SBC budget to be studied; Elliff raises 3 concerns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A seven-member committee has been appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to study the SBC's budget process.

And, in a message to the Executive Committee Feb. 17, SBC President Tom Elliff urged Southern Baptists to "certify" their conversion experiences, break the "stranglehold" of church debt and strip away "ego" for revival to come to America.

A motion brought by Executive Committee chairman Ronnie Floyd, with unanimous approval of the Executive Committee's officers, received unanimous approval in a voice vote at the Executive Committee meeting in Nashville, Tenn. Floyd is senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Springdale, Ark.

The budget process determines funding levels for the SBC's various agencies, being reduced from 19 to 12 in the convention-wide restructuring to be in place at the end of the June SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

The committee studying the budget process is to make its report at the Executive Committee's September meeting in Nashville.

According to Floyd's motion, the study will focus on "the annual budgetary process from the beginning of data collection to presenting a recommendation to the Southern Baptist Convention."

Each year's budget is recommended by the Executive Committee to messengers at the SBC annual meeting.

Floyd's motion continued, "The scope of the study should include, but not be limited to, the ways in which ministry and financial information are collected, reported and analyzed; the factors that influence the allocation of dollars among the entities; the seminary funding formula; and the relative impact of dollars versus percentages in budget development."

The committee's chairman will be Patrick Pajak, senior pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Decatur, Ill., and chairman of the Executive Committee's program and budget subcommittee.

Other committee members will be Augie Boto of Austin, Texas, administrative counsel, Texas District and County Attorney's Association; Kie Bowman, pastor, First Baptist Church, Canton, Ga.; Harold Finch, businessman from Lee's Summmit, Mo.; Forrest Lowery, senior pastor, Spring (Texas) Baptist Church; Claude Thomas, pastor, First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas; and Michael Trammel, senior pastor, Mt. Airy (Md.) Baptist Church.

Elliff cited three key concerns facing Southern Baptists at "one of the most critical times in the history of the world, if not THE most critical time." He quoted the late missionary to India Amy Carmichael: "We have all of eternity to celebrate our victories, but we only have a few moments before sundown to win them."

Added Elliff: "I believe we are living in those few moments before sundown."

Concern number one: "I believe every member of the Southern Baptist Convention somehow, some way needs to ... certify his or her experience with Christ," said Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, in suburban Oklahoma City.

More than half of the nation's 16 million Southern Baptists do not attend church services, Elliff said, asking, "By what right do we just assume that those people really know Christ as their Savior ... and never call them to account -- never call them to certify their experience with Christ?"

Acknowledging, "There are always people who think that it's wrong to encourage other people to think through their conversion experience," Elliff cited 2 Corinthians 13:5 in the New Testament: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves" (KJV).

The word "examine," he said of the language of New Testament times, means "cut right down to the heart of a matter," while the word "prove" means "taking a test."

"This is a scriptural mandate," Elliff stated. "Somehow we need to get this business of what true conversion really is into the process of Southern Baptist churches -- Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, every week, 52 weeks of the year. People need to hear, What does it really mean to know Christ? What does it really mean to be born again, to be a child of God? What does it really mean to experience genuine conversion, regeneration?"

Elliff contended: "If all the people that we say are truly born again are truly born again, we'd be a force to be reckoned with in this nation." Southern Baptists "could virtually have their sway in many arenas in this nation, if we were really hot for God."

Concern number two: Southern Baptists need to clear away the "stranglehold of debt" that is "preoccupying us," Elliff said.

Church indebtedness equaled about half of Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program and foreign and home missions offerings in 1975 -- surpassing the total for those gifts by 1995.

Southern Baptists, meanwhile, baptized almost 30,000 more people in 1975 than 1995, Elliff noted.

"Churches ought to be an example for families in the churches," Elliff said, noting he hopes indebtedness becomes "an unpopular concept" among SBC churches. "It's a whole lot easier to pay for it once on the front end than it is three times afterwards," he said.

"We are being strangled by our indebtedness. There are so many people (in the churches) who say, 'I'd love to do a whole lot more, but you know, we're in debt and we've got to get this thing paid off.' It seems like it never gets paid off.

"Faith is a big issue here," Elliff stated. "And being free to do the mission God has given us as Southern Baptists is a big issue here. ... I'm just saying we ought to consider making debt not popular, but unpopular. Not the norm, but the abnormal way of doing of God's work."

Concern number three: "We're going to have to crucify our egos," Elliff said.

"You could have 175 revivalists in a room and not have revival if every one of them said, 'I'm for revival if I can lead it, if I'm the head of it, if it's my idea and my plan and it goes along with my program,'" Elliff said.

"We have got to have an awakening in this nation. We're not reaching this nation," Elliff said, citing a statistic that Christians are reaching but 4 percent of America's latest generation. When these young people become church leaders, 96 percent of the nation "will be godless and lost," he warned.

Revival "will not happen as long as any of us believe we have to be the captains of it," Elliff said. "The Lord's not going to share the stage with any one of us. In fact, he's not going to come on stage as long as we're on stage and claiming our territory and our property and our plan and our methods and saying, 'This is the way it's going to happen.'"

Voicing a note of hope, Elliff said he has gained "a renewed sense of what God has done among Southern Baptists" since his election as SBC president last June.

"I know we're not supposed to pat ourselves on the back but, friends, ... there is not anything like the Southern Baptist Convention that I know of in the religious world. And it's not of us. I really believe it's something that God has done."

For example, he said, "... the very fact that we've been able to go through some of these transitions -- the very fact we're talking about the North American Mission Board and the burden for North America -- and how God has brought this all to transpire, it's just a sign that God's hand is upon the Southern Baptist Convention in a remarkable


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