Arkansas Baptists: 'Every One Matters'
TEXARKANA, Ark. (BP) -- An estimated 1,000-plus Arkansas Baptist messengers and guests converged on Trinity Baptist Church in Texarkana Oct. 27-29 to conduct business, worship and hear inspiring sermons and entity reports during the 161st annual meeting of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, Pastors' Conference and related meetings.
Messengers approved five resolutions, including resolutions addressing religious liberty, statewide alcohol sales, transgender identity and Christian citizenship and civic participation.
The 515 church messengers registered by the ABSC at the meeting represented every geographical region of the state. In 2013, the annual meeting held at Cross Church in Rogers attracted 591 messengers. This year's annual meeting theme was Every One Matters.
Archie Mason, pastor of Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, was re-elected to a second term as ABSC president; Doug Falknor, pastor of First Baptist Church, Fayetteville, was re-elected first vice president, and Gary Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lowell, was re-elected second vice president. All three men ran unopposed.
Throughout the meeting, messengers took part in several prayer sessions focused on revival and spiritual awakening. In addition, they heard from a number of church planters about the work God is doing in their churches. There were also several Celebrate Arkansas sessions highlighting mission work in the state.
A Cooperative Program budget of $22 million for 2015 was approved by messengers, which is the same amount as 2014.
The budget includes $9,443,786 (42.93 percent) for Southern Baptist Convention causes and $12,336,214 (56.07 percent) for missions and ministries in Arkansas. Another $220,000 (1 percent) is designated as the "shared ministries" budget split between the ABSC and the SBC.
SBC causes include the International Mission Board, $4,721,893 (21.46 percent); the North American Mission Board, $2,152,239 (9.78 percent); theological education, $2,092,743 (9.51 percent); Christian ethics and religious liberty ministries, $155,821 (.71 percent), and other facilitating ministries $301,201 (1.37 percent).
Arkansas missions and ministries include Executive Board programs, $6,390,700 (29.05 percent); pastoral scholarship fund, $170,572 (.78 percent); convention, $172,109 (.78 percent); church protection plan-GuideStone, $147,938 (.67 percent); Camp Siloam, $252,634 (1.15 percent); Arkansas Baptist Children's Homes and Family Ministries, $581,659 (2.64 percent); Arkansas Baptist Foundation, $340,510 (1.55 percent); Arkansas Baptist News, $290,736 (1.32 percent); Ouachita Baptist University, $3,159,994 (14.36 percent), and Williams Baptist College $951,748 (4.33 percent).
The 2015 budget reflects the third year of the ABSC's 2013-17 budget formula approved by messengers at the 2011 annual meeting. The formula increases the percentage of funds (total receipts) forwarded to the SBC, with budget surpluses being divided with the SBC (CP funds received above $22 million). The percentage increase for SBC causes is two-tenths of 1 percent each year during the five-year budget formula period.
Additionally, the formula directs the convention to conduct a statewide emphasis every five years, encouraging churches to increase their Cooperative Program percentage.
Arkansas Baptists approved resolutions regarding religious liberty, statewide alcohol sales, transgender identity and Christian citizenship and civic participation.
Larry Page, chairman of the ABSC Resolutions Committee, and executive director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, brought the report of the committee to the convention during the Wednesday morning session, Oct. 29. All resolutions were approved without opposition.
Messengers affirmed the biblical definition of sexuality, referencing Genesis 1:27 and Isaiah 43:7, among other verses, and opposed cultural trends to allow the redefinition of gender identity. The resolutions made clear it should be the desire of Christians to "extend love and compassion to those whose sexual self-understanding is shaped by a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity; and, ... invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:15–16)."
They affirmed a resolution voicing opposition to the proposed Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment. Messengers were encouraged to "reject soundly" statewide sale of alcohol as proposed in the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment (AABA) Nov. 4. The measure was rejected by Arkansas voters.
The resolution read in part: "Whereas, if the state's voters approve the AABA, it will convert Arkansas's [sic] 37 dry counties to wet ones and preclude absolutely the ability of voters in individual counties from voting all or any part of their respective counties dry; and ... it is imperative that Arkansans understand how the AABA, if approved by voters, will fundamentally transform their state in undesirable ways and effectively disenfranchise voters in relation to local option elections."
Messengers expressed appreciation for "God-given religious freedom" and called for "every branch of government to investigate all claims of First Amendment violations and to educate, discipline, or prosecute any who are involved in these violations;" and it urged "those who engage in defending the legal rights of people of faith to come to the aid of those who are facing discrimination for their faith by federal, state, and local governments, institutions, or individuals."
Messengers affirmed the charge of all Christians to be "salt and light" in the world (Matt. 5:13-16), encouraging them to "engage the culture by being informed and proactive citizens, by voting in all elections, and by participating appropriately in civic matters."
"Cooperative Program levels the playing field"
"We need to win more people and teach them to give unto the Lord," Frank S. Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, told those gathered for the Cooperative Program Breakfast Oct. 29.
Southern Baptists need to focus on two things in the 21st century: evangelism and stewardship, Page said.
Overall receipts given through the Cooperative Program have declined 5.9 percent in the past five years, he noted.
"But guess what. Overall giving to churches has declined 5.9 percent in the last five years," he said. "The overall decline in giving mirrors the overall decline in that which people are giving to churches. So the bottom line is that we have less people giving less money.
"Southern Baptists have less people than we have had in the past. We need to win more people to Jesus Christ and teach them to 'give unto the Lord,'" said Page, explaining that people are giving, just not to churches.
Page said there is another key statistic that is seeing a turnaround.
"We are seeing something turn that hasn't turned in 30 years," he said. "Last year (CP) ticked up to 5.5 percent.... The average percentage (from each church) is now going up. And we praise the Lord for that."
He said he understands that many younger pastors don't embrace CP or its name that emphasizes the term "program."
"I say, 'Check it out; study it! If you don't like it, fix it! But fix it as an insider and not as an outsider," Page said. "If you study it, I think you are going to see there is a lot more going on than you ever, ever, ever realized."
The Cooperative Program serves a vital function of distributing funds for maximum kingdom impact, he said, adding, if Southern Baptists were to return to a societal method of missions funding they may not realize what they had until it is lost.
"Direct funding, long-term, does not work," Page said.
"Southern Baptists must understand who we are," he noted, pointing to only 169 of the SBC's 46,000-plus churches averaging 2,000 or more in attendance.
"Forty-five thousand of our 46,000 churches are small," said Page, adding that when a direct funding model is used, "small churches will suffer ... and the result is inward focus."
He said we must not forget "we are a convention of small churches."
Page added that almost one of four SBC churches are ethnic, and 3,000 are African American.
"The Cooperative Program levels the playing field for what we do," he said, adding the only way to effectively reach the world for Jesus Christ is by "cooperating together."
Recommendations, elections, other action
Messengers approved a recommendation from the ABSC Executive Board to amend the articles of incorporation of the Arkansas Baptist Assembly (Camp Siloam). Article IV, Section 1, previously called for the executive director-treasurer to also serve as the recording secretary. The recording secretary is now a separate officer on the board of directors.
The convention's Nominating Committee report was approved with no challenges and no discussion. The committee nominates people to serve on boards of ABSC entities and institutions.
Greg Sykes, pastor of First Baptist Church, Russellville, was elected president of the ABSC Executive Board. Tom McCone, minister of music at First Baptist Church, Greenwood, was elected first vice president.
The 2015 annual meeting will be held at Hot Springs Baptist Church in Hot Springs.