Fla. Baptists celebrate ethnic diversity

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (BP) -- Messengers to the 150th annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention experienced the international flavor of South Florida Nov. 14-15 at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs.

Caribbean singers, Hispanic choirs and prayers in various languages set the culturally diverse tone for the historic occasion as Bernie Cueto, pastor of the Iglesia La Familiar of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, became the first Hispanic in Florida Baptist history to preach the convention sermon.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Cueto shared how God called him as a college student to follow His path for his life. The young father also serves as chaplain and instructor of biblical and theological studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, influencing the spiritual life of 4,000 students and faculty.

After receiving advanced degrees in Texas schools, the spiritual lostness of South Florida, where an estimated 95 percent of the population is unchurched, compelled him to move.

Prior to the two-day meeting, South Florida's cultural and economic diversity set the stage for Crossover evangelistic events at 14 ethnically diverse venues across three counties and in at least six languages. The events drew nearly 3,200 people, and the Gospel was presented more than 100 times in various settings, resulting in 260 professions of faith and almost 300 prospects.

The theme of the annual meeting, "Remember," brought focus to a fresh awareness of the basics of the Christian life as the 1,000-plus registered attendees -- including 815 messengers -- remembered "Your Call," "Your Cause" and "Your Crown" throughout four sessions. In all, 394 of the 2,931 Florida Baptist churches were represented.

The basic tenets of the Baptist faith were brought alive with the opening sermon by Church by the Glades pastor David Hughes, who used the illustration of an Oreo cookie fully submerged in a glass of milk as a call to biblical immersion during baptism. His sermon, titled "Undead Iguanas," was followed by the baptism of six new believers by the Church by the Glades staff.

In his presidential address, David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, asked those in attendance to go back to the moment when God changed their lives for a fresh awareness of His spirit and purpose. Uth's sermon sparked an altar call as pastors and their wives came forward to recommit themselves to their callings.

Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, urged Florida Baptists to remember their crown during the closing session, preaching on the second coming of Jesus Christ. Wright is pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

In video and live segments, seven pastors from across the state reflected on the time when God changed their lives. Among them was O.E. Boals, pastor of Riverside Church in Branford, who recently celebrated the 80th anniversary of his continuous service in the pastorate.

Messengers re-elected Uth as president of the convention. Other re-elected officers were Joel Breidenbaugh, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sweetwater in Longwood, first vice president; Jack Roland, a member of First Baptist Church in Ocala, second vice president; and Randy Huckabee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Okeechobee, recording secretary.

In other business, messengers heard 52 recommendations from the State Board of Missions, including 27 proposals developed in response to Great Commission Resurgence Task Force recommendations approved by messengers to the Florida convention last year.

Five of the GCR recommendations required a vote of the convention and were approved with little discussion. The other 25 non-GCR recommendations dealt with changes to the convention's constitution and bylaws as well as revisions to governing documents of the convention's agencies.

Messengers approved a seven-year Cooperative Program budget plan which would forward 50 percent of CP receipts from Florida churches to national and international causes by 2018.

A budget plan approved by the State Board of Missions in September called for a designation of shared ministries between SBC and Florida Baptist causes to be subtracted from receipts before the 50/50 split. Shared expenses would have included funding for ministry in Cuba and Haiti, theological education and stewardship and Cooperative Program development and promotion, all of which would benefit both the SBC and the Florida convention.

But in a board meeting the day before messengers were to consider the plan, members approved an amendment proposed by Clayton Cloer of Orlando to eliminate the shared ministries designation and incorporate the funding within the state convention portion of the budget.

Cloer made the recommendation at the request of Uth, who told the board he had received emails and phone calls about the issue.

"I believe it will help us come to the convention floor with greater unity, greater energy and greater traction," said Uth, whose church is the largest Cooperative Program contributor in the state.

"This will go a long way to say to the convention, 'We heard you last year,'" Uth said, referring to the state's GCR recommendations.

A second part of the amendment clarified that the 50/50 split was not 'contingent' on increased CP giving by the churches, but urged "every Florida Baptist church to increase their respective Cooperative Program giving each year to a sacrificial level."

Messengers also approved "Revision Florida," a movement that calls all Florida Baptists "to renew their walk with Christ, refocus their efforts on the Great Commission and release their resources in a greater way to further the Kingdom."

The state convention's leadership was asked to work cooperatively with the International Mission Board to enlist churches' involvement with the world's unengaged people groups. That will be fleshed out in the Florida convention's commitment to the IMB's "Embrace" initiative.

Messengers approved a $31.6 million budget for 2012, up 1.94 percent from the $31 million budget for the current year. The budget will forward 40.5 percent -- a percent-of-budget increase of .5 percent -- through the Cooperative Program for national and international missions and ministries. Of the amount retained for Florida, 3.5 percent is designated for church planting.

No resolutions were presented at the meeting.

Next year's annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention will be Nov. 12-13 at First Baptist Church in Orlando.


Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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