Month: September 2009

SBTC volunteers lead SBC response in Manila

MANILA, Philippines–Southern Baptists are gearing up a major disaster response in the wake of a typhoon that flooded the homes of 2.3 million people in the Philippines.

A specialized disaster response team from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will lead the effort with an Oct. 5 departure to lay the groundwork for a larger contingent of volunteers who will arrive two days later, said Jim Brown, U.S. director for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

The teams planning to follow the SBTC group will be drawn from Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas Baptist Men disaster relief units, Brown said. All the teams are being drawn from the list of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units on standby for international emergency response during August and September. The volunteers will focus on cleanup and “mud-out” duties, which includes tasks like thoroughly disinfecting buildings and tearing out damaged interiors.

Typhoon Ketsana slammed into Manila and surrounding provinces, dumping a month’s worth of rain in just 12 hours. Relief organizations say it is the country’s worst flooding in 40 years. At least 288 people have been reported dead or missing and nearly 400,000 people have sought shelter in evacuation centers that even included the presidential palace, according to news reports. Manila, a crowded city of 12 million people that sits below sea level, was reported 80 percent under water after the storm passed.

Southern Baptists and local believers began meeting needs of flood victims in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Brown said. BGR communicated with ministry partners about relief needs in the Philippines and relayed that information to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams on standby for emergency response.

“Local ministry partners went to work immediately after the storm, providing emergency food and water purchased through the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund,” Brown said. “After receiving preliminary assessment information from local field partners, we are gearing up for a major response.”

Jill Harvell, a Southern Baptist partner living in Quezon City, organized church members and local residents to pack 400 bags of rice, powdered milk, canned meat and coffee to distribute to families affected by the flood.

The typhoon moved on from the Philippines to wreak havoc in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos as well. Authorities in the affected areas have been searching for more victims and delivering food, medical supplies and plastic sheeting to displaced people.

Ketsana was just the first of three disasters to strike the Asia Rim region in recent days. A powerful deep-sea earthquake Sept. 29 triggered a series of tsunamis that caused widespread death and destruction in Samoa and American Samoa. On Sept. 30, a powerful earthquake struck Indonesia’s Sumatra island, killing at least 75 people in Padang and trapping thousands under rubble.

Criswell College marks 40 years with ongoing events

DALLAS?Tucked into W.A. Criswell’s sermon reflecting on 25 years of pastoring First Baptist Church of Dallas was a passing reference to his desire to establish a school where ministers and lay leaders could study the Bible.

“I’d love to see us build, organize in these great facilities, a Bible Institute. We can do that at night and carry on all the work of this church just the same; it won’t interfere,” Criswell told his congregation in the Oct. 5, 1969 address.

Forty years later Criswell College has more than 1,800 alumni spread globally, carrying out the founder’s vision “to teach the faith, to preach Jesus, to make known this Word of God and to mediate the truth of the Lord.”

The Dallas-based school launches a yearlong celebration on Oct. 5 with a Centennial Expository Preaching Conference featuring David Allen, R. Alan Street, Mac Brunson, Greg Heisler, O.S. Hawkins and the late Criswell himself?by videotape. Included in the $40 registration fee is a commemorative DVD set of famous sermons by Criswell, as well as the Monday evening dinner and Tuesday lunch.

In addition to their sermons on “Prophetic Preaching in a Decaying Society,” each speaker will respond in a question-and-answer session on how he prepares his sermons. A 1980 sermon that Criswell delivered on “Ishmael: Islam and the Oil Slick” is being promoted as having great application today and will be shown along with his presentation on sermon preparation in his study.

Criswell offered a little more detail of his vision for the school in an Oct. 11, 1969 sermon. Drawing from 1 Corinthians 9:16, he described “some of the things that open our hearts to what God is doing” through the assignment of the downtown church.

“Paul used an expression that is so descriptive of how we feel about this: ‘Necessity is laid upon me. I must.'”

Adapting the words of a poem Emerson penned a century earlier, Criswell recited:

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,

So near is God to man,

When the Lord whispers low, “Thou must!”

The church replies, “I can!”

Criswell explained why the church must accept the responsibility of teaching religious faith, praising then-prevalent avenues of Sunday School, Training Union, Royal Ambassadors and Girls Auxiliary as proper responses.

