Entity heads address messenger questions

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Messengers had opportunities to ask questions of the presidents of Southern Baptist entities during those entities' annual reports to the convention in New Orleans.

Following are accounts of questions posed by messengers on the convention floor and responses by entity presidents. Not all entity presidents were asked questions.

INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD

Ron Wilson, a messenger from Wynnbrook Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., asked two questions at the close of the International Mission Board report.

"Trustees used to have to read 35 to 40 pages of information before they could vote on potential missionaries," Wilson said. "I've been told that they now only get four or five pages. So my question is, 'How can trustees know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision?'"

Tom Elliff, the IMB's president, said he believes trustees know more about missionary candidates now than they did in the past.

"Besides all the great volume of paperwork, it would be good for you to know that these trustee personnel committees are involved in Skype conversations as a committee, and what we call the 'green-sheet' process; they go through personal interviews ...," Elliff said.

Elliff recounted one former candidate telling him at the convention, "I think they knew more about me than I did by the time they finished with me."

"Our desire is to do everything we can to send out people that would be adequate -- no, not just adequate -- that would be excellent when it comes to sharing their faith on the field," Elliff said.

Wilson's second question, "Is it true that we no longer have to have a seminary degree or two years of pastoral experience before we go as missionaries?" was referred to Clyde Meador, the mission board's executive vice president.

"It has been many years since we removed a requirement for a seminary degree for every missionary going," Meador told messengers. "Nevertheless, you'll be interested to know that even though it is not required for most of our assignments, more than 50 percent, in fact about 61 percent, of career missionary personnel going to the field today do have a seminary degree -- the head of household does have a seminary degree before they go to the field."

The IMB requires at least 20 hours of seminary education for all career personnel and 30 hours for those who will have full-time church planting and evangelism responsibilities, Meador said.

"Added to that, we are now asking that each [wife] ... have at least 12 hours of specific theological education from one of our seminaries," Meador said. "This is a brand-new requirement for spouses. At the same time, we are seeking to determine whether we need again to look at greater educational requirements for our personnel. Let me say also that our personnel undergo and experience unusually fine orientation programs including theological education after they come with us, before they go to the field."

LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCES

Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, was asked to explain how the organization makes decisions about what books, videos and other products to sell. Rainer acknowledged "it's a difficult process because we sometimes make calls on products some people object to." He encouraged messengers to "trust the trustees."

"Southern Baptists have elected trustees who love the Lord, the inerrant Scripture and the Southern Baptist Convention," Rainer said. "They hold us accountable.... I ask you, messengers, to trust the trustee system. How do we decide what we do? We trust the trustees."

Another messenger asked Rainer, "Do we trust the trustees more than we trust the messengers?" He replied, "We trust the messengers to elect the trustees."

MIDWESTERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Following the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary report on Wednesday morning, two messengers voiced questions. The first, posed by Jay Gross, pastor of West Conroe Baptist Church in Conroe, Texas, was, "Recent articles released by the Baptist Press, the Associated Baptist Press, printed in a number of state papers ... have stated that Dr. Phil Roberts, the former president of Midwestern, was encouraged by the trustees to resign for reasons of misappropriation of funds and mismanagement. Yet I've been told by some that the audits of Midwestern during Dr. Roberts' tenure were all unqualified."

Gross said a member of his church requested a copy of the audit from the school without response. He went on to state that donors and contributors to the Cooperative Program were entitled to review such audits, and he wanted to know when a copy of the audit might be provided for viewing.

In response, Robin Hadaway, interim president of Midwestern, said an answer had previously been provided by himself and Anthony Allen, then-senior vice president of administration, that the audit summary would be presented in the convention's book of reports.

"That was given and is for anyone to see," Hadaway said. He added that the audit also was given to the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee at its February meeting. "It was received," he said.

Hadaway turned over personal questions about Roberts to Kevin Shrum, the seminary's trustee chairman. Shrum said there was a possibility that inaccuracies existed in some of the published stories, and the information "did not come from the Midwestern family."

