By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
HENDERSONVILLE — Messengers to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention overwhelmingly spoke against racism and elected David Leavell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington, as president.
The annual meeting, held during The Summit Nov. 12-16 at First Baptist Church, Hendersonville, drew 993 messengers from 422 churches. Attendance was down from the 1,228 who attended last year’s sessions in Sevierville but was up from the 984 who registered for the 2015 Summit in Millington. The messenger count did not include messengers from First Baptist Church, Jefferson City. Messengers voted overwhelmingly to not seat the eight messengers from First Baptist which called a woman senior pastor earlier this year (see story).
Among other actions, messengers also adopted a reduced budget from last year and referred a motion that would expand the definition of a cooperating Tennessee Baptist church back to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
The annual meeting also focused on spiritual lostness in the state as reflected in the convention theme, “Rescue Now.” See articles on convention messages addressing the theme throughout this issue in addition to a column by Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB.
Leavell, who served as vice president of the TBC in 2015, was unopposed for the presidency. The session was moderated by current TBC president Steve Freeman, who opened the floor for nominees.
Leavell currently serves as a director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. He was a member of the 2017 Committee on Resolutions for the Southern Baptist Convention, and is a trustee of New Orleans (La.) Baptist Theological Seminary, where his late father, Landrum P. Leavell II, served as president from 1975-94.
Charles Fowler, of Germantown Baptist Church, nominated Leavell. Fowler announced his plans to nominate Leavell to the B&R earlier this year, and said Leavell is an “excellent preacher and evangelist.” Fowler added, “He has been involved in Baptist life in multiple ways that uniquely qualify him to serve in this role for this season.”
In addition to Leavell, two others were elected as convention officers on Nov. 14 — Todd Stinnett, vice president and Brian Carmichael, second vice president.
Stinnett, who served this past year as second vice president, is the senior pastor at Black Oak Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, and Carmichael is the senior pastor at Holy Temple Baptist Church in Memphis.
Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church, Morristown, nominated Stinnett, and Michael C. Ellis, Sr., pastor of Impact Church in Memphis, nominated Carmichael. Both were unopposed.
Resolution on racism
Tennessee Baptists took a strong stand against racism with the adoption of a resolution on “Racism and the Great Commission” during the final session of the annual meeting.
The resolution cited numerous verses of Scripture noting that people are created in the image of God (Genesis1:27), that salvation is available to all people regardless of race or ethnicity because Jesus Christ gave His life so that “whosoever would believe” might be saved (John 3:16, I Timothy 2:4), and that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be gathered before the throne of Jesus (Revelation 7:9).
The resolution also noted that “God is bringing the nations to Tennessee and is making Tennessee home to more than 145 different global people groups” and that the TBC is “comprised of racially and ethnically diverse churches.”
Further, the resolution stated that the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 affirms “Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”
The resolution resolved that Tennessee Baptists “are categorically opposed to all ideologies and movements of any race that diminish the dignity of any human being” and that they believe “one cannot be a devoted follower of Christ and harbor racism of any kind in one’s heart.”
The resolution also noted that Tennessee Baptists “embrace Tennessee as a diverse missions field that God has called to reach through the fervent preaching of the gospel and acts of service to others, regardless of race or ethnicity” and pledged that Tennessee Baptists “will intensify our efforts to pray, give, and advance the Great Commission across the street to our closest neighbors and to the ends of the earth.”
In addition, the resolution exhorted Tennessee Baptists “to pray for the salvation of our neighbors regardless of race or ethnicity” and to pray “for our leaders and all who are in authority” as they make policy decisions related to issues of race (I Timothy 2:2).
Finally, the resolution called for Tennessee Baptists “to earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through the redeemed fellowship in the kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”
Budget, Cooperative Program
Tennessee Baptist messengers adopted a Cooperative Program allocation budget of $34,500,000 for 2017-18. The budget is $500,000 less than the 2016-17 budget goal and continues a move towards the equal distribution between TBC and Southern Baptist Convention causes, but is a smaller step than originally planned. Messengers were informed the reduction in the goal and percentage step is due to a downward trend in Cooperative Program giving. The adopted budget will be distributed 53.36 percent to TBC causes and 46.64 percent to SBC causes.
