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Fla. task force fields questions

LEESBURG, Fla. (BP)–Following a report from the Imagine If Great Commission Resurgence Task Force to Florida Baptists’ State Board of Missions, SBOM members questioned aspects of the report and expressed their appreciation for the task force’s work with applause, but stopped short of voting to support the report itself.

The presentation by six members of the task force, led by chairman Danny de Armas, administrative pastor at First Baptist Church in Orlando, prompted questions from nearly a dozen of the 82 SBOM members meeting Sept. 24 at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Leesburg.

The first priority, “funding global missions,” drew the brunt of the discussion. The task force is recommending a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program funds between the Florida Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention within four years.

Other priorities are “planting evangelistic, reproducing churches in Florida,” “developing evangelistic pastoral leaders” and “providing missional, compassionate ministries.”

Tim Maynard, SBOM president, said at the outset of the meeting that the board would only hear the report in order to allow members to ask questions about it, with questions about implementation to come after the Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting, Nov. 8-9 in Brandon.

Questions ranged from how the report was released to the board, to whether the SBOM should vote to affirm the report, and how the Florida convention would be expected to continue its work if its funds were cut.

Clifford Morgan, pastor of First Baptist Church in Baker, asked if fellow members of the board should take a vote to affirm the report so that when de Armas presents the report at the annual meeting he is backed by the SBOM, since the task force represents the churches in Florida.

“What harm would it do to vote to support this?” Morgan asked.

John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida convention, said Maynard, pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville, would offer a suggestion at the end of discussion — and he did — urging those who wished to applaud the task force for their effort.

Jackson Roland, a layman from First Baptist Church in Ocala, said he had only 48 hours to examine the report, just enough time to be “dangerous.”

Citing the report’s mention of the priority of continuing work in Haiti and in Cuba, Roland asked for clarification about how funding might affect that work. “Your priorities recommend we continue those things. These are things we are doing a good job at. We are to continue those, and you are recommending that with less funding unless we increase our Cooperative Program,” Roland said. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” de Armas said. “We know this is going to create stress to the organization, but we think the stated priorities are worth the stress.

“We don’t understand the exact ramifications of it,” de Armas said of the impact of the report to the work of the Florida convention. “I’m even not sure employed staff have had time to really study how is this going to impact us.”

Roland said he didn’t think it would be appropriate, then, given the circumstances, to make a recommendation to the convention on behalf of the SBOM.

“I appreciate the comment you just made when you said you aren’t even sure what the ramifications are yourselves…,” Roland said. “And for that reason, and for the fact that we’ve only had this report for just a little over 48 hours, I would be a little hard pressed to vote, period, either affirmatively or against.”

Lazaro Alfonso, a layman from Nuevo Amanecer in Hialeah Gardens, said he is a “product of the work of the convention.”

“When something is working right, why try to change it?” Alfonso asked. “I feel like there’s a demeaning of the work that is being done. I have that in my heart and I really had to express it.”

Citing statistics about the lost, de Armas said, “Even in the midst of good, there is a way to say, we can be better.”

Silair Almeida, pastor of First Brazilian Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, credited the Florida convention with planting his 1,600-member church 10 years ago. It is now the largest Brazilian Baptist congregation in America.

“I would not have been able to do what we did without the Florida Baptist Convention,” Almeida said. Of Florida Baptist work in Brazil, he said, “[T]he Florida Baptist Convention is doing jobs in Brazil that no other organization is doing” and going to places that cannot be reached by car — only by boat.

“If you take the money here from the Florida Baptist Convention, how are we gonna plant more language churches?” Almeida asked, referencing 157 nations represented in Florida and the need for language missions and churches supported by the convention.

“I really like the project; I really like the change; I really like the idea of new blood; but to send money outside and short us of the money, I don’t think would be a good idea,” Almeida said.

Although Almeida was appointed to serve on the task force, he said he was unable to participate in its meetings.

Voicing support for recommendation one (Spiritual and Leadership Renewal), Mel Himes, a layman from DeLeon Springs Baptist Church in Deltona, said he has concerns that by asking for churches to give sacrificially in order to provide for a new division and restructuring of the convention, the state’s associations might suffer financial setbacks in a trickle-down effect.

“What’s gonna happen to our association giving?” Himes said. “We’ve got a brand-new DOM [director of missions], came out here from Nevada. We don’t want him to go back to Nevada. We don’t want to support him there. We want to keep him here. And if we’re doing such a great job, yes, things can always be better, and yes, brother Rodney, I think if we just all agreed to do number one, everything else would just follow 2-3-4 and 5.”

Himes was referring to Rodney Baker, pastor of Hopeful Baptist Church in Lake City, who presented recommendation one on Spiritual and Leadership Renewal.

Himes said he would rather not vote on the report at the SBOM meeting but instead let others in his association pray and fast for 40 days and go to the FBSC and vote.

In response, Willy Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, said the 50 percent split is the “heart” of the report and addresses the need expressed by the GCR report adopted by the SBC. He said it is imperative given that several billion people have “absolutely no access to the Gospel.”

Earlier in the meeting, Rice presented recommendation six on Reorganization and Restructuring the state convention.

Sullivan lent his support to Rice’s statement and said the question of getting to a 50/50 split in funding is going to be the “tough task” of the SBOM.

“There has never been any question in anybody’s mind on the task force or in my mind for these 22 years, there’s never been any question that 50/50 is not a good position for CP funds,” Sullivan said. “Never been that question. The question is, ‘How do we get there?’

