TBMB leader Randy Davis reviews the work of Tennessee Baptists and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board in this special year-end edition of Radio B&R. Some of his comments on baptisms, giving and disaster relief might surprise you.
Chris Turner: Hello, and welcome into this special edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host, Chris Turner, director of communications here at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. Today, our guest is Randy Davis, our state exec. Randy, welcome to Radio B&R.
Randy Davis: Well, thank you, Chris. It’s good to be here.
Chris Turner: Well, it is the time that we start winding down, looking at Christmas. The year has come to an end, and we’re looking back across the past 11 and a half, 12 months, and just what you have seen, so that’s really what we’re dedicating this episode to is just kind of a year end review from your perspective. You’ve joked around about I-40 being called Randy Davis Boulevard. So, you’ve literally been from Mountain City to Memphis multiple times this year, putting several thousand miles on a vehicle. Just from an overall perspective, how do you kind of see what’s going on in Tennessee in 2018?
Randy Davis: Well, there are two words that come to mind. One is very, very encouraged. I am encouraged by what I see happening in our churches, the focus of our laypeople, the focus of our pastors. I’m very encouraged, and yet I also know that in our present culture the other word that comes to mind is challenging. These are very challenging times. Every single one of our churches are facing similar challenges and then also challenges contextualized for their own local ministries. So, this is a challenging time, but overall 2018 has been a great, great year. I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing.
Chris Turner: Well, you know, one of the things that you’ve mentioned a number of times this year is since the messengers to the 2014 Tennessee Baptist Convention, the summit, approved or moved forward with the five objectives, we’re now five years into what at that time was a 10 year trajectory for those five objectives. Just kind of give us a quick overview of where you see us in relation to those five objectives.
Randy Davis: Well, as we begin our fifth year, I see some momentum picking up. I think the five objectives that have been adopted by our network of churches, they’re resonating. People are talking about them. Some are being adopted by many, many churches, and some churches are seeing it as an opportunity. Of course, if you have studied the five objectives that our convention has adopted, you recognize that there’s really one objective. The other four objectives are supportive of that first objective, which is to see at least 50,000 Tennesseeans won to the Lord, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship annually by 2024. These were adopted in 2014, as a 10 year plan, and that objective is the main one.
50,000 was not a number that was just plucked out of the air. The state of Tennessee’s growing by 50,000 to 60,000 citizens every year, 50,000 to 60,000 every year. That means in a decade we pick up a city larger than Memphis in a decade. The thing about that population growth, if the number of Christians in the state of Tennessee versus the number of people that are spiritually lost, that gap is growing rapidly, so that within 10 to 15 years that graphic will be monumentally larger than it has been in the past.
Chris Turner: You’ve talked about the statement that Dr. Jeff Iorg has made from Golden Gate, just from a missiological perspective, what that does to the overall demographic and how it changes the shape and face of who we are as Tennesseans. What is that that he’s talked about?
Randy Davis: Well, in a conversation I had with Dr. Iorg soon after coming into this position, it was probably 2010/2011, I was talking to Dr. Iorg, and he said, “Randy, what’s the largest thing that has surprised you, as you move from the pastorate into this role as executive director?” I replied, “Dr. Iorg, the thing that has really astonished me is the lostness of our state.” Tennessee’s known as the buckle of the Bible Belt. That is a statement that is no longer true. We are a mission field any way you slice it. Tennessee, and indeed the entire south, is heading in the direction of New England. It is heading in the direction of Western Europe. What Dr. Iorg said that really got my attention was the fact that in his estimation he said then that within five years Tennessee will be more like Colorado, and in 10 years it will be more like California than an old line, Southern Baptist state.
We’re seeing it. We’re seeing people come here from all over the world. We’re changing demographically. Our diversity is growing by leaps and bounds. Just within 10 miles of this office there’s an elementary school where 36 different languages are spoken. Tennessee is rapidly changing. We need to be on the cutting edge of churches in realizing that we need to think and act like missionaries.
Chris Turner: You’ve talked about, well, this whole past year David Level, who is our president, for the Tennessee Baptist Convention really had the 316 Initiative, really getting people to get out and share the gospel with people. We see this trend in our state, that it’s almost like a frog in the kettle thing, if you’re not looking at the larger demographic. Maybe locally your demographic isn’t changing, but our state is so significantly changing that if we don’t start really an initiative to get our churches out, and proclaim the gospel, and share the gospel as just people in our jobs, we’re not gonna see a state that really is moving in a direction of being a state won to Christ. What is it that you’re seeing with our churches, as you mentioned earlier, just a trend towards that? It seems like we have more churches moving out with baptisms and our numbers there.
