LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (BP) — For the first time in a decade, two candidates ran for president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, with Statesboro pastor John Waters garnering 749 votes over Tifton pastor Fred Evers’ 656.
In other business, messengers affirmed the state convention’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report, welcomed 65 new churches and missions, and approved an amended Cooperative Program budget that cut spending again — for the fifth consecutive year — by 6 percent. The state convention will now be operating at a budget level not seen since 1999.
In an interview with The Index, the convention’s newsjournal, after the election, Waters talked about the lostness of Georgia and the pressing need to reach the state for Christ.
“With the growing lostness of our state, we need all of our pastors, churches and associations to work together as never before,” Waters, of First Baptist Church in Statesboro. “We need to be transparent in our relationship with one another and be committed to a passionate pursuit of the Great Commission wherever we find ourselves.”
Waters said pastors “need to love one another as brothers in Christ and we need to celebrate directors of missions as heroes and champions of cooperation. We also need to link our churches together in a common bond of unity for missions and evangelism.”
The south Georgia pastor talked about the need to be sure Georgia is not overlooked in the broader call to reach North America and the world.
“If we are to obey Scripture, we must first start with reaching Georgia with the Gospel,” Waters said. “Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8 points us to our Jerusalem first and then to the ends of the earth.”
Waters said he is grateful “for this great opportunity to serve Georgia Baptists and to be an encourager for every pastor, church, and association.”
The Louisiana native, who considers First Baptist Church in Warner Robbins his home church, just observed his sixth year as pastor at First Baptist Statesboro. On Nov. 6, the 3,000-member congregation moved into a new sanctuary at their current location. The project, which cost $11 million and doubled the size of the former 600-seat sanctuary, will host multiple worship services. Waters and his wife Cynthia have two adult daughters, Trisha and Bethany.
The first vote in the presidential election was recalled within minutes after ballots were collected because messengers were not properly punching out the chads. Clearer instruction resolved the problem and the election proceeded.
In commenting in a Tweet after the election, GBC parliamentarian Barry McCarty said, “We overcame the potentially defective paper ballots. Out of 1,408 votes cast for president, only 3 were rejected.”
Both Waters and Evers campaigned heavily on the platform of reaching the lost in Georgia and enlarging the Baptist tent when it came to greater representation on state convention committees — especially the key Executive and Administration committees. But Waters, in his Nov. 8 campaign website posting, drove his point home by noting that the forthcoming Nominating Committee report, specifically the nominations for the At-Large seats on the powerful Executive Committee, illustrated his concern.
He made the observation that one of the four nominees was being appointed to a fourth term and a second was currently serving on the Executive Committee as a vice president. Waters stated such appointments were in keeping with the unwritten policy of “‘recycling’ existing leadership and enlisting close political allies for key positions of leadership.”
He spoke admirably of each individual’s character and dedication to the state convention but questioned why others of like dedication, who had never served, were not given that opportunity.
Waters was the first candidate to announce when Valdosta pastor Wayne Robertson of Morningside Church endorsed him on Dec. 30, 2010 — barely six weeks after Dan Spencer was elected to his second term. No other candidate was announced until July 28 when Lawrenceville pastor Frank Cox of North Metro First Baptist Church announced his intentions to nominate Evers, pastor of Tifton’s Northside Baptist Church.
The campaigns created websites touting each candidate’s vision and listing individuals — primarily pastors — who were lining up behind each candidate.
Also elected as convention officers were John Darsey, first vice president, pastor of Centennial Baptist Church in Rutledge; GBC state missionary Ray Newman, second vice president, of Macedonia Community Church in Braselton; Chris Hall, third vice president, pastor of Whitewater Baptist Church in Oglethorpe; Terry Trivette, fourth vice president, pastor of White Oak Baptist Church in Trenton; and Danny Henson, recording secretary, pastor of New Liberty Baptist Church in Ringgold.
Messengers overwhelmingly affirmed the GBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report. Two years in the making, the report urges Georgia Baptists to embrace “a specific, effective, and strategic approach to engaging the whole of the Georgia Baptist Convention in reaching the soon-to-be 8.1 million lost people in the state.”
Five emphases set forth in the report are a greater emphasis on spiritual renewal, Kingdom generosity, church revitalization, church planting and authentic evangelism.
In his part of the report, task force chairman Frank Cox, host pastor for this year’s convention, urged fellow pastors to follow his lead by “giving up to $30,000 a year over the next three years to help a new church plant” become established. Cox said he would lead his church to make the nearly $100,000 commitment beginning in the 2013 budget year since the church’s 2012 budget had already been approved.
In addition to Cox, task force members were Larry Wynn, evangelism vice president of the North American Mission Board and former pastor of Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula; outgoing GBC President Dan Spencer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Thomasville; Brian Stowe, pastor of Maysville Baptist Church, Evers; Bucky Kennedy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vidalia; Tom Moore, a layman from First Vidalia; and Jeremy Morton, pastor of Cross Point Church in Perry.
Messengers approved a $42.3 million budget for 2012, a 6 percent decrease from the previous year. Budget committee members trimmed $2.7 million from the budget to bring it in line with projected income.
Messengers were told the budget had been revised downward by an additional $1.7 million from the original $1 million decrease approved by the GBC Executive Committee and as reported in The Index on Sept. 22. That 2012 budget was originally set at $44 million.
The now-approved $42.3 million budget is down more than 19 percent since the convention began cutting costs at the outset of the recession in 2008. That year’s budget, the last one before the slump, came in at $52.3 million.
The budget downsizing at the GBC Missions and Ministry Center, which includes staffing levels, continues the reductions first set in place when the effects of the recession began to be felt. Since then, 39 staff positions have been eliminated as the state convention works to bring expenses in line with income levels.
The reduction in the 2012 budget now returns the state convention to $300,000 below 1999 funding levels.
The largest section of the budget cut came from eliminating the CIEP program that had provided capital improvement, scholarships and endowment funds for Georgia Baptist institutions such as colleges and retirement ministries.
The program began in 1955 when the economy was much stronger and extra funds were budgeted from Cooperative Program receipts. But the program is no longer viable since funding has become more difficult in recent years.
Since the program began, $73 million has been allocated from CP funds and more than $53 million from matching funds, resulting in more than $126 million to strengthen those institutions.
Institutions will have access to the funds until they are depleted. In 2007, the year before the current recession, the funds totaled $1.2 million but are currently at $700,000, explained Mike Williams, GBC assistant executive director and vice president for operations.
“The CIEP had simply been suffering a slow decline due to the economy and the repeated budget reductions for the past several years,” Williams added.
The institutions’ standard line item allocations will not be eliminated by the loss of the program and their relationship to the state convention has not changed, Williams emphasized.
Williams said the amended budget was based on declining fourth-quarter income. Cooperative Program receipts from churches, through Nov. 10, were down 5.41 percent. That meant the state convention expected to end the year with about $42 million and is what drove the last-minute move to amend the budget downward.
The 2012 budget also added a new line item, capital debt service identified as Division 5, which at $1,692,300 represents 4 percent of the budget.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.