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Louisiana ‘Pledge’ to boost Cooperative Program

BOSSIER CITY, La. (BP) — Is this the best Louisiana Baptists can do?

Louisiana Baptist Convention President Steve Horn believes not and is asking every church in the state to take “The Pledge” — a pastor-driven initiative to increase Cooperative Program giving.

The Pledge, which Horn underscored at the convention’s Nov. 9-10 annual meeting, challenges churches that give less than 3 percent to the CP to move to 5 percent of their undesignated receipts; churches at 3 and 8 percent to increase by 2 percent; and churches between 8 and 9.9 percent to go to 10 percent.

Churches already giving 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program will be thanked and encouraged to consider a 1 percentage point increase or simply reaffirm a commitment to their current level of giving.

Horn informed messengers about the progress of the initiative, unveiled May 5, and challenged those who had not taken The Pledge to do so.

“Just across the river from where we are tonight was a pastor named M.E. Dodd, well known as the architect of the Cooperative Program,” Horn said. “At the 1919 SBC, an SBC committee planned to recommend that the messengers adopt a plan to launch a campaign to raise $50 million. Before their report, Dodd preached the convention sermon that year.”

Horn recounted that Dodd challenged, “We have arrived at the moment in our history for which our forefathers toiled and sacrificed and prayed,” a moment “for which they suffered and bled and died. The Baptist hour of all the centuries has sounded. To waver now would be traitorous; to give up here would be a crime against all the martyred blood of the heroes of the past.”

When Dodd’s sermon was over, messengers raised the challenge to $75 million. “From this, he was also appointed to chair a committee called the SBC’s Committee on Future Program,” Horn said. “From the work of this committee came the Cooperative Program in 1925. The committee’s work was established because of the crisis of inadequate support of critical endeavors.”

Horn said he has spent the past year talking with pastors and challenging them to take The Pledge.

“It is easy to talk about what we would do if we had it. It is something else to talk about what we should do when we do have it,” Horn said. “A number of you have responded. I want to ask the rest of you to respond tonight. And I want to encourage all those who have already responded.”

Horn, drawing from challenges Nehemiah faced, said it is not easy, especially now, to increase giving. He cited five obstacles — disobedience, disunity, discouragement, personal distractions and doubt — that can keep the initiative from victory.

Horn, though, said he is determined to see it through.

“I started months ago by saying, ‘If we do nothing in a difficult time, our strength is limited’ [Proverbs 24:10],” Horn said. “The reality is since The Pledge began things have gotten a little bit more uncertain for my church [First Baptist in Lafayette] because of the downturn in the oil and gas industry.

“We are down 9 percent in undesignated receipts. This is the first time we have not had a double-digit surplus in receipts and surpassed our budget,” he said. “It is bad timing for sure but we are going to trust God to see us through this.

“We can do more together than we can do by ourselves,” he said. “So, I want to encourage all of us…. We are indeed at a crossroads. We must rely on the power of God. Like Nehemiah, we have a great work for a great God.”

At the end of Horn’s message, messengers came to the altar where they laid down their decision cards.

2020 Vision

LBC Executive Director David Hankins led off the convention’s Monday night session by giving messengers an update on progress being made on the President’s 2020 Commission Report and to offer a perspective on the crossroads that Baptists face.

“It has been two years since we adopted the 2020 report,” Hankins said. “And we have made strides in reaching the more than 2 million people in Louisiana who do not have a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.

“ISIS, Planned Parenthood and the legalization of gay marriage are just a few things that reveal we are living in evil days,” Hankins continued. “But the darker it gets, the brighter our light will shine.

“We are the best game in town. We have a clear message, strong morals and a mission. We have a unique opportunity here in Louisiana. The darker it gets, the more people are going to run to us.”

Hankins said the convention will continue to plant new churches, provide excellent higher education through Louisiana College, aggressively expand the infrastructure at Baptist Collegiate Ministries statewide, maintain ministries on college campuses to engage Generation X and help churches share the Gospel using a video campaign, “Here for you.”

“One of the goals I have is to place buildings on college campuses that will let ministry continue for the next 50 years,” Hankins said.

To accomplish these goals, Hankins told messengers, “Our work is going to be guided by the President’s 2020 Commission strategy and 10 action plans you passed two years ago. We are going to be your hands, feet and voice.

“Your strategists — Dale Lingenfelter [finances], Wayne Jenkins [evangelism], Mark Robinson [collegiate ministry] and John Kyle [multi-media] — are pacesetters or the go-to-guys in SBC life. When people call from other states seeking advice, these are the ones they call. And they are working hard to make the most of your CP gifts.”

Speaking of the Cooperative Program, Hankins addressed the trend of reduced CP giving in the Southern Baptist Convention in the context of the financial challenge the International Mission Board is facing. He explained the problem by describing the CP trajectory.

“The Cooperative Program is 90 years old this year,” he said. “First, there was an epoch of establishment (1925-1955). Next, it was the epoch of expansion (1955-1995). And I believe we are now in the epoch of erosion (1985-2015).

“The crisis with the IMB has been coming for a long time,” he said. “It’s been a 30-year erosion.”

