FRANKLIN — During 2023 Tennessee Baptists began laying the groundwork for future ministry in the Tennessee Baptist Convention while meeting needs and ministering to people across the state and around the world.
The following is a synopsis of the top stories in 2023:
Acts 2:17 Initiative: The Acts 2:17 Initiative was launched at the annual meeting in 2022, but the bulk of the work took place throughout 2023. An Acts 2:17 Initiative Vision Team, chaired by Jay Hardwick, pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville, was charged with drafting “a vision that would focus the energy, efforts and resources of the network of Tennessee Baptist churches, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and the institutions fostered by the Convention into the immediate and extended future of the Convention following the 150th anniversary of the TBC in 2024.”
The effort was bathed in prayer throughout the process and a Day of Prayer was held on April 26. Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of TBMB, observed that as Tennessee Baptists look to the future, “it is imperative that we are praying to know the will of the Father.”
The vision team released its report in October, prior to The Summit held in Chattanooga in November with the recommendation that messengers to the 2023 annual meeting affirm and adopt the vision and priority statements which will ultimately lead to every Tennessean hearing the gospel. See the Oct. 25 issue of the B&R for the full recommendation.
Messengers at the annual meeting in November overwhelmingly endorsed the Acts 2:17 Initiative.
Blue Oval City: The first major event of the “BlueOval Initiative” took place April 14. It was hosted by more than a dozen Baptist churches and supported by TBMB and Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief. More than 100 volunteers fed more than 1,000 construction workers during a 90-minute stretch. “This was the first big event in terms of having the opportunity to really establish some relationships,” said Danny Sinquefield, Harvest Field One team leader for the TBMB.
Located in Haywood County, roughly 40 miles east of Memphis, BlueOval City in Stanton will eventually become a massive Ford plant that covers approximately 4,100 acres.
TBDR responses: Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief responded to 29 different events in 2023. “it was the busiest year in the history of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief,” affirmed Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the TBMB.
TBDR efforts began early in the year by collecting supplies for people affected by multiple, massive earthquakes in Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6. More than 40,000 people died, thousands were injured and millions of people were impacted by the earthquakes.
Tennessee DR teams responded to multiple tornadoes throughout the state in 2023 as well as responding to needs in Florida, Mississippi, Hawaii and Louisiana.
Tennessee Baptists also collected supplies for Israel, following a devastating attack by the terrorist group Hamas in the early morning hours of Oct. 7. Three Tennessee Baptist teams were in the country during the attack — First Baptist Church, Dyer; First Baptist Church, Knoxville; and Sunnyside Baptist Church, Kingsport. All three teams returned home safely.
Focus on stress in the ministry: The issue of stress and pressures on families, especially ministers, continued to be on the forefront in 2023. A Barna poll in 2023 reported that only 53 percent of pastors are “very satisfied” with their calling. David Kinnaman of Barna Research noted that “pastors have been frontline workers of a sort the last three years (since the beginning of COVID-19) and the toll of stress, isolation, resentment and division continues to impact pastors negatively.”
Knoxville pastor Keith Vaughan of Valley Grove Baptist Church shared his story candidly in an article published April 26 by the B&R. He noted that pastors “do a great job of putting on the mask that needs to be put on so they can do their job. And I did that for a long time.”
Vaughan credited TBMB president and executive director Randy C. Davis for his support and introducing him to Shepherd Care, a ministry provided by the TBMB. “I’ll stand on the rooftop and shout the praises of Randy Davis and Sing Oldham, pastor engagement specialist for TBMB,” he said. “Never have I been more proud than I am now because of the work TBMB does in supporting and helping pastors in this way,” Vaughan said.
Davis invited Leah McLemore to share her testimony to the TBMB directors meeting in May. Her husband, Eric McLemore, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Milam for six years, died Feb. 17 at the age of 34. “Stress was definitely at the center of it (his death). It takes such a toll on our bodies and most of the time, we don’t even realize what it does and how it’s affecting us,” she said.
Leah McLemore told TBMB directors that she believes she has been called to help raise awareness among pastors about the dangers of emotional exhaustion and stress.
“Confronting Mental Health” was one of the “priorities” included in the Acts 2:17 Initiative which was adopted by messengers to the TBC annual meeting in November.
Amy Hood Endowment Fund: In January, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board established the Amy Hood Adoption Endowment fund designed to provide funding for adoption expenses for Tennessee Baptist couples who desire to adopt children.
The endowment is named in honor of Amy Hood, the late wife of Pat Hood, pastor of LifePoint Baptist Church, Smyrna. Amy Hood died on Oct. 30, 2022 at the age of 57. The Hoods adopted three international children after their two biological children were grown and left home.
The endowment fund, which has reached more than $250,000 in less than a year, will be used for grants to assist adoptive parents in Tennessee when the endowment reaches $1 million, said TBMB executive director Randy C. Davis, who along with his wife, Jeanne, gave the initial gift for the fund.
Multiple candidates for TBC presidency: For the first time in 15 years, there were two candidates vying for the presidency of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
In a secret ballot vote, Jay Hardwick, pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville, received 309 votes (56.6 percent) while Todd Stinnett, pastor of Black Oak Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, received 232 votes.
Other major Tennessee news in 2023 included:
• Union University celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2023, culminating a year-long celebration which began in the fall of 2022. The school held a special chapel service, a bicentennial birthday celebration, a documentary release and more on Feb. 3.
• More than 600 women from 132 churches attended the 2023 Woman’s Missionary Union Missions Get-Together, held for the first time at Brentwood Baptist Church on March 23-25. The annual event traditionally has been held in Gatlinburg.
• Nashville Baptists ministered in the wake of a tragic school shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville when a 28-year-old woman and former student entered the building and opened fire, killing six people, including three 9-year-olds. Nearby Woodmont Baptist Church opened its doors after the shooting and served as a site where parents could be reunited with their children from The Covenant School as soon as possible.
In addition, Michael Ivey, a deacon at Temple Baptist Church, White House, and chaplain coordinator for the Metro Nashville Police Department, was involved in providing hope and comfort to those struggling with their grief.
• Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport received a gift of 494.68 acres on English Mountain which adjoins their property. The gift was provided by Highlands at English Mountain LLC.
• Carson-Newman University announced Sept. 5 that it will open its new Nashville Education Center at First Baptist Church, Mount Juliet. The center will offer three degree options.
• A plane crash in Lavaca County, Texas, Jan. 17, killed four members of Harvest Church, Germantown, and left the pastor in critical condition. The crash occurred near the Yoakum Municipal Airport, between Houston and San Antonio.
Among those killed were Bill Garner, the church’s executive pastor, along with elders Steve Tucker, Tyler Patterson and Tyler Springer. Lead pastor Kennon Vaughn was reported in stable but critical condition in an undisclosed Texas hospital. He has since recovered and has returned to his duties at the church.
• Tennessee Baptist pastor Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced in November that he had kidney cancer. The cancer has since spread to his lungs. B&R