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NW Baptists seek healing between convention staff members

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SALEM, Ore. (BP)–Messengers to the Northwest Baptist Convention’s Nov. 14-15 annual meeting approved a record $5.6 million budget and asked the convention’s executive board to consider reinstating a longtime staff member following his controversial resignation earlier this year.

More than 550 registered messengers and guests, meeting in Salem, Ore., also heard the convention’s executive director challenge Northwest Baptists to mobilize God’s people for ministry.

“We must join one another in becoming a convention that mobilizes all of God’s people to share the Gospel, to start new churches and to touch unreached people groups in our respective communities and across the seas,” Gus Suárez said. “We can experience this if we will commit ourselves to four things: community transformation, the power of partnership, ministry multiplication and a renewed spiritual dynamic.”

Suárez urged churches not to rely merely on traditional programs that attract people to church buildings.

“More and more, all of us as God’s people must concern ourselves with engaging the communities and the culture around us with a new kind of fervor and compassion that lends a new kind of credibility to what we often so loudly proclaim,” he said.

Suárez emphasized the importance of partnering with likeminded groups.

“In our world today, with the diversity and needs so great, we will only be as effective as the partnerships we form with other churches and organizations that meet the real needs of the people around us and give us opportunities to mobilize God’s people to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ,” he said.

Suárez also called on churches to multiply effective ministries at a faster rate.

“The simple fact is this: Population growth in the Northwest continues to outpace our ability to start enough churches or grow our existing churches to the point where we are able to reach new people with the Gospel,” he noted. “We simply must find a way to multiply the number of churches capable of sharing the Gospel with people and to multiply the ways people can use their gifts and abilities to influence their friends, co-workers and neighbors for Jesus.”

Suárez underscored the importance of relying on God more than strategies.

“We are part of a denomination family that has experienced so much of God’s blessings across the years, but I wonder sometimes if we have reached a point in which it becomes all too easy to enjoy confidence in our own abilities rather than in the providence of the God who chooses to call us and use us in the first place,” Suárez said. “We must never forget the importance, in all of our visionary concerns and grandiose talk, of walking with God in humility and obedience first — above all else.”

During the business session, messengers approved a record $5.6 million budget for 2007 that represents a 2 percent increase over the current year’s budget and anticipates $3.2 million in Cooperative Program gifts from Northwest Baptist churches. The portion of the CP gifts forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries remains at 32 percent.

The convention’s partnership funding for the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary stays at 7 percent of the budget for a total of $224,000 next year.

Messengers re-elected Tim Crownover, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Vancouver, Wash., to a second term as president. Joe Martin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Toledo, Wash., was elected first vice president, and Tim Foster, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in The Dalles, Ore., was elected second vice president. All were the lone nominees for their posts.

Messengers devoted most of their attention during the business portion of the meeting to expressing concern over the resignation in late August of Adrian Hall, who served as the convention’s evangelism strategist for more than 20 years.

Hall, 61, submitted his resignation after Suárez indicated Hall would not have a place in a future reorganization of staff. Reorganization plans are still under development.

Marc Douglas, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Beaverton, Ore., where Hall is a member, asked if the board was involved in the matter before the decision was made to seek Hall’s resignation.

“The policies in the policy manual for a situation like this were followed,” Barbara Finch, chairwoman of the executive board’s administrative committee and a member of Crosspointe Church in Bothell, Wash., said. “According to our policies, the person on the executive board [who] was required to be in these discussions and know what was going on was made aware of that before the decision was made.”

Heath Pressley, pastor of The Anchor Church in Newcastle, Wash., wanted to know specifically whether Hall resigned or if he was removed from his post.

“He resigned,” Crownover said.

Messengers moved on from that short period of questioning to approve a slate of resolutions, including one that affirmed Hall’s contributions to Northwest Baptist ministries over the past two decades.

During the portion of the meeting allocated for miscellaneous business, Norm Langston, pastor of First Baptist Beaverton, introduced a motion that “full-time employees be offered the opportunity to redirect their efforts prior to any decision to require their resignations excepting matters involving immorality or unethical behavior and that as a matter of fairness and in the interest of the harmony and long-term welfare of the Northwest Baptist Convention that the executive board consider offering Adrian Hall the opportunity to resume his position as the convention’s evangelism strategist.”

After a few minutes of side discussion with convention parliamentarian Ron Bryant of Highland Baptist Church in Redmond, Ore., Langston agreed to ask messengers to refer his motion to the executive board.

The question was called for immediately and the motion passed 196-92 on a ballot vote.

After voting, several messengers sought further information.

Butch Adcock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sequim, Wash., echoed Pressley’s earlier concerns, asking if Hall could have continued his duties if he hadn’t resigned.

“All we need is the truth,” Adcock said. “We can take it.”

