Messengers united on task force, elections, budget
By Lonnie Wilkey
BRENTWOOD — Tennessee Baptist Convention messengers overwhelmingly approved a recommendation from directors of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board to establish a sexual abuse task force, elected new officers and approved changes to the convention’s Constitution and Bylaws.
Four recommendations were approved regarding the Constitution and Bylaws, but two of those must be approved again next year by messengers at the 2022 annual meeting before they go into effect (see separate story).
Messengers also adopted a $35 million budget (the same as last year), approved resolutions on gratitude, “Integrity in Teaching, Preaching and Leading” and Financial Transparency Within Southern Baptist entities (see separate story), heard a myriad of reports and acted on other matters of business, including a new partnership initiative with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention, during the TBC annual meeting held at Summit, Nov. 14-17 at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood.
The annual meeting, based on the theme “Forward Together With One Heart,” drew 939 messengers and 172 registered guests from 503 churches for a total of 1,011 participants. Attendance was comparable with the last three held annual meetings, including Knoxville in 2019 when 998 messengers attended. Summit was not held in person in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Sexual Abuse Task Force
The TBMB recommendation came at the request of TBC President Bruce Chesser. He told the board on Nov. 15 that with the conditions in society today and things that have happened in the larger Southern Baptist Convention family, convention leadership “felt best that we need to get ahead of it.”
He reiterated that position to messengers, noting that the recommendation “is not an investigation. We want to be open, honest and transparent. This is something we have been doing for 20 years. It is a continuing, ongoing need,” Chesser said.
“This is an effort to get ahead of this, rather than reacting, we want to be proactive, to best help churches keep from sexual abuse happening in our churches,” he continued.
Chesser also stressed it is important to remember the victims of sexual abuse and their families. “We need to know how to minister to those who have been abused and their families.”
The recommendation drew some discussion and an attempt to amend the recommendation. Floyd Paris, a messenger from Leawood Baptist Church, Memphis, observed that the recommendation, though “well intentioned,” violated the TBC Constitution.
The TBC “does not have ecclesiastical authority,” Harris said. He later made a motion to amend the wording, but it failed by a substantial margin.
Messenger Phillip Senn of First Baptist Church, Ridgely, spoke against a task force, noting that the matter could be dealt with by the directors of the TBMB.
Chesser said he suggested a task force because it would help with transparency. The task force would be a group of people who do not work for TBMB and would be appointed by the newly elected president, he continued. “Every church is autonomous. Every church is independent. We cooperate to do mission work.”
Messenger Jacob Brimm of First Baptist Church, Bethel Springs, spoke in favor of the recommendation, noting “it is a proactive step” in saying that Tennessee Baptists take the matter seriously.
The recommendation, as approved by messengers, reads:
“That the messengers to the 2021 annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention , meeting at Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, Tennessee, authorize the newly elected president to appoint a sexual abuse task force for the purpose of evaluating:
(1) The process of how the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) responds to allegations of sexual abuse occurring in churches and TBC entities and reported to the TBC;
(2) The process of how Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (TBMB) seeks to protect those it serves from sexual abuse and responds to allegations growing out of TBMB ministries and events; and
(3) The resources and assistance provided by TBC and TBMB to cooperating churches to help educate church leaders on best practices to protect their congregants from the evil of sexual abuse.
The recommendation also calls for the task force to compile a report, including suggestions for improvements, for presentation to cooperating Tennessee Baptist churches no later than the 2022 annual meeting of the TBC in Cordova.
Lexington pastor Clay Hallmark and two vice presidents were elected without opposition during the annual meeting.
David Green, pastor of First Baptist Church, Greeneville, nominated Hallmark, a director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, for the office.
Hallmark has served as pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington, since 2016. The church has been in the top 1 percent among Tennessee Baptists in giving through the Cooperative Program and in the top five in contributions through the Cooperative Program. The church also has had 300 baptisms during the past five years.