“But the getting to the 50/50 has never been an issue with me. We were at 50/50 at one time. We had to back off. Let’s try it again. I have no problem with that whatsoever and would like for you to know that,” Sullivan said. “My problem is … how to lead us to get there.”

Pledging to “not allow the state convention’s effectiveness be diminished into oblivion,” Sullivan said he along with the members of the task force and SBOM realize that without CP gifts increasing from the churches, the time schedule will be “elongated, not narrowed.”

“So for those of you who might be wondering about my position about the 50/50 — no question that it is a good division of work. The question is, ‘How do we get there?'” Sullivan re-emphasized. “We are up to it and we can do it. There’s no question in my mind.”

Colvin Pinkerton, a layman from Sheridan Hills Baptist Church in Hollywood, said he believes the report should have more emphasis on discipleship. “Two to three months after we baptize them, we can’t find them,” he said of some new converts.

Acknowledging there are some who would like more specifics addressed in the report, de Armas said stewardship also was something mentioned in the SBOM Administrative-Personnel Committee meeting the previous day.

Bill Flannigan, pastor of Plainview Baptist Church in Pensacola, said he would like the task force to reconsider use of the phrase, “how we can do it better,” indicating it might be more beneficial to use a term that indicates the report will prioritize on items that are “mission critical.”

Michael Madaris, pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Green Cove Springs, said he believes the task force report needed to strongly emphasize disciple-making as a command of the Great Commission. “You can do evangelism and not fulfill the Great Commission,” he said.

Madaris also later asked for clarification to the full board of a question he asked in the previous day’s meeting of the Administrative-Personnel Committee about the type of church planting networks the report intends as part of recommendation three.

The Florida Baptist Convention will be able to provide options for church planting networks, de Armas said, that are not “carte blanche,” but fit in with the convention’s “mission, vision and theology.”

In the previous day’s meeting, Madaris asked the same question, and de Armas named Acts 29 as one of the networks discussed by the team that worked on that part of the report.

Sullivan told the committee: “There are some church planting networks that we will not get in bed with.” The convention will continue to have theological and sociological standards concerning groups it will work with, Sullivan said.

In the SBOM plenary meeting, Randy Kuhn, pastor of Howard Carlisle Church in Panama City, said he is not sure how some of the ministry support will be counted in a 50/50 split, citing the support that Florida Baptists give to Haiti and Cuba. He said he also is unsure of how things stand considering GCR changes for states receiving funding for North American Mission Board initiatives.

Sullivan said Cuba and Haiti ministries are supported mostly by the Maguire State Mission Offering, although some administrative costs come from CP. In the “implementation stage” following FBSC action on the task force report, Sullivan said FBC staff may attempt to precisely calculate the portion of CP funds currently being spent in Cuba and Haiti.

As for NAMB, “They don’t know yet what’s going to happen; the International Mission Board is waiting for a new president, and I can tell you they don’t know what’s all going to happen; and I can tell you that the Executive Committee with Dr. Frank Page, he does not know all the implications. So these are tenuous times. But I can tell you this, the Florida Baptist Convention State Board of Missions will implement and will make good decisions as we go to the state convention.”

At the Administrative-Personnel Committee meeting, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, asked Sullivan if he had given any thought to a long-range plan for implementing the report.

Sullivan responded positively and said implementation would require “critical decisions.”

“If the CP from the churches does not increase, we would be in real trouble by the third year of the plan,” Sullivan said. “There is no question that we have run the statistics.”

Sullivan acknowledged also that the convention already has adjusted to a loss of $8 million in CP funds attributed to the economy in recent years and is facing “one of the unknown pieces of this puzzle” in knowing what the North American Mission Board will do in the continued funding, primarily salaries and benefits for part of the state convention staff in evangelism, church planting and language missions.

“Some hard choices would have to be made, there’s no doubt about that,” Traylor said.

Sullivan responded that he believes convention staff is the “best product” of the convention.

“Now we can create materials and we can create programs, but the best asset of Florida Baptists is the staff,” Sullivan said. “And so we must be careful that we do not diminish our effectiveness proportionately to where we cannot do effective work in the state of Florida where we have 77 percent of our people who are lost. That would be my concern.”

Marvin Pittman, a layman from First Baptist Church in Bartow and trustee of the International Mission Board, asked in the committee meeting if the task force had considered the implications of what would happen if the goals of increased giving were not reached.

“There’s a lot of hope and supposition in this,” Pittman said. “That folks are going to fall in line, that people are [going to] come together, that the churches are going to start giving the quarter percent until they give sacrificially.”

It is a difficult choice, de Armas said, but churches like his want 50 percent sent on to global causes — a call that “grabs our heart stronger than the local call where we live in terms of funding global missions.”

De Armas noted his church’s leadership has committed to increasing its CP giving as called for in the task force report, even though First Baptist Orlando historically has given the most in Florida in total CP funding and the church has had significant staff cutbacks in recent years. He said his church gives $1 million a year, not based on a percentage, however, but would look to increase that amount, based on a percentage of what it currently gives.

“Let’s do it,” de Armas said. “Let’s us be the group that sat around the table and said, ‘Let’s make it 50/50.'”

Maynard concluded the plenary session’s task force discussion by requesting SBOM members to offer an “affirmation” and “blessing” in order to “encourage” the task force, while noting it was not the place of the SBOM to vote at this time. With Maynard’s encouragement, SBOM members applauded the task force.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.goFBW.com. Also see tandem story today from the Florida Baptist Witness, http://www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=33773, “Fla. task force relays 6 recommendations.” For an initial recap of the recommendations of the Florida Imagine If Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, see Sept. 4 Baptist Press story, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=33751, “50/50 CP urged in Fla. GCR report.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan