Southern Baptist Convention messengers meeting in Indianapolis on June 10-11 elected a new president, launched a bold initiative to share the Gospel with every person in North America by 2020, accepted a detailed report from the Executive Committee on the subject of child sexual abuse prevention, and adopted a much-discussed resolution on regenerate church membership.
Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Georgia, was elected president on the first ballot at the annual meeting by receiving 52.94 percent of the vote in a crowded field of six candidates. Many of the approximately 7,200 registered messengers no doubt expected to witness the convention's first presidential runoff since 1982, but Hunt avoided that to become what is believed to be the denomination's first Native American president. Hunt is a Lumbee Indian, a North Carolina-based tribe.
Hunt long has been known among Southern Baptists for his passion for evangelism, discipleship, and missions, and those themes dominated his post-election press conference and a brief address to messengers. His election came on the heels of LifeWay's Annual Church Profile report showing that Southern Baptists in 2007 baptized the fewest number of people in two decades.
"I pray that these next two years will be exciting times as we turn the tide and begin once again to grow and to reach our neighbors and our nations for His glory and for the expansion of His glorious Kingdom," Hunt told messengers the day after his election.
He told the press, "We've been declining as a denomination. You can't turn something around until you stop the tide in the direction it's going."
One of Hunt's goals is to get younger pastors more involved in the denomination. His Timothy Barnabas ministry, founded in 1994, has as its focus mentoring, encouraging, and challenging pastors, particularly younger ones. Hunt said he hopes to be "able to inspire the younger generation that's coming behind me to buy in and then step up to the plate and support [the SBC]."
Hunt also said he wants to boost Cooperative Program giving by showing Southern Baptists — "especially the generation behind us" — all that the Cooperative Program is doing.
"[We should] spend more time showing what's happening overseas, showing who's being helped, showing who's being cared for," he said. "[People then will say], 'I want to give more to that source.'"
Hunt's election came one day before messengers passed a resolution encouraging "all entities" to "strive toward a balanced representation of our ethnic diversity" and for the president and various committees to work with state conventions and local associations to "identity ethnic leadership" who can serve on boards and committees.
Meanwhile, the North American Mission Board unveiled an ambitious National Evangelism Initiative — named God's Plan for Sharing (GPS) — with the goal of having "every believer sharing" the Gospel and "every person hearing" by 2020. A television, radio, and print media campaign will accompany the initiative, and NAMB officials say it can be contextualized for both urban and rural settings. It is being launched in four languages: English, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese. The initiative was developed by NAMB in conjunction with state and local Southern Baptist leaders with the encouragement of former SBC President Frank Page. (Additional information is available at www.nei2020.org.) The GPS initiative consists of four areas of focus: praying, engaging, sowing, and harvesting.
"Just imagine if every believer in North America started sharing the Gospel and every person heard that Gospel by the year 2020," NAMB President Geoff Hammond said.
Page is confident Southern Baptists will respond positively to the initiative.
"As I have been around the country and around the world, the laypeople I have talked with are ready to get out and do something for Christ," he said. "And I think given the proper motivation and direction, they'll do it."
Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman delivered a report to messengers on child sexual abuse prevention to coincide with a four-page EC report in the SBC Bulletin on the subject.
Chapman told messengers that "sexual abuse is a growing crisis in this nation" and that "one sexual predator in our midst is one too many." Sexual predators, he said, "must be on notice that Southern Baptist churches are not a harvest field for their devious deeds.
"We must determine that when we know someone is a sexual predator, we will expose him and bring charges against him for his crimes, whether he is a pastor, a member of the staff, or a member of the church," Chapman said. "We cannot stand by and refuse to stand up against these vile criminals and allow them to practice their evil deeds."
The report from the Executive Committee — submitted after two years of study — said the "potential threat of sex abuse" at the local church level "is tragically underappreciated." The report urges churches to screen prospective volunteers and employees through the Department of Justice's national database, found at http://www.nsopr.gov. (A link also is available from www.sbc.net.) The committee rejected suggestions that it recommend creating a Southern Baptist database of sexual offenders. Such a database, the report said, would have its shortcomings.
"Use of the most comprehensive database available was opted for over creating a database that would be limited in scope," the report said. "Any convicted sex offender, regardless of religious affiliation, is already listed in the Department of Justice's national database of convicted sex offenders."
Messengers passed nine resolutions, but one particular resolution concerning church membership and church member restoration seemed to stand out. As presented by the Committee on Resolutions, it urged Southern Baptist churches to "maintain a regenerate membership by acknowledging the necessity of spiritual regeneration and Christ's lordship for all members, ... maintain accurate membership rolls for the purpose of fostering ministry and accountability among all members of the congregation and ... implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture."
That language stayed, but messengers approved two floor amendments, including one amendment that added four new paragraphs. Among the most significant changes, the new language urges SBC churches "to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members." Additionally, the new language states that messengers "humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior's teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches." (A full copy of the resolution is available online at www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=1189.)
In other matters:
• International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin used part of his report to reflect on the rapid growth of the Gospel in the decade following the IMB's New Directions campaign. Launched in 1997, New Directions was a paradigm shift that reorganized the board's structure and strategy in order to intensify its focus on the world's unreached people groups. Working closely with national partners, Rankin said our missionaries have seen baptisms double from 308,000 in 1997 to more than 609,900 in 2007. Numbers of new church starts also jumped dramatically, from 3,352 in 1997 to more than 25,000 last year.
But much more needs to be done, Rankin said, if the world's lost are to be reached. Dickie Nelson, regional leader for IMB work in South America, told messengers that more than half of South America's 700-plus people groups still have little or no Christian witness.
Referencing worldwide tsunamis, cyclones and earthquakes, Rankin said, "Multitudes continue to enter eternity never knowing that a Savior died for them. Do we not hear those in other countries and cultures crying out in despair and hopelessness like the disciples in the storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee pleading, 'Carest thou not that we perish?'"
• Messengers adopted resolutions: urging Southern Baptists in California to work and vote for a proposed constitutional marriage amendment there and for all Southern Baptists and other Christians to pray for its passage; celebrating the 60th anniversary of the state of Israel and encouraging prayers on its behalf; calling for Congress to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood — the nation's largest abortion provider — and encouraging voters to evaluate political candidates based on their affiliation with the organization; and celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Royal Ambassadors while giving thanks for the tens of thousands of boys who have been saved and the more than 2 million boys who have gone through the program.
• Korean Baptist leader Billy Kim, president of the Far East Broadcasting Company and former president of the Baptist World Alliance, received the Distinguished Baptist Statesman Award from the Executive Committee for his lifelong service in global evangelism and leadership among Baptists.
• Crossover, the annual outreach to share the Gospel throughout the host city, saw 759 people make professions of faith. Approximately five hundred volunteers braved a rain-soaked weekend and participated in the event, always held prior to the annual meeting.
• LifeWay Christian Resources announced its 2009 Vacation Bible School themes. The theme of the main VBS line is "Boomerang Express: It All Comes Back to Jesus," based on a visit to Australia. The Club VBS theme is "Truth Trek: Digging for God's Treasures" and focuses on an archaeological dig. About 26 percent of the total number of baptisms in SBC churches in 2007 were a direct result of VBS, said Jerry Wooley, VBS specialist at LifeWay.
• Messengers attending the Pastors' Conference had the opportunity to see a screening of Fireproof, the latest theatrical release from the makers of Facing the Giants. Large crowds — one estimate placed the combined totals at more than six thousand — watched three screenings and responded during the movie credits with standing ovations. Fireproof, which will be released in theaters September 26, focuses on the saving of a seemingly failed marriage.
• The Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists utilized its 50th anniversary celebration to inaugurate a "Hall of Faith" of individuals who have dedicated their lives to vocational evangelism. COSBE inducted thirty evangelists - both living and dead — into the hall.
• Bill Henard, pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, was elected first vice president, and John Newland, pastor of Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, was elected second vice president. John Yeats, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, was re-elected SBC recording secretary, and Jim Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Missouri, was re-elected registration secretary. John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri, was elected to preach the Convention sermon at the 2009 annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.
• President Bush delivered a taped video message to messengers, thanking them for their defense of religious liberty and their work in reaching out to victims of natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent cyclone in Myanmar. "I've seen the good heart of Southern Baptists," he said. He also thanked them for their defense of "the sanctity of life."
Next year's annual meeting will be June 23-24 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Michael Foust is a member of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and is an assistant editor for Baptist Press. With reporting by Mike Ebert, Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Mark Kelly, Tom Strode, Don Graham, David Roach, and Polly House.