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Ky. Baptists launch mission emphasis, decline BWA committee

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–“Kentucky Baptists Connect,” an ambitious five-year ministry emphasis, was the primary focus of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Nov. 16-17 annual meeting at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville.

The business sessions, however, saw a contested election of officers and division on such major issues as a proposed constitutional amendment for college trustees and a Baptist World Alliance study committee.

Hershael York, a professor and associate dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, was elected president by a vote of 686-627 over Rusty Ellison, pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville.

Conservative candidates also were elected to the KBC’s two vice presidential posts. Adam Dooley, pastor of Red House Baptist Church in Richmond, was elected first vice president, and Todd Linn, pastor of First Baptist Church of Henderson, second vice president.

“Kentucky Baptists Connect,” a five-year focus on evangelism, discipleship and leader training, calls on Kentucky Baptist churches to baptize 125,000 people by 2010, an increase of more than 40 percent over current baptism levels.

KBC leaders commissioned a study by Barna Research Group to gain insights about reaching unchurched residents in the state.

Barna vice president David Kinnaman reported that most Kentuckians who don’t attend church aren’t just unchurched but “de-churched.”

The study found that 32 percent of Kentucky’s adult population is unchurched and that 81 percent of Kentucky’s unchurched previously attended a church. Among that total, 42 percent of unchurched adults previously attended a Baptist church.

“We’ve had our chance with the vast majority of these people,” Kinnaman said. “It’s not a failure of evangelism; it’s a failure of discipleship.”

Acknowledging the tremendous challenges in reaching unchurched Kentuckians with the Gospel, KBC leaders hosted a Kentucky Baptists Connect commitment service during the meeting’s Tuesday evening session. A total of 290 participants filled out pledge cards, committing to “pray for this effort and encourage my church to actively participate.”

During business sessions, messengers rejected a proposal to allow the KBC’s four colleges to have non-Baptists serve in up to one-fourth of their trustee positions. The proposed constitutional amendment was intended to permit the colleges to recruit non-Baptist alumni and donors as board members.

Although the proposal called for all trustees to be “Christians who are in harmony with historic Baptist beliefs,” opponents of the measure voiced concern that those beliefs were not defined. After lengthy debate on the issue, messengers voted 595-383 against the plan.

A proposal from the convention’s mission board to establish a study committee to examine “how the Kentucky Baptist Convention may relate to the Baptist World Alliance” also was rejected on a 510-444 vote.

The proposal was introduced in the wake of the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision in June to withdraw from the international Baptist organization.

Joe Samples, pastor of Greenland Baptist Church in Corbin, said he saw no need for a yearlong study on the issue. “The work of a study committee really has already been done,” he said. “Our Southern Baptist Convention as a whole already has made the decision to pull their collective funding from the Baptist World Alliance.”

Citing the convention theme of “connecting all people to Jesus,” Bill Ellis, minister of education at Crestwood (Ky.) Baptist Church, voiced concern that rejecting the study would, in effect, exclude working with millions of fellow Baptists around the world through BWA.

In other action, messengers approved Cooperative Program goals for 2005-06 with no discussion or opposition. The proposed $23.1 million operating budget goal is a 2.6 percent increase over the current goal of $22,504,000. It comes after record CP gifts of $23,070,734 in the 2003-04 fiscal year.

The past year’s record CP income topped a revised goal of $22,181,335 after two years of reduced giving. Even with the recent increase, however, the 2005-06 goal still is slightly below the original 2003-04 budget goal of $23.2 million.

The CP goals include allocating 64 percent of CP receipts for KBC ministries and 36 percent for Southern Baptist Convention causes, percentages that have remained unchanged in recent years.

Messengers also approved a $1.3 million challenge goal which also is unchanged from the past two years.

York, the KBC’s new president, is pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, as well as professor of Christian preaching and associate dean of ministry and proclamation in Southern Seminary’s school of theology.

Prior to his election, York said one of his goals is for state convention entities to “enjoy greater camaraderie and partnership with Southern.”

Acknowledging “hurts or grievances” among some Kentucky Baptists in the wake of Southern’s conservative shift since R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s election as seminary president in 1993, York added, “It’s time to heal old wounds.”

Noting that “Kentucky Baptists want someone who is going to represent them all,” York said, “I think this convention is overwhelmingly committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s what has to be preeminent in our minds and in our efforts and in what unites us.”

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 15-16 in Frankfort.

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