Hankins, though, believes a new era is coming — an epoch of excelling (2015-2025).

“The challenge before us for the next 10 years, if the Lord tarries, is to turn this present trend around,” he said. “The Cooperative Program is our best and most effective way to accomplish the Great Commission in Louisiana and beyond.

“All eyes are looking at us to see if God will honor our efforts,” Hankins said. “We are one generation away from dilapidation. This is not a time to fold; it is time to go bold.”

Elections & budget

Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, was elected by acclamation as the convention’s new president. Also elected by acclamation were the first and second vice presidents, Ken Schroeder, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mandeville, and Billy Crosby, pastor emeritus of Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport, respectively.

Messengers approved a $20,593,766 Cooperative Program budget for 2015, down $894,632 from 2014. The convention will continue to send an allocation of 36.74 percent — or $7,566,150 — to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program.

Resolutions & motions

Messengers affirmed seven resolutions, which passed without comment.

Six were crafted prior to the annual meeting and celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Cooperative Program; supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood; called for the protection of children from pornography; called on national and state leaders to affirm religious liberty; committed to pray for revival and spiritual awakening in Louisiana; and expressed appreciation for the hospitality and assistance related to the annual meeting.

The last resolution, which was accepted agreeably from the floor by the resolutions committee, declared Louisiana Baptists’ disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned 26 voter-approved state amendments, including Louisiana’s, that protected marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Messengers also passed without dissent a motion by the credentials committee to introduce guidelines for disaffiliation of any local congregation that stops being in agreement with the beliefs and practices of the state convention.

The sentence added to Article 3, Section 5, states, “It shall recommend to the convention, when necessary, the disaffiliation of any LBC church that no longer complies with the convention’s definition of a cooperating church.”

When the credentials committee learns a cooperating church is in “willful opposition” to the principles that define the LBC, the committee would take several actions before disaffiliation happens.

First, the committee will seek to verify the credibility of the concern. If the concern appears to be credible, the committee will initiate an inquiry with the church to make sure the claim is truthful.

Next, if the concern indeed exists, the committee will ask the church to repent. If the church does not repent, the committee will ask if the church wants to withdraw from the LBC.

Should the church refuse to withdraw, the committee will recommend the LBC disaffiliate itself with that congregation.

Convention speakers

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, cited the decrease in baptisms across the SBC as well as the International Mission Board’s cutback of its missionary force in noting the No. 1 need in Louisiana and elsewhere.

Floyd said he is concerned that Southern Baptists are moving away from the mission of God. “When we move away from the mission of God, you also move away from the power of God,” he said. “And when you move away from the power of God, you don’t have a heart to move toward the mission of God.”

For God to move, Floyd said, prayer must be at the forefront. Preaching from Acts, he recounted how the disciples gathered in the upper room after Jesus’ resurrection, calling out to God as one body, and God answered their prayers.

Just like the early Christians, Floyd said today’s believers need to be of one mind in calling out to God through prayer. If any great movement of God is to occur, he emphasized that it must be preceded by prayer from His people.

“God wants to shake the Louisiana Baptist Convention by prayer,” Floyd said. “He wants to shake your family by prayer. He wants to shake the churches by prayer.”

America needs an unprecedented movement of God like none that has ever been seen before, Floyd said. “I ask you, I appeal to you, Louisiana Baptists, start praying every day for the next Great Awakening in the United States,” he said. “It is our greatest hope.”

Floyd then challenged messengers to do something some of them may never have done in their churches. Within the next 6-12 months, instead of having a typical worship service, he urged them to turn the service into a prayer meeting.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if God … came down on a Sunday morning in your church?” he asked.

“Stop being content to live your life and to do ministry without the power of God,” he said. “Just think what it would be like … if our churches would refuse … to be content.” Never be content, he counseled, “living life, doing ministry, without the power of God.”

In the convention sermon, Kirk Jones, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Prairieville, posed the question, “Are we living first what we loved first?”

Drawing from Revelation 2:1-7, Jones described the letter from Jesus to the church of Ephesus as encouragement, a challenge and inspiration – yet with an admonishment: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.”

Jones asked, “Will the Lord ever say to us, you have abandoned your first love? I hope not. I know we don’t want to be the church nor the convention in which He comes and gets His lampstand.” Jones then relayed a warning: “Loving many great things will never equal loving the first thing.”

While doing research for the convention sermon, Jones said he went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and read minutes from past conventions.

“Much of the same things we talk about today were discussed back then,” Jones said. “We as a convention have stood while some others sat … you have tested what others accepted.” The convention has not “abandoned the propagation of the Gospel,” he said. “We have faithfully continued to sow the seeds and allowed God to bring in the harvest. … We are a people who are still telling people about Jesus Christ. Because of the faithful work of this convention, our churches, our pastors and our people, our lampstand is going to be higher and is going to shine brighter. I believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be shared louder and longer because we have not gotten so busy doing all the good things we quit doing our first love.”

The 2016 annual meeting will be Nov. 14-15 at Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria.

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  • Philip Timothy/Louisiana Baptist Message