WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (BP) -- Messengers to the Georgia Baptist Convention's annual meeting increased their budget, honored their executive director, J. Robert White, for two decades of service and emerged with a renewed commitment to reach their state and world for Christ.
"My commission ... the Great Commission" was the theme for the 191st annual meeting at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins.
The 1,128 messengers heard reports, approved a 2013 budget of $41,800,000, collected Buckets of Care for Hurricane Sandy victims in Manahawkin, N.J., and welcomed 50 new churches and missions.
New Orleans pastor and Southern Baptist Convention president Fred Luter closed the meeting with a Great Commission sermon on "If the Gospel was enough to save you, why can't it save those on the streets?"
The 2013 budget was an increase of 3.7 percent from last year's $40,300,000 adjusted budget. Last year messengers originally approved a $42.3 million budget for 2012, but the struggling economy immediately forced the convention to trim 6 percent, or nearly $1.7 million, and reduce staff in late January. That brought spending to levels not seen since 1998.
The new budget reverses a trend of steady declines and is the first increase in four years. Even with the cuts in recent years, the newly approved budget retains the convention's long-established standing as a 50/50 percent split between Georgia and SBC Cooperative Program funding, executive director J. Robert White said.
The budget is divided equally with 40.18 percent remaining in the state and 40.18 percent forwarded for national and international ministries, with the remaining 19.63 percent, known as "jointly funded ministries" or "shared ministry" also divided between state and national CP causes.
In his president's message, John Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church in Statesboro, said the heartbeat of Georgia Baptists "ought to be the Great Commission. The call is too clear, the need is too great, the time is too short for us to have a heartbeat for anything less than the Great Commission given by the Lord Jesus Christ."
Waters called for all Georgia Baptists working together to carry on the work of the Great Commission.
"Jesus didn't intend for just His disciples to do the Great Commission. He didn't intend for just me to do the Great Commission. Jesus intended for us to do the Great Commission together," Waters said.
He encouraged messengers to "share a common heartbeat for missions and evangelism which is the very heartbeat of God. Let's set aside our differences and go forth with a single cause, single mission, single heartbeat."
Jeremy Morton, chairman of the Cooperative Program Allocation Study Committee appointed by the GBC Executive Committee, updated messengers on the group's findings. Morton, pastor of Cross Point Baptist Church in Perry, explained that after exhaustive interviews with SBC entity heads, the committees agreed to maintain the 50/50 percent funding split between state and national ministries.
Morton also updated messengers on the move, hailed as groundbreaking by some, which updates the funding relationship between the state convention and church planters.
The updated policy reflects current Cooperative Program percentage giving from churches and empowers church plants to make a personal commitment of their resources to missions rather than having a specific percentage dictated to them.
In order to receive funds, church plants previously were required to give 10 percent to Southern Baptist missions causes through the Cooperative Program. But that average amount has been declining for several years and should no longer be considered the benchmark, committee members said. They are now challenged to give more than the average, which is currently at 5.01 percent.
Morton said it was felt that the previous understanding created a double standard between existing churches and new church plants. He noted that in 1982 the average GBC church gave 9.7 percent through the Cooperative Program; 20 years later in 2002 that amount dropped to 6.8 percent. As of 2011 churches average only 5.01 percent.
The new policy is expected to bring Georgia to the forefront of state conventions attracting church planters and will position it to gain the attention of some of the brightest planters in the denomination, Morton said.
Recognition of 20 years
White, as GBC executive director, was honored for 20 years of service to the state convention in a special recognition ceremony featuring video tributes from many across the denomination.
White, who began his ministry in January 1993, was cited in a resolution for "demonstrating exemplary leadership, a passion for Jesus Christ, and a heart for lost souls" and for having "skillfully guided the missions and ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention for two decades with executive leadership skills, a pastor's heart, and as a personal friend to pastors throughout the state of Georgia...."
Under White's leadership, Georgia Baptists have given more than $800 million to missions through the Cooperative Program as a part of more than $1 billion given in total missions gifts. Churches have grown from 3,303 to 3,615 during his tenure, with 631,582 baptisms reported.
White was joined on the platform by his extended family for the presentation of the resolution and a statement from the governor's office acknowledging his service.
Statesboro First Baptist Church pastor John Waters was elected to a second one-year term as convention president, and Danny Henson of New Liberty Baptist Church in Ringgold was re-elected as recording secretary by acclamation. Rentz Baptist Church pastor Tom Vann and Freddie Rhodes, pastor of Westview Baptist Church in Hawkinsville, were elected as assistant recording secretaries by acclamation.
Tom Hocutt, director of missions for Mallary Baptist Association in Albany, was elected first vice president with 549 votes; Michael Stovall, pastor of Ewing Road Baptist Church in Austell, was elected second vice president with 523 votes; Tom Rush, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Social Circle, was elected third vice president with 485 votes; and Tony Christie, pastor of Sherwood Forest Baptist Church in Rome, was elected fourth vice president with 471 votes. Atlanta pastor Rusty Couch of Woodland Hills Baptist Church also was nominated but received 446 votes.
Next year's annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention will be Nov. 11-12 at Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index in Georgia.
The text of the resolution honoring J. Robert White for 20 years of service follows:
WHEREAS, Dr. J. Robert White has served as executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention for the past twenty years, beginning his service in January 1993, demonstrating exemplary leadership, a passion for Jesus Christ, and a heart for lost souls; and
WHEREAS, Dr. J. Robert White has skillfully guided the missions and ministries of the Georgia Baptist Convention for two decades with executive leadership skills, a pastor's heart, and as a personal friend to pastors throughout the state of Georgia, embodying the spiritual leadership of Psalm 78:72, which says, "he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands;" and
WHEREAS, under the leadership of Dr. J. Robert White, Georgia Baptists have give more than $800 million to missions through the Cooperative Program as a part of more than $1 billion given in total missions gifts, which have enabled the Gospel to go forth, beginning at Jerusalem and extending to the uttermost (Acts 1:8); and
WHEREAS, Dr. J. Robert White has led by personal example by participating in 35 mission trips, including work in Alaska, New York, California, Utah-Idaho, Chicago, Panama, Germany, Mexico, China, Canada, North Korea, South Korea, Moldova, France, India, and Russia; and
WHEREAS, the number of Georgia Baptist churches has grown from 3,303 to 3,615, and Georgia Baptists have baptized 631,582 persons under his tenure; and
WHEREAS, Dr. J. Robert White has faithfully preached the unsearchable riches of Christ in churches across this state, and is recognized as a leader in missions and evangelism across the entire Southern Baptist Convention.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the members of the Executive Committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention commend Dr. J. Robert White for his leadership, vision, and faithful service to the work of our state convention and the advancement of the Kingdom of God; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that Dr. J. Robert White be acknowledged as one of God's choice servants, full of the Holy Spirit, compassionate for lost souls, a leader in God's Kingdom, a friend to pastors, and a man divinely chosen and prepared "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:4); and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that heartfelt and sincere congratulations be extended to Dr. J. Robert White for his twenty years of faithful service to Georgia Baptists, his unwavering commitment to God's Word, and his steadfast devotion to the cause of Christ, with the fitting commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
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