Messengers were to have considered a recommendation from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board to expand the definition of a cooperating Baptist church to include those churches that give through the TBC portion of the Cooperative Program budget without restriction or designation.
The recommendation noted that “some churches across the state have expressed frustration with actions and activities occurring on the SBC level. Some of them wish to direct funds around those entities but want to continue to fully support the activities at the TBC level. Failure to contribute to the Cooperative Program without any restriction has prohibited churches from sending messengers to the annual meeting.”
The recommendation noted that “the change will allow churches to make the decision of which SBC agencies they wish to continue to support, while supporting all ministries of the TBC and have full rights to participate in the governance of the TBC.”
Messenger Jim Cross, pastor of First Baptist Church, Donelson, spoke against the recommendation, observing that messengers need to send a clear message that “we are for the Cooperative Program.”
Larry Robertson, pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, introduced a motion to refer the recommendation back to the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
He acknowledged that he had just rotated off the TBMB but had approved the recommendation earlier this year. “The more I thought about it, the more concerned I was,” he said. “I want the board to reconsider the recommendation,” he added.
Robertson expressed concern that adopting the recommendation could hurt the TBC’s fourth objective which is to realize an increase in annual local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024. “I fear this amendment may not help our objective be accomplished. I think it needs more study.”
Robertson’s motion was seconded and during discussion on whether to refer back to the TBMB, messengers expressed opinions on both sides of the issue.
Steve Tiebout, pastor of The River Church, Cookeville, observed it would be best to send the recommendation back for further study in order to develop a better plan. It goes against the fourth objective, he said, noting the recommendation has “some elements we need,” but not all.
Bill Seale, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Morristown, spoke against the referral, noting that it would have to be discussed again next year anyway because it takes two votes to change the constitution.
After others expressed opinions, the messengers voted overwhelmingly to refer the recommendation back to the TBMB for further study.
- Tennessee Baptists authorized the renewal of a missions partnership with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio in the area of Greater Cincinnati/Dayton and to expand it to include Western Ohio beginning Jan. 1, 2018, and concluding Dec. 31, 2020. Messengers also recognized the ending of a missions partnership in Italy and signed the partnership agreement with Nashville Baptist Association for City Reach Nashville.
- Messengers approved reports from the Committee on Committees, Committee on Boards, and the Committee on Constitution and Bylaws. They also approved a recommendation from the TBMB to the Business and Financial Plan to reflect the new corporation name of Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and other minor changes.
- Messengers adopted a report from the Committee on Arrangements. Jordan Easley, pastor of Englewood Baptist Church, Jackson, will preach the 2018 convention sermon while Clay Hallmark, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington, will serve as alternate. The 2018 meeting will be held Nov. 11-14 at West Jackson Baptist Church, Jackson. The dates of the 146th annual meeting set for Nov. 12-13, 2019 in Knoxville will be changed to Nov. 19-20 due to a conflict of dates with the Knoxville Convention Center where it will be held. Future meetings are: 2021, Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Nov. 9-10, and 2022, Chattanooga Convention Center, Chattanooga, Nov. 15-16.
- Col. James Hardin, USAF, retired, and member of First Baptist Church, Huntingdon, was the recipient of the 2017 Eagle Award, presented annually to a layman who has made a significant contribution in the life of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
- The Luke 15 Award, presented to a church that has one baptism during the year, was presented to Pastor Corey Harrison of New Life Deaf Church, a ministry of Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville.
- A number of breakout sessions were offered throughout Summit on a variety of topics including growing a generous church, evangelism, church planting, engaging the media, navigating change, church security, and more.
- Messengers heard a number of reports and updates from TBC entities and Southern Baptist Convention personnel. In addition, a number of recognitions were made including new staff to the state and two retiring directors of missions — Ron Davidson, Shiloh Baptist Association, and Mike Thrower, Beech River Baptist Association.
- Messengers adopted the traditional resolution of gratitude expressing appreciation to convention officers and everyone involved with the annual meeting.
— David Dawson, TBMB communications specialist, contributed to this report.