BRANSON, Mo. (BP) — Missouri Baptists celebrated restoration and renewed cooperation to transform lives with the Gospel at their annual meeting Oct. 28-29 at the Branson Convention Center in Branson, Mo.
Attendance rose in comparison to the previous few years, drawing 1,277 messengers and 262 visitors from 499 churches.
For the first time in nearly two decades, messengers welcomed to the annual meeting all Missouri Baptist entities, including the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, Hannibal-LaGrange University, Southwest Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, The Baptist Home and Missouri Baptist University (MBU).
The Foundation, the Home and MBU were among five Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) entities — including the Windermere Baptist Conference Center — that broke away from the MBC in 2000-2001. After months of seeking private reconciliation and Christian arbitration, Missouri Baptists directed the MBC to seek a legal remedy as a last resort. This led to protracted litigation ending in February, when the home and MBU decided not to appeal a ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals returning both institutions to MBC control. The foundation was welcomed back into the MBC family in 2016.
“We have come to celebrate restoration,” MBC Executive Director John Yeats told messengers during his annual address. He welcomed to the stage and briefly interviewed MBC ministry leaders and presidents of each MBC entity.
“We truly are better together, believing with all our hearts that the cooperative message is a biblical message for today,” Yeats told messengers. “When we say we believe the message of cooperation, it is not mere intellectual assent. It means we practice it, we teach it, and we glorify our Lord through it.”
Prior to his address, Yeats recognized Randy Comer, chairman for the MBC’s Agency Restoration group which has overseen the MBC’s efforts during the past two decades to win back its entities.
“Tonight, we would like to share this plaque with you — that is, a plaque with a resolution from the executive board, declaring that your task is finished,” Yeats said. “And we thank God for everyone coming home! Let’s stand and give praise to the Lord!”
During his address, MBC President Jeremy Muniz signaled a step toward reconciliation with the Windermere Baptist Conference Center. The MBC’s efforts to restore Windermere ended unsuccessfully in 2014, when the Missouri Supreme Court denied the MBC’s bid for a jury trial to determine legal ownership of the conference center.
Muniz preached from Colossians 1:15-23, which inspired the theme for the annual meeting, “Christ is all.” According to this passage, Muniz said, Christ is the author of creation, the genesis of resurrection and recreation, and the agent of reconciliation.
“The agent of making peace is the blood of Christ. We need to plead the blood of Jesus,” Muniz said, urging messengers to seek reconciliation and peace with God and others. To exemplify the power of reconciliation, he welcomed on stage Windermere President Tim Huddleston.
“I have been praying for this day, daily, for months,” said Huddleston, who began his tenure March 1 at Windermere. He told Missouri Baptists that he accepted this position at Windermere “on one condition: that we would fully reconcile with the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
“So, as such, I wrote a resolution, and it was voted on and approved unanimously by our board,” Huddleston said. “The first step in reconciliation, the first step in unity, the first step in harmony, is asking for and extending forgiveness.”
Earlier this year, Huddleston sent a letter to the MBC Executive Board, asking for forgiveness on behalf of Windermere. In response, the board authorized Muniz in its August meeting to appoint “a task force for the purpose of initiating conversations with” Windermere’s administration and trustees. Members of the task force include Muniz and board members Ron Boyer and Richard Rogers, alongside MBC Collegiate Ministries Director Gene Austin and Missouri Baptist Foundation President Neil Franks.
“In the days and months to come, we’re going to see more and more opportunities to partner with this dear brother and Windermere,” Muniz told Missouri Baptist messengers. “This issue of Windermere has been one of those things that has broken our hearts for so long and that the world has used to point a finger at us, but here we have a beautiful illustration of how Christ is all, and how we are applying the biblical principle of reconciliation.”
During their meeting’s business session, messengers approved a 2020 Cooperative Program goal of $15 million, continuing to allocate 40 percent to Southern Baptist Convention causes and 60 percent to Missouri Baptist causes.
Messengers also approved the executive board’s recommendations that in 2020, the Rheubin L. South Missouri Missions Offering goal be set at $725,000, that the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal be set at $4 million, that the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goal be set at $2 million, and the World Hunger Funds offering be set at $195,000.
Also at the recommendation of the board, messengers approved the amended Articles of Incorporation and received the amended bylaws for Hannibal-LaGrange University, Missouri Baptist University, the Baptist Home and the Baptist Home Foundation. These approved amendments brought the governing documents for these entities into line with the MBC’s revised governing documents, which messengers approved during their annual meeting in 2017.
Messengers approved the following executive board recommendation regarding Southwest Baptist University: “The Executive Board recommends that the Missouri Baptist Convention directs Southwest Baptist University, through SBU’s authorized committee, to submit to the Executive Board SBU’s draft of proposed Revised Articles of Agreement for Southwest Baptist University consistent with the Convention’s governing documents, including, but not limited to, language concerning the Convention’s sole membership and SBU’s statement of faith, by March 1, 2020; drafts of bylaws and other conforming governing documents should be submitted by June 30, 2020.”
Approving eight resolutions, messengers addressed Christian citizenship, sexual abuse, religious liberty, racial reconciliation, prison ministry, the sanctity of life, and appreciation for and dissolution of the MBC’s Agency Restoration Group.
Returning for a second term as officers are president Jeremy Muniz, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Springfield; first vice president Jon Nelson, pastor of Soma Community Church, Jefferson City; second vice president Jeff Anderson, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Hannibal, and recording secretary Chad Hodges, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wright City.
Speakers, Getty concert
Annual meeting speakers included Johnny Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership at the North American Mission Board; Carlos Smith, lead pastor of The Journey Hanley Road in University City; and Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area.
On Oct. 29 after the close of the meeting, Missouri Baptists enjoyed a concert with noted modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty. Missouri Governor Mike Parson and his wife Teresa, members of First Baptist Church, Bolivar, were special guests.
The MBC’s 2020 annual meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26-27 at the St. Charles Convention Center and Hotel in St. Charles, Mo.