BGAV sets budget for 'God-sized job'

Baptist Press
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 4:00 PM
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (BP)--Despite a shaky economy, messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia acknowledged their "God-sized" mission task Nov. 18 and adopted a 2010 budget of $14 million, about 1.4 percent larger than 2009's budget, which is expected to see a shortfall.

Next year's budget, approved by messengers during the BGAV's Nov. 17-18 annual meeting, is $200,000 more than the current $13.8 million allocated for state, national and international ministries.

Though allocations for most line items in the 2010 budget are similar to this year's, a significant change eliminates a popular supplement for ministers' and church staff retirement, which in 2010 would have totaled about $250,000. Left intact was a supplement for ministers' and church staff life and disability insurance.

A messenger's attempt to restore the retirement supplement and cut the insurance supplement failed by a large margin.

The budget action was taken during a meeting low in attendance but high in enthusiasm for BGAV mission and ministries. The 984 registered messengers -- the second smallest at an annual meeting since 1975 -- welcomed representatives of national and international mission partner organizations, who shared the stage with BGAV leaders during a multimedia celebration of their common task.

Messengers also elected officers for 2010 and heard three ministers interpret the meeting's theme -- "A Time for Extravagance."

The theme accurately reflected the budget committee's call to meet the challenge of funding ministry in a recession-wracked economy. BGAV treasurer Eddie Stratton has reported that the current $13.8 million budget will see a shortfall, perhaps by more than $800,000.

"Either we could do what we did last year and make the budget meet our projected income, and our budget this year would be substantially lower," said budget committee member Billy Burford, who presented the proposal on behalf of committee chair Tom McCann. "Or we could meet the challenge. And that's what we did."

"Kingdom Advance is a challenge and it takes money to do it," added Burford, administrator at First Baptist Church in Richmond. "So the budget before you represents what the budget committee believes is necessary to carry out the goals and aspirations of Kingdom Advance and to meet the needs of our partners."

McCann, who was unable to attend this year's meeting, told the Virginia Baptist Mission Board in October that the proposed 2010 budget would be larger than this year's.

"Costs increase. We can't get around that," McCann said then. "We can decide to go out of business and sell everything. Or we can understand we have a God-sized job to do and do it as free and faithful Baptists in Virginia."

"This budget takes us back to the budget of two or three years ago," he said. "But we need to do that. Unless we want to go backwards we've got to move forward, and in order to do that we need to encourage our folks to step up to the demands of reality. If we're going to do Kingdom Advance we need the funds to do it."

The retirement supplement cut was the focus of wide-ranging discussion in a budget breakout session during the annual meeting and sparked an amendment during floor debate.

Since the 1970s, the BGAV -- like most Baptist state conventions -- has provided life and disability insurance supplements on behalf of eligible ministers and church staff through GuideStone Financial Services, the Southern Baptist Convention's pension fund manager. In the 1990s, the VBMB begin matching retirement contributions, assisted in part by a surplus of funds from investment returns on the BGAV's payment of life and disability insurance premiums.

By 2002 those surplus funds were depleted, and in 2007 GuideStone asked state conventions to assume half of those costs, phasing them in over a five-year period. That cost for both the retirement and insurance supplements was expected to have grown to about $500,000 by 2010 to cover the more than 1,500 eligible participants.

In examining next year's expenditures, the budget committee said the retirement supplement portion of those contributions -- which are only $210 per participant annually but which will total almost $250,000 in 2009 -- was carefully scrutinized.

"In our examination we discovered we are not being good stewards of the dollars being asked for in this line item," Burford said. "Many employees of Virginia Baptist churches were not even aware that the supplements were being paid. Some small churches were being asked to supplement the ministry staff of large churches."

"This is not only important for the 2010 budget but for cooperative missions budgets for years to come," he added. "The budget committee believes it makes good stewardship sense to remove the $230,000 in this line item."

Burford acknowledged concerns that the cut will create hardships for some ministers and church staff attempting to take on the additional $210 a year.

"In a letter distributed to all churches and published in the Religious Herald, John Upton said there have been funds set aside to help," said Burford, who encouraged ministers to contact the VBMB if serious help is needed.

During discussion of the budget, Joseph Giles Jr., pastor of James Square Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, said he "understands the need to cut the budget," but moved to amend the proposal to restore the retirement supplements and instead cut the life and disability insurance supplements.

