Lovins Band on stage for a downhome rendition of “‘I Saw the Light”‘ accompanied on drums by the FBSC’s outgoing president, Tim Maynard, pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

James Peoples, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Keystone Heights, was elected as the convention’s president for 2014-15 over Jack Roland, a layperson from First Baptist Church of Ocala. Peoples received 399 votes, or 65.6 percent of the 606 ballots cast, to Roland’s 33.4 percent with 203 actual votes. Four ballots were disqualified.

In nominating Peoples, Tommy Green, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon, noted the 48-year-old pastor had served only one church in his ministry — Trinity, where he has been pastor for 20 years. “‘The church, which gives 10.4 percent through the Cooperative Program, has grown physically, numerically and spiritually through Kingdom leadership,”‘ Green said.

“‘James is a humble, passionate servant leader who had given Trinity a vision of local and global ministry,”‘ including partnering with North American Mission Board “‘Send City”‘ church plants in New Orleans, Denver and San Francisco.

Roland, a funeral director who served as FBSC first and second vice president the past three years, was nominated by Phillip Hanes, associate pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.

Elected without opposition were Calvin Carr, pastor of North Central Baptist Church in Gainesville, as first vice president; Ivan Figueroa, a layperson from Riverside Baptist Church in Miami, second vice president; and Randy Huckabee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dade City, recording secretary.

As Florida Baptists advance toward the goal of sending 50 percent of the state’s Cooperative Program receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention, messengers approved a $28.8 million budget for 2015 that increases the SBC percentage to 45 percent and decreases the Florida Baptist Convention’s percentage to 55 percent. With the planned increased percentage to SBC causes, the Florida Convention expects to reach the 50-50 percentage division of CP funds by 2017, a year earlier than originally planned.

The proposed budget will provide $12,960,000 to the SBC and $15,840,000 to Florida mission causes. Since 2008, the Florida Baptist operating budget has dropped from more than $23.6 million to the proposed $15.8 million, due in part to the percentage reallocation and declining gifts from churches.

All Florida Baptist entities — including the convention — will experience between an 8.8 percent and 9.6 percent decrease in funding in 2015.

Florida’s CP budget will be supplemented by another $3.5 million from the North American Mission Board; GuideStone Financial Resources; LifeWay Christian Resources; interest, rental and a CP Endowment income.

Included in the state’s CP budget is a 4 percent designation as “‘shared ministries”‘ with the SBC Executive Committee and several SBC entities for ministries performed on behalf of Southern Baptist entities.

Several messengers raised questions over the shared ministries — previously identified as “‘negotiated funding”‘ in prior budgets — and its effect on the 50-50 allocation of CP funds. William Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, asked if including these “‘shared receipts”‘ is the State Board of Missions “‘changing our mind”‘ or “‘changing the target”‘ of the 50-50 allocation of CP funds.

“‘We are committed to 50-50,”‘ said State Board of Missions’ Budget-Allocations’ Committee chairman Darin Kress, pastor of Scott Lake Baptist Church in Lakeland. He noted that, “‘with declining receipts from churches,”‘ the budget needs to retain funds for work done by the state convention on behalf of the SBC.

David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, said he recalled negotiated funding was authorized “‘one time to soften the impact”‘ of sending 50 percent to the SBC. Sullivan responded, “‘As soon as we can, that 4 percent will go away, the sooner, the better.”‘

After further discussion, messengers by voice vote overwhelmingly approved the budget as presented.

During the annual convention sermon, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida Baptists’ highest Cooperative Program giving congregation, preached on 2 Corinthians 8, saying the Cooperative Program “‘is too vital to lose.”‘

As Baptists there are “‘four signposts that hold us together,”‘ Traylor said — spiritual affinity, doctrinal affinity, ceremonial affinity and missional affinity.

A new generation is looking at the Cooperative Program wondering what it is, Traylor said. While some want to send all offerings to other nations, “‘if we don’t guard the local church,”‘ the stream of giving will discontinue, he warned. “‘It’s who we are.”‘

South Florida, Traylor said, is a mission field. In 20 years, he predicted, Miami will dwarf New York City as the world’s economic center. “‘We have got to load South Florida with a mission force if we are not going to lose South Florida.”‘

Messengers received 109 new church plants into the Convention representing cultural, ethnic and language groups: Anglo, 15; African American, 9; multi-ethnic, 26; Hispanic, 32; Haitian, 19; Arabic, 1; Ethiopian, 1; Filipino, 1;, Korean, 1; Hungarian, 1; Bhutan, 1; and Burma, 2. Forty percent — or 46 — of all the new churches were planted in three South Florida counties, Miami, Broward and Palm Beach.

The Florida Baptist State Convention will next meet Nov. 9-10, 2015, in Panama City.

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  • Barbara Denman/Florida Baptist Convention