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State Board members mobilize to contact churches for CP

By Barbara Denman

June 8, 2012


LEESBURG—During its May 25 meeting at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center, the State Board of Missions mobilized to contact 661 Florida Baptist churches that failed to contribute through the Cooperative Program in the past three consecutive church years, even as one member questioned if the action plan went far enough.


Tommy Green of Brandon cited Board documents indicating that 78 percent of all non-contributing churches have less than 100 members. “If they all step up and give something it’s not going to change the flavor of our convention in terms of finances,” said Green.


“We have churches that have tremendous budgets that are not on board with the Cooperative Program. I’m not talking that everybody has to give 10 percent,” he said. “I’m just saying we have churches that proportionally are not carrying the load.”


Green’s statements followed a presentation by the Convention’s auditors, Batts, Morrison, Wells and Lee, P.A. that expressed concern over the long-term liquidity of the Convention, especially in light of the Convention’s long-range commitment to send 50 percent of all Cooperative Program receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention.


“Without increased revenue or decreased expenditures, in the very near future, you will face liquidity challenges,” said Auditor Mike Lee, who along with Michael Batts served as principal auditors for the 2011 audit.


In a Power Point presentation, the auditors citing one of several possible scenarios, said the Convention must either increase receipts by $2 million each year or decrease expenditures by $2 million to remain solvent.


Green responded, “We have been making hard cuts, but I don’t think it is a realistic expectation that we can make $2 million in cuts every year.”


Referencing the 50 percent distribution of CP funds, Green added, “We have moved under the assumption that if we make the decision to go 50/50, everybody is going to jump in and start giving, and we are not seeing that. Matter of fact, we are seeing them giving less.”


Saying as a Board member he had a responsibility given by the State Convention “to do what we are tasked to do and do it well,” Green noted, “I don’t want to see the Florida Baptist Convention come to a point where we can no longer do viable ministry here in Florida for the sake of sending monies somewhere else.”


Green noted earlier comments by David Uth, president of the Florida Baptist State Convention (FBSC) and pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, urging churches to look within their own communities for unreached and unengaged people groups living there, explaining that as new converts, internationals can take the gospel back to their homeland.


Green continued, “In Florida we have the opportunity to impact the world and who will we be asking to do that programmatically?” Most likely, he concluded, the assignment will be given to the Convention to develop a strategy.


The effort to contact non-contributing churches was suggested by a Board workgroup, which was composed of eight members, including Green, Board president Tim Maynard and Chris Coram of Jacksonville, and Ted Traylor of Pensacola.


In the initiative, Board members from each association would contact those specific churches within their association.


The workgroup sought to identify possible causes for a church not to contribute through the Cooperative Program, other than the economy. They suggested a number of reasons: poor theological understanding of the Great Commission; churches creating their own mission program; a philosophical disagreement with Southern Baptist practice; an attitude of not wanting to support denominational “bureaucracy” and lethargy.


John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, took exception to the suggestion that the Convention’s work was “bureaucratic.”


“I don’t understand bureaucracy,” he said. “I don’t know where it is. I give up just about 46 Saturdays a year to drive to preach in a church on Sunday. I spend more time out of my office than in. I spend more nights out of my own bed and in a hotel than I spend at home.”


Referring to an earlier report that focused on the Convention Board-elected staff’s activities, Sullivan added “Our folks are on the road all the time preaching.”


The report he noted was the  Convention staff’s “Word and Deed” activity, which indicated that 58 Board-elected staff members in 2011 recorded 4,118 gospel presentations; 22,994 outreach contacts; 2,464 professions of faith; and led 1,292 Bible studies and 1,461 worship services.


Sullivan also said he could not “understand how any preacher would not lead his church to be a participant in the Great Commission. The best way to do that is through the Cooperative Program.”


“Why would you want to be Southern Baptist and not cooperate?” Sullivan asked.


As Board members discuss ways to approach each church, Uth volunteered to write a letter to each non-contributing church and explain the initiative saying it would be more effective if it was sent from a fellow pastor than a Convention employee.


In other action, the Board heard a progress report on 27 recommendations proposed by the Board in response to its study of the state-convention sanctioned “Imagine If…Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force; elected Patrick Coats of Miami as a field missionary in Southeast Florida for the Urban Impact Ministries Team; and heard a report about Florida Baptist’s work in Haiti (see related article).


