Month: June 2020

The BF&M 2000, 20 years later

Twenty years ago, June 14, I sat with thousands of fellow Baptists, including my family, in the convention center in Orlando, joining them all in doing something more historic than anything we’d done in the previous 20 years. Our kids were with us because we promised them a beach trip, but they listened intently as the convention rehearsed the debate that had run, sometimes raged, since 1979. They heard with new ears as pastors and a denominational leader (from Texas) challenged the Baptist Faith and Message Study Committee’s report on the issue of biblical authority. The naïve outrage of my children reminded me of my own when as a student at Southwestern between 1978 and 1981 I heard similar comments from denominational employees, my professors. The accountability and fidelity signaled by affirming a clearly inerrantist statement of faith is the difference between then, 1978, and now. 

Sometimes you can track a church’s history of conflict by looking at the detailed and odd elements in their bylaws. Something happens and the church leadership adds a bylaw to ensure that this exact mistake is never repeated. Though not pasted together like some church documents I’ve seen, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 can reveal to a discerning eye the times in which it was written. If you’re tempted to say, “Sure, the SBC has always been pro-life and affirmed the plain truth of Scripture,” ask why those things are emphasized in the new confession. While Southern Baptists and their churches did indeed believe the Bible to be inerrant during their entire history, and while nearly all of us found abortion on demand repugnant on first hearing of it, those who taught our pastors and represented us in the larger culture did not uniformly agree with us. The BF&M was never an effort to make churches walk in lockstep with their employed leadership. It was a demand that those leaders believe and teach as the churches believe and teach. Making that demand and its particulars unmistakably clear is a difference between then, 2000, and now. 

In a way I envy students who never heard pro-abortion profs teaching at Russell Dilday’s Southwestern or Roy Honeycutt’s Southern, or a process theologian teaching at Milton Ferguson’s Midwestern. Today’s leaders are blessed if they did not see the struggle and rancor that ran with a Baptist family feud, especially during the hottest years between 1984 and 1992. But those of us who did also can think in fast-forward collage of the changes: the first prolife SBC resolution after abortion became law in 1973, a prolife president elected at the Christian Life Commission and the final SBC seminary to hire—as recent as 1995—an inerrantist president. A million hours of work and prayer and a thousand broken friendships are behind the high points leading to 2000.

The BF&M 2000 codified the reforms of the Conservative Resurgence, and our 12 SBC entities have affirmed them as representing the basic beliefs of the churches they serve. This was a new thing and necessary. 

It’s not hard to imagine an SBC unwilling to pass a biblical statement of faith. Denominations from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to the United Methodists have been embroiled with controversies clearly covered by the BF&M 2000 in Article I, “On the Scriptures.” Churches and groups of churches unwilling to say “this, and not that” are failing for obvious reasons. The schools supported by those denominations are declining and closing (Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons come to mind); they really answer no questions not already answered by the liberal arts colleges at state schools. Our schools are saying, in affirming the BF&M 2000, that the God who knows everything has spoken and they will teach what he has said. Some of the pre-2000 SBC professors I knew did not teach that God has spoken because they doubted it. 

On this 20th anniversary, I’m grateful for Adrian Rogers and the committee he chaired for presenting to the convention a document that unifies those who remain with the SBC (some left because they disagreed with us theologically). The statement defines the gospel we preach and the reasons we cooperate. It has been clarifying to those inside and outside the convention, the impetus for some churches formerly outside the convention to join us. 

I’m grateful today for Danny Akin, Jason Allen, Paul Chitwood, Jamie Dew, Kevin Ezell, Ronnie Floyd, Adam Greenway, O.S. Hawkins, Jeff Iorg, Ben Mandrell, Albert Mohler and Russell Moore. These leaders of our SBC entities (most of them the second or third inerrantist presidents since 1988) are diverse in some ways but they are united in the beliefs and mission of Southern Baptists. I do not need to agree with them every time they speak in order to trust them to seek the leadership of God and rightly handle his written Word. There is more to the job they’ve been given but there can never again be less. Their sincere commitment to our statement of faith makes them trustworthy in the basic commitment denominational leaders must make to Southern Baptist churches. 

Take a minute to read the BF&M 2000 (which is also the statement of faith for the SBTC) this month. You can find it at under “about.” You’ll learn or be reminded of the things we can currently assume about those who lead our worldwide mission. Be grateful.  

Southwestern Seminary and SBTC DR begin training partnership; initial DR Zoom training set for June 25

FORT WORTH  The coronavirus crisis put pause on this summer’s scheduled missions trips for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students, but in a forward-looking move the seminary’s World Missions Center will partner with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief to offer introductory online training in disaster relief.

