TN Baptists Are Celebrating a Decade With Davis
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — In August of 2010, just six weeks after becoming the executive director of the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board), Randy C. Davis reflected on his new role in an interview with the Baptist and Reflector.
“We have incredible opportunities before us to continue to impact our state for the cause of Christ,” he said.
Davis recalled that when he was approached about leaving a pastorate he and his wife Jeanne loved (First Baptist Church, Sevierville) that they prayed for and asked for a clear call from God. “We didn’t want to miss God. We didn’t want to wonder if we’d done the right thing. God did give us a very, very clear call.”
Ten years and more than 400,000 miles of in-state travel later, that call still resonates with Davis.
He has seen the convention move forward but he also affirmed that opportunities still remain to impact Tennessee for Christ.
In a podcast with Radio B&R (see Episode 45), Davis recalled that soon after he began his work with the board he discovered that the number of people in Tennessee who were being saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship had declined “dramatically” over half a century.
“I could not understand why that had declined by 33 percent and yet the population of the state had doubled during the same time period,” he recalled. “God really burdened my heart about evangelism and discipleship. After about three and a half to four years, (it was obvious) we needed a clear target to shoot for as a network of churches.”
One of the first things Davis did was to lead the convention to approve the formation of a TBC Vision 2021 Strategic Planning Team to examine where the convention was headed in the future.
In 2012, the planning team presented its report with several recommendations. Among them was a new vision statement for the convention: “Our vision is to penetrate lostness and advance the gospel across Tennessee and to the ends of the earth by asking God to bring a sweeping spiritual awakening in our churches transforming hearts toward radical obedience.”
The report also affirmed the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as the convention’s “confessional foundation guiding our faith and practice as a convention of churches.”
Davis observed that the BFM 2000 is a “crystal clear statement of where we biblically stand on issues of culture and theology.”
Praying across Tennessee
Planning began in late 2013 for a series of prayer rallies to be held across the state, beginning in January of 2014. “Everything rises and falls on prayer,” Davis said. “It doesn’t rise and fall on vision, it doesn’t rise and fall on our ingenuity. It rises and falls on prayer.”
He noted that he wanted to have prayer rallies at courthouses in all 95 Tennessee counties so Baptists could gather and pray.
“It did not matter if we had three or four people or 200 or 300 people,” he recalled.
Davis remembers two things from those rallies. “It’s always good to hang out with Tennessee Baptists and I love hanging out with them. That’s what I love to do more than any aspect of the ministry I’m now involved in — just sitting down at their table and talking to them.”
He also was reminded that connection with Baptists throughout the state is important.
“In two different counties, I heard the same thing from different people: ‘Thank you for coming. We thought we’d been forgotten.’ I don’t want anybody, anywhere in our state to ever feel like they’re forgotten, and we need to stay in touch.”
Davis acknowledged that praying across Tennessee “was one of the richest experiences of my life.”
The Five Objectives
Later that year at the Summit held at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, messengers approved the Five Objectives, a strategic 10-year plan for the convention.
“God gave us clarity and simplicity,” he said.
“We have three reaching objectives and that has to do with people being saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship, revitalizing churches and then planting churches.”
The other two objectives deal with resourcing the reaching objectives through increases in giving through the Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
Davis noted he was advised not to include a time frame with quantifiable objectives. “You won’t survive it,” he was told.
“It was not about Randy or the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board surviving,” he said. “It was about advancing the Great Commission to the point that a culture and a society is impacted with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
While baptisms have not risen as dramatically as Davis would have hoped, there have been increases. Last year TBC churches reported 19,269, up from 19,041 in 2018.
In the area of church revitalization, Davis noted that about 350 churches are experiencing some level of revitalization, nearing the goal of 500. “Some of them have been restarts, some of them have become campuses of other healthier churches, but nonetheless, we have seen hundreds of churches presently in a process of revitalization,” he observed.
Regarding church planting, Davis said, “We are seeing more churches planted now than ever before, particularly among ethnic churches. We have seen churches planted among Arabic-speaking people and launched Russian churches. We have had churches from ethnic groups around the world started right here in Tennessee, becoming a part of our network.”