Still, he wanted more. “I’d like for us to build and to organize in this church a Bible Institute, teaching the Word of God on an adult level, even a college and a seminary level. And people come from our own congregation, from the city, and our preachers from all over being taught the Word of God. Teaching is a necessity laid upon us because of the fabric, the color of the law of our land.”

Criswell asked James W. Bryant, his minister of evangelism and church organization, to lead the effort, aided by 16 deacons who studied the feasibility. A year later on Oct. 7, 1970, the church enthusiastically embraced the recommendation that “Our church should establish an institute for intensive Bible study, based on conservative evangelical Christianity as preached and practiced in our church.”

Graduates of the college have gone on to serve in leading pastoral positions, evangelistic ministries, Jewish outreach ministries, college and seminary faculty positions, college and seminary presidencies, foreign mission service, biblical counselors, and service to denominational agencies.

The biblical studies major is required of all undergraduate students, who also may take a second major in related disciplines. The academic programs are challenging and require undergraduate students to take one year of Greek, one year of Hebrew, nine hours of theology, two semesters of New Testament survey, two semesters of Old Testament survey, personal evangelism, church history, and an overseas missions practicum.

Kindled in a brush arbor, East Texas church burns brightly 75 years later

NACOGDOCHES?A brush arbor provided the backdrop for the founding of Fredonia Hill Baptist Church in Nacogdoches in 1934. Seventy-five years later the church has a soaring sanctuary, a Family Life Center accommodating everything from basketball to banquets, and space for Bible study, youth and college gatherings.

An early revival meeting prompted 32 participants to form a church under the leadership of Pastor K.A. Woods. Close to 1,400 members make up the congregation today.

Instead of relying only on word-of-mouth promotion, the church utilizes new technology to spread its message. The sign on the front lawn is digital, the newsletter is delivered online and the church is on Facebook and Twitter, explained member Sherry Williford.

“We’ve come a long way from the days when high tech meant broadcasting Sunday night services on the radio. Yet in every era, the vision to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ remains the same,” she said.

Williford said the church has asked the question, “How do you tell the old, old story of his love to a new generation, deliver the eternal gospel of salvation to those in the midst of constant change and provide for the present congregation while planning to influence believers of the future?”

In the last 15 years Fredonia Hill has met those challenges locally through construction projects that allow the church to extend its reach to the community, Williford explained. At the same time, they have expanded mission projects to spread the gospel across the globe. That worldwide focus affected the church more than anyone could have imagined.

After 10 years of service, Pastor Johnny Dammon and his wife, Kathy, decided to return to full-time mission work in Thailand, leaving the church with a legacy of mission service and a vision to fulfill the Great Commission.

“His ministry here has moved us forward in recognizing the importance of foreign missions,” noted Mark Clark, chairman of deacons. “Many people have put feet to their new understanding of what it means to ‘go tell the world.'”

The church adopted a new mission statement to take them into the next 75 years: “Fredonia Hill Baptist Church exists to lead our generation and the next to encounter Christ, to be equipped for life, and to engage in life-changing service to Nacogdoches and beyond.”

That vision will be celebrated during an open house on Sunday, Oct. 11 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at 1711 S. Street in Nacogdoches. For more information contact Billy McDaniel, minister of education and administration at or call 936-564-8386.

Cultural shifts require efficiency

A momentous shift is occurring in Southern Baptist life. We are no longer a rural, white, Southern convention. We must continue the shift to stay vibrant and carry out our Lord’s directives. Our nation is cosmopolitan and multi-cultural. The mission field has come to our doors.

There are some simple adjustments that must be made in Southern Baptist life. We can no longer focus on maintaining the status quo. It is time for us to radically address the need of people for the gospel in North America and around the world. One of the ways we can do that is to consider how we relate in a cooperative manner as Southern Baptists. State conventions are key players in cooperation for ministry.

It seems immodest to say that every state convention should look like the SBTC, but with all humility I believe that to be true. Please understand I believe very deeply in the sovereign work of God. It is His good pleasure that we have seen His blessings on the SBTC (Psalm 115:3).

We have traveled a great distance together in these 11 years. As Joe Davis, SBTC chief financial officer, has said many times, “We ain’t smart enough to make this happen.” God truly has been pleased to let us see His hand move in our fellowship.

We had the luxury and challenge of starting a convention from scratch. While many old-line state conventions have longstanding commitments to ministry partners and new-work states have few churches with resources to draw from, the SBTC had the best of both worlds. We were able to start with strong churches and we had no institutions at our inception.

