ATLANTA (BP)–Atlanta Baptists moved one step closer to forming the state convention’s newest association in nearly a decade when they elected pastor Bill Jaggar as interim moderator on April 17.
The new group is being formed in response to the Atlanta Baptist Association’s failure to dismiss Virginia-Highlands Baptist Church in Atlanta and Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur for stances affirming the homosexual lifestyle. In November 1999 the two churches were dismissed from the Georgia Baptist Convention, the first such action in its 177-year history.
Jaggar, pastor of 1,000-member North Peachtree Baptist Church in Doraville, was chosen to lead the fledgling Atlanta group. A slate of officers also was elected to work with Jaggar in the coming months.
Part of the problem in giving concrete answers to questions at the exploratory meeting was best summed up by Tim Clark, pastor of Pine Lake Baptist Church, who presided over the gathering hosted by Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker.
“We are a little restricted tonight by the fact that we technically don’t exist,” he said with a chuckle as he attempted to field questions from representatives of 16 churches and two missions. But answers to those questions slowly became more clear as the group of about 50 individuals hammered out a 10th draft of the association-in-waiting’s first set of bylaws.
The first sentence in the document firmly establishes the group’s Articles of Faith as being the Baptist Faith and Message “as currently adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention.” That wording, Rice said, would allow any future revisions of the document to be automatically adopted by the association.
The bylaws further state that any church or mission “that is in conflict with the Baptist Faith and Message currently adopted is not in harmony or cooperation with the purposes of the Association.”
A letter of intent was distributed to participants at the exploratory meeting, with several signing the document as elected representatives of their congregations. A new association must have a minimum of 15 churches to be recognized by the state convention.
Upon his election at the end of the two-hour meeting, Jaggars stressed the need for all interested churches to sign the letter of intent immediately so the group can make formal application to the Georgia Baptist Convention by May 10. The GBC constitution requires that the application for recognition be filed with the convention six months prior to the annual November meeting.
Jaggars said the new association would be under the convention’s watchcare for two years before it could be formally accepted. Messengers must vote on accepting any new associations at two consecutive annual meetings.
Jaggars also said the group was anticipating requesting up to $25,000 from the Georgia Baptist Convention as seed money to help it get on its feet. GBC Executive Director J. Robert White, who was not at the meeting, later confirmed that such requests are not uncommon from new churches and associations.
Clark, as moderator pro-tem at the April 17 meeting, commented that the association could eventually be the recipient of GBC and North American Mission Board funds that had previously been channeled through the Atlanta Baptist Association. The funds had been earmarked for inner-city and special events ministry, and provided funds for several missionary positions.
The group accepted the offer of Rehoboth Baptist Church’s mailing address during the interim to allow it to conduct mailings and receive funds.
“The first thing I want to say is that we are not anti-anyone,” Jaggars said after his election.
“We are pro-kingdom of God, pro-winning souls for Jesus, for Georgia Baptist Convention, pro-Southern Baptist Convention. We are looking forward to a new day of doing great evangelistic work through our cooperating churches,” he said.
When asked how the new entity would be different from the Atlanta Baptist Association, Jaggars said he expects the Metro Atlanta Southern Baptist Association would have “inspirational, dynamic annual meetings with evangelistically motivational speakers. We may even have an evangelism conference to go along with the annual meeting so we can learn how to be more effective in reaching our city for Christ.”
Jaggars also said he felt the group would encourage churches to keep effective traditional ministries while exploring nontraditional ways of doing missions and evangelism. He hoped the new association would provide a variety of resources to challenge churches to experiment with those kinds of ministries.
Other interim officers elected to serve alongside Jaggars through October include B.J. Bennett, pastor of Clarkston Baptist Church, vice moderator; Mark Boyd, business administrator for Rehoboth, treasurer; Diane Bugg, Boyd’s secretary at Rehoboth, assistant treasurer; and Dot Parker, Jaggar’s secretary at North Peachtree, clerk. Trustees included Robert Wilson, pastor of Sandtown Baptist Church; Michael Murphy, pastor of Clairmont Baptist Church; and Jim Winn, a trustee and layman at Clarkston Baptist Church.