Cooperative giving also has been on the upswing since 2014. In 2019, Tennessee Baptists gave the largest amount ever through the 2018-19 Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions — $1,920,733. The total was $77,222 over the old record of $1,843,511 which was set in 2016-17. In the last six years, GOTM gifts have gone from about $1.4 million to nearly $2 million.
“These funds are vital,” Davis stressed. “We have great need. There are large pockets of poverty in Tennessee and the Golden Offering goes a long way to helping our churches help in serving the most underserved people.”
In addition to the record GOTM offering, Tennessee Baptists exceeded the 2018-19 Cooperative Program budget, giving $34,719,604, an increase of 0.3 percent over the previous year and 0.64 percent above budget.
Tennessee Baptists have been involved in partnership missions for nearly 40 years and were one of the pioneers in partnership missions with the International Mission Board overseas. “If you ask Tennessee Baptists what’s something we’re doing that’s working well,” he said. “Partnership missions rises to the top.”
While Tennessee churches of all sizes have responded to needs in other states and countries, more churches than ever before see the state as a mission field. With City Reach projects in the state’s major metropolitan areas (Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Clarksville), and the large number of internationals now living in Tennessee, Davis said, “you do not have to get on a plane and go across an ocean in order to have an international missions experience. You can do it right here in Tennessee. Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field.”
Unity: “The world is doing everything it can to pull the church apart,” Davis said. “And yet, here in Tennessee we’ve enjoyed a tremendous season of unity. That’s an intangible in doing Great Commission work.”
Davis observed that in the 10 Summit meetings since he became executive director, there has not been a convention that didn’t end without feeling it was a unified convention. “Even in disagreement,” he said. “There was civility, kindness and compassion.”
Facilities: During Davis’ tenure, the former Baptist center in Brentwood was sold (2013) and the new Church Support Center was constructed in Franklin and occupied in 2017. “Because of the great stewardship of those who went before us, with the sale of the property there in Brentwood, we were able to completely pay for this building and it is debt free.”
In addition, a new worship center was built at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in Linden after 2010 flooding destroyed the previous worship center, and the Missions Mobilization Center, which houses Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief operations, was dedicated in 2013. In January of this year, the TBMB paid off the remaining debt on the conference center and is now debt free.
Baptist Collegiate Ministry: Davis is proud of the convention’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry which reaches students from all over the world who travel to public universities in Tennessee. “And, when these students, whether they are from Tennessee or Tanzania, when they graduate, they’re going all over the world.
“We have an opportunity to win these young adults to Jesus and we have the opportunity to disciple them. We’ve seen students saved in the last several years from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China and all over the world,” Davis said.
“We have a great army of Baptist collegiate ministers — missionaries and servants — on these campuses who are doing a phenomenal work,” he added.
COVID-19: Davis noted that the worldwide pandemic has caused churches of all sizes to rethink the way they do ministry. Overall he believes churches have “risen to the occasion,” and gone “above and beyond” in their committed giving through the Cooperative Program. Additionally, GOTM gifts are ahead of last year’s record amount.
The TBMB leader is convinced that the Lord positioned the TBMB to be ready to respond during the crisis. Davis said that during the last decade the TBMB has focused on core values of relationships, innovation, stewardship and excellence.
“Those have become guiding principles for us during COVID-19,” he said. We also see that the churches doing well right now are the churches that remember their mission and hang on to biblical core values.”
Racial unrest: The recent turmoil facing the nation is not new to Tennessee as Davis noted that the TBMB dealt with racial unrest three years ago when radical white supremacy groups were planning anti-immigration rallies in the state.
Davis gathered an ethnically diverse group of Tennessee Baptist pastors and called his first and only press conference in 10 years to address the issue. “We wanted to share the biblical perspective that everybody is created in the image of God and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for everyone,” he said. “From time to time, you absolutely have to let your voice be known.”
Vision for the future: Davis shared two hopes for the years to come. First, “We need a spiritual revival that results in more Tennesseans coming to Jesus, baptized and set on the road to discipleship,” he said.
