WILLIAMSBURG?”We are now back in a fiscally responsible position,” Frank Page, Southern Baptists’ Executive Committee president, told state Baptist paper editors on Feb. 16 during the group’s annual gathering.
Page, who assumed the job last fall, was referring to a 19-percent reduction in personnel and a proposed budget of $1.25 million that is lower than the amount budgeted two years ago. Responding to questions from the editors, Page said no further staff cuts are anticipated.
“I am also taking the primary role of being the greatest Cooperative Program promoter you’ll ever find,” Page said in regard to the decision to move CP promotion into the president’s office. All of the vice presidents have accepted greater responsibility in working with individual states, associations and local churches as partners in promotion.
“The truth is, the strategies we’ve been trying haven’t worked well,” said Page, quick to add he can’t judge where the SBC would be were it not for those efforts. “I do believe the Cooperative Program is going to continue to be the glue that’s going to help hold us together to fund missions and ministries. We’re not going to tell you to support CP because that’s what it takes to be a good Baptist, but give us a chance to show you its value and I believe we will be able to convince you of its worth.”
Success is dependent on two factors, he said?Christlike selflessness and a high level of trust. “When there is selfishness and a self-promoting agenda, CP will fail, but where there is Christlike selflessness what you’re doing matters and the Cooperative Program will flourish.”
Page said he expects to travel to nearly every state this year in order to build relationships that lead to trust.
“I accept all church invitations, first come, first served. I want every church to know how much we appreciate them and how much we need them in this process so we can rebuild a Christlike selflessness and a covenant of trust.”
Asked whether pastors of megachurches are receiving that message, Page pointed to the examples of churches pastored by Ronnie Floyd in northwest Arkansas and Johnny Hunt near Atlanta where there have been dramatic changes to increase CP giving. Page said he told both men, “‘If what you are doing is sustainable and heartfelt, that is going to change support for missions and ministries more than any Great Commission Resurgence.'”
“GCR things come and go, but there are so many who will follow them,” he added, referring to the examples Floyd and Hunt provided in raising CP giving.
Similarly, he said state convention executive directors are struggling with how their conventions can become more efficient and more effective in order to send more money beyond their states.
Repeating a pledge he made when the operations of news and public relations were combined, Page said there would be no micromanaging of the work of Baptist Press by the EC Convention Relations and Communications vice president, Roger “Sing” Oldham, nor himself.
“Honestly, it was an economic move to pull together two divisions. It was not done because of a philosophical shift. It was not done so that I or anyone else under me would have a more intrusive kind of manipulation of the news.”
Instead, Baptist Press may become more involved in investigative journalism. “We want to be responsible and responsive to the needs of God’s people to know what’s going on and to be responsible in that reporting.”
In a separate report Baptist Press Editor Art Toalston said, “The cornerstone of what I believe and who I would want to be is that our effort has to be to do news well.” While feature articles have a place, he said BP would have no credibility if it is filled with features or fluff.
Asked whether BP would include reports from entities without adding the Executive Committee’s spin, Toalston said that editors should judge BP’s work on a case-by-case basis. “Our publisher is the Executive Committee and our command is to do news in a cooperative venture with all of the entities and state [Baptist] papers.”
Toalston said he hopes any person or entity who is in a disagreement with the EC would feel their material was treated fairly. Even in articles such as those relating to pro-life issues, BP includes a statement by a pro-choice spokesman, he said, so that readers will know there is another point of view. “My hope is that anybody that’s been written about in BP will see that it was fair.”
Page confirmed that there has been no change in policy allowing the media access to Executive Committee meetings. Remarks made in plenary sessions are on the record while workgroup and subcommittee meetings are open to the media under background rules which prevent direct quotation or attribution of discussion.
Asked by one editor to identify both the greatest surprise and the greatest challenge since beginning his job last fall, Page said he was pleasantly surprised by the number of Executive Committee members who had not previously supported him, but had since become friends and supporters.
Regarding the greatest challenge, he said the divisions among Southern Baptists are more complicated than in years past when the differences related to being conservative or moderate. “We could talk about doctrinal differences, methodological differences, and some that are simply philosophical. Sometimes there are age differences, stylistic differences, but we’ve got to find something that will pull us together.”
He identified “the massive individualism we see in the 20th century” as one of the most powerful factors to address. “Everyone seems to think they really know better than everyone else how to do what we do. It’s impacting our work denominationally.”
In answer to a question about his role among other SBC entity leaders, Page said he sees himself as a partner in ministry seeking to enable them to do their work. “I’m the biggest cheerleader,” he said in describing efforts to help them get the money they need to accomplish the work God has called them to do. “I have a great relationship with all of our entity execs.”