By Philip Timothy, Message Managing Editor
BOSSIER CITY – Is this the best Louisiana Baptists can do?
Louisiana Baptist Convention President Steve Horn believes not and is asking every church in the state to take ‘The Pledge’ – a pastor-driven initiative designed to increase Cooperative Program giving in the coming months.
‘The Pledge’ is a plan challenging churches giving less than 3 percent to the CP to move to 5 percent; churches giving between 3 and 8 percent are encouraged to increase by 2 percent; and churches giving between 8 and 9.9 percent to go to 10 percent.
Churches already giving 10 percent of their undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program will be thanked and encouraged to consider a 1 percent increase or simply reaffirm a commitment to their current level of giving.
In his report to the convention, he informed messengers Nov. 9 at First Baptist Church in Bossier City, on the progress the initiative, unveiled May 5, has made so far and challenged those who had not taken ‘The Pledge’ to do so now.
“Just across the river from where we are tonight was a pastor named M. E. Dodd, well-known as the architect of the Cooperative Program,” said Horn. “At the 1919 SBC, an SBC committee planned to recommend that the messengers adopt a plan to launch a campaign to raise 50 million dollars. Before their report, Dodd preached the convention sermon that year.”
According to Horn, Dodd challenged, “We have arrived at the moment in our history for which our forefathers toiled and sacrificed and prayed,” he said, “for which they suffered and bled and died. The Baptist hour of all the centuries has sounded. To waver now would be traitorous; to give up here would be a crime against all the martyred blood of the heroes of the past.”
“When his sermon was over, the messengers raised the challenge to 75 million. From this, he was also appointed to chair a committee called the SBC’s Committee on Future Program,” said Horn. “From the work of this committee came the Cooperative Program in 1925. The committee’s work was established because of the crisis of inadequate support of critical endeavors.”
Horn said he has spent the past year talking with pastors and challenging them to take ‘The Pledge.’
“It is easy to talk about what we would do if we had it. It is something else to talk about what we should do when we do have it,” said Horn. “A number of you have responded. I want to ask the rest of you to respond tonight. And I want to encourage all those who have already responded.
Referring to Nehemiah, Horn said it is not easy, especially now, to increase giving. He said there are five obstacles – disobedience, disunity, discouragement, personal distractions and doubt – which will keep the initiative from obtaining victory.
Horn, though, said he was determined to see it through.
“I started months ago by saying ‘If we do nothing in a difficult time, our strength is limited’ (Proverbs 24:10).” Horn said. “The reality is since ‘The Pledge’ began things have gotten a little bit more uncertain for my church [First Lafayette] because of the downturn in the oil and gas industry.
“We are down nine percent in undesignated receipts. This is the first time we have not had a double-digit surplus in receipts and surpassed our budget,” he said. “It is bad timing for sure but we are going to trust God to see us through this.
“We can do more together than we can do by ourselves,” he said. “So, I want to encourage all of us … We are indeed at a crossroads. We must rely on the power of God. Like Nehemiah, we have a great work for a great God.”
At the end of Horn’s message, messengers came forward to the altar where they laid down their decision cards.
LBC Executive Director David Hankins led off the Monday night session by giving messengers a glimpse into the progress being made on the President’s 2020 Commission Report and to offer a perspective on the crossroads Baptists find themselves at.
“It has been two years since we adopted the 2020 report,” said Hankins. “And we have made strides in reaching the more than two million people in Louisiana who do not have a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.
“ISIS, Planned Parenthood and the legalization of gay marriage are just a few things that reveal we are living in evil days,” Hankins continued. “But the darker it gets, the brighter our light will shine.
“We are the best game in town. We have a clear message, strong morals and a mission. We have a unique opportunity here in Louisiana. The darker it gets the more people are going to run to us.”
Hankins said the LBC is going to continue to plant new churches, provide excellent higher education through Louisiana College, aggressively expand the infrastructure at BCMs statewide, maintain vibrant ministries on our college campuses where we will engage Generation X and help churches share the Gospel throughout the state using a video campaign, “Here for you.”
“One of the goals I have is to place buildings on college campuses that will let ministry continue for the next 50 years,” said Hankins.
To accomplish these goals, Hankins told messengers, “Our work is going to be guided by the President’s 2020 Commission strategy and 10 action plans you passed two years ago. We are going to be your hands, feet and voice.
“Your strategists — Dale Lingenfelter (finances), Wayne Jenkins (evangelism), Mark Robinson (collegiate ministry) and John Kyle (multi-media) – are pacesetters or the go-to-guys in SBC life. When people call from other states seeking advice, these are the ones they call. And they are working hard to make the most of your CP gifts.”
Speaking of the Cooperative Program, Hankins addressed the trend of reduced CP giving in the SBC in context of the present situation the International Mission Board finds itself right now. He explained the problem by describing the CP trajectory.
“The Cooperative Program is 90 years old this year,” he said. “First, there was an epoch of establishment (1925-1955). Next, it was the epoch of expansion (1955-1995). And I believe we are now in the epoch of erosion (1985-2015).
“The crisis with the IMB has been coming for a long time,” he said. “It’s been a 30-year erosion.”
Hankins, though, believes there is a new era coming the epoch of excelling (2015-2025).
“The challenge before us for the next 10 years, if the Lord tarries, is to turn this present trend around.
“It’s time we turn the tide,” he said. “The Cooperative Program is our best and most effective way to accomplish the Great Commission in Louisiana and beyond.
