TBC elects first African-American president; strides made toward 50/50 CP distribution
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — By unanimous consent, messengers to the 140th annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention elected the first African-American president in convention history during the Nov. 11-12 meeting held at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood.
The 958 registered messengers from 316 churches were welcomed to the convention by host pastor Mike Glenn and Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam who brought greetings.
Haslam thanked Tennessee Baptists for the impact they have had on the state for 140 years.
“I am grateful for all the years you have spent helping to make Tennessee a better place,” he said.
During the sessions, messengers adopted a report from the Vision 2021 Transition Team that moves the convention forward in its desire to reach a 50/50 percent distribution of Cooperative Program funds with the Southern Baptist Convention by 2018-19.
As part of that process, messengers defeated an amendment to the budget that would have frozen the 2014-15 budget at last year’s level in order to minimize reductions to TBC institutions.
Michael C. Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church, Memphis, was unopposed for the TBC presidency. Ellis served as vice president of the convention in 2012.
Ellis was nominated for the position by Fred Shackelford, pastor of Ellendale Baptist Church in Bartlett and a former TBC president. Shackelford noted that Ellis “has proven himself as an excellent leader in our state.”
Shackelford acknowledged that if elected Ellis would be the TBC’s first African-American pastor. “I’m incredibly excited that we have this opportunity to do this long overdue historic thing, but can I be honest with you?
“I don’t care what color Michael’s skin is. He’s faithful to the Word, he loves the Lord Jesus, and he loves his church,” Shackelford continued.
In addition to serving as vice president, Ellis also has served on the convention’s Committee on Committees. His church in inner city Memphis gives 7.2 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
After his election, Ellis told the Baptist and Reflector that he views his election as “another opportunity to serve.”
The Memphis pastor does not view his status as the TBC’s first African-American pastor as that noteworthy. “I just happen to be an African-American.” He did acknowledge, however, that it is good for the convention.
“That’s what I love about our convention. Race doesn’t matter,” he said.
Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director-treasurer, called Ellis’ election “a monumental moment” in the history of the state convention.
“It’s not the color of his skin that matters. It’s the content of his heart,” Davis affirmed, adding that Ellis “has done an incredible work in the heart of Memphis.”
Messengers elected David Leavell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, as vice president, and Nathan Washburn, pastor of First Baptist Church, Greenbrier, as second vice president. Both pastors were unopposed and were elected by unanimous consent.
Leavell was nominated by Mark Tuso, pastor, Crosspointe Baptist Church, Millington.
He reported that Leavell “is committed to the broader ministry” of the TBC as well as the local church. He has led his church to be a faithful supporter of the Cooperative Program and be committed to evangelism and missions. Last year the church baptized 131 people, Tuso added.
Brent Moore, current second vice president and minister of adults at First Baptist Church, Clarksville, nominated Washburn.
Moore said he became acquainted with Washburn while they were both members of First Baptist Church, Martin, where they grew up.
Washburn “understands what it means not only to be a pastor but to be an associational guy,” noted Moore.
After much discussion and a failed amendment, TBC messengers approved a budget of $34,250,000 for 2014-15. The budget is $2,250,000 less than the current year’s budget of $36,500,000.
The new budget allocates $19,841,025 (57.93 percent) to TBC causes while directing $14,408,975 (42.07 percent) to SBC missions and ministries. Last year the SBC received 41.25 percent of CP receipts from Tennessee.
When the budget was presented during the opening session on Nov. 11, Ron Stewart, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Knoxville, offered an amendment:
• “That the individual budget categories, as identified in the Vision 2021 report, be frozen at the percentage levels of the 2013-14 budget.
• “That all Cooperative Program funds received in the 2014-15 budget year that are in excess of the 2013-14 giving level be designated to the SBC causes until such time as the distribution reaches the 50-50 level.
• “That after the 50-50 level is reached, all future CP funds shall then be equally distributed between the state causes and the SBC with the new percentages determined based on the dollar values for each entity at that time.”
