With the goal of finding ways Southern Baptists "can work more faithfully and effectively" together in fulfilling the Great Commission, messengers to the Convention's annual meeting June 23-24 gave the green light to a task force to examine the denomination for one year and report back to the 2010 meeting in Orlando Florida.
Debate over the proposed Great Commission Task Force and an Internet document dubbed the "Great Commission Resurgence Declaration" had dominated pre-convention talk, with some Southern Baptist leaders backing it and others expressing concern. In the end, though, the 8,700-plus messengers at the annual meeting overwhelmingly supported the task force via a motion that gave Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt authority to appoint the panel — something he did on the meeting's final day, naming eighteen members. The actual GCR document that had sparked the discussion was never proposed for adoption.
The denomination was meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In other top annual meeting news, messengers:
• received an update about the GPS (God's Plan for Sharing) evangelism initiative, which aims to see every SBC church planting other churches by 2020.
• passed a resolution that calls the election of President Obama a step toward nationwide racial reconciliation but that heavily criticizes him for some of his policies.
• passed a resolution encouraging Southern Baptist families to prayerfully consider adopting or fostering children.
• approved an Executive Committee recommendation to cease the "cooperative relationship" with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, over the issue of homosexuality.
• re-elected Johnny Hunt to a second one-year term as president.
But the Great Commission Task Force was the leading issue, not only in the minds of messengers but also for several of the meeting's preachers. Evangelist Billy Graham, ninety years old, even sent a personal greeting to messengers in which he said he had read about the "call to a Great Commission resurgence" with much interest.
The task force had the backing of Hunt, who is one of the twenty-three members and who named Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd as chairman.
"I feel like the Southern Baptist Convention is in what we call a defining moment," Hunt said at a press conference following his re-election. "We are defining our priorities and ... we're saying to our 43,000 churches: The Great Commission needs a resurgence. We need to fund our missionaries. We need to have more money for church planting. We need to be more intentional with the GPS."
Hunt said he has "no desire whatsoever to touch the structure" of the Convention. He also said he hopes to see — through the study and the possible implementation of a proposed report — Cooperative Program giving increase and what he called "overlap" within the denomination lessen.
"Sometimes, the overlap has proved to be very healthy," he said. "But other times, the overlap is maybe taking some dollars [away] that could be placed somewhere else to cause us to go further in piercing the darkness with the Good News."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, made the task force motion from the floor while speaking as a messenger from Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, spoke for and supported the motion.
The Obama resolution — which passed nearly unanimously — says messengers "share our nation's pride in our continuing progress toward racial reconciliation signaled" by the president's election. But the resolution says messengers "decry" Obama's assistance to "pro-abortion" groups. It also expresses "strong opposition" to Obama declaring June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Month. The resolution also calls on Southern Baptists to pray for Obama — something they did immediately after its passage, with Hunt leading the prayer.
The pro-adoption resolution notes that the world has upwards of 150 million orphans and it calls "on each Southern Baptist family to pray for guidance as to whether God is calling them to adopt or foster a child or children." It also encourages "pastors and church leaders to preach and teach on God's concern for orphans."
Southern Baptists ceased their relationship with Broadway Baptist Church following a year-long study by the Executive Committee that began with a motion from the floor at last year's meeting. The congregation has at least two same-sex couples and was embroiled in a controversy in early 2008 as to whether the couples should be pictured in a church directory. Supporters of the Executive Committee recommendation said that while the Convention fully supports ministering to the homosexual community, the church — by its actions — was in violation of Article III of the SBC Constitution, which states that churches "which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior" are not in friendly cooperation. Some of the church's openly homosexual members serve on church committees. Executive Committee members had suggested a statement from the church condemning homosexuality would have been beneficial; the church, though, decided not to go that route.
Interest in the Great Commission Resurgence caused an attendance resurgence at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, according to registration secretary Jim Wells. This year's unofficial messenger count was 8,790, more than 1,500 over last year's tally in Indianapolis.
