Messengers celebrate heritage of partnership missions, approve new partnership
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
MILLINGTON — Messengers to the 141st annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention elected a new slate of officers and celebrated 35 years of partnership missions during the Summit held Nov. 9-11 at First Baptist Church, Millington.
The Summit drew 953 messengers from about 322 churches (unofficial total). Last year’s Summit at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, drew 1,172 messengers. Messengers were welcomed by Mark Luttrell, mayor of Shelby County; Terry Jones, mayor of Millington; and David Leavell, host pastor.
The attendance in Millington exceeded the 926 messengers registered at Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett, three years ago, the last time the annual meeting was held in West Tennessee. “The attendance is a tremendous indicator of the health of where we (the convention) are,” observed Randy C. Davis, executive director/treasurer of the TBC.
Messengers adopted a budget of $34,250,000 for 2015-16, the same dollar amount as the 2014-15 budget. The primary difference is that 43.90 percent of receipts will be forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention, compared to 42.07 in last year’s budget.
TBC messengers in recent years have expressed a desire to move toward a 50/50 distribution of CP receipts. “We are moving toward 50/50 and we are on track to meet it by 2018-19,” Davis told messengers. “It requires sacrifice, and all of our entities are making an effort to help us get there,” he added.
Davis observed that the budget is based on not only the priorities of the Five Objectives but also on “the realities of where we are. It is a lean budget.”
He noted the past budget year ended with more income than expenses. “We operate in the black. We are very careful with the missions dollars sent our way. This budget reflects that,” Davis said.
Todd Henderson, chair of the Budget and Ministry Committee and member of First Baptist Church, Bolivar, agreed. “Our TBC staff has strived to be more efficient in recent years,” he said.
Messengers also approved a number of resolutions, dealt with a motion from the floor of the convention, and heard a number of reports including progress on the Five Objectives, a vision for the convention that was adopted by messengers at last year’s annual meeting.
Pastors Michael Crandall, Bruce Chesser, and James Noble interpreted the theme, “Reach Now … Whatever It Takes,” during the annual meeting.
Crandall, pastor, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Dyersburg, recalled how “others have been able to reach into me.” He became a Christian as a result of the pastor of a small rural church (Willie B. Oakley) visiting his grandfather, who was an alcoholic and wouldn’t attend the church. Oakley is now retired.
Crandall referred to I Corinthians 9:19, noting that the Apostle Paul directed Christians to “become all things to all men so that I by all means save some.”
He told how doors opened for him in his community to minister to victims of fires, firemen, then to become a fireman, and to minister to sheriff’s deputies and paramedics. Crandall also witnesses to people in a gym he goes to.
He is still contacted by some of these folks who don’t attend his church because “I was able to stand where they stood,” said Crandall.
Bruce Chesser, pastor, First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, cited “the urgency of now,” referring to John 12 and Ephesians 5:16.
“To turn back lostness, to do ‘whatever it takes,’ ” is simple and requires only two things, he said.
First, Christians must be “a people of prayer. … We pray for all kinds of things,” he noted, but Christians must “see the need to pray for people who are lost.” It is urgent that people do this because lost people will “spend eternity in hell,” he continued.
Christians also must share Jesus, Chesser said. The enemy is not the homosexual or the person promoting same-sex marriage or lost people. The enemy is the devil, he observed.
“God help us to put the focus where it ought to be. God help us to stop playing church and to get concerned again about people in our communities that are lost and without Christ,” Chesser concluded.
James Noble, pastor, Grace Fellowship Church, Memphis, and newly elected vice president of the convention, encouraged messengers and visitors to the annual meeting to not be ashamed of the gospel.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is the key to the lostness in our world,” he stated. To respond, Christians must “spend time with the Master” in order to be able to hear “what He is trying to tell us.”
Christians also must follow His will which is “take the gospel
to this world.” The opposition should not intimidate Christians because they have no one to fear except God, observed Noble.
Finally, our future is great, said Noble, when we obey Him. “I’m glad that we have some Tennessee Baptists … today who are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Go on now and reach them, my friends,” concluded Noble.
Roc Collins, pastor of Indian Springs Baptist Church, Kingsport, was elected unanimously as president.
Allan Lovelace, pastor of Waterville Baptist Church, Cleveland, nominated Collins for the position.
He noted that during the 10 years Collins has served as pastor of Indian Springs the church has doubled in almost every statistical category. The church gives 10 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. Last year the church baptized 82 people, Lovelace reported.
