The 888 registered messengers from 418 churches represented the least-attended annual meeting in the last 60 years; in 1953, there were 818 messengers present. Attendance was down by 19.5 percent from last year and by nearly half from 2011, when 1,742 messengers gathered to consider the report of the South Carolina Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. The meeting was held Nov. 12-13 at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia.
According to Annual Church Profile information published in the 2012 South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) Annual, there are 698,041 members representing 2,138 churches in the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
The theme for the 2013 annual meeting was "Better Together." Ralph Carter, outgoing president, assembled panels featuring pastors from different church settings to discuss the variety of ways in which they approach worship and ministry. Carter also produced a series of short videos to highlight the annual meeting's theme.
Messengers approved a $28.6 million budget for 2014. The budget anticipates $28.5 million in Cooperative Program receipts and $100,000 from "cooperative gifts."
While the budget's bottom line remains unchanged from 2013 and 2012, it reflects previously scheduled reductions in funding to The Baptist Courier and Baptist Foundation of South Carolina (as called for in the state convention's 2011 Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report); a freeze in funding to the SCBC's three affiliated universities, two retirement centers, a children's home and South Carolina WMU; and a 1 percent cut to Executive Board (Baptist building) ministries.
If South Carolina Baptist churches fully fund next year's budget, a supplemental allocation of $761,813 will be forwarded directly to the International Mission Board. In adopting the GCR report in 2011, messengers voted to increase South Carolina's contribution to IMB by 21.95 percent over the next three years in order to fund IMB at a level equal to the amount IMB would receive if South Carolina were splitting Cooperative Program receipts 50/50 with the Southern Baptist Convention. The current split, unchanged from 2013, is approximately 59/41, with the larger share remaining in South Carolina. Of the convention's $28.5 million Cooperative Program budget for 2014, $16,815,000 is slated to be spent on in-state ministries; $11,685,000 is scheduled to be forwarded to SBC causes.
Messengers defeated a motion from former SCBC president Wayne Dickard, pastor of Siloam Baptist Church, Easley, that would roll back the GCR-mandated progression toward a 50/50 split. The 2011 GCR report calls for "a five-year goal of moving the division of Cooperative Program receipts to 50/50 between the SCBC and the SBC."
D.J. Horton, pastor of Anderson Mill Road Baptist Church, near Spartanburg, was elected state convention president. Horton, 36, received 244 of 407 votes cast by messengers. Dusty Bradshaw, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in North Charleston, received 163 votes. There were no other nominees for president.
Other officers, elected without opposition, included Tommy Kelly, pastor of Varnville First Baptist Church, first vice president; Shane Donald, pastor of Cedar Shoals Baptist Church, Belton, second vice president; and Verla Bennie, member of Mauldin First Baptist Church, recording secretary.
Bart Kelley, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Westminster, was elected registration secretary with 224 of 388 votes cast. Clark Carter, dean of students at Charleston Southern University and a member of Northwood Baptist Church in North Charleston, received 164 votes.
At a press conference following his election, Horton said he plans to represent South Carolina Baptists "outside the circle of South Carolina Baptists" and to "tell the story of South Carolina Baptists to folks who may have forgotten about us."
Addressing how he might seek to encourage struggling churches across the state to engage in the state convention's newly adopted emphasis, "Great Commission Living," Horton said churches can become healthy by "focusing on a few initiatives and doing them well."
"We have to center our efforts on a handful of biblical issues, like missions," he said. Churches should contextualize their environments and not be afraid to change the methods by which they reach their mission fields, he said.
Horton said the ministry and missions "templates" that nearly all Southern Baptist Convention churches and state conventions used in the 1950s and 1960s are no longer adequate to meet the challenges of a denomination seeking to reach the world today. He said that while the Southern Baptist Convention may not be in danger of dying, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant if churches aren't willing to adapt when it comes to the methods by which they do ministry.
"How we do cooperation always has to be evolving," he said, "but how cooperation looks over the next 25 years can't be the way we've always done things."
Horton said he sees his role as president as working to make the state convention "be seen as valuable" to pastors. He plans to spend the next year "preaching, casting visions and building relationships."
"Twelve months is not long enough to make a fundamental shift, but we can start the right conversation," he said. As part of his duties as state convention president, Horton said he will "pick folks with progressive thinking" to serve on the SCBC's Committee on Committees.
Horton, originally from Montevallo, Ala., and his wife Laurel have four children: Ty 10; Micah, 8; Lily, 5 and Grey, 3. They are in the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia.
'Great Commission Living'
Messengers adopted a new vision theme: "Great Commission Living." The theme was presented to messengers by former state convention president Sonny Holmes, pastor of Northwood Baptist Church in North Charleston. Holmes chaired the 30-member Seeking the Kingdom Task Force, charged with seeking God's vision for the SCBC beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
The task force's report includes the following vision statement: "The South Carolina Baptist Convention will assist churches in making disciples who will urgently take the whole Gospel to the world that all will be whole." The vision is supported by Matthew 4:19: "'Follow Me,' He told them, 'and I will make you fish for people!'" (HCSB).