Randy Davis: Well, you hear more pastors and more leaders in our churches talking about baptisms. It’s not a stat that people ignore. You know, every one is so vitally important, because that is a soul that is heading to heaven, instead of hell, that is introduced to the gospel and receives Christ as savior and Lord. I’m hearing churches and church leaders talk about lostness in their communities and lostness in the state. Whether we grow one more citizen or not, in any given county of our 95 counties in Tennessee, at least 80% of that county is not in anybody’s church. Yet, that figure will continue to grow. I’m encouraged that this year we’ve seen a 2% growth in the number of people coming to the Lord, as opposed to last year. That 2%, while 2% doesn’t sound like much, it actually is a great deal. Instead of a decline, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of people coming to the Lord through our churches, so that’s something to celebrate in a monumental kind of way.
Chris Turner: As you have said, it may not sound like much, but if that’s your spouse, or mother, or father, or child, it’s a big number.
Randy Davis: Well, absolutely. We celebrate the church that a few years ago, Long Hollow, saw 1,000 people come to the Lord, and we started focusing on those churches that have seen one come to the Lord in a year’s time. That is not anything to denigrate, because that one … We had about 250 of our churches that had one baptism. Now, some might say only one baptism, but like you said, if that’s your child, if that’s your grandchild, if that’s your mom, or your dad, or your son, your daughter, that one is monumentally important to you, but it’s more important to our Lord, Jesus Christ, who died for that one.
Chris Turner: Yeah. So, you’ve talked about that first objective and how that really is our biggie. You’ve talked about it in terms of if we’re successful at the other four objectives, but we’re not successful at the first one, we really haven’t accomplished what we’re about as Tennessee Baptists, but we’ve seen some great movement in our second objective and our third objective. Just talk a little bit about church revitalization.
Randy Davis: Well, Dr. Steve Holt and his team of folks that are focused on church revitalization have done fantastic work over the last several years of putting together materials and methodology that help churches that desire to be revitalized experience it. We are seeing about 300, 350 churches … Our goal’s 500. We’ve seen 300 to 350 experience revitalization, or they are intentionally in a revitalization, repurposing kind of process at the moment. We’ve seen some wonderful stories happen about churches that have partnered with other churches. One of the churches that was instrumental in setting a pace was over at Indian Springs Baptist, where Dr. Roc Collins was pastor at the time. The church that started Indian Springs, their mother church, was getting ready to close its doors. The daughter of that church went back and adopted the mother church as a second campus. That church has experienced revitalization.
I’ll tell you, Chris, 8 years ago there were not many churches that wanted to admit they needed revitalization. That was the biggest hurdle for us to overcome. One of the things that has happened, a shift in the mindset of our churches, is that many churches are waking up and understanding the tremendous decline they have been in for decades, and they are saying, “This is unacceptable. We want to do something different.” So, they are intentionally seeking out healthy churches to come alongside them, perhaps a turnkey kind of thing, where they hand over the property and the keys to a healthy church, so they can experience a repurposing. We are seeing more and more of that take place. Some churches that are healthier are just coming alongside churches that need a little boost, a little help for a short period of time to get back on track. So, I’m encouraged by revitalization.
Church planting is something that has really been strong the last four or five years here in Tennessee. We have seen some record numbers of starts in a 12 month period, but we’re also seeing churches becoming a part of our network that are existing. They doctrinally line up with the Baptist faith and message. They have been independent, or they have been a non-denom kind of church, but they’re seeing the value of working with a network. They see the validity and the relevancy of the Tennessee Baptist Convention network of churches, and so they want to become a part of us. So, I see us making great progress in both revitalization and church planning. I’m very excited about the churches that are becoming a part of our network.
Chris Turner: One of the things related to those churches that are becoming a part of our network, you know, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on seeing diversity develop within not only Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, but among our Tennessee Baptist Convention Network of Churches. A lot of those churches that are coming on … with Arabic churches, whether they’re aligning, or whether they’re being planted, or other ethnicities that we have … We’ve seen some good growth in black church within our state. So, the overall complexion of the people that make up our network is becoming more Revelation 5:9, more people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, and we’ve seen it right here in Tennessee.
