By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — The year 2014 proved to be historic for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
For the first time in its 140-year history, messengers to The Summit in November elected an African-American as president.
Michael Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church in Memphis, was elected president without any opposition.
Following his election, Ellis told the Baptist and Reflector, “I want to fulfill God’s mission for me and to help the convention accomplish something substantial.”
During The Summit, messengers also approved a report from the Vision 2021 Transition Team that included the adoption of Five Objectives and moves the convention closer to a 50/50 distribution of Cooperative Program funds with the Southern Baptist Convention by the 2018-19 budget year.
The Five Objectives were the vision of TBC Executive Director Randy C. Davis and will shape the direction of the convention through 2024, the 150th anniversary of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The objectives were approved by the TBC Executive Board and adopted by messengers during The Summit.
The Five Objectives are:
(1) Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024;
(2) Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024;
(3) Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024;
(4) Realizing an increase in local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024; and
(5) Realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024.
The year 2014 also saw the relocation of the offices of the Tennessee Baptist Convention from its 5001 Maryland Way location in Brentwood to temporary (three years) office space in the LifePoint Building, located about two miles away on Seven Springs Way in Brentwood. The TBC had been at the Maryland Way location since 1969.
Davis said stewardship was at the center of the move, noting that with the dispersion of staff across the state, the convention simply did not need as much space as it once did. The Executive Board headquarters previously was housed in an 88,000-square-foot building. The new offices now occupy about 20,000 square feet, Davis said.
Also in 2014, the Baptist and Reflector moved from a weekly format to every other week (26 issues a year) and became part of the TBC’s Communications Team.
The Baptist and Reflector, which celebrates its 180th anniversary in 2015, was first published in 1835 as THE BAPTIST.
The decision was made due to a downturn in revenue and increasing postage and printing costs.
The transition will include a dedicated website for the B&R (scheduled to begin construction in January 2015) which will provide more news on a timely basis.
Convention leaders pledged their support for the B&R, one of the oldest newspapers in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Davis said the move to every other week was “the right decision from an economic standpoint.” He added that the B&R is “the strongest point of TBC communication, a lifeline for Tennessee Baptists.”
Chris Turner, director of the TBC Communications Team, said a survey of readers will guide future content and frequency decisions. “With the dedicated B&R website I believe we’ll be able to deliver more news and still have a high quality print product,” Turner said.
Other top stories of 2014 in the Tennessee Baptist Convention (in no particular order) are:
• Baptists join forces with other denominations and groups to support “Yes on 1,” which was an effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would restore “common sense” restrictions on abortion, such as informed consent, waiting periods for abortion, and inspection of abortion facilities in Tennessee. The restrictions are in place in states surrounding Tennessee. The amendment passed on Nov. 4 with 52.6 percent of the votes.
• More than 5,000 people attended prayer rallies held in all 95 counties of the state. The rallies were led by Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director. His reason for “Ringing the Salvation Bell” across Tennessee was to bathe the state in prayer and to pray for the vast lostness in the state. It is estimated that half of the state’s nearly 6.5 million people do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
• Tennessee Baptist Convention churches baptized 21,708 people in 2013, according to the Annual Church Profile. The total was an increase of 82 or 0.4 percent over the previous year. Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville became the first Tennessee Baptist Church to baptize 1,000 people in a single year. The church was led by Pastor David Landrith who died in November after an extended bout with cancer.
• Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver was elected Feb. 10 as the 16th president of Union University, succeeding David Dockery who stepped down in 2014 after serving as Union’s president for 18 years. Oliver came to the post from the presidency of East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. He spent some time on campus during the spring semester before moving to Jackson full-time on June 1. Dockery would later become the president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.
• Candy Phillips, executive director of Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union, announced her retirement in March, effective Dec. 31. Phillips served as executive director for 11 years. She also is a past president of Tennessee WMU. In November, WMU staff member Vickie Anderson was unanimously elected as the new executive director. Anderson, who served as associate director/ministry specialist for missions growth and leadership development, has been on the WMU staff for 20 years.
• Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy dedicated the Polly Enix Tibbetts Building on April 15. The facility was the first new construction on the HCBA (also known as The King’s Academy) since the 1960s. The 18,000-square-foot multi-purpose building was constructed debt-free.
• David Acres, disaster relief director for the Tennessee Baptist Convention since 2005, retired effective Sept. 30.
• In June, Bryant Millsaps announced plans to retire on Dec. 31, 2015 as president of Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes. Millsaps has led TBCH since 2000 after previously serving as assistant to then president Gerald Stow. TBCH trustees later elected Greg McCoy, pastor of First Baptist Church, Portland, as Millsaps’ successor. McCoy began serving Nov. 1 as president/treasurer elect and will assume the presidency after Millsaps retires.
• Tennessee Baptists dedicated a new worship facility at Linden Valley Baptist Conference Center in July. The old worship center (Tabernacle) was destroyed by the flood of 2010.