Phase 1 Introduction to Disaster Relief will be offered via Zoom with SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. June 25. The training is open to Southwestern students and others wishing to earn or renew credentials in disaster relief. Class size is limited to 300.

Participants must register at before noon on June 23. They are also asked to download and become familiar with the basics of Zoom before the training begins, said Kelsey Melvin, SBTC DR ministry assistant. 

Completion of Phase 1 Intro to DR qualifies individuals to deploy during disasters with SBTC DR teams.

Brent Ray, director of Southwestern’s World Missions Center, expressed enthusiasm for the DR training, especially in the wake of this summer’s many forced cancelations.

“We had 11 mission trips, multiple faculty deployments to seminaries overseas,” Ray told the TEXAN. “we were working with Send Relief in Appalachia, sending a group of students. And COVID-19 caused us basically to shut down through the summer all of our missions activities and deployments. So we were looking for alternative ways to engage the students in mission training and activities.”

Future collaborations between Southwestern and SBTC DR are also being explored.

The relationship between Southwestern and SBTC DR will “hopefully be long-time,” involving face-to-face events on campus and training, Ray said, adding that future trainings in mud-out, chainsaw work, food preparation and distribution would fit in well with the seminary’s preparation of students to serve and share the gospel.

“Our students across the board can benefit [from DR training]. It’s another means of practical ministry,” Ray said.

Southwestern students will be notified of the opportunity through email blasts, social media and the World Missions Center webpage, Ray added. 

“We are excited about working with Southwestern Seminary students with disaster relief,” Stice said. “We look forward to a long partnership with Southwestern.”

Panel discussion covers racism, politics and evangelism

NASHVILLE—Given the current upheaval race relations in the United States, Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, said the Southern Baptist Convention must seize the tumultuous moment to change.

“We have to move past as a denomination being ‘not racist,’ to being anti-racist,” said Pitman during a panel discussion June 9 hosted by Baptist 21. “That’s got to become who we are.”

The online event was hosted by Baptist 21, a pastor-led network of Southern Baptists that communicates through resources, content and gatherings. Originally scheduled to be held at the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, which was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it featured two hours of conversation among separate panels of executives from SBC entities and state conventions, as well as pastors from across the SBC.

Though several topics were discussed, much conversation focused on how Southern Baptists could and should respond to current events.

“This is a time to embrace the reality of what’s going on,” said Dhati Lewis, vice president of Send Network with the North American Mission Board. “If we’re going to make disciples in North America, we have to address the issue of race.”

Calling racism and injustice a gospel issue, Lewis and others spoke of specific ways they have been learning to listen to each other and move forward in taking action that shows Christ’s love. Pitman said while many declarations about being “not racist” have been made by Southern Baptists through the years, it’s time to action steps that demonstrate an attitude of anti-racism in every area of our lives: from the places we live to the people we elect and place in leadership.

Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, added: “This has been a long-term problem that has been developing, and it is going to require long-term solutions.”

R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was asked about his recently announced decision to vote for President Donald Trump in November, a shift from his public opposition to Trump’s candidacy in 2016. Mohler described reluctant support, even as he continues to wrestle with some of the things the president says and does.

“My evaluation of Donald Trump’s character has not changed, my understanding of the political equation has,” Mohler said.

But Mohler said Christians will have their own convictions regarding their vote, and said there must be room for civil disagreement over the proper course.

“I will extend grace and respect to Southern Baptist brothers and sisters who make a different decision than I,” Mohler said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask the same in return. Let’s pray for each other and with each other as we make these decisions.”

Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said because there are no perfect political choices, we must recognize that politics is a secondary issue.

“It is fine to say the most important [political issue] for me is the life of an unborn baby, but it’s also biblically fine for me to say the most important for me is politicians who don’t call me the n-word, and don’t think I’m the n-word,” said Smith, who is African American. “You can’t say, ‘Well, one is more image of God than the other,’ so we need a little bit of liberty in how we come into these discussions of politics because they don’t have exegetical definites and we need to act like that’s the case.”

SBC President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area, said the decline in baptisms, as reported in the recently released 2020 Annual Church Profile, should concern Southern Baptists. While noting numbers aren’t primary, he called for “soul-searching,” saying churches should self-examine a lack of fruit.

“We ought to take ownership of that and do some real soul searching and say, ‘Why aren’t we baptizing, why are we not having that fruit,'” Greear said.

Greear said calling for awakening is vital. But he also cautioned against using it as an excuse, and to consider changing things that might be hindering the effectiveness of a church’s ministry.