Randy Davis: Yeah. From Knoxville, to Memphis, to Nashville, over the past months we have seen, speaking of diversity becoming a part of our network, we’ve seen a Russian church, and Ethiopian church, a Somali church, a couple of Arab speaking churches. We have seen churches of all shapes, and sizes, languages, become a part of our network, very Baptistic in their theology. They want a place to belong. Of course, Nashville, there was an article written a number of years ago by a national publication that referred to Nashville as Little Kurdistan. Well, we’ve had a strong Kurdish population for 30 years, but it’s been in the recent months that we have seen our first Kurdish church planted.
Chris Turner: Wow.
Randy Davis: They’re growing. We’ve got some folks that are doing all they can to reach these languages that are right here in Tennessee.
Chris Turner: Yeah. What’s interesting, you know, when you say, and you say this often, “Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field,” I think that it’s a shock to people when they hear we have more than 145 different global people groups now living in the state of Tennessee. For a lot of people that’s just not … I mean, that’s not the Tennessee I grew up in. When I was growing up in West Tennessee, maybe you would see some Hispanics here and there, but for the most part we were black and white, but Tennessee certainly is not a black and white state anymore, if it ever was. But there’s just great diversity, but what’s so cool is the number of people groups that are being engaged by our Tennessee Baptists churches and our state missionaries.
Randy Davis: There’s a growing hunger to do that. You know, a couple of years ago we started City Reach, which is an effort to get all of our churches, rural church, city church, country church, metro church involved in reaching the metro areas of our state to partnering. We’ve been doing partnership missions for we’re closing in on 40 years. We were the first state convention to do partnership missions. It is a deeply in our DNA, and we have done stateside partnerships and so many international partnerships, but you can get an international missions experience without leaving the borders of the state of Tennessee. So, with City Reach Knoxville and now City Reach Nashville … Next year we begin City Reach Memphis. We’ll go onto Chattanooga and Clarksville, but some of our strong churches, and some of our county seat towns, and the rural areas of Tennessee can have a significant, meaningful mission trip right here in Tennessee.
Chris Turner: Yeah. There’s just been, well, in excess of hundreds of projects that have been done in Knoxville and Nashville over the past couple years, since City Reach has come online. So, that’s something that somebody can go online and check that out on our TNBaptist.org website, but Knox County Association of Baptist and of course the Nashville Baptist Association websites also have information on that. One of the things you’ve talked about just in the past few weeks, as we’ve closed out our fiscal year, and then in August closed out our GOTM year, and then certainly in relation to disaster relief, just the generosity that you have seen Tennessee Baptist pour out. We’ve done it for a long time, but this year really seems significant. Just talk a little bit about where we are with Cooperative Program and the movement there and then really the movement that you’re seeing with Golden Offering.
Randy Davis: I’d be glad to. The Cooperative Program is our mission’s mutual fund. David Platt called it the Southern Baptist ecosystem. They’re all related. A kid is saved at a Baptist camp, he goes to a Christian University supported by the Cooperative Program. He gets called perhaps into missions while he’s participating in his first mission trip through a BCM on a university campus. They go to a Southern Baptist seminary to be trained, and then they go to plant a church in Denver, or New York, or they go overseas as an international missionary. A Cooperative Program dollar has followed him all the way.
The last two years we’ve seen the average percentage go up from our churches. Our goal by 2024 is to be at 10%. 10% is not foreign. The vast majority of the history of the Cooperative Program out churches gave an average of 10% through the Cooperative Program. You don’t give it to it. You give it through it to support compassion ministries, children’s homes, seminaries, and mission enterprises. Last year we exceeded our budget. We met, exceeded that budget, which is something to really celebrate and praise the Lord for.
Golden Offering for Tennessee missions is to Tennessee what the Lottie Moon Offering is to international missions. Right now, we’re in the Lottie Moon season of giving. Now, I’d encourage our folks to give through Lottie Moon. It is to Tennessee what the Annie Armstrong Offering is to North American missions. Not a dime of Golden Offering is used for salaries or infrastructure support. Every dollar of it is used for missions and ministries right here in Tennessee. It is the primary funding mechanism for church planning and church revitalization in our state, as well as compassion ministries. Golden Offering has grown over the last five years by something like 26%.
Chris Turner: Wow.