Collins has served as president of the Tennessee Baptist Pastors Conference, vice president of the TBC, and as chair of the TBC Executive Board this past year.
“I’ve never known anyone who has a heart for seeing lost people come to know Christ like his heart,” Lovelace said. “He preaches very passionately and he believes heaven is real and that hell is hot,” he continued.
Noting that half of the state of Tennessee is lost without Jesus Christ, Lovelace observed that “Roc Collins is God’s man for this time.”
When no other candidates were nominated Collins was elected by unanimous consent.
Collins addressed messengers briefly. He said he was honored to be elected to serve as president. “I believe the best days of our convention are ahead of us,” he said.
Collins exhorted Tennessee Baptists to work together and to help each other. “Let’s win Tennessee for Jesus Christ,” he said.
In the Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 10) session, bivocational pastor James Noble of Grace Fellowship Church, Memphis, was elected vice president without opposition.
Noble was nominated by Jim Collier, pastor of Kirby Woods Baptist Church, Memphis.
Collier described Noble as a servant leader who is passionate about God’s Word and sharing His Word with others. He added that Noble is passionate about God’s call. “It shapes his life.”
Noble said he was “humbled and honored” to be elected. “It will be a pleasure to serve you as vice president,” he said.
During the final session on Nov. 11, Michael Crandall, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Dyersburg, was elected second vice president. Crandall, who is secretary-treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Pastors Conference, was nominated by Eric Smith, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, Savannah.
Smith described Crandall as a leader in the Tennessee Baptist Convention and noted that his church gives 15 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
Messengers celebrated 35 years of partnership missions during the annual meeting. Messengers attended a banquet at nearby Crosspointe Baptist Church on Tuesday evening which featured a concert by gospel music icon Larnelle Harris before returning to First Baptist for a program which featured testimonies and a brief message from former International Mission Board (then Foreign Mission Board) missionary Larry Cox who worked with the first Tennessee Baptist volunteer teams that traveled to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in 1980.
Cox had nothing but praise for Tennessee Baptists. “You not only pray, you not only give, but you go,” he told those present, reminding them of their tremendous legacy in partnership missions.
As a young missionary Cox said Tennessee volunteers “taught us so much” including “what servant leadership was about. Tennessee Baptists taught us what it meant to serve.”
Cox said only heaven would reveal the number of lives impacted by the efforts and sacrifices of those first partnership volunteer teams. “Many souls are in heaven today because Tennessee Baptists came and gave,” he said.
During the annual meeting messengers adopted a new partnership with the Baptist Convention of New England and the Baptist State Convention of Ohio that will begin in 2017. In addition, leaders from the TBC and Guatemala officially signed papers for a partnership that was approved last year and will begin Jan. 1, 2016.
Kim Margrave, volunteer missions specialist for the TBC, reported that 171 volunteers already have been to Guatemala this year. Otto Velasquez, president of the Guatemala Baptist Convention, thanked messengers. “We have already been blessed by those from your convention who have come to Guatemala,” he said.
After considerable discussion, messengers approved the following change to the TBC’s Constitution and Bylaws: “No person shall be nominated to serve on the governing bodies of the boards and institutions of the convention, on committees of the convention, or in any other elected leadership roles in and with the convention, unless the person has agreed that he or she will, if elected, covenant to serve in accordance with, and not contrary to, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.”
The day before the amendment to the bylaw was approved, some messengers expressed concern that its passage would make the BFM 2000 a creed.
“When this was presented in convention in 2000 we were assured this would never be a litmus test for anyone serving on any TBC committee or board. I speak against this. This becomes a creed and we are not a creedal people,” said Kim Allen, pastor of Little West Fork Baptist Church, Clarksville.
Larry Robertson, pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarksville, disagreed. “It is important that we clarify that BFM has never been a creed and it is not being used as creed in this report. It is a minimum statement of our faith,” he said.
“We are only asking committee members to act consistent with and not contrary to minimum standards. It is not a requirement to believe every single detail in BFM,” he noted.
Other messengers expressed similar opinions on both sides of the issue.
In addition to the traditional “Resolution of Gratitude” expressing thanks to the host church and others involved in the planning of the 2015 Summit, messengers adopted three other resolutions.
Messengers voiced displeasure with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, which redefined marriage to allow for same-sex marriages.