“It’s non-gospel centered preaching, it’s not calling intentional response, not equipping our people through things like ‘Who’s Your One’ to be evangelists,” Greear said. “It’s the fact that some of our churches are more wed to their politics, their preferences and their traditions than they are reaching their neighbors and communities. We’ve got to be sober about that. I hope people will do some soul-searching.”

Greear said that all the way back to the early church, growth has come through individual discipleship. He said it is within those individual relationships that will see a resurgence of an evangelistic mindset.

The full panel discussions can be found on the Baptist21 network YouTube page.

Along with Mohler, Lewis and Smith, participants in the panel of SBC entity leaders included: Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason K. Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee. The panel was hosted by Nate Akin, associate director of Pillar Network.

Along with Greear and Pitman, participants on the pastors’ panel included: SBC First Vice President Marshal Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; James Merritt, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.; and Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla. It was hosted by Jed Coppenger, lead pastor of Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tenn.

Upward trends in evangelism, leadership development highlight IMB’s 2019 ministry report

RICHMOND – The International Mission Board publicly released its 2020 Annual Statistical Report (ASR) on June 10 revealing year-over-year increases in gospel presentations, new believers and theological training. The in-depth annual report, typically reserved exclusively for trustees, is now being made available to Southern Baptists. In addition to extensive quantitative data the report also contains short missions stories from around the globe.

“People want to know what their IMB missionaries are doing,” said Wilson Geisler, director of global research at IMB. “This is a chance to boast in the Lord.”

The 2020 ASR, which reports on 2019 data, testifies to the faithfulness of Southern Baptists’ 3,623 missionaries, even as it points out the grim realities of a world without Christ. Out of a global population of more than 7.6 billion people, 154,937 die daily without Christ—roughly equivalent to two populations of Tyler, Texas.

The ASR summarizes the work of IMB missionary teams across all nine affinities worldwide. The data from the ASR follows the six components of the missionary task, as set out in the Foundations document adopted by IMB in 2018.

The six components of the missionary task—entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development and exit to partnership—describe what IMB missionaries do and what “we see in Scripture that both Jesus was about and also the apostles,” Geisler said.

“Entry is basically showing up and getting to opportunities for sharing the gospel, making disciples,” he explained. “The same is true in the United States: I can enter a Starbucks with the purpose of sharing the gospel to make a disciple.”

The six components help IMB missionaries “look holistically across all of Scripture” to “see what health is when it comes to being a disciple,” he said. According to the ASR, this “greater emphasis” on the “entire missionary task” equips missionaries to enter a mission field “with a forward view to the end goals of healthy church formation and leadership development.”

This year’s 35-page ASR shows IMB missionaries engaged 827 people groups last year. Like-minded partner groups engaged an additional 5,983 people groups, leaving 4,920 people groups unengaged with the gospel in 2019. IMB currently puts the total number of people groups worldwide at 11,730.

IMB missionaries shared the gospel including an opportunity to respond with 396,499 people, an uptick of nearly 9 percent over 2018.

“Given this increase in gospel sharing,” the ASR notes, “it is hardly surprising there have been corresponding increases in the number of” new believers. IMB missionary teams reported 89,325 new believers worldwide, an increase of more than 15 percent over the previous year.

According to the report 535,325 people heard a gospel witness, which means they heard some aspect of the gospel but the encounter fell short of a call to respond.

In the component of discipleship, IMB missionaries saw 47,929 baptisms and 174,393 in ongoing Bible studies. These numbers are a decrease from 2018, down from 52,586 and 261,812, respectively. Pointing to the reality of “governmental persecution resulting in the expulsion of IMB missionaries from certain countries,” the ASR notes these downward trends “most likely do not represent church planting realities but rather IMB’s inability to report on such efforts done through Baptist partners.”

Last year IMB missionaries saw 12,368 new churches planted across the globe. The overwhelming majority of these new churches are among South Asian people groups—9,911, and Southeast Asian people groups—1,615.

In leadership development, over 33,000 people were in advanced theological education in 2019—an upswing of more than 17 percent over 2018—and 38,866 received church planting training.

This continues an upward trend, as advanced theological training and church planting training in 2018 were up 49 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over 2017.

In the exit to partnership component, IMB missionaries reported 21 people groups no longer being engaged by IMB or its partners, often due to geopolitical turmoil and persecution. Yet an additional 214 people groups are marked in this final component of the missionary task because they themselves are taking ownership in the Great Commission. Of those, 91 people groups are doing missions inside their own country, while 40 are doing so outside their own country.

