Reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis was a historic gathering of churches. The emphasis on evangelism, church planting, church revitalization and church health echoed throughout meetings. The clear message and demonstration of racial unity and reconciliation reveals the heart of our SBC churches. The unprecedented election of our SBC President revealed the servant leadership of Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear.
I am grateful the churches of the Florida Baptist Convention are setting the pace in the decisions and discussions of Southern Baptists.
The relevance of Baptist state conventions for the future focuses on the connection with the local church. The importance of being fluid and responsive to the needs of the local church will enable state conventions to be viable partners in ministry.
The state convention exists for the church and not the church for the state convention. The promise of the Lord is to build His church, not a state convention. The success of state conventions for the future will not be determined by the size of their staff, building, budget or programming. The value will be measured by the investment in the local church.
The paradigm of structure we have adopted in Florida centers on placing our resources back to the church and to global missions. The importance of decentralization, regionalization and personalization has shifted every aspect of ministry within the Florida Baptist Convention.
The premise of a state convention team based on generalization rather than specialization defines our personnel decisions. Local church practitioners are the specialists and we engage our ministers in providing quality training throughout our state.
The process of regionalization positions our team within the region of the churches they serve. The question asked by our regional catalysts is “How can we serve you?” The uniqueness of every church is recognized and valued in how we seek to serve our churches. Personalization is critical because we are not there for what we can receive, but for what we can give.
Church planting and revitalization are critical components of the vision of reaching Florida for Christ. We believe that churches plant and revitalize churches. Therefore, we have committed resources to the sending church as they fulfill the vision God has given to that local church. The Florida Baptist Convention seeks to be ‘Right Beside You’ in ministry. The funding given to the sending church is fully at their discretion in terms of the utilization of the resources. The local church is the decision maker for the Florida Baptist Convention and releasing resources back to the local church is paramount in our ministry.
The state convention is the gatekeeper of Cooperative Program funds. Local churches send their CP gifts to the state convention and then from the state level, distribution is made to the Southern Baptist Convention. Each state convention determines the formula of the percentage sent to the SBC and retained within the state.
In 2015, the Florida Baptist Convention retained 59 percent of the CP dollars and sent 41 percent to the SBC. Our immediate plan was to change the funding formula to send 51 percent to the SBC and retain 49 percent in Florida. This decision was unanimously and enthusiastically approved by messengers to the Florida Baptist State Convention in November 2015 and implemented in the 2016 CP budget.
The results have been exciting. We reversed in 2015 a yearly decline in CP receipts from Florida Baptist churches that dated back to 2006. The 2016 CP receipts continue an upward trend and the giving from our churches are exceeding budget requirements for the year.
We have a clear message that dictates our financial plan to release more than we keep in Florida for global missions through the SBC. The 51/49 percent split is not the end of our budgeting formula. We have made a commitment that when we receive a $5 million increase in CP gifts from our 2016 budget, we will transition to a 55/45 percent division.
It is humbling to witness the unity and sacrifice of our Florida Baptist churches in response to the application of monies given by our churches.
We do not guilt our churches in regard to CP giving. I have not initiated any individual conversations with pastors concerning their churches’ CP commitment. I fully believe the local church decision must be valued and honored by our SBC. We do not make the percentage amount given by a church the litmus test for involvement, participation or partnership with that local church.
As a former pastor of a local church, I fully understand the nuances of resources, commitments and factors that impact a local church budget. I support the decisions of that church and totally commit to be ‘Right Beside You’ in ministry. Our goal is to bring value–not guilt–to our churches.
The Florida Baptist Convention is experiencing an upward trajectory that can be attributed to the restructuring, change in CP budgeting, and strong focus on the local church. The Cooperative Program fuels the fire of global missions and the state convention is a vital gatekeeper for these resources.
I am grateful that God is honoring the decisions of the Florida Baptist Convention. I am thankful for the vision and commitment of Florida Baptist churches to #ReachFlorida and #BeyondFlorida with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
Dr. Tommy Green is Executive Director-Treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention June 17, 2016