The resolution, approved without opposition, noted that “no governing institution has authority to negate or undermine God’s definition of marriage” and that “the religious and conscientious liberties of individuals and institutions should not be infringed upon as a result of living according to deeply-held biblical convictions about marriage.”
The resolution which was presented by messenger Bill Carden of First Baptist Church, Tullahoma, further stated that “Tennessee Baptists, regardless of opposition or any legal actions that may be taken against us for living out our biblical convictions, will not cease to stand upon the sound doctrine of Scripture which is God’s inerrant and infallible Word … .”
Messengers also adopted a resolution in support of defunding Planned Parenthood which receives more than a half billion in taxpayer funding each year. The resolution was presented by Tammy Stone, a messenger from Calvary Bible Church, Lyles.
The resolution stated that the TBC “stands in strong support of the sanctity of human life and seeks to redirect the use of funds currently being appropriated to Planned Parenthood to instead be used for health services provided by ethical health care providers in communities throughout the state and nation which do not perform abortions.”
The resolution also encouraged all Tennessee Baptists “to pray and also to petition our elected officials representing the state of Tennessee in Congress to boldly stand in support of the sanctity of human life and to make it a priority of greatest importance to eliminate all taxpayer/government funding of Planned Parenthood.”
Messengers also approved a resolution “In Support of a Million More by ’34” which was presented by Brent Lay of Englewood Baptist Church, Jackson. The resolution encourages “all Southern Baptist churches and our SBC and TBC leadership to support the implementation of this strategy and other appropriate strategies so that we as Tennessee Baptists may surpass our goal of 50,000 baptisms per year by 2024 and encourage Southern Baptists to baptize a million people each year nationally by 2034.”
Pastor Robbie Leach of Beech Park Baptist Church, Oliver Springs, presented a resolution in support of the nation of Israel
that was not presented by the Resolutions Committee. He offered the same resolution last year and it was not presented then although the convention held a special time of prayer for the nation of Israel and for Christians and missionaries in the Middle East.
Clark Washington, chair of the Committee on Resolutions and member of Ellendale Baptist Church, Bartlett, said the resolution was not presented because of a number of factors including the fact that a former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board missionary had informed them such a resolution could put missionaries in harm’s way.
Leach asked to read the resolution to messengers but TBC President Michael Ellis informed him bylaws would not allow him to do so but that his ruling could be overruled by a two-thirds vote of messengers. Pastor Todd Stinnett of Black Oak Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville, made a motion to overrule the chair. It was seconded and approved by messengers. Leach was permitted to read the resolution.
•A motion regarding the CP giving by churches of board/committee members by messenger Greg Long, pastor of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Maryville, was referred to the Committee on Committees and Committee on Boards.
•TBC Executive Director Randy C. Davis’ report was scattered throughout the sessions, each one targeting one of the Five Objectives: seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024; having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024; planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024; realizing an increase in local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024; and realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024. TBC staff and Tennessee Baptists across the state shared testimonies and stories of how the Five Objectives were being met.
•The 180th anniversary of the Baptist and Reflector, the convention’s newsjournal, was recognized with a special presentation by Davis to Editor Lonnie Wilkey.
•Special recognitions were presented to Kenny Cooper, who is retiring this year as president of Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes, and to Bryant Millsaps, who is retiring as president of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes.
•Messengers adopted a recommendation from the Arrangements Committee that Gary Jared, pastor of Stuart Heights Baptist Church, Chattanooga, deliver the 2016 convention sermon. Eric Stitts, pastor of Bayside Baptist Church, Harrison, will serve as alternate.
•Messengers approved the reports of the Committee on Boards and Committee on Committees with no amendments from the floor.
•Messengers heard a report from Davis regarding the Chubby Challenge, which he issued at the start of the year in which he encouraged Tennessee Baptists to improve their health by losing weight. He reported that TBC staff lost 178 pounds or 4 percent of their body weight. In addition, Davis said, 44 Tennessee Baptists signed up online to participate in the challenge. Those 44 individuals lost 633 pounds. Among them was Ryan Culpepper, pastor of Mary’s Chapel Baptist Church, Ripley, who lost 148 pounds and 15 inches off his waist.
•Messengers heard a number of reports from leaders of convention entities and committees regarding their work and ministries during the past year.
The 2016 Summit will be held Nov. 14-16 at the Sevierville Convention Center in Sevierville.
— This article includes reporting by news editor Connie Bushey.