By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — The Tennessee Baptist Convention’s first Virtual Summit was not the original choice of convention leadership but it proved to be the most viable alternative during a worldwide pandemic.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Tennessee, the decision made in late August to cancel the in-person meeting set for Nov. 8-11 at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, proved to be prudent.
Convention president Bruce Chesser noted in his opening remarks that leadership listened to professionals in healthcare who predicted there would be a new wave of cases in the fall. “That has proven to be the case. It has been expedient to do this (Summit) the way we are doing it,” he said.
Prior to the Virtual Summit, Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said leadership made the call “to err on the side of protecting Tennessee Baptist messengers and guests. It was a tough call to cancel, but the right call,” he affirmed.
The theme of Virtual Summit was “I Will Do A New Thing,” based on Isaiah 43:18-19.
The nearly two-hour video streamed online at 9 a.m. (Central Time) on Nov. 10. The entire Virtual Summit, however, can be viewed any time at TBCSummit.org. In addition, the various components, such as the Pre-Summit Video, Good News Videos and a longer version of the Barbershop Conversation between pastors Ternae Jordan and Grant Gaines can be found on the site as well. All of the elements can be downloaded by churches to use as they see fit.
According to an early estimate, more than 2,000 viewers watched the livestream of the Summit. That does not include those who will download the videos and watch later.
Virtual Summit featured four “Good News” videos, an abbreviated president’s message, prayers from ethnic pastors across the state and various reports and worship music. See separate stories throughout this issue.
Because no business could be conducted during the Virtual Summit, a video demonstrated how the 2020-21 budget would work. See separate story on page 2 regarding the budget adopted by the TBMB board of directors.
Videos also highlighted ministries funded by the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
Chesser observed in his remarks that though COVID-19 closed churches for several months, many churches reported that members continued to give generously and some churches reported overages at the end of their budget year including First Baptist, Hendersonville.
“God blessed us and we wanted to pass it on,” Chesser said, while presenting Davis and the TBMB a check for $100,000 for the Cooperative Program. The check came out of the overage the church had, the pastor said. He encouraged other churches to consider similar gifts if possible.
Clay Hallmark, chair of the board of directors and pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington, thanked Tennessee Baptists for “all they are doing for the gospel” in Tennessee.
Using his hands, Hallmark reminded Tennessee Baptists their hands can be used for many good things. “With these hands I can hold my new granddaughter and I can feed her a bottle. With these hands I can give a pat of encouragement, minister to someone who is grieving or feed someone who is hungry,” he noted.
He added, however, that hands held unchecked can be abusive, point judgmentally toward others, can be held tight-fisted and greedy or even steal.
Hallmark cited a story in Matthew 8:1-4 about hands and touch. He shared how Jesus reached out and touched the leper, who everyone else avoided, and the leper was healed. “The hand of Jesus has power to make all the difference in someone’s life,” Hallmark said. He exhorted Tennessee Baptists to be “the hands of Jesus all over this state, in every corner and in every situation.”
Hallmark also challenged Tennessee Baptists to join their hands together. “There’s great power when we work together for the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that more and more people will go to heaven from Tennessee, and less people will go to hell. …
“Let’s join our hands together, surrender them to Jesus, and, together, there’s nothing we can’t do as Tennessee Baptists.”
Executive director’s report
Davis noted that during the convention’s 145-year history, “I don’t know that we’ve ever faced a more challenging time than right now” as a network of churches, he said.
Davis said the TBMB staff has been busy over the last eight months contacting the TBC’s 3,200 churches with 40,000 recorded contacts. In addition, the staff has put together tools for churches to use during their COVID-19 responses.
The TBMB staff has rolled out initiatives or Shepherd Care to assist pastors and the Ministry Training Institute to provide additional ministry tools.
He pledged the convention will continue to be able to do the ministries they are known for such as Christian education, training and equipping families to become foster parents, caring for adults with disabilities, compassion ministries and more because of “the faithfulness and sacrificial giving of our churches.”
Davis acknowledged that while the past eight months have been challenging and exhausting, they also “have been exhilarating because of what we’re going to do in the future.” He thanked Tennessee Baptists for their unity around the Great Commission.
“We’re focused not on ourselves but the hurting humanity all over the state of Tennessee. I cannot wait to see what God is going to do in the future.”
During his presentation, Davis also announced that Jason Little, a layman from Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, and president and chief executive officer of Baptist Health Care in Memphis, is the recipient of the 2020 Eagle Award, established a few years ago to honor “those people in our pews who are getting beyond the walls of the church and are making a Great Commission impact (see separate story in this issue).
In a closing statement to Summit viewers, Chesser reminded Tennessee Baptists to get outside of their own walls or borders or even comfort zones.
“Go out into communities where people desperately need to hear about the Lord, maybe even more now than ever before,” he said. B&R