There are two major differences in our structure that will serve all state conventions well:

?The first one is how we relate to institutions. We are not sustainers but contributors financially. We want to be a good partner to our affiliated entities. We don’t want control. We cannot allow ourselves to be encumbered by substantially funding institutions, no matter how worthy they may be. State conventions that find themselves overextended financially to institutions need to find an amiable process to move dollars toward missions and evangelism. Complementary ministry between an institution and a state convention should be based on doctrinal agreement and synergistic ministry, not just dollars.

?The second difference is in staffing. The SBTC has a small-numbered staff. Several years ago we ran an informal survey that showed the SBTC to have the lowest staff-to-church ratio. The old philosophy was to have a full-time specialist on staff for every particular area of need. I think at one point some convention might have had a full-time staff member for left-handed, blue-eyed 9-year-old girls in Sunday School. The SBTC philosophy is to find volunteers, part-time specialists and consultants to provide the services needed in the churches and associations. This enables more dollars to go where people want it to go?missions and evangelism. Churches are not bound by brand loyalty any longer. When I was a pastor it was expected by everyone that everything Southern Baptist was to be used. This ranged from literature to hymn books (Wow, that dates me). It is the entrepreneurial age. Pastors, staff, and laypersons can get just about anything on the Internet. Competition raises the standard. The SBTC seeks to provide the best product and personnel for churches in Texas.

Another aspect of service is attitude. We may not always exhibit the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5), but that is our goal. The SBTC staff realizes the churches make up the convention. While we cannot please all of the people all of the time, we can seek to please the Lord with a servant spirit.

It is a joy to serve the Lord and the wonderful people of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Without casting stones, I believe one way the Southern Baptist Convention could have a Great Commission Resurgence is for state conventions to transition to a better model. We must continue to work together for the furtherance of the gospel in Texas, across America and around the world.

Exec. Committee approves GCR budget; declines CP study, seminary funding change

NASHVILLE?The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee approved a requested $250,000 budget to cover the cost of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force meetings authorized at last summer’s annual meeting. The GCR Task Force will make any recommendations it has at next year’s meeting in Orlando.

In other actions at the Sept. 21-22 meeting:

?The Executive Committee honored the 32 years of service by R. Rex Lindsay as executive director of the Kansas-Nebraska Convention and approved a request by the International Mission Board to replace The Commission magazine with a new publication called CommissionStories.

?Two referred motions made by convention messenger Andrew Higgenbotham of Missouri last June were declined by the Executive Committee. In both cases he offered papers defending his proposals and appeared before EC subcommittees considering them. One sought adjustment of the seminary funding formula, a matter that has received extensive review from the Executive Committee.

The Council of Seminary Presidents urged the Executive Committee to refuse the motion, finding the current formula to be the best of all options despite a lack of agreement on particular areas needing change. One seminary spokesman added that any study might be rendered moot pending the outcome of the GCR Task Force recommendations anticipated next spring.

Higginbotham’s other motion sought to require SBC entities to report to the annual meeting any actions they take that interpret the Baptist Faith and Message or the convention’s governing policies so that the action may be approved by a majority of the messengers in attendance. “Do we really want 10-20 years of infighting and rivalry over tertiary issues like cessationism?” he asked in his written appeal.

He argued that a simple majority vote on such issues was preferable to the current requirement of a two-thirds vote to overrule the automatic referral of such requests to consider motions dealing with internal operations. The EC’s bylaws workgroup upheld current practice, citing a 2007 convention-adopted statement that regards the BF&M as an appropriate guide for trustee actions. Messengers also have the option of vacating a board of trustees through a simple majority vote when they find their actions unacceptable, though that measure has never been exercised.

?The Executive Committee postponed action on a proposed reallocation of SBC World Hunger Fund receipts, which are divided between the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, from the current split of 80-20 to 70-30.

While the Cooperative Program subcommittee initially favored Tennessee messenger Steve Nelson’s appeal for a distribution consistent with Cooperative Program funds allocated to the two entities, the entire Executive Committee heard Virginia trustee Jim Davis’ appeal for delay after new information was provided on increased use of hunger funds by the IMB in the last two years.

?A motion to revise trustee term provisions in the SBC Constitution as well as an appeal for use of a new United States Christian flag during annual meetings were both declined. However, the Executive Committee entertained a messenger’s desire to encourage involvement by ethnic churches and leaders through cooperative partnership on the national level, instructing the communications workgroup to consult with other SBC entities and a language fellowship on the matter.