During discussion the following day, Stewart said the 50/50 plan was not the issue. “This is something that will take place,” he said, noting that the amendment “is a better way to reach a 50-50 division without hurting some of our key institutions.”
Specifically citing Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Stewart said reducing their funds this year could have a negative impact on the college. “This is the wrong time to withdraw funds from Carson-Newman,” he said.
Sam Nichols, messenger from First Baptist Church, Collierville, opposed the amendment. He observed that “sometimes sentiment drives us. We have a lot of great ministries in Tennessee and we are faced with decisions about doing many good things,” he noted.
Nichols cited the number of lost people worldwide and the need to send more resources through the International Mission Board.
Carter Davis, a member of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church, Knoxville, and chairman of the trustees of Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy, spoke for the amendment.
As a retired missionary from the IMB, and because of his relationship with Harrison-Chilhowee, Carter Davis said he can see “both sides” of the issue.
“The amendment strengthens the Cooperative Program in Tennessee,” he said, noting that throughout the convention speakers cited the need to reach the younger generation with the gospel. He encouraged messengers to vote for the amendment in order to continue affordable education in “our Christian academic institutions. Lives are being changed.”
Several other messengers spoke for and against the amendment. Most of those for the amendment cited the need to not reduce funding for Tennessee Baptist institutions while those against the amendment cited the need for sending more funds to the SBC in order to send out more missionaries through the International Mission Board.
Speaking as a messenger from First Baptist Church, Sevierville, Randy C. Davis noted that when entity leaders met earlier this year they all left in agreement with the plan. Only one entity head was absent (Bryant Millsaps of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes) and Davis said he talked with him the next day.
He noted that had the Vision 2021 Transition Team report been presented last year as planned, the cuts would have been greater for the institutions.
Davis said Cooperative Program giving has been in a general decline for the last 13-15 years. He encouraged messengers to adopt the budget as presented. “This is a bold step of faith, not a step of fear,” he said. He added that the initial budget cuts will “allow us to see what happens with Cooperative Program giving. “If there is a problem, we can come back to it,” he said.
Prior to the vote Randall O’Brien, president of Carson-Newman University, said the college would be “100 percent on board” regardless of whether the amendment passed or failed.
The amendment failed on a ballot vote — 402-173.
The budget was then approved, with a ballot vote of 425-68.
As part of the Executive Board’s report, messengers approved motions regarding a change to the business and financial plan and the funding of Cooperative Program promotion.
Transition Team report
The approval of the report of the Vision 2021 Transition Team culminated a four-year process.
Shortly after his election as TBC executive director, Davis appointed a Vision 2021 Task Force to map out the direction of the convention. The task force, chaired by Danny Sinquefield, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett, presented its report that was approved by messengers in 2012. The Vision 2021 Transition Team was formed and Chuck Groover, pastor of Victory Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, was named chairman. Their report was to have been presented at last year’s annual meeting but was delayed until this year to allow more time for messengers to understand the impact of the report and the team’s recommendations.
Groover told messengers that the Transition Team “sought God’s direction” to be faithful to the task the convention asked them to do. He stressed that the team was committed to getting to a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program receipts with the Southern Baptist Convention by the 2018-19 budget year.
“It is our prayer that our bold actions in 2010 and 2012 (when TBC messengers expressed a desire to move toward a 50/50 distribution of CP funds) will not be allowed just to become lip service,” he said.
The first recommendation dealt with “Five Great Objectives” that will shape the direction of the convention through 2024, the convention’s 150th anniversary. The Five Objectives were approved by the TBC Executive Board in June. They are:
(1) Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024;
(2) Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024;
(3) Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024;
(4) Realizing an increase in local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024; and
(5) Realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024.
The recommendation was overwhelmingly adopted with no visible opposition in a show of hands vote.
The second recommendation called for “everyone invited to serve on the boards of TBC entities, on TBC committees, and in elected leadership roles in and with the convention, as well as Executive Board ministry staff, agree to enter a covenant of service in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”
The recommendation passed with limited opposition in a show of hands vote.
The third recommendation presented by the Transition Team was an incremental plan to get to a 50/50 distribution of CP funds by the 2018-19 budget year.
Mike Boyd, pastor of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church, Knoxville, spoke against the recommendation, noting that it would hurt the institutions. He moved that action on the recommendation be postponed until after the vote on the budget amendment.
Boyd said he felt the recommendation would lead to more designated giving and would ultimately hurt the Cooperative Program.
Groover responded, noting that the Transition Team worked with the understanding that the convention wanted to move toward a 50/50 distribution of funds. “For us to back up now and postpone something we have been praying about since 2010 defeats the purpose,” Groover said.
Messengers debated the pros and cons of moving toward the 50/50 distribution of funds while stating their case for or against postponement.
A show of hands vote was too close to call so a ballot vote was taken. The move to postpone passed by 320-280 margin.
The recommendation passed with limited opposition the next day after an amendment to the budget failed earlier in the day.
The final recommendation from the Transition Team reduced the amount of funding from the convention for ministers’ retirement accounts. Concern was expressed that the reduction would be a burden for bivocational and single staff pastors, but the recommendation was approved with limited opposition.
Worship experiences permeated the annual meeting. Paul Clark of the TBC staff coordinated the worship times which featured special music from various church choirs and groups across the state as well as special guests including the Tennessee Ladies Chorus and Men’s Chorale, Keith and Kristyn Getty, and Overflow, a husband and wife team featuring Cliff and April Duren and Heather Richardson.
Sessions featured testimonies, prayer time, and baptisms by way of video.
TBC messengers approved a formal partnership with Guatemalan Baptists which will begin in 2016 and will be coordinated by Garry Eudy, a retired IMB missionary to Central America.
Dave Howeth of Denver, Colo., made a presentation to Randy C. Davis (a Denver Broncos Peyton Manning T-shirt and a framed print) in honor of the upcoming partnership with Send Denver that begins Jan. 1, 2015. Davis presented Howeth with a Tennessee state flag.
“Whatever It Takes”
Speakers throughout the annual meeting touched on the Summit theme of “Whatever It Takes” (see articles from speakers throughout this issue).
Charles Roesel, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church, Leesburg, Fla., presented two interpretations of the theme.
Roesel said his church used ministry to evangelize or “ministry evangelism.” The church developed a home for abused children, mentoring program for at-risk children, center for people with addictions, pregnancy crisis center, medical center, thrift store, and more. The church also developed similar ministries in other countries.
Baptists don’t want all kinds of people in our churches, he said. “We want our kind of people. … It takes us loving all kinds of people the same.”
Eventually, First Baptist, Leesburg, gave 65 percent of its budget to others, Roesel said. And, during his 30 years of ministry there, the church baptized about 7,000 people. “That is a God thing,” he declared.
Messengers overwhelmingly approved reports from the convention’s Committee on Boards, Committee on Committees, Constitution and Bylaws Committees, and Resolutions Committee.
Only one resolution was presented and adopted, the traditional resolution on gratitude related to the annual meeting. A resolution was offered on support of the nation of Israel but after consulting with IMB personnel the committee chose not to offer the resolution. David Lawrence, pastor of Lucy Baptist Church, Millington, and a member of the Resolutions Committee, led messengers in a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.
The convention also approved a report from the Committee on Arrangements naming Ray Newcomb, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church, Millington, to bring the 2015 convention sermon, and selecting the Knoxville Convention Center as the site for the Nov. 12-13, 2019, annual meeting.
Messengers also heard a number of reports from TBC and SBC entity heads, including Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., who reported on the seminary’s upcoming relocation to Southern California from their current site in Mill Valley.
The 2015 annual meeting of the TBC will be held Nov. 10-11 at First Baptist Church, Millington.