WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–In February, Paige Patterson offered a challenge to members of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. Patterson, president of the SBC and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, encouraged members to invite a young person to the June 13-14 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Patterson then wrote an open letter to all Southern Baptists, extending an open invitation for teenagers to attend the convention. “The danger of having a week day convention is that if we don’t cover all of our bases, the crowd attending is just going to get older and older until they all look like me,” Patterson told Baptist Press.
And to show how serious he was about student involvement in the SBC, Patterson recently took the unprecedented step of appointing teenagers to some of the convention’s national committees.
“I thought it was time to integrate our young people into the life of the convention,” Patterson said. “I feel that young people can play a very active role in the SBC and they should.”
The five teenagers appointed are: Christian George, Joy Usry, Cory Gearrin, Tellers Committee; John Nichols, Committee on Committees; and Jonathan McDonald, Credentials.
“I’ve been coming to the Southern Baptist Convention meetings since I was 9 years old and I haven’t missed a one,” Patterson said. “It reflects part of my experience as a Southern Baptist and I believe it will do the same for today’s young people.”
James Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga. and a nominee for the SBC presidency, praised Patterson’s appointments.
“I think it is an absolutely fabulous, novel idea,” Merritt said. “One of my burdens is to reach the next generation. We have got to get younger pastors and younger people involved in our convention.”
“I think it’s well overdue. It’s important for our students to learn why we have a convention and how it operates,” Merritt added.
Merritt said Patterson’s desire to grow a younger convention is admirable. “We want to be known as a family oriented convention,” Merritt said. “I believe anything we can do for children and teenagers we should do.
The appointed teenagers come from a wide variety of Southern Baptist backgrounds and geographic locations ranging from Kenai, Alaska to Claxton, Ga.
Christian George, 18, is a high school senior from Birmingham, Ala. George has been appointed to the Tellers Committee. He is a member of the Shades Mountain Baptist Church where he plays clarinet and saxophone in the church orchestra.
Active in missions works, George has traveled extensively in Europe and Asia. While in Seoul, South Korea, the teenager had an opportunity to share his testimony with more than 5,000 teenagers.
He also helps lead small group Bible study teams among his peers.
In the fall George will attend Samford University. “God hasn’t really laid it upon my heart as far as my future,” he said. “But I like art and music and have a heart for missions.”
George said he accepted Christ when he was 8 years old. “God really changed my life, ” he said. “It’s really been more evident in the last five years. I’ve been able to grow more.”
Joy Usry, 18, is a senior from Claxton, Ga. and has been appointed to the Tellers Committee. She is a member of the Pineview Baptist Church of Reidsville where she serves as the church’s pianist.
Usry is active in her church youth group and also sings in the church choir. She is the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Pinewood Christian Academy.
Having attended 9 SBC conventions, Usry said she is looking forward to serving on a committee. “I’m not sure what to expect,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be fun.”
In the fall, Usry said she will attend either Shorter College or Liberty University and major in music education.
Cory Gearrin, 14, is an eighth grade student from Dayton, Tenn. Gearrin has also been appointed to the Tellers Committee. He is a member of the First Baptist Church, Dayton, Tenn. where he is active in youth drama and athletics.
Gearrin is also active in missions work. In 1999 he was part of a drama mission team that ministered in Louisiana and following the convention he will join a World Changers mission team.
Last fall, he was commissioned as a campus missionary as part of NAMB’s effort to reach the country’s public schools. He has also taken a spiritual leadership role on his school’s athletic teams where he has played quarterback, point guard and pitcher.
“I think it’s important to take a stand for Christ and live a life that pleases God,” Gearrin said. “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. It’s going to be great.”
Jonathan McDonald, of Wake Forest, N.C., is a college freshman at Southeastern College at Wake Forest. He is pursuing a double major in biblical studies and the history of ideas.
McDonald, 18, was appointed to the credentials committee. He is a member of Union Baptist Church in Creedmore, N.C.
McDonald said he believes God has called him to preach. “That’s my heart’s desire,” McDonald said. “And I had the opportunity to do that a few weeks ago in church.”
McDonald said sometimes he’s even been known to break out into song. “But not very often,” he added.
John Nichols, of Kenai, Alaska, has been appointed to serve on the Committee on Committees. Nichols, 18, is a member of the First Baptist Church, Kenai, where his father is pastor.
In addition to being active in the church’s youth group, Nichols runs the sound system during worship services.
Nichols, who graduated from high school in May, plans on attending a junior college in Alaska. He said he believes the Lord is calling him to be a law enforcement officer.