Thank you, Dr. Gaines.
It is good to be back in Dallas. I was raised here a couple of doors off of Preston Road, went to Highland Park High School here, walked from my home up to SMU to sit for my bar examination (though I graduated from Baylor), and was involved in, and greatly shaped by, my membership in First Baptist Church about a dozen blocks north of this spot.
And as long as we are talking about “this spot,” it was here (not in this building but on these grounds) where this meeting had its highest attendance thirty-three years ago—almost five times as many messengers as we expect to register this year. Imagine that—a crowd five times this size in a room like this!
I attended that 1985 gathering as did many of you. If you were there, and if any aspects of this meeting appear challenging, it might help us to remember that we once had almost five times as many difficulties—back then forty-five motions were proposed, dozens of amendments were offered and debated, and seventy-four resolutions were submitted! If the Lord was able to see us through all that, He can certainly help us now.
Would those of you who are attending the SBC annual meeting for the first time please stand? (Please remain standing for a moment. Everyone look around and see who these new folks are. Thank you.)
I hope all of you “old hands” will pick out a new attendee near you and welcome them, and perhaps offer them any assistance, information, or explanation they might need. Our annual meetings may prove a challenge for first-timers to navigate. (My ninety-one-year-old father and my stepmother are here as messengers from Hyde Park Baptist in Austin, but you new folks won’t be able to get any help from them because they move too fast for you to catch up to them.)
For you new messengers, and as a reminder for the rest of us, I want to take a few moments now to explain what is going on in this segment of our meeting.
This is the Executive Committee Report to the messengers from the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The Executive Committee is sort of a Southern Baptist “House of Representatives.” It can have up to eighty-six members.
The bylaws require that at least one third of its members be lay persons and at least one third be ministers. Its members come from churches of all sizes all over America. These men and women act during the year to perform tasks that this Convention has assigned to them.
Those tasks are listed on pages 151–154 and on page 175 at the back of the Book of Reports each of you messengers was given when you registered.
So, again, this is a report. It is not a decision or an instruction or a directive. Those who are not Southern Baptist sometimes think we are organized like other denominations, with various levels of authority above the local church level, but we are not.
In our structure, the churches are at the top of the power pyramid, and the SBC’s ministry entities and its Executive Committee have been created to serve those churches, not to govern them.
It has long been our tradition that when things are proposed by motions you messengers make, that those things are almost always referred to the proper SBC entity, or to the Executive Committee, for a report back to you that advises you about it or makes a recommendation.
In this way, our Convention has injected, by bylaw, a deliberate thoughtfulness designed to include expertise, experience, and the opinions of a cross section of Southern Baptists.
More importantly, we do it this way because we have seen this model lifted up in the scriptures—Proverbs 11:14, 13:10, and 15:22 are examples.
Our process is designed to avoid precipitous action. Admittedly, it may frustrate anyone who might prefer an instant reaction, but the SBC is a big ship, and big ships, while strong and more stable, often turn slowly.
What is about to happen in this report is that the Executive Committee is going to recommend five actions to the messengers in this hall, and then the messengers are going to decide whether or not they want to approve those recommendations.
In a moment, I am going to introduce Dr. Stephen Rummage. He is presently the chairman of your Executive Committee. He in turn will introduce various Executive Committee members to present the recommendations I just referred to. As you might suppose, the first one is the most important one of them, because it has to do with how our national part of the Cooperative Program will be applied.
For almost 100 years, The Cooperative Program has been the principal way Southern Baptists have funded all their ministries. It is built on the assumption that Bible-believing Christians will voluntarily tithe and give additional offerings to their local church, and that the local church, out of those tithes and other receipts, will voluntarily forward on a percentage for worthy ministries the church is not able to sustain by itself.
The voluntary contributions from churches (which are derived from the individual member contributions) are forwarded to the state convention most of our churches are involved with. Each state convention serves those churches by supplying ministry needs across their state with a little more or less than half of what the churches send, and then the state conventions forward what is left to the national convention—to this body—for ministries each state convention alone could not do or might need help with.
The ministries that this body supports and works through are sometimes referred to as the SBC ministries, or as the “national ministries,” but they also include international missions. You can see all our ministries listed in various pages of your Book of Reports, such as on page 6, page 33, and page 178.
You may have noticed that a moment ago, I kept emphasizing that the contributions that support all these entities and all that ministry are voluntary. I did that because so many outside our Southern Baptist family, as well as some Bible churches that have just recently joined us, have presumed that there is some sort of mandatory contribution or dues requirement. That simply is not so. In our system, we presume that God’s people know that tithing and giving honor the Lord, and are things that are characteristic of committed Christians.
With that presumption, and in that way, every contributing Southern Baptist and every cooperating Southern Baptist church has a part in supplying every Southern Baptist ministry at every level—local church, association, state convention, and national convention.
We call this “cooperative ministry.” And the last stop along the way, within the national portion of it, we allocate among the various “national” ministries according to the sense of importance . . . or proportion . . . or priority that you messengers have traditionally supported. Some of our ministries are self-funded, but no ministry needing support is overlooked or unincluded.
That describes how important the first recommendation is.
Our other recommendations have to do with our Convention’s Operating Budget, the Executive Committee budget, and two relating to special emphasis days on our denominational calendar. You can see the detail of these recommendations on pages 34–36 of your Book of Reports.
In the latter half of this first report, after our recommendations are offered and voted upon, the EC will present other business. This afternoon I will report to you about other ongoing work, provide some vital Convention statistics, and discuss some of the challenges the SBC presently faces.
Now, to lay before you for approval the recommendations I described, let me introduce to you the chairman of your Executive Committee, Dr. Stephen Rummage, senior pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida.