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Stay focused on mission, move forward together, McLaurin exhorts in EC report

Willie McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, gives his report to messengers at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans June 13. Photo by Robin Cornetet

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s God-given mission must not change if members are to move forward together, Willie McLaurin said in delivering Part 1 of his Executive Committee report to messengers June 13 at the SBC 2023 Annual Meeting.

“Generations come and go, but our mission has not changed. In fact, brothers and sisters, it must not change,” said McLaurin, interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. “This is our time, our turn to carry on the legacy of reaching neighbors and nations for Christ.”

McLaurin assured messengers of the EC’s commitment to support entities in their work.

“Every organization needs to have a vision and mission that defines its preferred future or there is no future,” McLaurin said. “Vision gives direction, and that is why the direction given to the SBC Executive Committee by the Southern Baptist Convention begins with coming alongside each SBC entity and supporting it as it carries out its assigned task.”

McLaurin asserted a vision that reignites Southern Baptists’ passion and purpose for the Great Commission, focuses on reaching and mobilizing the next generation for Christ, encourages a renewed commitment to the Cooperative Program, renews cooperation, remembers Southern Baptists’ calling and reclaims Southern Baptists’ conviction.

McLaurin called out “the elephant in the room,” pledging to work to restore trust that fuels cooperation.

“Trust in organizations and trust of organizational leaders has significantly diminished in our culture and certainly in our network,” he said. “Leaders must own that and communicate in transparency to regain the trust that’s been lost. Why? Because we cannot successfully accomplish what we say we are about as Southern Baptists without trust. Cooperation is built on trust.

“The SBC Executive Committee is working diligently to restore that trust.”

Restored trust, he said, will help mobilize more missionaries to the nations, increase church plants, lead more people to surrender to ministry and lead to more people accepting Jesus and growing in discipleship.

He lamented a 30-year decline in Cooperative Program receipts, which fell from an average of 9.26 percent of undesignated gifts per church in 1993, to 4.59 percent today.

“While we all search for creative ways to do more with less, we must forge a new path forward if we are to reverse this decline and reinvigorate our commitment to cooperative missions,” he said. “I believe that the secret of the SBC’s cooperation in missions and ministry is that every church – whether it be large or small, rural or urban, established for decades or newly planted – has a meaningful part in everything that Southern Baptists do together.

“Every church has a part in sending every missionary, planting every church and educating every minister in our seminaries,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, what we do best, we do when we are working together.”

He referenced International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood’s reminder that, “When the Great Commission is not the lead topic of conversation in Southern Baptist life, the other topics tend to divide us.”

Stay focused, McLaurin told messengers, by realizing the SBC’s purpose, protecting the body’s mission, remaining faithful to what God has entrusted to the SBC, defining values and living them out daily, embracing change and understanding change must occur while preserving core identity.

In the 16 months of McLaurin’s interim presidency, he has spurred mutual encouragement and accountability, he said, by engaging with every state convention and its executive director, SBC entity leaders and associational leaders. He cited efforts to build trust with the 11,281 ethnically and racially diverse Southern Baptist congregations.

“This spectrum of color and languages reminds me,” he said, “that we must press on toward seeing the inclusion from people from every tribe, tongue and nation gathering around the throne worshipping the Lord.”

Southern Baptists must engage others, engage and impact the culture and engage the local church, depending on Jesus to take us beyond our limitations.

“If we depend on the Convention, we get what the Convention can give us,” he said. “But if we depend on prayer, we’ll get what only God can do. Brothers and sisters, I challenge each of us today to be a person of prayer and to turn every gathering of two or more into a house of prayer.”

He exhorted Southern Baptists to consider the legacy the denomination will leave.

“I believe we can and should be known as a people who acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with our God,” he said, referencing the legacy of Nehemiah who prayed, planned and pushed forward.

“We can become a testimony to the nations of God’s redeeming power,” McLaurin said. “I want this so badly I have days where my soul aches that God will renew us and use us. In the power of the Holy Spirit and through our humility and obedience, I pray that through our proclamation of the Gospel we will see millions worldwide swept into God’s Kingdom to worship the Lamb that was slain.”

The Executive Committee presented three recommendations to messengers, all of which were approved.

Messengers approved Recommendation 1, the SBC Executive Committee 2023-2024 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $195,250,000, as recorded on page 39 of the 2023 Book of Reports; and Recommendation 2, the 2023-2024 SBC Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget of $8,305,500, on page 40 of the Book of Reports.

Recommendation 3 proposed an amendment to SBC Bylaw 20, impacting the timelines for submitting and reporting resolutions. Under the change, proposed resolutions should be submitted to the SBC Resolutions Committee as early as April 1, but no later than 20 days prior to the subsequent SBC annual meeting. Additionally, the initial Resolutions Committee report must be released at least 10 days prior to the annual meeting, and the first report shall be published in the annual meeting’s first Daily Bulletin.

McLaurin augmented his report with a video of the Cooperative Program at work through disaster relief.

Scott Brown, associational mission strategist with the Wilson County Baptist Association in Lebanon, Tenn., thanked the SBC for its help when tornados struck nearby Waverly, Tenn.

“Thank you because you did not forget us in our worst days,” Brown said in the video. “Thank you to every hero who wears that yellow hat of Disaster Relief. Thanks be to God who went before us and He never once failed to prove Himself faithful, sovereign, good and true.”