Downward trends in the ASR may reveal regress or progress along the six components of the missionary task. “However,” Geisler said, “we ought to be careful to not read too much into some trends. For example, when our personnel are asked to leave certain countries it is possible that the [missionary] work continues but our personnel simply have no way to collect the data.” In Asia particularly “we continued to see increased persecution,” Geisler said. “Our missionaries stay the course as long as they are able, but the reality of the world is that access to peoples and places can change overnight.”

Sometimes downward numbers show definite progress, he said, as with the 214 people groups with whom “an intentional exit to partnership” occurs and “that group carries on ownership in kingdom tasks that cease to be reported by our personnel.”

Geisler summarized the ASR by noting, “There is a continued movement of God to call believers from all nations to go be missionaries in other nations.” Yet, “We are currently losing the war of sharing [the gospel], so regardless of where we live or work, we all need to be challenged to open our mouths and proclaim.”

“Please pray fervently and share your faith boldly,” Geisler asked Southern Baptists. “In uncertain times, let us not shrink back from declaring the whole truth.”

“The biggest challenge is that the harvest is plentiful and the laborers few,” he said.

IMB President Paul Chitwood commented on the 2019 data in IMB’s 2020 Annual Report video saying that through IMB, which celebrates 175 years this year, “Southern Baptists have maintained an uninterrupted witness among the nations, in spite of famines, wars, civil unrest and—even as we’ve experienced this year—pandemics.”

“We know that every second, two people die without knowing Christ,” he said. “And that is why, Southern Baptists, your IMB is still sending your missionaries.”

“This commitment does not come without sacrifice by your missionaries,” Chitwood said, “and their continued witness cannot continue without your sacrificial support.”

“You’re a part of this eternal work,” he said, “through your giving, your praying, your sending and your going.”

“And the nations are waiting.”

Editor’s Note: In the 2020 SBC Advance Book of Reports, IMB reported 2018 data. The focus of this news story is on the Annual Statistical Report publicly released by IMB on June 10 which reports on 2019 data. The close proximity in the release of these two years of data is due to a change in IMB’s data publication process.

Greear “energized” for third year as SBC president

DURHAM, N.C.—When J.D. Greear addressed the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in February, he joked that he was looking forward to receiving this summer the most coveted title in the convention: “former SBC president.” But thanks to cancelation of this year’s SBC annual meeting over the COVID-19 pandemic, he will have to wait another year before assuming that title.

In the meantime, he will continue to emphasize his hallmark issues of evangelism, ethnic diversity and combatting sexual abuse, he told the TEXAN, even as obstacles to accomplishing those aims persist.

“This third year, amongst many divisions in our nation, Southern Baptists have been given a great opportunity by God to show a watching world that unity can be found only in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus,” said Greear, pastor of the The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. “In this united front, we wish to continue to see our convention reflect the diversity among us and the diversity found in the coming kingdom, while engaging in the next generation, [fostering] a renewed focus on evangelism and seeing how … our cooperative resources can lead to more church planting and missionaries sent.”

Greear becomes the first person to serve three successive years as SBC president since R.G. Lee held the office from 1949-52. The SBC Constitution since has been amended to limit the president to two successive one-year terms, with a one-year break required before he can be elected again. (Adrian Rogers served three terms during the SBC Conservative Resurgence, but not successively, leaving office in 1980 before being elected again in 1987 and 1988.) Yet the constitution also stipulates that SBC officers “shall hold office until their successors are elected and qualified.” The cancelation of 2020 elections leaves Greear in office until his successor is elected in 2021.

Some observers wonder whether he can sustain the fast pace that has characterized his presidency thus far.

Former SBC President Jimmy Draper told the TEXAN Greear “has represented [the SBC] well and has connected with the younger generation.” Yet serving as convention president takes more time and energy than Southern Baptists may realize, he said, and remaining in office a third year will be a challenge.

“I flew 300,000 miles in the two years while I was president of the convention,” Draper said, noting he often was absent Monday through Friday from his then-pastorate at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas. “I couldn’t have done that a third year.”

Whatever pace Greear opts to set this year, combatting sexual abuse in churches and SBC entities is sure to be a continued emphasis of his presidency.

Among his first acts in office was launching a Sexual Abuse Advisory Study in conjunction with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. After a year of work on the study, the SBC strengthened its stance against abuse by approving amendments to the convention’s constitution and bylaws. (The constitutional amendment requires one additional authorization by the convention, expected at next year’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee).

Greear included discussion of abuse in every session of last year’s SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, and invited to speak on the stage at least one victim advocate, Mary DeMuth, who protested outside the annual meeting the previous year. Earlier this year, the SBC disfellowshipped a church over its mishandling of sexual abuse for the first time.