A referred motion made by Arizona messenger Dennis Conner sought the appointment of a task force to consider allowing designated gifts to SBC causes to be recognized as CP contributions by local churches. Because two task forces studied the matter within the last decade, the EC declined the request, reiterating that “such an action would undermine the continued viability of the Cooperative Program,” a view echoed in EC President Morris Chapman’s remarks.

“I believe deeply that if the Cooperative Program is ever tossed aside to be replaced by a strong promotion of societal giving?designated funds?or if both undesignated and designated funds from our churches are counted as Cooperative Program gifts, we will have abandoned the greatest vehicle for supporting missions and theological education in the history of Christendom,” Chapman said.

“The Cooperative Program represents Southern Baptists at their finest, enabling many of our churches to give voluntarily in order to do together what they could not have done separately. No one entity may have all it wishes at given times, but neither will any entity be forced to declare bankruptcy as long as Southern Baptists embrace the Cooperative Program, a plan intended to be a pipeline through whi

Houston pro-lifers encouraged to engage abortion issue through prayer & service

HOUSTON–National pro-life events scheduled for late September through the first of November are taking on more significance for right-to-life advocates in Houston as Planned Parenthood continues construction of what could become the largest abortion clinic in North America, some say the world.

“The first time I saw Planned Parenthood in Houston I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. This is overwhelming,'” said Sonny Foraker, pastor of First Baptist Church Pearland.

The city of Houston, he said, has more abortion clinics than the entire state of South Carolina, where he pastored before coming to Pearland. The newest Planned Parenthood office will replace the main offices of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas on Fannin Street in downtown Houston. Formerly the home of Sterling Bank at 4600 Gulf Freeway, the seven-story building has one floor reserved for abortions and another wing that will facilitate late-term abortions, Houston pro-life organizers say.

Christine Melchor of Houston’s Coalition for Life said in a January interview she had viewed the blueprints for the facility and said plans include an ambulatory unit as required by state law to perform abortions past 19 weeks of gestation. Melchor said such procedures used to be done at the Fannin address until a 2003 state law required late-term abortions be performed in a facility with an ambulatory unit. The new Planned Parenthood offices will meet that standard, she said.

Foraker, whose efforts helped close nine of 12 abortion clinics in South Carolina, said he is urging pro-lifers to counter the abortion industry’s influence by speaking out and by volunteering at a pregnancy resource center (PRC). At the very least, he urged, people can give money to the PRCs that seek to end abortion and minister to the women dealing with its aftermath.

“They [PRCs] are leading more men and women to Christ than some churches,” he said.

Events such as “40 Days for Life” and “Life Chain” are non-confrontational ways in which the Christian community can educate others about abortion and minister to those who see the life-ending procedure as their only recourse.

“We know we are having a great impact,” said Christine Kasper, programs coordinator for the Houston Coalition for Life.

The organization is directing the efforts for this year’s 40 Days for Life that began on Sept. 23. The prayer vigils will last from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. each day except Sunday outside the main offices of Houston Planned Parenthood, 3601 Fannin (The home page of the Planned Parenthood of Houston website refers to the prayer vigil as “40 Days of Harassment” and calls for volunteer escorts to help clients get past the “protestors” who are “handing out false information and offering free ‘services’ at clinics that don’t believe in birth control or have medical professionals on staff.”)

The services to which the Planned Parenthood website refers is the Pregnancy Resource Center around the corner from the abortion clinic. Kasper said for the last two 40 Days for Life events, the center has kept a tally of the women who come to the facility seeking an alternative to the abortion they were prepared to have before speaking with pro-life volunteers. Kasper said that in fall 2008, 34 women referred to the PRC chose to keep their babies. In the spring 2009, 14 made the same decision.

“That’s 48 living babies … if it hadn’t been for the 40 Days of Life,” she added.

Because they cannot get on Planned Parenthood’s property, those praying and offering counsel must try to draw the women to them with smiles, friendly waves, and letting the women know the group represents caring Christian people.

“We want to be the opposite of what Planned Parenthood is telling them we are,” Kasper said.

Although few Planned Parenthood clients leave the sides of the escorts to the abortion clinic, some will as evidenced by the number of women who visited the PRC around the corner. Most are determined to follow through with the abortion, but not all.

“I think we’re really there for a reason,” Kasper said. “We’re there for those [women] reaching out for help looking for someone to save them.”

