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Regionalized structure approved by California Southern Baptists

OXNARD, Calif. (BP)–A plan to “regionalize” the way the California Southern Baptist Convention provides services to churches will continue after messengers defeated several attempts to derail the plan during the convention’s 58th annual session Nov. 10-11 at the Performing Arts Center in Oxnard, Calif.
Messengers also re-elected three top officers, voted to do away with convention resolutions and gave the green light to a number of constitution and bylaws changes designed to streamline convention structure and establish a formula for regional representation on the 40-member CSBC executive board.
Roger Spradlin won a second consecutive one-year term as CSBC president. Spradlin, pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, was elected by acclamation.
Also re-elected were Deryl Lackey, first vice president, and Jerry Bennett, second vice resident. Lackey, pastor of First Baptist Church, Upland, defeated Bennett by a vote of 240-141 in the contest for first vice president. Bennett, pastor of Meridian Southern Baptist Church, El Cajon, then was unopposed for a second consecutive term as second vice president and elected by acclamation.
Registration of 785 messengers and 149 visitors was the lowest attendance in nearly 40 years. Ironically, the last time fewer messengers and visitors registered for a convention meeting was in 1960 at a special session in Fresno attended by 700 messengers and visitors. That was the meeting during which the so-called “Gray Book” report was adopted, setting up the convention structure that remained in place with only relatively minor modifications until this year’s convention overhaul.
Creation of the nine service areas, each comprising two or more Southern Baptist associations, was the centerpiece of a slate of recommendations developed by a special committee known as the Missions Implementation Team. The MIT ceased to exist after the CSBC executive board approved the special committee’s recommendations in September.
The MIT/executive board plan eventually will involve reassigning some employees currently concentrated at the CSBC offices in Fresno. The idea is to help take convention services closer to churches by placing executive board staff members in each of the nine service areas, beginning in two of the service areas during 1999.
The nearest thing to a vote on service areas this year came when messengers defeated a motion to kill the plan to regionalize state convention services. Charlie Leffingwell, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, San Lorenzo, urged messengers to instruct the executive board to “stop and refrain from carrying out its current plan to decentralize the staff … and return to its plan of carrying out the will of the churches.”
Leffingwell’s motion took precedence over prior assertions by convention leaders that the executive board reserved the right to determine staff assignments.
Jack Warford, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Wildomar, spoke against the motion and in favor of service areas. “Anytime you can bring training closer I think we’re going to have a better church and better association, a better convention,” Warford said.
When some confusion developed concerning the motion, convention President Spradlin explained what its impact would be. Spradlin told messengers, “A yes vote says ‘no’ to service areas for state staff. If you vote no, you are saying ‘yes’ to service areas.”
In the vote that followed, the motion to scuttle the service area plan failed by a margin of more than two to one on a ballot of 130 in favor and 266 opposed.
Another attempt to thwart the restructuring plans came from John Boykin, pastor of Emmanuel Southern Baptist Church, Dos Palos. Boykin, with assistance from a convention parliamentarian, sought to postpone action indefinitely on the entire slate of constitutional amendments. He said messengers were “being led by the nose” to change the convention “in line with what our College of Cardinals has presented to us.”
Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Highland, and a member of the Missions Implementation Team, urged passage of the plan. He reminded messengers that scores of people had worked countless hours to develop the plans and explained them at numerous meetings across the state.
“We’ve spent more time today talking about something we’ve been talking about for two years,” Zinn said. “I hope we don’t do this tonight, I’m against this motion.”
Most messengers apparently agreed. After a motion to end debate carried, Boykin’s motion to postpone action indefinitely on the constitutional amendments failed by a show of hands.
The package of proposals, known collectively as “Our Mission For A New Millennium,” had sparked considerable debate among California Baptists this year because of perceived threats to associations and charges that the service areas represented a “new layer of bureaucracy.”
California Baptist leaders assured convention messengers the new structure will not adversely affect associations.
“The regional concept is not building a new purpose, just an attempt to find a more efficient way to bring services to the local churches. Nothing is changing in the relationship between the convention and associations and churches,” said Larry Dotson, CSBC executive board chairman.
Among those urging passage of the restructuring proposals was E. Glen Paden, pastor of Immanuel Southern Baptist Church, Ridgecrest, and chairman of the MIT. Paden noted California Baptists have had “no major change in our convention life” since 1960.
“We’ve been doing it the same way. I don’t think what we’re doing is failing. What we’re asking is to say let’s try this. We think it will work,” Paden said.
Paden, the retired president of California Baptist Foundation, conceded there are many unknowns and “lots of things wrong with” the plan.
“But the general concept of moving ahead and bringing our cultural effectiveness to bear is absolutely a necessity,” Paden said. “Don’t vote on this on the basis of your associational loyalty. Vote on it on the basis of 30 million lost people” in California, he urged.
Some messengers voiced concern that a new 17-word mission statement for the California convention removes a reference to associations contained in the one it replaced.
Ron Wilson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Thousand Oaks, was among several messengers who questioned the change during a “town hall” discussion before the issue was put to a vote.
“The assumption is that the associations are going to be done away with and then the convention can deal with regions instead of associations,” Wilson explained.
Dotson replied that under Baptist polity only the churches that make up an association have the authority to eliminate it. “Our strategy very clearly says [the convention] is to work through associations and other agencies. As long as we as pastors believe the associations are getting the job done, we’re not going to let anybody debunk them,” Dotson declared.
Messengers defeated several attempts to amend the new mission statement and eventually approved it on a ballot vote. The statement reads: “This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill The Great Commandment and The Great Commission.”
Discussion concerning the various restructuring proposals spanned nearly three hours during the two-day convention meeting, including numerous votes to extend debate on some issues. Messengers cast more than a dozen ballots, eventually approving all of the proposed constitutional and bylaws amendments.
One of the most significant changes enacted by messengers guarantees at least two executive board members from each service area. The remaining 22 executive board members will be selected according to how many churches there are in each service area; areas with a greater number of churches will be eligible for more representation than areas with fewer churches. Previously, executive board members were selected without any formal consideration of geographical location or associational representation.
The vote approving the constitutional change to Article VI Section 2 came after messengers approved an amendment to retain the four-year interval required before someone can return to the executive board after completing a term. The original motion would have reduced the interval to two years.
Scott Williamson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Barstow, offered the amendment to keep the four-year period between board terms.
“One of the things I noticed is that over and over and over again the same people seem to be serving on the executive board and other boards,” Williamson said. “One of the ways we allow for diversity is to make room for more persons. If we reduce the number of years [between terms] then it becomes possible for less people to be able to serve.”
Williamson’s amendment won approval on a show of hands.
A few of the bylaws changes were relatively minor, such as one removing the word “treasurer” from the title of the executive board’s chief executive officer. That office, currently held by Fermín A.Whittaker, now will be known simply as “executive director.”
Other amendments were more dramatic, including several bylaws changes combining the duties of some convention committees and eliminating others. Messengers approved a recommendation reducing the total number of standing committees from eight to three and requiring that each nine-member committee include a representative from each service area.
Two committees from the previous convention structure were retained. One is the committee on committees, which is responsible for nominating members to serve on all standing and special convention committees. The other is the committee on board nominations, which recommends persons to serve on the executive board and the governing boards of California Baptist Foundation and California Baptist University.
The committee on committees was to have been eliminated under a Strategic Planning Team recommendation approved at the 1997 CSBC annual meeting. However, MIT members, who were named to develop plans to implement the Strategic Planning Team proposals, recommended retaining the committee and messengers this year concurred.
A new committee was created to handle convention duties previously performed by three separate committees. With those responsibilities now combined in the new committee on convention operations, the committee on convention arrangements, committee on order of business and committee on credentials cease to exist.
Two other convention committees were eliminated and their former duties assigned to the CSBC executive board. Staff members now will be responsible for encouraging the preservation of Southern Baptist history in California and for recognizing recently deceased individuals who have rendered distinguished service to California Southern Baptists.
Messengers voted overwhelmingly to eliminate the CSBC committee on resolutions, despite complaints that doing so would silence what one messenger called “an important vehicle of influence.”
“This is a very emotional issue for me,” said Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park. “How are we going to speak as a group to the world? Motions speak in-house, resolutions to the world at large. Even though they are non-binding, resolutions give us the only opportunity to speak to national, state and local governments.”
Drake also refuted claims by opponents that resolutions have no teeth. “No effect? Try telling that to the Disney Corporation,” Drake said, referring to a Southern Baptist-led boycott of Disney products and services. Drake said the boycott that was sparked by a resolution he introduced at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting has had significant financial impact on the entertainment conglomerate.
“Why would we want to set aside an important vehicle of influence?” he asked.
Several messengers responded, including the chair of the CSBC resolutions committee. Jean Bracy, a messenger from New Hope Community Church, Apple Valley, said resolutions produce “more divisiveness than unanimity.”
“Any statement adopted here does not represent all the churches. We vote with our feet, folks,” Bracy declared. “Whenever we go home to do the resolutions, the most effective vote we take, the most effective message we speak is how we vote with our feet.”
Messengers then voted by ballot, handily surpassing the 67 percent margin needed to do away with resolutions. The vote was 300 to eliminate the convention’s resolutions committee, 116 to keep it.
In the future, California messengers still will be able to vote on various social and moral issues provided they are presented as motions with “implementing actions” that specify follow-up for such votes.
Another bylaws change approved by messengers allows the election of persons from outside California to serve as trustees of California Baptist University. Up to six “global” trustees may be elected from other states — or even from other nations — in addition to 30 members from California.
The change in Bylaws Article IV Section 1 requires that CBU global trustees must be members of Southern Baptist churches in the United States or churches affiliated with their national Baptist bodies in other countries. All university trustees will continue to be elected by messengers at the CSBC annual meeting.
Messengers approved a record $14.6 million convention budget for 1999 with almost no discussion. The new spending plan exceeds the 1998 CSBC budget by more than $400,000. Of the total figure 29 percent, or $2,059,000, is designated for world mission causes through the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program. Although the percentage amount is unchanged, that amount is an increase of $101,500 over the SBC Cooperative Program allocation in the current year’s budget.
Among items up for consideration at the 1999 CSBC annual meeting is a proposed constitutional amendment introduced this year to shorten the name to California Baptist Convention. A similar attempt failed in 1986.
The next California Southern Baptist Convention meeting will be Nov. 16-17, 1999, in Sacramento.

    About the Author

  • Mark A. Wyatt