Yet Greear’s manner of addressing abuse has prompted challenges on occasion. In February 2019, he publicly named 10 churches that he claimed may have mishandled abuse. A work group of the Executive Committee said only three of those churches warranted further inquiry, and some of the churches pushed back against their inclusion on the list. Additionally, victim advocates within and outside the SBC have expressed concern that that the convention has not gone far enough in combatting abuse.

“In this third year,” Greear said, “I pray that God would continue to change the culture within our churches, associations, state conventions and entities where each body would continue to change systems and structures that better protect the vulnerable while caring for the abused.”

In an online SBC presidential address delivered June 9—the day Greear’s successor was scheduled to be elected—he pledged to work with LifeWay Christian Resources to add questions the convention’s Annual Church Profile (ACP) about “each church’s policies” regarding sexual abuse. He also said he will work with the SBC Executive Committee to ensure each SBC entity trustee “has a comprehensive background check to help promote a culture of accountability and awareness.”

Fostering ethnic diversity looks to be another third-year emphasis for Greear. During his first year in office, 48 percent of his committee appointments were people of color. His first SBC annual meeting in office featured culturally diverse worship music that drew praise from messengers.

But as with his confrontation of sexual abuse, Greear’s approach to diversity has been subject to critique. That was apparent last year after the SBC Resolutions Committee appointed by Greear proposed, and the convention adopted, a resolution on critical race theory and intersectionality (CRT/I)—theories related to institutional racism and disempowerment of minority groups. While the resolution claimed CRT/I should “be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture,” opponents said the resolution undermined the sufficiency of Scripture by drawing too heavily from secular ideologies. A high-profile articulation of that critique came in the documentary By What Standard? released in December by the Calvinistic group Founders Ministries.

Greear knows that continuing to foster racial reconciliation could be especially challenging amid America’s current racial tension, which ignited protests from coast to coast following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in custody of Minneapolis police.

With COVID, increased racial division and what most likely will be a heated political season,” Greear said, “we as Southern Baptists can demonstrate the gospel by loving our neighbors as ourselves and standing for truth no matter how unpopular.”

He confronted the issue of racism head-on in his presidential address, repeating the phrase “black lives matter” several times.

“Southern Baptists, we need to say it clearly as a gospel issue: black lives matter,” Greear said in the address, adding he does not align himself with the “Black Lives Matter organization” or support calls to defund police departments. The Black Lives Matter movement “has been hijacked by some political operatives whose worldview and policy prescriptions would be deeply at odds with my own. But that doesn’t mean that the sentiment behind it is untrue.” 

Evangelism will be another emphasis of his third year in office—including continuation of the “Who’s Your One?” campaign encouraging Southern Baptists to focus their personal witnessing efforts on one specific friend or neighbor.

Greear’s evangelism push coincides with the release of data from the SBC’s 2019 ACP indicating a 13th consecutive year of declining church membership and a decrease of more than 10,000 baptisms between 2018 and 2019. Among Greear’s recommendations for countering the decline: “better reporting,” “continuing to emphasize the gospel above all” and “moving our goal posts from attendance and membership to how many of our people are disciple-making disciples.”

As Greear pursues those aims, he is encouraged by “the unbelievable unity” he has experienced among Southern Baptists. At the same time, he is “surprised by how vocal some of the negative elements are in our convention,” who seem to “thrive on controversy”—a reality even his children have noticed.

But in the end, he said, leading the SBC is “an incredible privilege. I get up every day energized by it.” He’s especially thankful for the opportunity to ensure that Southern Baptist missionaries around the globe “are taken care of and supported in the best way possible.”

“Pray for me to really make the gospel above all and to further catalyze our evangelism, church planting and missions efforts,” he said, “and that I’ll be able to lead in a crucial moment of unity and racial reconciliation in our country.”

24 students with ties to Texas graduate from Southern Seminary

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — 24 students with ties to Texas graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the spring commencement ceremony. 

Southern Seminary conferred degrees to 342 Southern master’s and doctoral students on May 15. A news release about the 225th commencement exercises is now available at

The commencement address delivered by President R. Albert Mohler Jr. is available at

Following are the students and their information (see key for degrees below): 

NAME: Matthew A. Watson
DEGREE: TH-Master of Divinity

NAME: Brandon M. Parker
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Theological Studies

NAME: Dustin K. DeBerry
DEGREE: TH-Master of Divinity

NAME: Marcus A. Pedroza
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Theological Studies

NAME: Landon K. Church
DEGREE: BG-Master of Divinity

NAME: Eduardo Calleja Alderete
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Theological Studies