The task force was appointed by 2012 convention president Brad Atkins and followed approval of the Great Commission Resurgence focus on church revitalization, missions mobilization and evangelism, and church planting.
The task force, led by Holmes, included members of the convention's Executive Board; executive-level convention staff (including executive director-treasurer Jim Austin); former convention presidents; directors of missions; institution presidents or their designees; and Laurie Register, executive director-treasurer of Woman's Missionary Union of South Carolina.
Holmes presented 10 Scripture-based initiatives that were developed in cooperation between the Seeking the Kingdom Task Force and all of the convention staff members. The initiatives challenge convention staff to:
-- Assist all SCBC churches in developing and implementing an intentional relational discipleship process (2 Timothy 2:2).
-- Involve 8 percent of SCBC churches in a church-health process each year (Revelation 2:4-5).
-- Cultivate a church-planting movement that assists SCBC churches in annually planting reproducing churches that equal at least 2 percent of the total number of the convention's churches (Acts 13:1-5).
-- Work toward a climate of prayer, repentance and reconciliation among churches and their members (Mark 9:29).
-- Change the culture of pastor-church relationships so that the convention becomes last in forced terminations and suicides instead of first (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:2).
-- Create a church-leadership development pipeline for young people and others that will encourage them to respond to God's call for missions, church planting and church revitalization (Mark 3:13-15).
-- Partner with churches to mobilize 700 full-time SBC missionaries by the year 2024 (Matthew 9:37).
-- Encourage Great Commission generosity by increasing Cooperative Program and other mission offerings by one-tenth of 1 percent per year (Luke 6:38).
-- Pray and realize that without true revival, none of the preceding will ever occur (2 Chronicles 7:14).
To meet the initiatives, the convention staff organizational structure will be built around church-supporting staff, church-strengthening staff and church-sending staff.
The new vision theme follows the previous SCBC emphasis, "Experience Kingdom Life," and, before that, "Empowering Kingdom Growth."
Messengers approved resolutions on religious freedom, a call to prayer for the preservation of biblical marriage, expression of disappointment with the Boy Scouts of America's membership policy regarding homosexuality, Christian ministry to those struggling with mental illness, responsible use of social media, and the 125th anniversary of Woman's Missionary Union. To read the resolutions in their entirety, visit http://www.scbaptist.org/defining-scbc/annual-meeting/resolutions/.
The resolution on religious freedom was amended on a motion by Stephen Owensby, pastor of First Baptist Church of Enoree. The resolution challenged the United States government's encroachment on the "cherished rights of all citizens to express their religious beliefs in public." Owensby's motion encouraged South Carolina Baptist pastors to "preach the entire counsel of God during this difficult season as in any other season," expressing his belief that pastors are on the front lines of any attack on religious freedom. The convention's Resolutions Committee did not oppose the amendment.
The resolution related to the Boys Scouts of America's membership policy expressed "disappointment in the decision to change the BSA membership policy regarding homosexuality." It called on churches continuing to support the BSA to "share the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ with all members and leaders while working to reverse the current membership policy... that normalizes sexual conduct opposed to the biblical standard." For churches no longer supporting the BSA because of its position to accept members regardless of sexual orientation, the resolution asked churches to continue ministry to children and youth through biblically based programs.
The amendment calling for prayer concerning the preservation of biblical marriage between one man and one woman was twice amended without opposition. An approved amendment offered by Gregory Dry, associate minister of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, called for strengthening the resolution to read "that messengers stand steadfastly for God's design of one-man, one-woman marriage, and we urge all people of faith to urgently do as 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says and lift our elected and appointed leaders and judges in prayer and urge them to protect and defend one-man, one-woman marriage as same-sex marriage is being deliberated in our state and several others." An amendment by Mike Hamlet, pastor of First Baptist Church, North Spartanburg, specifically identified the University of South Carolina Upstate and the College of Charleston as two schools that "have endorsed required reading curriculum that embraces the acceptance of the gay agenda and have used specific programs to promote the homosexual agenda using public resources and have hired staff to promote homosexual lifestyles on campus."
Messengers heard a first reading on changes to the convention's bylaws. One proposed change states that a contribution to the Cooperative Program is required for a church to be in good standing with the state convention. Another would create the position of president-elect as a convention officer. The proposed changes to the bylaws will be considered for approval by messengers at the 2014 annual meeting.
Next year's annual meeting will be held Nov. 11-12 at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia.
Butch Blume is managing editor of The Baptist Courier, the news magazine of South Carolina Baptists. Scott Vaughan is a contributing writer for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
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