Randy Davis: People are getting the message that Tennessee is a mission field any way you slice it. Our goal is to be at $3 million by 2024. We are making progress toward that. The growth of people’s response to wanting to reach Tennessee and finance that through the Golden Offering has been phenomenal.
Chris Turner: You know, one of the interesting things that I want you to touch on … So, we just finished our Golden Offering year in August, and that was our second largest, following our largest year ever in Golden Offering, but talk a little bit about the situation with disaster relief and the money that came in from Tennessee Baptist to go and help folks that have suffered hurricanes in other places.
Randy Davis: Well, I’d be very glad to. In 2017, in that late summer, early fall, we had a trifecta of hurricane disasters that affected Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and other areas. The response to disaster relief … and that was going on during the time of our promotion. That was the Golden Offering. Not only did people give the second largest offering through Golden, but they gave well over a million dollars to support disaster relief efforts in these areas. Tennessee Baptist, when they see the need, they are incredibly generous people. They don’t give to excess, but they give to need. I think we saw that this past year like we’ve never seen it before.
Had it not been for the great need and the great opportunity in responding to disasters, I believe we would have blown past our record for the Golden Offering. This fall we go from September to the end of August, so September 2018 to August of 2019. Right now we’re on pace to have another record. That would mean that three years in a row we’ve had a record or right at a near record. So, I just thank Tennessee Baptists for the way they’re giving.
Chris Turner: You know, let’s close out with really what was a late season highlight. It was the work of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief that was rewarded in a very unique way. Just talk a little bit about how Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were recognized.
Randy Davis: Well, there was an anonymous gift made through a foundation of $200,000 for disaster relief.
Chris Turner: Wow.
Randy Davis: The person or persons that gave this incredible gift for disaster relief recognized our DR workers, the kind of effective work they do, and said, “You know what? We invest so much every year like this, and we want to give this grant to Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, as they continue to respond in the Carolinas to Hurricane Florence.” So, that was an unexpected gift. We did not know it was coming. It was anonymous. We just praise the Lord that God’s favor is on that kind of effective and relevant ministry through the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and our churches.
Chris Turner: I think as you kind of reflect on everything you’ve said during the time that we’ve been talking here, there are some big things that have happened, but if you break that down, there are a whole bunch of little things that go together, people working together, this critical mass that seems to be building from one church to another. But we start to put all those churches together, and we start seeing spiritual movement in our state. But then even with the giving, it really does point out that together we really can do more to impact our state for the kingdom than we can do apart. As we look into 2019, we really seem staged for really seeing the Lord work in some incredible ways. What challenge would you extend to Tennessee Baptist, as we kind of stand here in December and look over towards January?
Randy Davis: The challenge I would say is to lean on the Lord like never before, to trust in his power and not in our power, our might. All the glory, and praise, and honor goes to him. We know that if there is a great awakening in our culture, that if things change as a network of churches, we have a common denominator. That’s why we’re called a denomination. Our common denominator is that we are the Lord, Jesus Christ, and then his commission on us to take the gospel around the world and make disciples.
I would challenge our Tennessee Baptist and our churches to lean on the Lord, to lean on one another, to really go out of their way to cooperate, even though the church may not look like your church, the people may not look like your people, to really find ways to cooperate and be unified in their great commission work. Do it in a great commission methodology, a great commandment methodology. I think the Lord’s gonna honor that and bless that. It’s just a lot more fun when we do things together.
I praise the Lord for the unity in our state. It was exemplified at our recent summit, when during the Tennessee Baptist convention portion of the summit, there was not one negative vote on anything that was presented, that I recall. There was such unity. There was such incredible worship. It was very moving going through that. It’s humbling walking with these people, doing great commission work, that are called Tennessee Baptist. I love them. I humble to serve them. I look forward to 2019 offering us a lot more opportunities to serve our churches.
Chris Turner: Well, it certainly is exciting to see what’s happened this year. The Old Testament talks about remembering the Lord and remembering what God has done and the goodness of the Lord. 2018 has been a great year. We’ve seen a lot of movement in just the evangelism and people really reaching into their community. It has been such a great foundation for where we’re headed in 2019. Next year, when we come back and have this conversation about a year in review, hopefully well be looking back and seeing that baptisms are up another 4,000 or 5,000 people beyond where they are, cooperate program, and those things. So, Randy, have a great Christmas. You and Ms. [Jeannie 00:27:42], enjoy those grandkids during the Christmas break.
Randy Davis: Thank you so much, Brother Chris. We sure will.