‘Year of transition’ in SBC tops headlines
By Tobin Perry
NASHVILLE — Southern Baptists marked a year of transitions at several national entities in 2019, and they launched an initiative to help churches care for individuals affected by sexual abuse and harassment.
These five news stories, selected by the editors of Baptist Press and a poll of Southern Baptist state publication editors, represent their picks as the most important stories of 2019:
- Southern Baptists take action to curb sexual abuse
In February, Southern Baptist leaders expressed brokenness over the findings of a series of Houston Chronicle articles focused on sex abuse in Southern Baptist Convention churches.
After 10 months of work, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study initiated by SBC President J.D. Greear issued a 52-page report in hopes it would “spark a movement of healing and reform.”
The report called for the education of SBC churches to understand abuse and its impact, the equipping of SBC churches to care for abuse survivors, and the preparing of SBC churches to prevent abuse. Southern Baptists overwhelmingly approved bylaw and constitutional changes at the 2019 SBC annual meeting to specifically deal with systemic issues the report addressed.
- Four new presidents elected to lead SBC entities
In February, the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary elected Adam W. Greenway as the seminary’s ninth president. Previously, Greenway was dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In early June, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees tapped Jamie Dew as the school’s ninth president. He had previously served as vice president for undergraduate studies and distance learning at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
LifeWay Christian Resources trustees chose Denver church planter Ben Mandrell as the entity’s 10th president at a June 28 meeting in Atlanta. Trustees chose the 42-year-old Mandrell to lead LifeWay during a time of historic change. When he was installed as president in late August, Mandrell stressed the need for unity and teamwork as the entity pushed forward with large-scale changes to how it distributes products.
In November 2018, IMB trustees selected Paul Chitwood to be the board’s 13th president, which meant five new SBC entity heads took over in less than eight months’ time. IMB officially installed Chitwood as president on Feb. 6, 2019.
- LifeWay closes brick-and-mortar stores
LifeWay Christian Resources made headlines when it announced the closure of its remaining 170 brick-and-mortar stores in 2019 as part of a shift to a broader digital retail strategy.
As part of this announcement, the entity said it would continue to offer a “broad selection of resources” through its website and the LifeWay Customer Service Center.
LifeWay also announced new strategies to engage customers in 2019.
To compensate for a lack of physical storefronts, LifeWay implemented an Authorized Dealership program, allowing local, independent Christian bookstores to sell LifeWay-branded Bible studies. LifeWay’s partnerships also go beyond independent bookstores, extending to established chain stores such as Walmart, Books-a-Million and Mardel Stores.
- Great Commission giving surges throughout convention
Southern Baptist churches gave generously to fund Great Commission efforts throughout the convention in 2019.
In October, the North American Mission Board announced a record $61.4 million Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. It marked the third consecutive year the offering hit a record high.
Southern Baptists also gave their third-highest total in history to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, receiving $157.3 million. The offering exceeded the IMB’s goal for the 2018-19 offering by $2.9 million.
- SBC voters approve significant bylaw and constitutional change
At June’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., messengers approved two amendments to the SBC constitution, which stated sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity were grounds to declare churches “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.
The two constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds vote of messengers at the 2020 meeting in Orlando.
Messengers at the 2019 annual meeting also approved an amendment to the SBC’s bylaws to repurpose the SBC Credentials Committee into a standing committee.
This new standing committee will make inquiries and recommendations for actions regarding sexual abuse, racism and other issues that could call into question a church’s relationship with the SBC.