By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — There was no shortage of news in the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 2016.
The story that garnered the most national attention occurred Nov. 28 when fires swept across Sevier County, primarily in Gatlinburg, leaving 14 people dead, injuring at least 160 others, and damaging or destroying 2,400 structures including three Tennessee Baptist churches in Gatlinburg — Roaring Fork Baptist Church, Banner Baptist Church, and First Baptist Church.
After the fires, hundreds of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief (TBDR) volunteers provided assistance. Volunteers have done everything from providing hot meals and sack lunches to clearing charred trees off property and some demolition to sifting through ashes and debris in hopes of finding a family heirloom or simply an item with only sentimental value.
Most of all, however, they showed the love of Christ to residents of Sevier County.
In addition to physical aid, Tennessee Baptists provided thousands upon thousands of dollars of supplies and donated more than $346,861 (as of Jan. 11) through TBDR to help victims.
Volunteers will continue to work in Gatlinburg through at least Jan. 21, said Wes Jones, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief specialist.
Two major events revolved around the former Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Messengers to the annual meeting during The Summit held at the Sevier County Convention Center in November approved a name change from Executive Board to Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB).
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, reminded messengers that Tennessee is a missions field that is growing. “The new name is concise and communicates what we are about,” he said.
Earlier in the year (April 23), groundbreaking was held for the new Church Support Center that will be located just off I-65, south of Franklin on a former farm owned by the Berry family of Franklin for about 100 years.
Davis said the new facility will enable the TBMB to walk alongside Tennessee Baptists in reaching the state with the gospel of Christ. “We have the privilege of washing the feet of the local church. This is what this is all about,” he said during the groundbreaking service that was attended by approximately 275 Tennessee Baptists from every geographical area of the state.
For the first time since 2006-07, Cooperative Program gifts from TBC churches exceeded the budget. A total of $34,606,850 was given last year. The amount was $356,850 or 1.04 percent over budget needs. In addition, Tennessee Baptists gave $1,713,258 to the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions last year. The total was a 5.3 percent increase over the amount given during the previous year. It also was the second highest offering ever in the 113-year history of the offering, according to Vickie Anderson, Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union executive director.
Other top news stories of significance in Tennessee in 2016 included:
- Steve Freeman, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Springfield, was elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
- Statistics show that pornography use by teenagers is increasing. Tennessee Baptist youth ministers across the state offered pointers on how churches and parents can combat the problem. Shawn Lowery, youth minister at First Baptist Church, Portland, called pornography a “growing problem and not enough people are talking about it in church” (see Feb. 10 issue, B&R).
- Though it was a Southern Baptist Convention-wide story, Tennesseans were heartbroken when the International Mission Board announced last February that 988 missionaries left the missions field along with 149 stateside staff members as part of a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI). In addition, most of the communications staff was eliminated. The reduction in staff was needed in order to have a balanced budget for 2016-17, according to IMB President David Platt. Several missionaries who left the field had Tennessee ties. Those who were able to attend The Summit in Sevierville were recognized during one session.
- Tennessee Baptist pastor Steve Gaines announced in March that he would allow his nomination for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, was later elected president before the third ballot after J.D. Greear withdrew his name from consideration “because Southern Baptists need to leave St. Louis united.” Greear received 44.97 percent of the vote on the first ballot with Gaines receiving 44.1 percent and Louisiana pastor David Crosby receiving 10.08 percent. On the second ballot, Gaines received 49.96 percent to Greear’s 47.80 percent.
- The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board placed a major emphasis on reaching Generation Z, children born after 9/11. It is predicted to be the largest generation ever birthed in North America and may be the most lost spiritually. Estimates are that only one out of 10 Gen Zers will become Christians (See May 18 issue of B&R).
- Martha Pitts, a member of Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, was elected the 30th president of Tennessee WMU on April 9.
- According to the 2016 SBC Church Compensation Study, the average compensation (salary and housing) and pay packages for senior pastors and staff ministers in Tennessee Baptist Convention churches exceeds the national average in most categories (See Oct. 5 issue).
- Two long-time Tennessee Baptist Mission Board employees, Gary Rickman and Phyllis Bates, announced their retirements in 2016. Rickman, director of strategic relationships, retired Dec. 31 after 25 years on staff while Bates, executive assistant, will retire Feb. 28 after nearly 44 years on staff.
- Former TBC president Roc Collins, pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church, Kingsport, was named director of evangelism for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board in November. In his new role, Collins will direct all efforts in achieving Objective 1 of the Five Objectives that TBC messengers adopted as their long-range goal in 2014. Objective 1 is to see at least 50,000 Tennesseans saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship annually by 2024.