COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP) — With the approval of a state Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report, messengers to the 191st annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention charted a course to provide more financial support for international missions as well as for church planting and revitalization.
Brad Atkins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Powdersville, was elected president of the convention, and messengers approved resolutions on transparency in education, purity in technology, and protecting religious liberty through public policy.
By the conclusion of the annual meeting at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center Nov. 15-16, the messenger count had reached 1,742, up 39 percent from last year.
Messengers overwhelmingly approved the report of the state convention’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. After an hour in which the report was formally presented and then briefly debated and nearly a year after the task force was created, messengers lifted yellow envelopes containing their ballots and voted to approve the report in its entirety.
At the heart of the GCR report were recommendations to increase South Carolina Baptists’ contribution to the International Mission Board by nearly 22 percent over the next three years and to move the SCBC toward a 50/50 split of Cooperative Program receipts with the Southern Baptist Convention over the next five years.
To pay for the initiatives, the report calls for CP budget cuts to the SCBC’s seven institutions (Anderson University, The Baptist Courier, Charleston Southern University, Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, North Greenville University, South Carolina Baptist Foundation and South Carolina Baptist Ministries for the Aging) and urges pastors to encourage their churches to increase CP giving by at least 1 percent of their budget.
The task force was authorized by messengers to the 2010 SCBC annual meeting and charged with scrutinizing the final report of the Southern Baptist Convention’s similarly named GCR task force (adopted in Orlando in June 2010) for the purpose of developing a plan for South Carolina Baptists to “respond” to its recommendations. Fred Stone, past SCBC president, appointed the task force members.
South Carolina’s GCR Task Force report recommended that:
1) South Carolina Baptists increase the state convention’s contribution to the International Mission Board by 21.95 percent over the next three years.
2) Church revitalization, missions mobilization/evangelism and church planting be made the primary focus of the SCBC.
3) The SCBC establish a five-year goal of moving the division of Cooperative Program receipts to a 50/50 split between the SCBC and the SBC.
4) Funding to Anderson University, Charleston Southern University, Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, South Carolina Baptist Ministries for the Aging, North Greenville University and South Carolina Woman’s Missionary Union be reduced by 10 percent from 2011 levels, to be frozen for five years.
5) The executive ministries (Baptist building) portion of the budget be reduced by 5 percent, to be withdrawn 1 percent annually for the next five years.
6) Funding to the Baptist Foundation of South Carolina be reduced by 20 percent in the coming year and that the remaining balance be reduced by 25 percent per year for the next four years.
7) Funding to The Baptist Courier be reduced by 10 percent annually for the next three years, after which time continued funding will be re-evaluated by those serving as officers of the Executive Board of the SCBC and the CEO of the Courier and the board chairman based upon criteria previously agreed upon by the GCR Task Force and representatives of the Courier.
8) The nominating process be altered so as to allow the CEOs of the institutions to have greater input into the nomination of trustees by way of a process that would result in mutual agreement between the institutions and the convention.
9) SCBC institutions be allowed to have as many as one-fifth of their trustees from out of state.
10) A plan be put forth to approach pastors about increasing their churches’ giving through the Cooperative Program.
11) The SCBC requests that the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention consider adjusting the budgets of the seminaries and other entities as a means to increasing funding to the International Mission Board.
Messengers adopted a pared-down budget of $28.6 million for 2012.
The spending plan reflects sweeping changes in how South Carolina Baptists will allocate Cooperative Program dollars as a result of GCR recommendations. The 2012 budget, smaller by nearly $1 million compared to 2011, reduces in-state spending, particularly for the SCBC’s educational and benevolent institutions.
In presenting the revamped state convention budget, Mendel Stewart, chairman of the SCBC’s budget, finance and audit committee, said the leaner budget reflects a continued decline in Cooperative Program giving from the convention’s churches. Through September, CP giving was down 2.8 percent from the previous year, he noted.
The 2012 budget marks the third straight year of shrinking budgets for the SCBC. Since 2009’s high-water budget of $34.25 million, the state convention’s operating budget has contracted by 16.5 percent, or $5.65 million.
Since the GCR report was released in August, Stewart said 31 churches have pledged to increase their Cooperative Program giving, representing approximately $320,000 in new CP support.
The CP portion of the 2012 budget (excluding cooperative gifts of $100,000, which are distributed according to the written intent of the donor) represents a 41/59 division of funds (SBC/SCBC).
In keeping with the GCR task force recommendation that funding to the International Mission Board be increased by nearly 22 percent over the next three years, the 2012 budget includes a new line item of $400,263, which will be sent directly to the IMB. The IMB designation is in addition to the state convention’s $11.7 million allocation for the Southern Baptist Convention.
The 2012 budget includes a convention staff pay increase of $1,500 per position, marking the first salary increase for SCBC staff members since 2008.
Brad Atkins, 39, pastor of First Baptist Church in Powdersville, was elected SCBC president after advancing to a runoff election with David Little, director of missions for the Lakelands Baptist Association. In the runoff, Atkins received 335 votes, or 57.6 percent of total votes cast. Little received 246 votes, or 42.4 percent.
On the first ballot, there were two additional nominees: Bennie Durham, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marietta, and Terry Duvall, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Gaffney. Voting from the first ballot was as follows: Atkins, 305; Little, 231; Durham, 97; Duvall, 86.
For the office of first vice president, there were two nominees: Brad Kelley, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in West Union, and Terry Pleasant, pastor of Little Mountain Baptist Church in Wellford. Kelley was elected first vice president with 449 of 683 votes cast.