NAME: Adam D. Westlake
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling

NAME: Van Thawng
DEGREE: TH-Master of Theology

NAME: Micah F. Mosher
DEGREE: TH-Master of Theology

NAME: Jacob K. Bishop
DEGREE: BG-Master of Divinity

NAME: Nathan D. McCravey
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Theological Studies

NAME: Nicholas E. Holsomback
DEGREE: TH-Master of Divinity

NAME: Charles N. Dear
DEGREE: BG-Doctor of Ministry

NAME: Miguel A. Lopez
DEGREE: BG-Master of Divinity

NAME: Jessica Baniewicz
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling

NAME: Michael C. Mathis
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Theological Studies

NAME: Jimmy C. Chavedo
DEGREE: BG-Doctor of Educational Ministry

NAME: A.B. Alvarez
DEGREE: TH-Master of Arts in Theological Studies

NAME: Zachary R. Cleveland
DEGREE: TH-Master of Divinity

NAME: Rachael L. Waggoner
DEGREE: BG-Master of Arts in Christian Education

NAME: Joel M. Davidson
DEGREE: TH-Master of Divinity

NAME: Kevin Coleman
DEGREE: TH-Master of Divinity

NAME: Matthew C. Boswell
DEGREE: BG-Doctor of Philosophy

NAME: Wendal M. Johnson
DEGREE: BG-Doctor of Philosophy

TH: School of Theology
BG: Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry 
CERT-Worldview: Worldview Studies Certificate 

Criswell College board focuses on COVID-19 response, dorm construction, strategic plan

The April 2020 board meeting of the Criswell College Board of Trustees opened with President Barry Creamer welcoming new members Joshua Crutchfield, Jim Henry, David Sherzer, Derek Stumfall and Jared Wellman.

This year’s board of trustees meeting was held via Zoom video conferencing to maintain health and safety in response to the spread of COVID-19.

“It was very encouraging to see trustees so actively engaged despite meeting remotely,” Creamer said. “Their questions and input were relevant and helpful, which is very important considering the paradigm-shifting commitments we have made this year.”

“Colleges everywhere had to move quickly so students could finish courses for spring 2020 off campus,” he said. “We have been blessed to protect not only our students’ need to finish courses, but also to maintain academic quality by giving the faculty freedom to determine how students would finish their work, and to continue providing jobs for every single employee on campus, including students. The board’s priorities are reflected in our commitment to keep student welfare, the college’s mission, and our relationship with the community in sight at all times.”

Creamer continued the meeting with a discussion on what current and incoming students can expect during the summer and fall semester as it relates to the campus response to COVID-19. Creamer also addressed the board regarding the latest enrollment numbers and presented a sampling of digital ads that are currently running on Facebook and Google. 

Board members were shown a live video walkthrough of the residence hall dorm construction led by Criswell Police Chief Brad Corder and Director of Communications Kendall Lyons. 

“The board had taken dramatic steps to move the college forward long before we had any thoughts of a pandemic—not the least of which is constructing the college’s first residence hall. Although we would have loved walking them through the several floors already walled in, they responded enthusiastically to the virtual tour. They were able to see that construction—including the prospects associated with it—brings a lot of energy to campus,” Creamer said. 

During the meeting, Creamer unveiled the proposed 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, which includes three goals the faculty and staff will work to accomplish. The three goals in the strategic plan include providing a more engaging and supportive experience for students, growing enrollment while providing support and resources for sustainability, and developing and strengthening the college’s network of relationships. The first goal includes five initiatives, goal two includes four initiatives, and goal three includes three initiatives. These initiatives cross all divisions and will allow the college, administrators and departments to focus more intentionally on meeting the goals of the strategic plan. The proposed strategic plan was approved unanimously. 

“After over a year of work reviewing our mission statement, vision, core values and key goals with representatives of every constituency of the college, it was rewarding to receive insightful feedback and affirmation from trustees on those critical tools for orienting the college’s next five years,” Creamer added. 

Also during the board meeting, trustees approved the 2021 budget as well as pay scale changes for faculty, and program changes that were necessary for alignment with the Common Student Experience. Known as Criswell 360, the college’s newly developed student experience spans four years and incorporates high-impact learning practices and personal guidance along the journey. This will translate into meaningful benefits and outcomes for traditional-age, college-bound students and their parents.

Board members approved the 2020 graduation candidates and heard an inspirational testimony from a May graduate.

SBC weighs challenges of missed trustee elections

GRAPEVINE—If history is any indication, the Southern Baptist Convention’s trustee system will continue without a snag despite the cancellation of this year’s SBC annual meeting due to COVID-19. The last annual meeting cancellations, during World War II, were followed by a boom of evangelism and discipleship resourced by the convention’s entities.

Still, the unique circumstances this year create some potential challenges for a convention reliant on annual trustee elections.