Bryant then said, “Had Adrian had not resigned, the likelihood is that it would have been presented to the executive board or the administrative committee for action. In the face of that, he chose to resign.”

The convention’s personnel policy, however, assigns no such role for the executive board. Bryant also noted that a confidentiality agreement “prevents anybody from being able to really talk about it.”

One longtime Northwest Baptist leader urged messengers to quell debate, fearing it could harm the convention’s fellowship.

“We are walking on waters that could disrupt the unity we have had,” Ted Cotton of Longview, Wash., said. “You are never going to get answers to this question here at this meeting. Let the process happen and protect our fellowship.”

Suárez took the platform at the end of the session and commended the way messengers handled matters.

“I’m like you, I want the best for this convention,” he said. “I want to do whatever it takes for that to happen.”

During the three months prior to the annual meeting, Suárez logged more than 6,700 miles traveling to gatherings of pastors and church leaders in various associations to explain decisions he has made and to articulate his vision for ministry in the Northwest.

“I have extended the right hand of Christian fellowship to you and you have the right to extend it back or to withdraw it,” he said. “I am crying out to God that He would do a great work in this convention.”

Hall, who attended the convention meeting, expressed appreciation for what messengers had said about his ministry in the convention.

“My 21-year legacy of ministry was affirmed today,” he said. “I didn’t come to the Northwest to take but to give and the messengers affirmed that.”

The executive board will take up another personnel matter as a result of a motion by Dan Ahlenius, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Brewster, Wash. He voiced concern that the current wording of the convention’s retirement policy could rule out an employee’s continuing service beyond normal retirement age.

“Their work product and service to the Lord should be considered,” Ahlenius said.

The current retirement policy states: “The NWBC considers the normal and desirable retirement age for all full-time employees to be the age an employee can begin drawing full Social Security benefits.”

The executive board approved a one-year contract with William O. Crews, president emeritus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Northwest pastor, to help restore broken trust and strengthen working relationships between Suárez, the convention staff and associational directors of missions.

The intervention by Crews, approved unanimously Nov. 14 during the board meeting held in conjunction with the convention’s annual meeting, will recommend ways to “restore the trust relationship necessary to carry out the responsibilities assigned” to convention staff.

After approval of the contract was reported to the convention, Crownover answered a messenger’s question about what motivated the contract and whether it amounted to probation for Suárez.

“There’s no probation, nothing is being mandated,” Crownover said. “It was recognized that the trust level in the [Northwest Baptist Center] between our executive leadership and the staff was strained and we really desired to see that addressed and evaluated and built up where necessary. That was the motivation behind the process.”

During his report to convention messengers the night before, Suárez apologized for not spending enough time to build strong relationships with convention staff and church leaders in the field.

“You elected me 19 months ago to lead our convention with a sense of urgency for evangelism, a passion for starting churches and a commitment to strengthening the many churches that have labored faithfully through the years,” Suárez said. “But you elected me to do so with sensitivity and in a manner that understands the uniqueness of serving in the Northwest.

“Sometimes, the way I went about making decisions didn’t take into account the unique character of this convention or the hopes and dreams that it has,” he added. “This is a convention of loving and faithful people in which the sense of family is vitally important, and you expect to conduct your business and carry out your ministry in fellowship, unity and cooperation. I missed that on occasion and for that I need to ask your forgiveness.”

Through various resolutions, Northwest Baptist leaders urged churches to accelerate ministry efforts through a range of outreach opportunities and voiced their concerns on a variety of social issues.

In matters related to ministry at the local church level, messengers affirmed endeavors to share the Gospel during an intensive outreach campaign in central Washington next summer, as well as in the months leading up to the evangelistic blitz.

Another resolution thanked churches and individuals for their participation in disaster relief efforts in such places as Mississippi, Louisiana, Thailand and Afghanistan in the past year. It also called for “continual prayer for those suffering because of disasters that have struck our world” and support of efforts for “the sharing of God’s love” in such times of crisis.

Other resolutions commended the work of chaplains, pledged support for relief efforts for flood victims in northwest Washington and affirmed the work of both the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Speaking to social concerns, messengers urged Northwest Baptists to consider the need for “building a solid foundation of character and morals consistent with biblical values and teaching a worldview consistent with biblical truth” when making educational choices for their children.

While not specifying any particular organizations or concerns, one resolution encouraged Northwest Baptists to “carefully consider their stewardship of God’s resources by being salt and light in regards to businesses and organizations that they deal with.” In addressing other social concerns, messengers once again approved resolutions urging Northwest Baptists to support efforts aimed at protecting the sanctity of life and traditional definitions of marriage.

As in recent years, messengers again asked for God’s comfort “on the families of all nations who have lost loved ones during the continuing war on terrorism.” The resolution also expressed support for military personnel and others fighting terrorism.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 13-14 in western Washington.

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