"It was way above my expectations," Wells said.
Location played a large role as well. Kentucky had the largest state representation with 1,597 messengers, more than twice its 2008 delegation and almost twice as many as the next largest state, Tennessee.
"It was also a younger convention," Wells said. "I saw a lot of younger pastors and families."
Wells said the large Kentucky numbers and the younger crowd could be attributed to the annual meeting's close proximity to Southern Seminary, located in Louisville.
The registration process "went very smoothly," Wells said, praising the participation of sixty collegiate volunteers from Baptist Collegiate Ministries in Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Indiana.
As for next year in Orlando, Wells said he thinks he will see another boost in attendance.
"It'll be way up," he said. "I'm looking for a significantly larger group because it is such a family friendly destination."
Other Convention News
• Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, told messengers that the SBC's associations and forty-two state conventions "have signed up" for the GPS challenge and "joined hands" together with the goal of seeing every SBC church, by 2020, planting other churches. Messengers were given a paperback book by Hammond titled, God's Plan for Sharing; North America: Your Mission Field.
"We are about to embark on the largest, most extended, farthest-reaching national evangelism initiative that we have ever seen," Hammond said.
• Thanks to a gift from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and an offering from the SBC Pastors' Conference, the International Mission Board received more than $100,000 to help fill the gap from its Lottie Moon Christmas Offering shortfall. The Lottie Moon offering fell $29 million short of its goal and $9 million short of its previous year's total.
During the IMB report, messengers heard from missionaries who serve in closed areas of the world; their identities were masked to protect their safety. IMB President Jerry Rankin said more needs to be done to reach a lost world.
"Are we saying that five thousand missionaries are enough ... to evangelize the rest of the world while we support over 100,000 pastors, church staff, and denominational workers in our own country?" he asked.
• Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman encouraged messengers to remain faithful to the essentials of the Gospel for the sake of lost souls.
"The Southern Baptist Convention and the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ have never been strangers to one another," he said, "and so long as the Convention and her agencies and institutions stay anchored upon the inerrant Word of God and focused on the unconquerable cross of Christ, she will stand against every wind of doctrine that blows across the great theological divide, against every ecclesiastic fad that promises innovation at the expense of confessional fidelity, against every subtle temptation toward uncooperative narrowness and unorthodox ecumenism.
"A Gospel-centered convention is necessarily a cross-centered convention, an empty-tomb centered convention," he continued. "It is to be a convention where ... we die to self and sin; where we abandon all of self for all of Christ; where we put the blessing of others in front of the benefit to ourselves."
• The annual Crossover evangelism outreach that precedes the annual meeting yielded more than one thousand decisions for Christ. Approximately three thousand volunteers from 107 churches participated.
• John Mark Toby, pastor of Beacon Hill Baptist Church in Somerset, Kentucky, was elected first vice president, while Stephen Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Florida, 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. Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, was elected to preach the 2010 Convention sermon in Orlando, Florida.
• LifeWay Christian Resources presented the inaugural HCSB Award posthumously to Fred Winters, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, who was shot and killed while preaching. Winters' widow, Cindy, appeared on stage and received the award. Their two daughters also were present. The award will honor individuals who have shown a high commitment to the preaching or teaching of God's Word.
"I am tempted to say I bet Fred wishes he were here to see all of this, but since I know where Fred is, I am certain that he is content to stay put," Winters said.
• The SBC Pastors' Conference heard from Charles Colson, Mike Huckabee, and David Platt, a thirty-year-old pastor who previously was unknown to many attendees but whose passionate sermons were well-received. Platt, lead pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, also delivered a theme interpretation during the annual meeting.
Next year's annual meeting will take place June 15-16 in Orlando, Florida.
Michael Foust is a member of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and is an assistant editor for Baptist Press. Additional reporting by Erin Roach, Baptist Press staff writer.