Kasper said she is convinced there are women who, though they are walking into an abortion clinic to end the life of their unborn baby, are frantically looking for someone to talk them out of it.

Sharron Albertson with Texas Life Chain said just making a silent public statement of faith about the need to end abortion has spared the lives of unborn children and brought conviction and healing to those who have participated in abortion.

This year’s Life Chain was scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 4.

The influence of such an event is hard to quantify but the stories of lives touched has been witnessed by Albertson or passed on by other prayer partners in the ministry. She said last year she was struck by the reality of the often forgotten casualty of abortion—men.

Albertson, who coordinates the Texas Life Chain as well as the chains in Dallas, recalled an incident relayed to her where a man driving past those praying and lifting up signs reading “Jesus Forgives and Heals,” “Abortion Hurts Women,” pulled over and put his head down on the steering wheel and began sobbing.

More information is available at or in Houston at

Foraker said hitting the wallets of Planned Parenthood and those who do business with the largest abortion provider in the nation is a very effective way to slow if not halt construction on the new Houston facility. Many of the construction workers at the site are not pro-choice, said Foraker who regularly visits the location and speaks with contractors as time and trespassing restrictions allow.

“Many,” he said, “don’t like what they are doing.”

A list of contractors working on the Planned Parenthood facility can be found at

New nonprofit law effective Jan. 1

The Texas Business Organizations Code becomes effective Jan. 1. A part of the code, the Texas Non-profit Corporation Law, will control churches that are incorporated. The law affects such things as the rights of the members and how the church conducts business meetings.

The change in the law became effective for all corporations created after Jan. 1, 2006. Corporations created before that date have the choice of becoming controlled by the law at any time or waiting to become controlled by the code on Jan. 1.

Prudence will require incorporated churches to have an attorney review the church’s articles of incorporation, now called “certificates of formation,” and the church’s bylaws, to make certain those documents are synchronized with the new law. Some churches have a “constitution.” The constitution of a nonprofit corporation is considered part of the “bylaws” in the law.

Baptist churches are either nonprofit corporations or unincorporated nonprofit associations. The congregation should consult with an attorney as it determines which of these entity forms is better for a given church.

State law dictates in greater detail how a corporation conducts its business. That has its advantages in that the church is likely to have greater clarity in how it is to go about its business. It may have disadvantages in that the congregation will need to be aware of those statutory rules and not run afoul of them. Well-drafted corporate documents should solve that problem, however. Those documents will reflect the statutory rules. Generally, the larger the church is the more likely it will conclude it should incorporate.

While the law gives churches considerable latitude when it comes to establishing the bylaws and other rules for governing the legal affairs of the church, the law will trump any provision in the church’s articles, bylaws, constitution, or elsewhere that are inconsistent with the law. Therefore, in order for the church to know that it is acting in accordance with the law when it follows its articles and/or bylaws, it must know that those documents are consistent with the law.

If a comparison of a church’s articles and bylaws with the requirements of the new code indicates some amendments are necessary, the church will need legal guidance on how to accomplish those amendments. Amendments to the articles of incorporation must be filed with the Secretary of State.

A lawyer who practices in the area of nonprofit corporations can assist the church in making those decisions and in getting the legal documents in order.

?James P. Guenther is legal counsel for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

SBTC Annual Meeting, Bible Conference Oct. 25-27

LUBBOCK?The West Texas city of Lubbock will host the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as it marks 11 years of ministry during its Bible Conference and annual meeting Oct. 25-27 at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center.

This year’s theme?”Thirsting for God”?reflects the need for revival in the churches and a spiritual awakening among the lost. The theme Bible passage is Isaiah 44:3a: “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground.”

The Bible Conference, which precedes the annual meeting, will include speakers such as Tim LaHaye, Herb Reavis Jr. and David Allen. Noted Christian singer Sheila Walsh will speak during a Monday women’s luncheon. SBC President Johnny Hunt and Team Impact will close the meeting Tuesday night with evangelistic rallies in two separate venues at the Civic Center.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards commented: “As usual the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention will have singing, praying, preaching and a little business on the side during our annual meeting. This year we are planning something special. While ‘Crossover’ has become a regular event, this is the first time to have an evangelistic outreach during the closing convention session. Tuesday night, Oct. 27, could be an unprecedented ingathering of people into the kingdom of God at a state convention annual meeting. Attend if you can. Bring someone who needs Jesus on Tuesday night. Above all please pray for people to come to Jesus.”


