The 826 registered messengers and 113 visitors celebrated the 25th anniversary of the leadership of John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist State Convention. Florida Baptists also established a new partnership with the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention and re-elected a slate of officers to lead them for a second year.
Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, addressed Florida Baptists and challenged churches to consider increasing their Cooperative Program gifts by one percent to more effectively reach the world for Christ.
In assuring messengers the Executive Committee has done its part to send more funding to SBC entities, Page said the Nashville headquarters has trimmed its own budget. It now operates on 2.9 percent of receipts as compared to 3.2 percent of receipts in recent years.
"I want you to be encouraged by the fact that we have become less bureaucratic as has your state convention," Page said during the Nov. 11-12 meeting at North Jacksonville Baptist Church.
"We take seriously this challenge to do more. ... Together we can do more."
The $30.5 million Florida Baptist Cooperative Program Budget for 2014 --its lowest amount since year 2000 -- sends 43 percent to the Southern Baptist Convention and retains 57 percent for Florida Baptist missions and ministries. The 43 percent earmarked for the SBC represents a 1.5 percent increase from the previous year.
The budget, a half million dollars below the 2013 revised budget of $31 million, keeps Florida Baptists on track to reach an even 50/50 percentage division between national and state mission causes by 2018.
During the business session, two Florida pastors, Joel Breidenbaugh, First Baptist Church Sweetwater in Longwood, and Jimmy Scroggins, First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, sought clarification and assurances that the CP budget will move to the 50/50 split, despite "smaller steps" currently being taken, Breidenbaugh said.
Sullivan said, "We plan to continue with the proposal we have set to move to 50/50. That' s our plan. We also will finance what it takes to win the state of Florida to Christ."
During the 25th anniversary celebration of Sullivan' s leadership, he was described as a " man who walks with God," by Florida Baptist State Convention President Tim Maynard, pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in Jacksonville. "John Sullivan is the man I look up to more than any other man."
Sullivan is the ninth executive director to have served the State Board of Missions since 1880. He holds the distinction of having served the longest tenure.
He was recognized for his quarter century of service through a video that highlighted his ministry of leading Florida Baptists to help accomplish the Great Commission.
Marvin Pittman, president of the State Board of Missions, said Sullivan' s tenure has been marked by a focus on three priorities: evangelism without apology, aggressive church starting and effective church and leadership development.
Those three priorities have borne significant fruit among the churches during the past 25 years. Among those accomplishments that were highlighted: approximately 780,000 baptisms; 2,500 new congregations; 14 mission partnerships; 385,000 Florida Baptist mission volunteers; approximately 40,000 disaster relief volunteers; and the establishment and expansion of theological education throughout the state.
Additionally, during the past 25 years, more than $670 million has been contributed by Florida Baptists through the Cooperative Program. They have contributed $20.6 million to the Maguire State Mission Offering.
"John Sullivan does not believe he can effectively lead Florida Baptists from behind a desk in Jacksonville, and he has committed a majority of his calendar to being on the Florida mission field," said Pittman. During his years of service, Sullivan has preached in more than 1,650 Florida Baptist congregations. He has preached in many of them on multiple occasions.
Florida Baptists' partnership with the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, modeled on the partnership they have had with the Western Cuba Baptist Convention since 1997, will focus on evangelism, church planting, church development and support ministries identified by Eastern Cuba Baptists.
Sullivan explained that because of the "integrity of our work," the Cuban government has allowed Florida Baptists to increase the number of mission projects undertaken by Florida Baptists to the island nation. During the first year in Western Cuba, Florida Baptists were permitted only two projects. That number has grown to 26 in Western Cuba in 2014. An additional four are scheduled next year in Eastern Cuba.
During the meeting, Eastern Cuba pastor Samuel Regaldo addressed messengers, saying, "The Lord brought me here to tell you in Cuba there is a powerful God.
"For many years the church in the East didn' t grow, but now we are living in a different time," Regaldo said."In Cuba ... we are willing to suffer.
"Invest in us, help us and you will be helping the Kingdom."
Western Cuba pastor Osmel Perez also traveled to the meeting to express appreciation to Florida Baptists for their long-term commitment and helping win his nation to Christ.
"'Dios te bendiga' God bless you!" Perez said.
The two-day meeting unified Florida Baptists in partnership behind a commitment to winning the state, as well as the world, as reflected in the president' s message presented by Maynard.
Maynard said the Book of Acts tells the story of the early church, but the track of the work of the Holy Spirit continues in the 21st century. The work of the church is a compelling story, a cooperative story and a continuing story, he said.
"If we are not standing together, we don't get it done," he said. "We live in a lost state and we cannot walk through this alone."
The same theme was echoed during the closing session, which was devoted to proclaiming Christ to the nations. Speakers included Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, and Nik Ripkin, author of "The Insanity of God," who shared about his work among Muslims in Africa.
Florida Baptist State Convention officers re-elected to a second term were Jacksonville pastor Maynard; Jack Roland, member of First Baptist Church in Ocala, first vice president; Chris Coram, associate pastor, North Jacksonville Baptist Church, second vice president; and Randy Huckabee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dade City, recording secretary.
Crossover North Florida, held prior to the Convention on Nov. 9, featured multicultural evangelistic outreach events that took place in 17 venues. Events included fall festivals, car/motorcycle shows and strength exhibitions.
Approximately 6,700 people attended the events where the Gospel was presented more than 100 times, resulting in 179 professions of faith.
The next convention meeting will be held Nov. 10-11, 2014 in Lakeland.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist State Convention. Joni B. Hannigan, managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, and Margaret Dempsey-Colson, a writer for the convention, contributed to this story.
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