Across the 12 SBC entities (including the Executive Committee), the terms of 129 trustees are scheduled to expire in 2020, according to last year’s SBC Annual. Typically, the convention would elect Southern Baptists to fill those slots based on nominations from the SBC Committee on Nominations. This year, that isn’t possible. Until the convention can convene, how to handle the open trustee slots is defined by a combination of SBC governing documents, entity charters and state laws where each entity is headquartered.

“We have a rotating system” of entity trustees, SBC Recording Secretary John Yeats said. “As a result, missing a year of being able to elect brand new trustees as a convention shouldn’t hinder us.”

The TEXAN queried the trustee chairs of all SBC entities to see how each board is handling its vacancies created by members rotating off this year.

Based on applicable state laws and entity charter provisions, current trustees of 10 entities remain in office until their successors are elected—even if their terms have expired. Some of those trustees are extending their first terms and likely will be elected to second terms at the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Others already have completed two terms and will be replaced next year.

The other two entities—GuideStone Financial Resources and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—have charters that require trustees to rotate off the board when their terms end, even if no successor has been elected. Both entities’ board chairs said trustees plan to make interim appointments to fill vacant slots until the 2021 SBC annual meeting.

The charters of all but three entities—the Executive Committee, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board—permit interim trustee appointments by the board when a position is vacant. Those interim appointees serve until the next SBC annual meeting. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is the only entity to exercise that option so far, appointing Phil Hanberry of Mississippi in April to fill the unexpired term of a trustee who resigned.

One intriguing possibility for a missed annual meeting involves the Executive Committee. SBC policy analysts debate whether the convention’s bylaws permit the EC to elect entity trustees on the convention’s behalf. SBC attorney Jim Guenther said “it is clear the Executive Committee could not elect trustees of some of the entities of the convention because of the wording of their charters.” But even for entities where it might be permissible, EC chairman Mike Stone gave no indication the committee will seek to elect trustees.

In general, the anticipated result of this year’s trustee board actions, Stone said, is that “current trustees remain in place until June 2021.”

Despite well-defined policies for missed annual meetings, some challenges remain.

Smaller states and defined territories will lose representation on some boards temporarily if their lone representative is forced to rotate off without an immediate replacement. At GuideStone, for instance, the sole representatives from California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Maryland/Delaware/the District of Columbia all are slated to rotate off the board this month. Southern Seminary’s lone trustee from Ohio likewise rotates off the board this month.

Another potential concern is that SBC messengers won’t have an opportunity this year to amend the list of nominees to trustee boards. Messengers exercised that prerogative in 2018, when they granted Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission trustee Dan Anderson a second term despite the Committee on Nominations’ recommendation to fill his slot with someone else.

In the absence of an annual meeting, it is especially important that trustees recall their accountability to the convention and that the convention recalls its dependence on the trustee system, said Jimmy Draper, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former SBC president.

Southern Baptists must not “become distanced from the trustees,” Draper said. Trustees must not “become isolated on their own, working with the entities, and lose their sense of responsibility to the convention.”

Yet Southern Baptists need not worry about a year of missed trustee elections, Draper said, “because we are proceeding based on what we are allowed to do.”

History suggests Southern Baptists are up to the challenge. Since the SBC began meeting annually in 1866, it had previously only missed two scheduled meetings (due to World War II reductions of available food and lodging, among other factors). In each instance, the SBC Annual records that trustees extended their service for an additional year, with vacancies filled temporarily by the various boards.

Yeats recalled that those missed annual meetings were followed by a boom of “new post-war, born-again disciples for Christ and a passion for the church to permeate culture with a biblical worldview.” Between 1945 and 1962, membership in Southern Baptist churches increased 74 percent to 10.2 million and annual gifts through the Cooperative Program increased 411 percent to $53.5 million, according to Albert McClellan’s history of the Executive Committee.

Such historical realities remind Southern Baptists, Yeats said, that the trustee system can be a powerful tool for facilitating gospel witness, even when annual elections prove impossible.

“In some ways,” Yeats said, “the [coronavirus] pandemic has set Southern Baptists free to make the gospel above all in every context.”

Seminary presidents Greenway and Dew discuss leading in and beyond COVID-19

The presidents of two Southern Baptist Convention seminaries—Adam Greenway of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Jamie Dew of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary—participated in a live Zoom chat on “leading in/beyond COVID-19” with hosts Matt Henslee and Kyle Bueermann of “Not Another Baptist Podcast,” May 28. 

The two presidents reflected on lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, how to lead with wisdom and grace as things gradually return to normal, and what advice they would give students currently deciding whether to attend seminary online or in person this fall. 

