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WRAP-UP: Dakota convention to decentralize

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (BP)–Messengers at the fourth annual meeting of the Dakota Baptist Convention heard good financial news, approved a decentralized structure of the two-state convention and welcomed back four congregations.

The theme for the Nov. 7-9 sessions at Cross Pointe Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., was “Fanning the Flame –- Living Like a Missionary” from 2 Timothy 1:6-7.

Vince Smith, pastor of Cross Pointe in Sioux Falls, was elected by acclamation as DBC president, along with Steven Lindsey, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Rapid City, S.D., as vice president. Kathy Osborne of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Grand Forks was re-elected recording secretary, also by acclamation.

Special guests included Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.; Roger “Sing” Oldham, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention relations; and Richard Harris, vice president for missions advancement at the SBC’s North American Mission Board.

The Dakota Baptist Convention, organized in 2003 and now with 4,000 members in 94 congregations, grew out of the Dakota Baptist Fellowship, which started in 1983 when Wyoming Baptists opted out of the Northern Plains Baptist Convention to become a separate state convention, with the Dakotas and Montana then assuming fellowship status.

For the first time since becoming its own entity, the Dakota convention is on track to exceed its CP budget for the calendar year 2007, Executive Director Jim Hamilton reported to the 164 people in attendance at the annual meeting.

The total included 80 messengers and 84 guests, including several members in “biker” regalia from Set Free (Southern Baptist) Church in Sioux Falls. In launching a new DBC tradition, Hamilton announced that a missions offering would be taken each year at the annual meeting. This year’s offering will help Set Free provide Christmas baskets for people in its area of ministry.

An open saddlebag on the back of a classic style, red-and-white Indian brand motorcycle parked at the front of the worship center was the repository for the offering. At the end of the DBC annual meeting, nearly $500 was in the saddlebag.

DBC messengers approved a $1,255,652 budget for the next fiscal year, up $37,012 from 2007, including $240,000 in anticipated Cooperative Program giving by Dakota Baptists. Messengers approved a .5 percent-of-allocation increase to SBC global missions through the Cooperative Program, from 14 percent to 14.5 percent. The two-state convention plans to increase its CP giving a half percent each year, Hamilton said in noting the increase.

Awards were presented to the three churches with the highest per-capita giving through the Cooperative Program and the highest dollar amounts given.

Fairview Baptist Church in Aberdeen, S.D., was first in per-capita giving, followed by CrossRoads Baptist in Minot, N.D., and Living Hope Baptist in West Fargo, N.D. First Baptist Church in Williston, N.D., was first in highest dollar amount given, followed by CrossRoads Baptist in Minot and Cross Pointe in Sioux Falls.

“We’re all in this together,” said John Guillot of the DBC staff in making the presentations. “Nothing is insignificant in God’s eyes.”

The end result of a strategy approved by DBC messengers at the 2005 annual meeting –- to strengthen churches, share Christ, start churches -– was the reorganization of the two-state convention into a three-region decentralized entity, with staff members disbursed across North and South Dakota in order to more effectively serve the needs of the churches.

Each region will be home to a member of the state staff, area missionary and church planting missionary who will work together at the request of local churches and associations to customize leadership development and church starting/strengthening. The men will be joined in their service by Guillott in the role of cross-functional missionary. Guillott and his wife Donna started the decentralization process in October by moving from the old headquarters city of Bismarck, N.D., to Pierre, S.D., a more central city.

“The needs in the Badlands of North Dakota are much different from the needs of Sioux Falls, S.D.,” explained Larry Parvin as part of a several-person presentation of the regionalization plan. Parvin, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Mitchell, S.D., was the person to first suggest decentralization.

It was a suggestion at first discarded, but which after prayer and subsequent discussions came to be seen as the best way to meet the needs of Dakota Baptists and their churches, Parvin said.

“Missionaries don’t visit the field; they live on the field,” Executive Director Jim Hamilton explained as one of the reasons he came to see the benefit of decentralization. “Moving missionaries to the field can never be a bad thing.”

When the Dakota convention was organized, it was modeled after southern state conventions, because there was no other model, Hamilton said. But now, at least seven other state conventions have moved to or are thinking about regionalization, he added.

Another high point of the annual meeting was the announcement of a return of four congregations in the Sioux Falls area to the convention. They left during a time of instability in what was then a fledgling new-work convention and, in retrospect, they did the right thing in leaving, Hamilton said.

As a new executive director dealing with a wounded two-state convention, he would not have had the energy to also effectively deal with a group of what undoubtedly would have been vocal dissidents, Hamilton said. He apologized publicly for intemperate words expressed in a series of e-mails with one of the pastors.

“We welcome you back into the Dakota Baptist Convention,” Hamilton said. “We’re your servants at the Dakota Baptist Convention.”

The return of the churches came after a recent series of meetings with Jesse Moore, Hamilton said. Moore, one of the longest-tenured pastors in the Dakotas, is pastor of three churches -– including an online congregation to which more than 250 log on to each week -– and overseer of two others.

Moore, who did not speak during the announcement, said privately that he’d been watching what he determined was a positive redirection of the two-state convention. It was a direction he felt comfortable leading his congregations and other pastors to endorse, he said.

“I’m very excited about the direction of the convention and very pleased with the leadership of Jim Hamilton that I’ve observed in the three years we were gone,” Moore said. “We are excited about the future of our relationship with the Dakota Baptist Convention. We’re back by choice and Jim Hamilton’s leadership is a great part of what enabled us to make that choice.”

During the nominating committee’s report, messengers voted to remove the name of one person to be re-elected because the church had voted to significantly decrease its giving to the Cooperative Program. The action passed by a vote of 35-2.

In miscellaneous business, Russ Grim, pastor of First Southern Baptist in Gregory, S.D., made a motion to review the qualification and selection process for executive board members, as stated in articles 6 and 7 of the DBC constitution. The motion passed unanimously.

And in a poignant moment, DBC President Bill Savery took a “personal privilege,” as he explained it, to call to the front four young boys who had been sitting quietly throughout the proceedings, so he could pray for them to “recognize Your call on their lives, that they would have favor with their friends and family, that these boys might grow to be true men of God and grow to be the future of this great convention.”

SBC President Frank Page, in addressing the convention, said, “We better get on the ball or we’re going to die.” Preaching from Luke 13:1-9, Page noted, “The sin Jesus condemned the strongest was when people did nothing.

“We are here to bear fruit for the glory of God,” Page continued. “I want to see churches out of the maintenance mode and start winning people for Jesus.”

Hamilton preached about “reversal” from 1 Timothy 4:12-16, noting that 52 out of 94 churches in the Dakotas didn’t baptize anyone last year. Without reversing their present course, he warned that “we’re going to lose half of our churches in the next five years.”

“We need to reverse the direction of lostness in our nation,” Hamilton preached. “We need to reverse the trend -– not just rekindle that which was there, but reverse the trend.”

You do that by developing yourself as a leader, focusing on the needs of the world, being culturally relevant, planting more churches, remembering your calling and being strategic in your planning, Hamilton said.

“Lack of character kills a ministry,” James (Budg) Rickeman noted in the convention’s annual sermon. “If you want to be strongly supported by God, preach His Word.

“John the Baptist stood where God put him,” Rickeman continued. “All that matters is that you stand where He put you.”

Savery preached the closing message from 2 Peter 3:9 and the Old Testament Book of Jonah about being excited, noting, “We have a message that gives us every reason to get excited.”

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church in Mandan, N.D.
Karen Willoughby is the managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and of the Dakota Baptist newsjournal.