Prior to the convening of the convention on Monday night, Oct. 26, the week’s events include the “Crossover Lubbock” evangelistic outreach. This year’s effort will culminate during the closing session of the convention and will feature Team Impact, Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, and a citywide crusade night.

Jack Harris, SBTC ministry associate for personal and event evangelism, said Team Impact will be presenting their feats of strength and talking about positive values in Lubbock-area schools Oct. 22-23 and Oct. 26-27, culminating with a crusade event at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Lubbock Convention Center exhibit hall. Simultaneously, Hunt will be preaching an evangelistic message in the convention center theater. Harris said the two events will appeal to different audiences, but he hopes to involve as many Southern Baptists in the Lubbock area as possible to bring unbelieving friends.

Also, Crossover will include some door-to-door outreach and Team Impact ticket distribution before the Texas Tech-Texas A&M football game.

Visit for updated information on Crossover.


?The SBTC President’s Luncheon with noted author and preacher Tim LaHaye, scheduled from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 in the Banquet Hall of the Civic Center. Cost is $10. Registration is available at

?The SBTC Women’s Luncheon with singer and former “700 Club” co-host Sheila Walsh, scheduled 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26 in the Banquet Hall. Cost is $10. Registration is available at

?A Concerned Women for America dinner with Beverly LaHaye from 4:45-6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26 in the Banquet Hall. Complimentary registration is available at

?The Ezekiel Project, an effort of the SBTC to help plateaued or declining churches regain health, will host a testimonial banquet from 4:45-6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26 in the Banquet Hall. Those interested in this may purchase tickets from Jim Wolfe at 817-552-2500 or e-mail him at

?The “Late Nite” event following the Monday session of the Bible Conference is back this year. See the Church Ministries booth at the convention center for more information.


Room 106 at the Civic Center will be reserved for homeschool families during the meeting on Oct. 26-27. There will also be an optional field trip. Families utilizing the study hall space must have at least one parent present with any children. For more information or questions, contact Tammi

Transition for SBC’s big three

At this moment, two of the three most significant units of Southern Baptist structure are looking for new presidents. The third has not yet begun to search for a new occupant for its now-vacant presidential suite.

Yes, I know that all God’s children are significant but; as of this writing the president of the SBC Executive Committee is effectively the most powerful man in our denomination, the president of our International Mission Board is the most influential man in our denomination, and the president of the North American Mission Board has the hardest job in our denomination. The selection of appropriate leaders to lead these three aspects of SBC work is about the most important thing going on right now among our people.

To explain:

?The president of the Executive Committee is currently the most powerful person within our denominational work because his influence over the committee, and the committee’s influence over convention business, is practically irresistible. Who else holds that level of power?

?I say that the president of the International Mission Board is the most influential person in the SBC because his work is at the emotional heart of our ministry together. While his is not the only evangelistic and missionary entity, it is the one that can conjure up the memories of Lottie Moon and Bill Wallace. We want the IMB to succeed to a degree that we want few other things denominationally. While we will do what the president of the Executive Committee says, we want to do what the president of the International Mission Board says?not that these are contradictory things.

?The president of the North American Mission Board has arguably the most difficult job in the SBC because that entity has not worked well since it’s formation in the 1990s. It has forced the resignation of its only two presidents. It seems to be riding in all directions. When more Southern Baptists associate the phrase “merge out of existence” with your organization than with any other denominational entity, you have a tough job.

Back to our subject: The SBC Executive Committee approved a search committee to replace retiring president Morris Chapman within 24 hours of his retirement announcement. Our denomination’s International Mission Board also moved quickly to start its own presidential search after Jerry Rankin announced his retirement date. Although the North American Mission Board’s president departed without any transition time, and a month before the two retirements at the other entities were announced, NAMB’s board has not announced any plans to find a permanent leader.

Here’s a hint regarding why NAMB seems to be lagging behind. In a recent interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Chairman Ronnie Floyd seemed to encourage the three entities to hold off in finding presidents until after his task force reveals their recommendations. We could all get a peek at the committee’s recommendations as early as next February. While indicating that he considers the two retirements and one forced resignation signs that God is “working in a special way in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Dr. Floyd further suggested that the two search committees and one search committee-in-waiting should be “very prayerful and watchful” of the task force’s work.

