Proposed bylaw changes foster Florida Baptist cooperation

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It’s no secret that the way we live today looks dramatically different than even just a generation ago. Technology has erased borders and created new arenas for collaboration and engagement. The church has not been immune to these changes and, as a result, the way we reach the world with the Gospel of Christ has seen innovations that allow us as believers to advance the Kingdom of God and make much of Jesus in new and exciting ways.

Yet who we are as Southern Baptists and as Florida Baptists is still built upon our desire to cooperate with one another and we are bolstered by the understanding that together we can do more for the Kingdom than any one of us can do alone. To do so, we need to continually evaluate the standards, norms and bylaws that govern who we are as a Convention.

And that’s what Florida Baptist leaders have been doing for the past several years. In conversations that have included various ministry leaders, State Convention staff and the State Board of Missions, efforts are being proposed that affirm the ability for churches to cooperate with the state Convention.

“The proposed bylaw change responds to decisions being made by our Florida Baptist churches,” said Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention. “The desire of the Florida Baptist Convention in this proposed change is to continue to provide a pathway for cooperation and participation for all Florida Baptist churches. We strongly affirm the role of local associations and networks for engagement on a local level.”

Kevin Goza, lead pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Apopka, chairs the Denominational Polity and Practice Committee of the State Board, which has led the process of bylaw review. He said he appreciates efforts by leaders to get in front of an issue that, if unchecked, could seriously hinder our ability to cooperate as Florida Baptists.

“I appreciate Florida Baptists for being progressive and not reactive,” he said. “This has been a broad, sweeping conversation because these kinds of changes have to cover everything. We need to get the wording just right.”

Changes are needed as we see the way churches are relating to their local associations and through them, to the State Convention. In a diverse state like Florida, we have seen many models at work to foster cooperation. In some cases, the traditional model of cooperation through the local association has not been as effective as it once was, while in other cases, that model is thriving.

“We’re not in any way wanting to undermine associations,” said Mike Orr, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Chipley and current president of the State Board of Missions. “Associations are the most valuable way we can link together and often the primary way, but for different reasons there are struggles – sometimes associations dissolve or there is no associational mission strategist.”

The way the bylaws currently read, it can be difficult for churches who are not part of an association to directly cooperate and participate with the State Convention.

“We need provisions for all churches to be able to connect and have a voice, allowing more churches to have a seat at the table and be ministry partners in the Kingdom work we are called to do,” Orr said.

The Proposed Bylaws – a closer look

Bylaw 2 – Baptist Cooperation through Unity

The proposed changes to this bylaw give it a new title and opening statement, highlighting cooperation and unity and recognizing the diversity of our state. Other changes include:

Section A

  • the word “autonomy” was added to emphasize the independence of each church as well as the importance of cooperation.
  • a statement was added to reaffirm the local association as the theological guardian of Florida Baptist churches.
  • a further statement was added to state that the State Board of Missions will be the theological guardians of churches with an “at-large” status.

Section B

  • this section further defines what a cooperating church is, it is clearly stated that a cooperating church’s statement of faith or any governing documents must be consistent with the Bible and The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) and all other tenets of our Southern Baptist faith.
  • the requirement of a church to contribute $250 through the Cooperative Program was changed to a requirement of a meaningful contribution. The Southern Baptist Convention also no longer requires this $250 contribution either. The use of the word “meaningful” refers more to an equal sacrifice than an equal monetary amount.

Section C

  • language here enumerates the two pathways churches have to cooperation with the State Convention – through the local association or through church at-large status.

Section D

  • this section says that regardless of the actual entity name – be it association or network – it must still function and be governed by the historic Southern Baptist model of associational ministry.

Section G

  • this proposed change lets churches know that those who are not in full cooperation (financially) may not be eligible to take part in the financial ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention.

Bylaw 7 – Committee on Nominations

Section A

  • proposed language here signifies a shift from associational representation on the committee to a regional model, where each region of the state is represented on the committee by three members from that region for a total of 18 members plus ex-officio members. A service term of three years is further specified for each member.
  • the appointments of the members from each region shall be done to ensure a staggered rotation.

Section F

  • considering the proliferation of technology and its usefulness and economic value when considering meetings, language was included to allow for meetings to take place by telephone and videoconferencing.

Bylaw 12 – State Board of Missions

Section A

  • the members of the State Board shall be made up of members appointed from the six ministry regions as defined by the Florida Baptist Convention.
  • for every 9,000 church members in a region, there will be one Board member serving, with additional board members able to be added for each additional 9,000 church members with the total number of board members not to exceed 99.
  • there is guaranteed representation for each active cooperating association but there is no instance where more than five representatives will come from one association.
  • at least one elected Board member shall come from a church-at-large but no more than two church-at-large representatives coming from any one of the six ministry regions.
  • each Board member must physically live within the geographical boundaries of the state of Florida.
  • each Board member’s church must be cooperating with the Florida Baptist Convention, making a consistent and meaningful contribution to missions through the Cooperative Program.

Section D

  • the Board is required to meet three times a year and meetings can be attended by telephone or videoconference.

Section F

  • the Board’s standing committees can be adjusted as is necessary and beneficial to its mission.

You can see the proposed language changes to the bylaws in context by clicking here. Changes will be voted on at the Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting at Wayside Baptist Church in Miami November 12-13.

These proposed changes offer a new way forward so that all Florida Baptist churches have a seat at the table as we continue the vital Kingdom work God has called us to.

“We are presenting changes that address the changing realities and possible eventualities of associationalism; while not opening a superhighway that ensures a race to their reality,” said Micah Ferguson, Strategic Initiatives Catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention. “We believe these are appropriate and proportional changes to the needs we face today.”

“This bylaw change allows continued partnership with churches and the Florida Baptist Convention where the local association is not viable for churches,” Green said.

If you have questions about the proposed bylaw changes contact the Florida Baptist Convention main number at 904-396-2351.

By Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Convention, October 5, 2018

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