“Clay is a soul winner,” Green said. “He loves Jesus. He loves the Bible and he loves Tennessee Baptists,” Green continued.
“He won’t take any side streets. He will stay on the main street with the gospel,” he added.
Travis Henderson, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, Mohawk, was elected vice president of the convention.
Henderson was nominated by Gene Nelson, pastor of Russellville Baptist Church, Russellville.
Nelson noted that Henderson has led Fairview Baptist to give 7.9 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. Henderson currently is in the process of transitioning to Montgomery Village Baptist Center in Knoxville, a ministry of Knox County Baptist Association.
Nelson said that Henderson shared with him recently that God had put the phrase “unto the least of these” in his heart.
“It was a phrase that he could not get away from. From that, God called Travis and his family to leave a church that loves him deeply, and to transition into his new role to minister to residents of a low income housing development,” Nelson added.
Scott Brown, pastor of First Baptist Church, Waverly, was elected as second vice president of the TBC.
Brown was nominated by Matt Greer, pastor of Missionary Grove Baptist Church in Camden. He has served at First Baptist since 2017. “He has done a great work in Waverly,” Greer said. “He came with a heart for church revitalization.”
Greer added that the church has had numerous baptisms and that Brown led the church this year to give 11.5 percent through the Cooperative Program. “He loves the local church and he loves preaching.”
Messengers overwhelmingly adopted a $35 million Cooperative Program Allocation Budget for 2021-22. Clay Hallmark, chair of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s Budget and Ministry Committee, noted that the budget allocation to the Southern Baptist Convention also will remain the same as last year at 47.50 percent.
“The budget represents more than dollars,” Hallmark told messengers. “It represents taking the gospel to the state and the world so more people will go to heaven and less people will go to hell, especially from the state of Tennessee.”
Messenger John Green of Wallace Memorial Baptist Church, Knoxville, questioned if the board considered increasing the SBC’s portion this year.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB, reminded messengers that in 2019 the decision was made to increase the SBC portion to a 50-50 distribution as giving increased. “As CP giving grows, we will move further to the 50-50 level,” he said.
Messengers adopted a recommendation from the TBMB to enter into partnership with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention from Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2025 with a year of planning and preparation in 2022.
Davis noted that the partnership will provide an opportunity for Tennessee Baptists to impact lostness in the nation and around world. The convention includes not only Hawaii but countries including Japan, Korea and Thailand.
Chris Martin, executive director of the HPBC, noted that in Honolulu alone there are one million people and more than 100 million total people in the convention’s coverage area. He estimated that only 2 percent of those people are evangelical Christians. “We need partnership with Tennessee Baptists to move us further into the darkness so we can share the light of the gospel,” he said.
Other business, reports
- Approved reports from the Committee on Boards and Committee on Committees (see Sept. 15 issue of B&R).
- Tennessee Baptists heard a number of reports from TBMB staff and entities about what God is doing through Tennessee Baptists and a series of videos based on the convention theme of “Forward Together With One Heart.”
- Heard messages from Davis, Chesser, Willie McLaurin and Mike Glenn (see separate stories).
- Presented the convention’s Eagle Award given annually to an outstanding Baptist lay leader. “They are the backbone of our churches from week to week,” Davis said.
This year’s recipient is James P. Guenther, a Nashville attorney who serves as general counsel for the TBMB and until recently, the Southern Baptist Convention for about 55 years. Guenther is a member of First Baptist Church, Nashville.
- Approved a recommendation from the Committee on Arrangements that Bartholomew Orr, pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss., and a member of the Mid-South Baptist Association, based in Memphis, preach the 2022 convention sermon. Derek Westmoreland, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, was elected as the alternate.
Future convention dates and sites are:
- Nov. 15-16, 2022, Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova;
- Nov. 14-15, 2023, Chattanooga Convention Center;
- Nov. 12-13, 2024, Murfreesboro; and
- Nov. 11-12 at West Jackson Baptist Church, Jackson.