The second, he said is that “we need to raise up a new generation of ministry leaders who have hearts that are hot for the Lord and that are burdened to see lost people saved, that know what it means to be a servant leader and that give their lives to Great Commission work right here in Tennessee.”
Tennessee Baptist Mission Board 2010-2020:
June 2, 2010 — Randy C. Davis is unanimously elected as the new executive director of the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now Tennessee Baptist Mission Board). At the time of his election, Davis was serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Sevierville, and was president of the TBC.
Nov. 9-10, 2010 — During the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, messengers approved a recommendation to move toward a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program funds with the TBC. Messengers also approved the formation of a TBC Vision 2021 Strategic Planning Team to examine future direction of the convention.
Sept. 14, 2011 — The Executive Board of the TBC authorized the construction of a new worship center at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center. The Tabernacle, which had served that role, was destroyed by historic flooding in May of 2010.
Nov. 14-15, 2012 — TBC messengers adopted the report of the Vision 2021 Strategic Planning Team. Including the affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) as the convention’s “confessional foundation guiding our faith and practice as a convention of churches.”
June 1, 2013 — Tennessee Baptists dedicated the opening of the Missions Mobilization Center in Mount Juliet which houses the convention’s disaster relief operations.
Nov. 8, 2013 — The Executive Board of the TBC closed the sale of its Baptist Center and 5.25 acres located on Maryland Way in Brentwood for $8.75 million. The Executive Board staff moved to a temporary location in May of 2014.
Jan. 6, 2014 — Randy C. Davis launched Praying Across Tennessee. The rallies included prayer and the ringing of The Salvation Bell at county courthouses in all 95 counties. More than 5,000 people attended the events.
Nov. 11-12, 2014 — Messengers to the Summit at Brentwood Baptist Church officially adopted the Five Objectives as the convention’s long-range plans for the next 10 years. The Executive Board approved the plans earlier in the year. The Five Objectives are: (1) To see 50,000 annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024; (2) Planting and Strategically Engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024; (3) Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024; Increase annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Baptist Missions to at least $3 million by 2024; and (5) Increase annual local church giving to the Cooperative Program to 10 percent by 2024.
Nov. 11-12, 2014 — Michael Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church, Memphis, became the first African-American to be elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Nov. 15-16, 2016 — Tennessee Baptist Convention messengers approved changing the name of the Executive Board of the TBC to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Randy C. Davis, president and executive director, said the name has historic roots and better reflects that Tennessee is a growing mission field. Messengers also approved a new volunteer mission venture called City Reach which focuses on the largest metropolitan areas in Tennessee — Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Clarksville — beginning in 2017 in Knoxville.
April 25, 2017 — The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board received an anonymous gift of $1,575,000 to endow the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
June 3, 2017 — The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board dedicated its new Church Support Center in Franklin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The 32,533-square-foot facility was constructed debt-free from proceeds of the 2013 sale of the former Baptist center in Brentwood.
September 2018 — The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board announced it would begin promoting and participating in the Christmas Backpack Ministry to provide Christmas gifts to hundreds of underprivileged children in Tennessee. By Christmas, Tennessee Baptists had donated 3,344 backpacks. Those backpacks, combined with backpacks donated by Baptists from other states, provided Christmas gifts to more than 15,000 Tennessee children, according to Joe Sorah, TBMB compassion ministries specialist.
Jan. 10, 2019 — The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board became debt-free after paying off the remaining balance of an $8 million 1999 loan initiated to begin construction of Carson Springs Baptist Conference Center in Newport and Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in Linden.
July 23, 2019 — The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board officially launched its “I Stand for Life” initiative, an effort to garner thousands of signatures from Tennessee Baptists in an effort to support pro-life legislation being considered by Tennessee lawmakers. Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, delivered the petitions in August and spoke in support of the pro-life legislation before the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Summer Study Committee in Nashville.
March 2020 — COVID-19 took the world by storm. As a result, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board suspended two of its major events — the annual Youth Evangelism Conference in Nashville and the WMU Get-Together & Connection in Gatlinburg. A TBMB COVID-19 task force was formed and began meeting daily to assist Tennessee Baptist churches during the worldwide pandemic that closed most of the nation for nearly four months. Some churches have not yet reopened.