Leaving aside assumptions and speculation, Ronnie Floyd’s suggestion lacks context. If, as some think, the recommendations of the task force will result in substantial changes across our SBC agencies, then maybe we know what he was saying. At the same time, SBC President Johnny Hunt has discouraged such speculation every time it’s arisen. If the task force has nothing in mind so drastic as merging or discontinuing one agency or another, Dr. Floyd’s remarks seem cryptic. The fact is, and the point also, is that we don’t know how to understand what he’s saying.

A little more openness or a little more clarity would curb some of the speculation. At the very least it seems desirable that the already-appointed search committees need to hear some context from the task force. They have been appointed by their respective boards with a job to do. Someone needs to make a clear case to them why they should not proceed. I still favor general and regular status reports of the task force’s work. An unwillingness to hold meetings before a live audience is understandable, I guess. Carefully worded, candid, informative progress reports don’t have to be counterproductive or inhibiting though. Have the discussion in private and then tell us all, in general terms, what you’re doing. Thousands of us are praying for the task force as they deliberate; a little update would be most encouraging to those prayer partners. A huge number of people care about the committee’s work. Either we’ll listen to official reports or we’ll do our best with leaks and rumors. Which is better?

Southern Baptists regularly suffer the handicap of leaks and spotty information regarding big decisions at our agencies. We suffer further when outside journalists gladly publish every rumor or unattributed claim they hear. What a blessing it would be to break this cycle.

Commissioned to foreign missions 40 years ago, Rankin leaving IMB.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.?International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin announced Sept. 16 he will retire July 31, 2010, ending a 17-year tenure marked by sweeping organizational changes and a steady personal calling.

“Everything I have done has been driven by an unequivocal sense of a call to missions, to make my life count and to make the greatest impact possible on reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ,” Rankin said.

Rankin told IMB trustees during his report at their Sept. 15-16 meeting in Jacksonville, Fla., that his presidency should not be judged for the accomplishments of the organization under his leadership but for how the organization is poised for the future.

“For the second time in my tenure we are implementing a radical paradigm shift in organization and strategy,” Rankin said. “This is not because of past failure and ineffectiveness but a vision of the changes needed to ensure relevance and effectiveness in the future.”

Such sentiments are consistent to Rankin’s approach in leading the 163-year-old organization. Early in his administration Rankin began placing a greater emphasis on the work remaining in world evangelization than what had been accomplished.

“It’s not … our size or annual statistical report that should drive us,” Rankin said. “We need to be driven by a vision to bring all peoples to a saving faith in Christ and what it takes to get there.”

Yet there has always been a need to track progress. When Rankin took over leadership of the IMB in 1993, the Southern Baptist mission organization saw nearly 4,000 missionaries help start more than 2,000 churches in 142 countries. Last year more than 5,500 IMB missionaries helped plant nearly 27,000 churches and engage 101 new people groups for a total of 1,190 engaged people groups.

The move from tracking countries to focusing on people groups reveals another area where Rankin worked to change the IMB. Country counts faded during the past 10 years as the organization shifted to finding the best ways to engage new people groups and population centers.

“I think moving us to a people group focus helped us learn to innovate,” he said. “But probably the most radical innovation of all has been the process of moving us to a mobilization perspective.”

Such a shift has not been easy. He has pursued it almost his entire tenure.

“To mobilize and involve churches and Southern Baptists rather than our doing missions on behalf of Southern Baptists is an innovation that we have been pursuing for the past 12 years. The whole mobilization perspective is where we are going. That’s the hope of the future of missions,” Rankin said.

Rankin has not always been so confident of the future. He was surprised and overwhelmed when a 15-member trustee search committee asked him to become the IMB’s next leader in 1993.

“I felt so inadequate to the task. And I certainly didn’t come with a vision of ‘Here’s my agenda. Here’s how we are going to reach the whole world.’ But it was one of, ‘OK, Lord, I’m your servant. I’m available. What do you want to do through the IMB?'”

Rankin and his wife, the former Bobbye Simmons, were appointed missionaries to Indonesia in June 1970. They studied language in Bandung, Indonesia, and he served as a general evangelist in two other Indonesian locations.

Rankin also consulted in evangelism and church growth in India, served as associate to the area director for South and Southeast Asia, and then as administrator for mission work in India. He became area director for Southern Asia and the Pacific where he oversaw the work of 480 missionaries in 15 countries.

“I never anticipated that I would move beyond a niche where God had called us to serve as missionaries in Indonesia,” Rankin said.