Elected by acclamation as second vice president was Frankie Melton, pastor of Heath Springs Baptist Church. Other officers, also elected by acclamation, were Jackie Ridings, ministry assistant for the Edgefeld Baptist Association, recording secretary, and Wayne Ellis, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Orangeburg, registration secretary.
Atkins challenged pastors to lead the convention’s churches in support of the new direction set forth by the GCR task force.
“Great Commission Resurgence won’t happen because of a vote at this annual meeting,” Adkins said. “GCR will take place when pastors embrace it and lead their churches to embrace it.
“GCR belongs to all of us, and I believe it is the course God is leading us to as a convention. It’s about missions. Why is it important for all of us to get behind the GCR now that it’s approved? We know that we will spend eternity together in heaven, but the question is, ‘How many of today’s lost people will spend eternity with us?’ It’s going to take all of us — all 2,100 churches — to make this happen.”
Atkins, who previously served as a youth and associate pastor, has been a pastor for five years. “I’m somewhere [in age] between a younger pastor and older pastor, and I’m also a relatively new pastor,” he said. “In our work together, we have to pull together all generations so that we can all learn from one another. We also have to get on our faces and seek God’s will for our convention.”
Asked what groups in SCBC life need encouragement during his year of service, Atkins named the convention and institution staff members “who are the hands and feet of our convention” and those who are disenchanted with convention life and “don’t know about or understand convention work and all the Great Commission work that we do.”
Atkins was the 2011 SCBC first vice president, 2010 second vice president, and served as a member of the SCBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.
Five resolutions were presented by the SCBC’s resolutions committee and were adopted, without discussion, by a show of ballots.
The following resolutions were approved:
— Transparency in Education: Noting that there are approximately 700,000 students in South Carolina’s public schools, where “secular information (including Darwinian evolution, homosexuality, sinful sexual behavior, and other issues contrary to biblical teaching) is often highlighted by educators and guidance counselors,” and where parents cannot depend on children to “provide an accurate, in-depth, transparent review” of what is being taught, messengers urged South Carolina lawmakers to support legislation that would require public schools to post curriculum materials online.
The resolution also called on parents and guardians to be “actively engaged in their children’s education and aware of that which they are being exposed [to].”
— Protecting Religious Liberty Through Public Policy: Messengers adopted a resolution calling on South Carolina’s local, state and federal elected officials to “ensure the complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
“Religious exercise cannot be confined to clergy,” the resolution stated. “It necessarily involves people of faith whose freedom must be accessible to, and in, the business community (including the right of expression through for-profit and non-profit corporations undergirded with Christian convictions).”
The resolution noted that the Department of Health and Human Services has issued amendments that would require group health plans and insurance providers to cover contraception, abortifacients, sterilization and FDA-approved reproductive health counseling, which “infringes on the free exercise of religion in that it provides no exemption for individuals of faith.”
“The Rule, as written, constitutes an unprecedented government intrusion into religious belief and practice, setting a precarious precedent for further intrusions in other areas like the sanctity of marriage and family,” the resolution said.
— Purity in Technology: Messengers approved a resolution to “encourage our members to actively pursue purity in their personal use of current and emerging forms of technology.” The resolution also called on parents to monitor their children’s use of technology and to give children biblical instruction “to help them develop discernment in protecting their hearts and minds as we diligently work to protect ourselves.”
— Christian Unity: Noting that “our testimony and witness to the world is dependent on how we interact with each other,” messengers proclaimed “our intent to foster a climate of unity through Christian communication that brings honor to our Lord.”
— Appreciation: Messengers expressed appreciation to the staff of the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, city officials, SCBC officers and staff, and platform speakers, worship leaders and musicians.
In addition to GCR-related changes, the bylaws committee made the following recommendations:
— A change to Article II, which provides a formula based on church size and age for the convention president to use in appointing the committee on committees. The formula ensures some parity, pulling committee members from different sized churches. The recommendation also encourages the president to “see people who accurately reflect the ethnic diversity of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.”
— A change to Article III that calls on the convention’s nominations committee to also seek nominees who reflect the ethnic diversity of the convention.
— An addition to the bylaws that adopts the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as the SCBC’s statement of faith.
The recommended bylaw changes will be considered for approval at next year’s annual meeting.
Messengers heard from Frank Page, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors and president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, who brought greetings and voiced support for the state convention’s GCR report.
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered a message during a time of worship and, along with SCBC president Sonny Holmes and GCR task force chairman Ralph Carter, met with 400 messengers for a Q&A on the GCR report.
SCBC messengers also:
— Approved a motion from Hans Wunch, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Ware Shoals, that the “Executive Board study the effectiveness of the 60/40 split of church staff and lay people [serving on] the [convention’s] nominations committee, then report findings and any recommendations back to us at our next annual meeting.”
— Approved a motion from Bobby Eubanks, pastor of Ridge Baptist Church in Summerville, that “[SCBC executive director-treasurer Jim] Austin and the Executive Board do a cost analysis of the operation of the Baptist building and take the proper action to reduce the $600,000 operating expense in lieu of the current staff reductions and program changes.”
— Received notice that a motion from Patrick Dye, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Columbia, regarding SCBC staff compensation was referred to the convention’s Executive Board for review.
Next year’s annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention will be Nov. 13-14 at the TD Convention Center (formerly Textile Hall) in Greenville.
Based on reporting by the staff of the Baptist Courier (www.baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.