But the amendment drew protests from Jeff Cranford, financial support planning specialist for the VBMB.

"The value of the survival and disability benefits has an immediate impact, whereas the retirement addition will make a difference over the course of many years," Cranford said. "I've seen many cases in which getting the $500 a month disability really made a difference in trying to cope with disability. I think that is the most urgent. I'm not saying the other isn't important. I'm just saying the other is long term."

Traci Powers, co-pastor of Westhaven Baptist Church in Portsmouth, agreed that -- forced to choose - the retirement supplements should be cut before life and disability insurance.

"All of us in this room understand that things have to be cut," said Powers, a member of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. "If we have to cut a benefit, I would strongly urge that it be the retirement supplement rather than the disability. It's very critical that if there is an unexpected disability that a minister has some protection."

The amendment lost on a hand vote by a wide margin.

The 2010 budget continues to offer BGAV churches three pre-set giving tracks and a fourth customized option that divide funds between Virginia ministries and national and international causes:

-- The World Missions 1 track retains 66 percent for Virginia ministries and sends 34 percent to Southern Baptist Convention ministries.

-- World Missions 2 supports Virginia ministries at 72 percent, while 28 percent funds a combination of Virginia, SBC and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministries.

-- World Missions 3 funds Virginia ministries at 72 percent and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship at 28 percent.

While the overall amount funding national and international causes will be less in 2009, the allocations in each of the pre-set tracks remain unchanged. BGAV churches also may adopt a customized plan that allows them to select or delete any item in WM 1, 2 or 3, and adjust percentages to reflect their own priorities.

Messengers elected Tim Madison, pastor of Mechanicsville Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, as president. Madison, who was unopposed for the office, was endorsed by Virginia Baptists Committed, a moderate advocacy group that has successfully nominated BGAV candidates for nearly 25 years.

Madison had been serving as first vice president and his election follows a recent practice of electing first vice presidents to the presidency, which is constitutionally restricted to one, non-repeating term. His election also conforms to a much longer tradition of alternating the presidency between ministers and laypersons each year.

Bob Bass, a Richmond layman, was elected first president, also without opposition. In an unusual move, Bass was nominated outside the channel of Virginia Baptists Committed. Travis Collins, pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, which Bass attends, said last month he was nominating his church member because he is "uniquely poised to lead us now."

"I'm grateful for those who annually nominated the candidates," said Collins, referring to VBC, "but I believe Bob is the right one for the job. So it seemed right, being a Baptist, to offer someone for nomination who is outside the pipeline that has developed."

VBC later endorsed Bass's election, saying the group "saw no need to field a different candidate for first vice president."

"Though his nomination will not come through the candidate nomination process of Virginia Baptists Committed, we have had him on our short list of potential candidates and encourage his election ...," said Richmond pastor Mike Clingenpeel, VBC co-chair.

VBC's endorsed candidate for second vice president, David Plott, director of missions for two associations in southwest Virginia, lost in a contest with Kevin James, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Sparta, not far from this year's meeting site in Fredericksburg. James, nominated by Dee Whitten, pastor of Fairview at River Club, a Baptist congregation in Fredericksburg, won 52-48 percent.

Elected to a 29th term as clerk was Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.

In other action, at the annual meeting:

-- Messengers heard theme interpretations from three ministers - Alistair Brown, president of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary near Chicago; Jim Somerville, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond; and Steve Chang, pastor of Light Global Mission Church in Fairfax.

-- Received a report from a committee exploring the possibility of holding BGAV annual meetings in churches rather than convention centers. After a year's study, the committee said only one BGAV church is large enough to accommodate the 1,000 to 1,200 messengers and visitors who typically attend a meeting, and that that church has little space for exhibitions. The committee recommended that the meeting continue to be held at convention centers, but encouraged the Virginia Baptist Mission Board to explore ways to reduce costs.

-- Adopted resolutions affirming John Upton's anticipated election as president of the Baptist World Alliance next summer; commending BGAV churches for continuing financial support in troubled economic times; and expressing appreciation for retiring campus minister Rob Sandford, who has served longer than any other Baptist campus minister in the South.

Robert Dilday is managing editor of the Religious Herald, newsjournal of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

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