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SBC in St. Louis: new president, missions, family, kingdom of God

ST. LOUIS (BP)–Southern Baptists will elect a new president and move forward in missions, family life and vision for the kingdom of God during their June 11-12 annual meeting in St. Louis.

“I think it’s going to be an outstanding convention,” said James Merritt, the outgoing president.

Only one presidential nominee has been announced, Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church, to succeed Merritt, an Atlanta-area pastor who has served the maximum two consecutive one-year terms.

The election will take place Tuesday afternoon, June 11, in St. Louis’ America’s Center, site of the two-day SBC annual meeting and various auxiliary meetings such as the June 9-10 Pastors’ Conference and Woman’s Missionary Union Annual Meeting and Missions Celebration.

The SBC’s passion for missions likely will be fueled by the Tuesday appearance of aid workers Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer who were arrested last year by the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan for sharing their faith — and by the convention’s closing speaker Wednesday afternoon, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.

“And I think we’re going to see once again some very dynamic reports from both the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board,” said Merritt, who will have visited all of the IMB’s 15 regions worldwide by the time the convention meets along with various NAMB stateside missions points.

Through a missions emphasis fashioned around the SBC theme of “The Highest Power for the Greatest Task,” Merritt said he has been praying that the convention “will make a fresh commitment to evangelism and to missions to reach people for Christ.”

“I will always believe that missions, as much as anything else, is what really distinguishes us from so many other denominations. It’s one thing to say you believe in salvation by grace through faith alone, but if you really believe it, then who should have more of a passion for souls than Southern Baptists?”

Of the 80-year-old Bill Bright who stepped down last year from the helm of Campus Crusade, Merritt said, “Maybe with the exception of Billy Graham, probably no one has had more of an impact in the 20th century for world evangelization than Dr. Bill Bright,” through a worldwide evangelistic organization now reaching nearly 200 countries and innovative resources such as the “Jesus” film which has been translated into more than 700 languages.

Also ahead at the SBC:

— A continuing emphasis on strengthening families, with messengers (members representing local churches) to learn details about the first-ever convention-wide family rally — June 19, 2003, in Phoenix, Ariz., the day after the June 17-18 SBC annual meeting there. The rally is among the initiatives of the SBC’s two-year-old Council on Family Life led by former SBC president and Oklahoma City-area pastor Tom Elliff.

— Introduction of a new thrust, “Empowering Kingdom Growth,” described as a vision for what Jesus taught and called for — a thoroughgoing concentration on the kingdom of God. The work of an eight-member Cooperation Task Force of state convention and SBC entity leaders, the EKG thrust has been endorsed by the Southern Baptist Association of State Convention Executive Directors and the SBC Executive Committee.

This year’s convention will continue a change made last year to begin the final SBC session Wednesday afternoon at 3 and ending around 6, replacing the Wednesday evening session. Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., said the change drew a great response from messengers — and bolstered attendance at the closing session. “People are excited about getting out earlier on Wednesday, so they can either go back home if they need to that evening or have a little leisurely time to go out to dinner with friends,” he said.

Merritt’s presidential address is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, while Claude Thomas, pastor of the Dallas/Fort Worth-area First Baptist Church, Euless, will deliver the convention sermon at 8:30 that night.

Interpretations of “The Highest Power for the Greatest Task” theme will be presented by Robert “Bob” White, executive director of the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia, on Tuesday morning; evangelist Junior Hill of Westmeade-Decatur, Ala., Tuesday afternoon; Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, Lake Forest, Calif., and Terry G. Fox, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Wichita, Kan., both on Wednesday morning.

Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, who were among eight foreign aid workers held by the Taliban from August until their rescue just before Thanksgiving, will address messengers during the 10 a.m. Tuesday SBC Executive Committee report.

The International Mission Board report is slated for 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, North American Mission Board, 2:55 p.m. Tuesday; LifeWay Christian Resources, 7:25 p.m. Tuesday; Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, 4:55 p.m. Wednesday; Annuity Board, 10:35 a.m. Wednesday; the six SBC seminaries, 3:50 p.m. Tuesday; and Woman’s Missionary Union, 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.

The week prior to the SBC, the annual Crossover evangelistic effort coordinated by NAMB and Missouri Baptists will penetrate metro St. Louis with the gospel. Hundreds of adults and teenagers will participate in mission opportunities throughout the region.

The two-day schedule for the annual meeting will mean messengers wanting to introduce resolutions for consideration must do so before the start of the Tuesday afternoon session. Messengers who want to have resolutions considered are urged to send them before the annual meeting to the Resolutions Committee c/o Convention Relations, Executive Committee, 901 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37203.

The registration of messengers will open at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 10, and at 8 a.m. on the following Monday through Wednesday.

Messengers must be credentialed by their respective churches. According to SBC Bylaw 8, the church’s clerk or moderator must sign the familiar messenger card, “the best credential.” The messenger card may be obtained from state convention offices or the local association office in some states.

SBC officials emphasized that most state conventions do not automatically send the cards to churches. The churches must request the messenger cards from their state convention offices.

If a messenger comes to the meeting without a properly completed card, the person must go before the convention’s Credentials Committee. The Credentials Committee will open after 8:30 a.m. on Monday, June 11. Any messenger who does not have a messenger card should bring a letter from the church and meet with the Credentials Committee.

The registration desk also will be able to accommodate messengers who need to send messages either by telegram or fax, and it will serve as the convention’s lost and found office, according to SBC officials.

The qualifications for messengers wanting to register for the convention are found in Article III of the SBC Constitution. Messengers of the convention are members of missionary Baptist churches cooperating with the convention as follows:

“1. One messenger from each church which (1) Is in friendly cooperation with the Convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work. Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches that act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. And, (2) Has been a bona fide contributor to the Convention’s work during the fiscal year proceeding.

“2. One additional messenger from each such church for every 250 members; or for each $250 paid to the work of the Convention during the fiscal year preceding the annual meeting.

“3. The messengers shall be appointed and certified by the churches to the Convention, but no church may appoint more than 10.

“4. Each messenger shall be a member of the church by which he is appointed.”

The convention does not register “alternate messengers.”

Other amenities provided by the registration desk include nametags and a service to locate messengers’ hotel rooms. Messengers should include the name and number of their hotel on their registration cards.

Additional information about the annual meeting can be found at www.sbc.net.
(BP) graphic and photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Title: 2002 SBC ANNUAL MEETING and AMERICA’S CENTER.