“All eyes are looking at us to see if God will honor our efforts,” Hankins continued. “We are one generation away from dilapidation. This is not a time to fold; it is time to go bold. We are not going to fold up our ministries, we are going to be bold.”
ELECTIONS & BUDGET
Gevan Spinney, pastor of First Baptist Church in Haughton, was elected by acclamation as the convention’s president. Also elected by acclamation were Ken Schroeder, pastor of First Baptist Church of Mandeville, and Billy Crosby, pastor emeritus of Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport, as first and second vice presidents, respectively.
Messengers approved a $20,593,766 Cooperative Program budget for 2015, down $894,632 from 2014. An allocation of 36.74 percent — or $7,566,150 — will be sent to Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministry through the Cooperative Program.
RESOLUTIONS & MOTIONS
Messengers affirmed seven resolutions, which passed without comment.
Six were crafted prior to the annual meeting and celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Cooperative Program; supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood; called for the protection of children from pornography; called on national and state leaders to affirm our religious liberties; committed to pray for revival and spiritual awakening in Louisiana; and expressed appreciation for the hospitality and assistance related to the annual meeting.
The last one was accepted agreeably from the floor by the resolutions committee and declared Louisiana Baptists’ disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned 26 voter-approved state amendments, including Louisiana’s, that protected marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Messengers also passed without dissent a motion by the credentials committee to introduce guidelines for disaffiliation of any local congregation that stops being in agreement with the beliefs and practices of the state convention.
The sentence added to Article 3, Section 5, states “It shall recommend to the convention, when necessary, the disaffiliation of any LBC church that no longer complies with the convention’s definition of a cooperating church.”
When the credentials committee learns a cooperating church is in “willful opposition” to the principles that define the LBC, the committee would take up to five actions before disaffiliation happens.
First, the committee will seek to verify the credibility of the concern. If the concern appears to be credible, the committee will initiate an inquiry with the church to make sure the claim is truthful.
Next, if the opposition indeed exists, the committee will ask the church to repent. If the church does not repent, the committee will ask if the church wants to withdraw from the LBC.
Should the church refuse to withdraw, the committee will recommend the LBC disaffiliate itself with that congregation.
The 2016 annual meeting will be Nov. 14-15 at Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria.
Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., led all three sessions of Bible study using the books of Matthew and Acts.
His study highlighted the fact God loves us; desires a relationship with us and deserves our obedience.
“In Matthew 22:36, Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment in the law. And He responded by saying, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,’” Cox said.
“You see there is something inside each and every one of us,” Cox continued, “in every person, there is born within us a need to know the love of God. God loved us before our creation. From the very first thought of the creation of man, He loved as only a Father could.”
Cox went on to say, “God sees our scars and He loves us unconditionally. He desires our love.”
He wrapped up the study talking about how we are the ‘people of The Way’ as described in Acts 2. “If we are the people of The Way, people ought to see Jesus in our life. We should love lost people and want to win them to Jesus Christ.
“Sadly, I’m afraid too many believe the church exists for them instead of existing for the lost. How else can we explain why a fourth of our churches did not baptized one person last year … ZERO.”
He offered this profound statement, “It is true Christ alone can save the world but Christ cannot save the world alone.
“It is a twist of words but it is really profound,” said Cox. “That Jesus Christ, the son of God, has chosen to use you and me to bring the lost into faith of Jesus Christ.
In his convention sermon, Kirk Jones, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Prairieville, expressed his “thanks for the honor and privilege to be able to give the convention sermon” and posed the question, “are we living first what we loved first?”
Drawing from Revelation 2:1-7, Jones described this letter from Jesus to the church of Ephesus as encouragement, a challenge, and inspiration.
But he said it was also an admonishment to the church:
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.
“Will the Lord ever say to us, you have abandoned your first love? I hope not. I know we don’t want to be the church nor the convention in which He comes and gets His lampstand,” said Jones. “So, I just want to give this warning. Loving many great things will never equal loving the first thing.”
Jones said while doing research in preparation for giving the convention sermon, he went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and read minutes from past conventions.
“Much of the same things we talk about today were discussed back then,” said Jones.
“We as a convention have stood while some others sat … you have tested what others accepted,” Jones continued. “We have not abandoned the propagation of the Gospel. We have faithfully continued to sow the seeds and allowed God to bring in the harvest.
“We have faithfully spread the Gospel here, there and everywhere,” said Jones. “We are a people who are still telling people about Jesus Christ. Because of the faithful work of this convention, our churches, our pastors and our people, our lampstand is going to be higher and is going to shine brighter. I believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be shared louder and longer because we have not gotten so busy doing all the good things we quit doing our first love.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, told messengers in the annual meeting’s closing message he is convinced Southern Baptists are “moving away from the mission of God.”
“It’s obvious to me we’re moving away from the mission of God. When we move away from the mission of God, we also move away from the power of God,” he said. “And when we move away from the power of God, we don’t have a heart to move toward the mission of God. The No. 1 need in the churches of Louisiana is the power of God.”
Floyd cautioned, ““We have too many pastors in too many churches who are content to go forward, doing ministry, without the power of God.
Floyd also offered this to the messengers, “I want to challenge you to do something you have never done. Turn an entire Sunday morning for the next 6-12 months into a prayer meeting.
“No great movement of God has ever occurred that hasn’t first been preceded by the extraordinary prayer of God’s people,” he said. “If we want an awakening we need to get ourselves before the God of heaven.”