Concerning what the transition to fully online classes this semester due to COVID-19 precautions has taught him, Greenway said, “There are some things that we can do in person or we can do online, and it’s just as good online. There are other things that we can do in person or online, but it’s clearly better in person.”

Dew agreed, “If COVID-19 has done anything, it has given us a scenario that reminds us of just how much we need each other. We need each other relationally, we need each other psychologically, we need each other spiritually, we need each other missiologically. And so it’s given us a context now that should forever change the way we celebrate and embrace public gathering.”

The two noted, however, that some positive lessons have been learned from this pandemic and will be useful moving forward, such as continuing to meet with church members via Zoom during the week in order to stay connected. 

Greenway explained, “Through this [technology], we can see each other, we can hear each other, we can, in a sense, have a degree of virtual community where we can be together Thursday afternoon, Wednesday night, Saturday morning—whatever we want to do.”

Dew added that Zoom can continue to be utilized for Sunday School meetings with members unable attend the church campus, and that, in the seminary context, he personally will continue to produce weekly video messages to his students—a habit born out of necessity during COVID-19. 

What the pandemic has “forced us to do in thinking outside the box,” Dew said, “is we have gone into the mode of ‘engage, engage, engage,’ and get creative in doing it. And I hope when we come through the other side of this and are able to get back to normal, we don’t lose that. Maybe we can engage face-to-face now, but I hope that we’re forever a little bit different about the intentionality of just connecting with people and talking with people.”

The two agreed that “grace and latitude” are key in the process of returning to in-person gatherings, particularly regarding such issues as some churches requiring members to wear masks and others not. 

Dew noted that the transition is “going to look different for everybody,” especially for rural churches relative to urban churches, and so he encouraged the Christian community to “give grace to everybody, expect innovation, welcome innovation, and then let’s learn from each other as we do it.”

As students make plans for the fall and are considering whether to do their theological education online or in person, the two presidents encouraged them, if possible, to choose the on-campus experience.  

Dew, though acknowledging “the quality of the product that our schools produce in our online classes is solid,” nevertheless said, “If you have the opportunity to get to campus, get to campus, for this reason: the longer it takes you to do your degree program, the less likely it is that you will finish.”

Dew noted residential students, on average, take 12 hours per semester, while online students take an average of only 3-6 hours. This drawing out of the education experience renders it less likely that online students will finish their degrees, he said. 

“We don’t exist to dabble in theological education and ministry preparation,” Dew said. “We exist to get people here, get them prepared, and send them out so they can get to the church and to the mission field. And students don’t come here to dabble either. So, let’s not dabble.”

Greenway acknowledged that, for some people, online classes truly are the best option. But he nevertheless advocated for on-campus theological education. 

“Some of the best content of these Zoom meetings has been what didn’t make it into the recordings—it’s the pre-conversation; it’s the post-conversation,” Greenway said. “In the same way, some of the most memorable content I ever received in seminary was not part of the planned lecture from the professor; it was after class as he was walking out and I was walking with him to the office. It’s organic; you can’t script it, you can’t plan it—you have to be there.”

Jacksonville College board addresses COVID-19, prepares for fall semester

JACKSONVILLE—Jacksonville College trustees approved numerous reports and expressed great appreciation for the work of faculty and administrators during a May 16 board meeting held on the East Texas campus.

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Jacksonville College has transition smoothly to completely online instruction. Vice President for Academics Marolyn Welch noted that the college was already preparing a focus on online education with the Quality Enhancement Plan, so the majority of teachers adjusted well to moving courses online. Welch also reported that the spring semester enrollment was 454, in the Maymester 120, and 127 in summer terms, with new enrollments ongoing.

Vice President for Executive Affairs Blanton Feaster said he is proud of how everything has been handled during the COVID-19 crisis. “Although we miss the face-to-face interaction with students who are our life and our purpose, Jacksonville College was ready to transition to online instruction, and the college is in good shape financially,” he said. “The school has been able to keep everyone on the payroll.”

The college’s income statement is positive, and its endowment is fully funded.

Jacksonville College has also had strong recruitment numbers and expects a record number of students in the fall semester.

In his report, President Mike Smith expressed great disappointment that graduates would not be able to celebrate the traditional graduation ceremony. This semester’s graduating students will be given an opportunity to participate in a future graduation ceremony, he said.

In other actions, Smith addressed the need for the college to have an endowment policy and reported that one has been approved by the executive committee and the college’s attorney. The board approved a motion directing Smith to conduct a search for a vice president for external affair, a new position.

Editor’s Note: Jan Modisette is a professor of English and education at Jacksonville College.