"We are sorry if there's been any misunderstanding as far as the credibility of anyone, but a lot of those reports in the press were not accurate at best," Shrum said.

The second question was posed by Hollie Miller, a messenger from Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., who said, "One of our finest leaders in our convention has had his reputation severely damaged. There was even an article and his picture in Christianity Today destroying his reputation. Do we not owe him more than a simple, 'I'm sorry,'"?

Hadaway responded, "Dr. Roberts is a friend of mine. He's a good man. We appreciate him, and he resigned.... As Dr. Shrum said, you can't believe everything you read in the press, especially outside our own Baptist family. We are proud of our seminary and our report today, and we would just hope that the friends of Midwestern would accept what Dr. Shrum and I have said today."

NEW ORLEANS BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley was asked three questions as part of his report June 20.

-- David Worley, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Greeneville, Tenn., asked Kelley to share with messengers about the seminary's ministry training program at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

"I can do that very succinctly: Wow!" Kelley said.

Kelley shared how about 15 years ago a Baptist layman, Burl Cain, "took his faith to work" when he became warden of the Angola penitentiary, the largest maximum security prison in the country. Most inmates at Angola, Kelley said, will never leave the facility.

"[Angola] had long been known as the bloodiest prison in America, famous all through the justice system for its violence and corruption," Kelley said.

Cain asked the seminary to begin training inmates "to teach them how to be ministers there within Angola Prison," Kelley said. NOBTS now offers associate's and bachelor's degree training at Angola through the seminary's undergraduate program, Leavell College.

The program has been so successful that Angola inmates are being deployed to other Louisiana prisons, similar programs have been started at prisons in Mississippi and Georgia, and a training program has been launched recently at Louisiana's women's prison.

"What we have learned is that the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so great there is no human life Jesus cannot change," Kelley said.

-- Tim Rogers, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indian Trail, N.C., asked Kelley to elaborate on an address he has presented several times over the past three years titled "The New Methodists." The paper focused on the decline in baptisms and membership in Southern Baptist churches, connecting that to a decline in discipleship in Southern Baptist life. Unless something changes, the paper argues, Southern Baptists will soon become The New Methodists.

"Until we recover processes in our churches that will teach our people to look and live like Jesus, we are not going to see a greater harvest in our evangelistic fruitfulness," Kelley said.

Kelley's The New Methodists address is available online in print and video form at www.nobts.edu/president. Look for the "additional links" section at the bottom of the page.

-- Peter Lumpkins from Cornerstone Baptist Chapel in Waco, Ga., asked if NOBTS has fully recovered from Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in August 2005, and what Southern Baptists can do to assist the seminary.

Kelley thanked Southern Baptists for the support they have shown New Orleans Seminary and the Gulf Coast region since Katrina.

"Southern Baptists turned our story from tragedy into a miracle," Kelley said, adding that visitors to the NOBTS campus would have no idea a storm devastated the area just seven years ago.

The seminary, Kelley said, is still working to replace the 92 two bedroom apartments lost in the storm. Thus far, just 24 units have been replaced. Kelley also noted that the majority of the NOBTS student body since Katrina resides off campus.

Regarding how Southern Baptists can continue to help the seminary, he said: "You can pray for us. You can give to us financially if the Lord lays that on your heart. Most importantly, you can support the Cooperative Program and help all of us out, not just New Orleans Baptist Seminary."

NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD -- At the end of his report, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell received a question from a messenger asking if all churches started with NAMB's assistance have a sponsoring church.

"That is the goal," Ezell answered. Currently, not every church plant has a sponsoring church, but Ezell said that's what NAMB is striving for.

"So we are going against Baptist polity in starting churches?" the messenger replied.

Ezell noted that NAMB works in partnership with state conventions and local associations when starting churches and both entities are made up of churches.

"We are not violating Baptist polity," Ezell said, adding that he thinks it is healthier for every church plant to be partnered with a sending church.


Based on reports by Don Graham of the International Mission Board, Marty King of LifeWay Christian Resources, Pat Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Frank Michael McCormack of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Carol Pipes of the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).