In 2004, the Southern Baptist Convention ended its identification with an alliance that had begun gradually to distance itself from the biblical beliefs of most Southern Baptists and embrace causes and connections that were increasingly liberal. After much prayer and soul-searching the BWA Study Committee made a recommendation to the Executive Committee. The Committee recommended withdrawal of its membership from the BWA, effective October 1, 2004, and encouraged a continued study about how the Southern Baptist Convention might establish an even closer bond of fellowship with conservative evangelical Christians around the world for the purpose of growing in the grace of our Loving Lord, preaching the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, and bringing glory to His name through the advancement of God's Kingdom on earth. In part the recommendation also stated:
That, effective October 1, 2004, the contribution to the Baptist World Alliance heretofore included in the annual SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget be deleted, making the funds available in the SBC Operating Budget to develop and execute a new and innovative strategy for continuing to build strong relationships with conservative evangelical Christians around the world as together we witness to the saving power of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptist Press noted that "funding formerly designated for the BWA was reassigned for the new international initiative and remains within the SBC operating budget" of the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget as adopted annually by the SBC. The SBC initiative began with a July 2005 gathering in Warsaw, Poland, in which a contingent of nine SBC leaders met with a dozen Baptist representatives from eastern European countries and Germany to explore ways to partner more effectively in evangelism, church planting, and theological education. In June 2006, two hundred and fifty Baptists from eleven countries attended a conference in Oradea, Romania, delving into such themes as missions, evangelism, church planting, and preaching.
Now Southern Baptists are opening a new chapter in international relations, preparing to renew old friendships and make new friends around the world who are conservative evangelical Christians. There is no thought of establishing an organization similar to the BWA. However, Southern Baptists are not and never have been isolationists. We have a heart for the world, including both like-minded Christians with whom we enjoy fellowship and the unsaved for whom Christ also died on the cross.
For these reasons and many more, I was excited to announce that on March 15, 2007, Dr. Bobby Welch, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, became the first person in the history of the SBC to serve the Convention as Strategist for Global Evangelical Relations for the purpose of growing, maintaining, and nurturing Baptist cooperation on a global scale. As I envision his role, he will be Southern Baptists' ambassador of goodwill to conservative evangelical leaders in other countries. He will develop and execute a strategy for leading us in building even stronger bonds of friendship with our brothers and sisters on every continent of the earth, especially the conservative leaders through whom God is doing great things in countries the world over.
Administratively, Dr. Welch will report to the president of the Executive Committee while serving as an ambassador on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention. His conditions of employment are similar to the conditions under which Dr. Ken Hemphill serves the Convention while having administrative accountability to the president of the Executive Committee. Neither position is an executive staff position with the Executive Committee, and thus neither individual is involved in the daily administrative operations of the Committee. Their greatest work is done on the road, building stronger relationships among the brethren as they preach in our churches and for conferences sponsored by organizational entities within the Southern Baptist family. When invited, Dr. Hemphill occasionally leads an Empowering Kingdom Growth conference for pastors in other countries, whereas Dr. Welch will be in other countries on a regular basis developing relationships. Increasingly, Southern Baptist leaders are being asked to teach pastors in other countries how the cooperative model of working together has been so successful for us. The major objective of Dr. Welch's position is to connect leaders of conservative evangelical Christian bodies throughout the world for the purpose of enhancing the fellowship among like-minded Christians.
The Southern Baptist Convention supported the Baptist World Alliance through its Executive Committee, but there has always been a clear delineation of objectives as compared to the missions assignment of the International Mission Board. Presidents of Southern Baptist Convention entities also served as SBC representatives to the BWA. As Southern Baptists intentionally and conscientiously begin to build a fellowship network with like-minded conservative evangelical Christians throughout the world, care will be given to work in concert with the leaders and missionaries of our International Mission Board.
In March, Dr. Welch, co-creator of the FAITH Sunday School-based evangelism strategy, told Baptist Press, "My desire is ... to be the best friend to and the greatest helper of the IMB, NAMB, and others who are trying to reach people to carry out Great Commission evangelism and discipleship. This is not going to be any sort of infringement on IMB or NAMB and their responsibilities overseas or in North America. It will be, I'm praying, a very wonderful, strong relationship." Welch indicated that he has discussed his new role with IMB President Jerry Rankin and other top leaders at the mission board. He continued, "My prayer, goal, and intent is for the IMB, NAMB, and the SBC to be blessed and accelerated by such a synergy of relationships. To that end, I am to strive to be what was termed as an 'ambassador' of goodwill and evangelism for our great Convention."
Listed below are the three key objectives of Dr. Welch's assignment. Number one is to be the priority objective and one for which he has great passion. The other two emphases will be natural overflows of his lifelong commitments to evangelism and biblical stewardship.
(1) Build an overseas network of relationships and upon invitation develop partnering opportunities such as evangelism and discipleship conferences, working with the chief executives of SBC entities to draw upon the wealth of talent in our SBC entities for the purpose of providing leadership for the conferences.
(2) Champion the urgent need for Baptists to be active in witnessing in their family, work, and neighborhood settings. Accept stateside speaking engagements in churches, Baptist associations, and state conventions. Dr. Welch may be contacted by calling 386-253-5691, ext. 401.
(3) Encourage Southern Baptists to practice the principles of biblical stewardship in their personal lives in order that they may experience the real meaning of financial freedom and the abundant blessings God has promised. Communicate the importance of the Cooperative Program in supporting world missions.
As a pastor who strongly supported the Cooperative Program as a channel of Southern Baptist support for national and international missions and ministries, he led his church to a missions-minded awareness both in going and giving. He believes in supporting cooperative missions through the Cooperative Program and the two national missions offerings. He also led members of his congregation to experience the rich blessings of "going" to other places to do missions.
As you know, Dr. Welch has an incredible amount of intellectual and physical energy. His toughest challenge will be to concentrate his energy on key evangelical centers of gravity around the world where he can leverage unity of purpose and the power of cooperation through the SBC and with like-minded conservative Christians.
As He preaches in our churches, conventions, and conferences — building on his lifelong commitment to the Great Commission, our Acts 1:8 mandate for going, and Cooperative Program giving — Dr. Welch will be a very visible ambassador for the Cooperative Program and our SBC financial freedom initiative It's a New Day under the direction of Bob Rodgers, the Executive Committee's vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship, and Ashley Clayton, associate vice president for Stewardship. It will be only natural for Dr. Welch to convey the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program while he is telling our churches about the progress of building a strong network of like-minded believers around the world. Our success through the years can be attributed to our stouthearted convictions, our love for world missions, and our loyalty to giving through the Cooperative Program.
I have great respect and admiration for Bobby Welch. He is God's man, a man's man, and an untiring warrior in the faith. He loves Jesus, our Southern Baptist people, our churches, and our Convention. He is an anointed preacher of the Gospel who practices what he preachers as an enormously faithful and effective personal witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ. He has a burning passion for missions. He is an experienced traveler and easily becomes a friend to those whom he meets. Traveling may seem romantic to those who haven't done much of it, but Bobby Welch is willing to serve his Convention and his Lord in yet another way though it will require hundreds of hours on airplanes, in hotels, and in restaurants when no one would have blamed him for declining this kind of rigorous schedule and time away from his home, wife, children, and grandchildren.
I hope you will pray for Dr. Welch, our Convention, and like-minded Christians around the world as we write a new chapter in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention and its international relations.