Initially after receiving FBSC authorization in 2009, six GCR recommendations were referred to the Board for implementation. In response, the Board created work groups, which developed 27 action plans to fulfill the six recommendations.


In a report given during this meeting, the Board heard that all 27 action plans have either been implemented or were in the process of implementation. Among the action plans were the reorganization of staff along the GCR’s recommendations; the creation of a consolidated church planting group; and the staffing and funding of regional church planting and training centers.


In this meeting, the Board okayed the Convention’s plan to establish five regional centers for church planting coordination. The five regions will encompass the 49 Baptist associations across the state and will divide as West Florida, North Florida, Central, Southeast and Southwest regions.


Approval was given for the revision of group assignments, job titles and a “final” organizational chart which resulted from the newly implemented staff reorganization. The revision of 53 board-elected job descriptions also was approved. The last time the Board revised the entire staff’s job descriptions in 1999, the Convention was composed of 75 board elected positions, representing a decline in 22 positions.


The creation of the UIM field missionary position was in response to the heightened church planting effort. Coats, 41, was selected for his ability to do cross-cultural church planting, said Al Fernandez, lead strategist for the Convention’s Church Planting Group.


The Miami native represents the third generation of Southern Baptist African-American pastoral leadership within his extended family. His grandfather, Joseph Coats was the founding pastor of the Glendale Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, the first African American church in the 20th Century to cooperate with the State Convention. His uncle, Mark Coats, planted and now serves as pastor of the Grace of God Church in Miami, a church Patrick Coats helped start.


The younger Coats, a recent graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, now serves as pastor of the church he started, Kingdom Covenant Baptist Church in Homestead, and as a contract worker with the UIM.


In other action, the Board learned that the Convention received an unqualified opinion, the highest level a CPA can issue on a financial statement in an audit by Batts, Morrison, Wales and Lee, P.A. of Orlando.


The Board also received a report on the Convention’s 2011 Strategic Plan that outlined 178 numerical goals, of which 96 percent were attempted through defined action plans. Of those goals attempted, 68 percent were met or exceeded as determined by a numeric or quantitative assessment. Highlights included: 49,438 baptisms conducted of which 31,807 were in Florida and 17,631 in Florida’s mission partnership of Haiti; starting 120 new churches—13 African-Americans, 45 Anglo and 62 Hispanic, International and Haitian congregations; enrolling 1,553 persons in theological education; and recruiting 102,543 Florida Baptists in 1,195 congregations to participate in hands-on mission actions.


A revision of Bylaw 2 of the State Convention Bylaws was approved by the Board and will be considered by the messengers during the 2012 FBSC meeting, Nov. 12-13 in Orlando. The Bylaw on Baptist Cooperation spells out the theological integrity, declaration, financial and statistical commitment expected of cooperating local churches. The revision was done to streamline the language and provide clarity to the 17-year-old provision.


Sullivan also read a prepared statement to the Board related to the lawsuit which recently resulted in a judgment against the Florida Baptist Convention. The lawsuit claimed the Convention was negligent in the hiring of a church planter-pastor who served two mission churches in Lake County. The mission church pastor pleaded guilty in 2007 to molesting a 13-year-old boy over a six month period and was sentenced to seven years in prison.


Sullivan’s prepared statement follows:


“Since 2006 the Florida Baptist Convention has been a defendant to a lawsuit brought by a mother who claimed the Convention was negligent in the hiring of a church planter-pastor who served two mission churches in Lake County.  The mission church pastor pleaded guilty in 2007 to molesting the mother’s 13-year old son over a six-month period.  The pastor was sentenced to seven years in prison.


“Last week a two-week trial concluded in Lake County.  The mother alleged the Convention did not do enough to investigate the background of the church planter. The Convention, although it did conduct a background check on the pastor, did not employ the church planter.  The Convention only assisted a local church and the Baptist association with funding the mission start-ups.


“After nine days of testimony and arguments by the two legal counsels, the jury returned a verdict that was perplexing.  The good news is that the jury found that the church planter/pastor was never an employee of the Florida Baptist Convention.  The bad news is that the rest of the verdict was completely inconsistent with the evidence presented.


“There are expected to be a series of post-trial motions, and likely an appeal of some or the entire verdict. So it seems the liability case will be with us for some time.


“Regardless of the outcome of the motions – or the likely appeal to the appellate courts – we cannot let this case hinder our efforts to support church planting efforts in our state.”

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