CORPUS CHRISTI?Southern Baptists of Texas Convention messengers and guests heard expressions of gratitude from Southern Baptist entity leaders, grateful for the state convention’s commitment to send more funds beyond the state than are retained for Texas ministry.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Charles Kelley Jr. led off with praise to the SBTC and Executive Director Jim Richards “for the incredible work you are doing in setting aside 52 percent of state Cooperative Program receipts to give to worldwide ministry. No state convention has ever done that before. Thank you for your vision to touch the world for Christ.”
The great challenge among Southern Baptist seminaries is not in finding faculty committed to the inerrant word of God, enlisting students to be trained, nor in offering groundbreaking, innovative curriculum, stated Kelley. “The greatest challenge we have is providing adequate funding for those seminary students.”
Despite a 10 percent increase in enrollment in the past 20 years, students are taking fewer courses because of the need to work to pay for their education. “Seminaries are working extremely hard at keeping costs under control, but the task gets ever more difficult to do,” he said.
Kelley described the extended ministry of NOBTS as “the sun never sets” on the graduates of the seminary. Inmates at “the bloodiest prison in America” have heard the gospel proclaimed by other prisoners saved and then discipled through the outreach of the seminary. Volunteer teenagers, college students and senior adults utilize campus dormitory space to offer ministry in the French Quarter.
“God put Baptists in New Orleans to show his gospel can flourish in any kind of setting if only his people will be brave and courageous enough to let that gospel loose.”
Told by a former Southern Baptist leader that “the seminaries are in ruin, devastated, with virtually nothing left of the great seminary system we once had,” Kelley said, “I had to pray and ask God that he would ruin us some more.” He praised the faculty at each Southern Baptist seminary for teaching the Bible “as the word of God, inspired, inerrant, infallible and sufficient for every need of the world today.”
Kelley urged churches, “Work harder than ever before to be faithful to the Cooperative Program God has given to us.”
“We are not to wait until we reach everyone in Jerusalem to go to Judea and Samaria,” said Southern Baptist missionary Randal Pegues in his report on behalf of the International Mission Board. “We do all of those at one time.” With 1.5 billion people having never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and 220 people groups with no access to that message, Southern Baptists are striving to share the gospel with all unchurched people groups with a population of 100,000 people or more by the year 2005.
“Southern Baptists are answering God’s call to missions, but must wait for financial support to catch up,” Pegues said. In spite of an 8.7 percent increase in the number of mission candidates responding, giving has risen by only 1.5 percent. As a result, the number of field personnel will decline from 5,510 to 4,800 by the end of next year.
In a videotaped message, IMB President Jerry Rankin appealed to SBTC churches to prayerfully consider increasing their gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions by 33 percent over last year. At that level of giving Rankin said Southern Baptists would surpass the $130 million goal and open the floodgates to send all of the candidates prepared to go. Without such a strong response among Southern Baptists, he said, “We’ll continue the status quo and send those 4,800 missionaries.”
Reminding Texas Baptists that the work of LifeWay actually began in Texas, President James T. Draper said Southern Baptists established the Baptist Sunday School Board in 1890 at the annual meeting in Fort Worth. Over a century later, LifeWay is partnering with the SBTC to provide $215,948 for student ministry, field service, training and promotional materials.
Draper described LifeWay as the largest publisher of religious resources and materials in the world with 119 retail stores, 188 monthly periodicals and more than 300 undated periodicals. That ministry has extended around the world as resources and training are provided globally. In 2002, Southern Baptist churches reported 109,000 professions of faith and 300,000 prospects through Vacation Bible School.
“VBS is still the best evangelistic tool Southern Baptists have,” Draper remarked.
As the only entity in Southern Baptist life whose primary focus is not on the message, but rather the messenger, Annuity Board President O. S. Hawkins said the Dallas-based entity seeks to assist pastors who often lack an advocate, partnering with them to enhance financial stability throughout life. By enrolling in a retirement plan, Southern Baptist ministers automatically qualify for matching funds that provide for disability and survivor’s benefits. “It’s a no-brainer. Every church ought to have its pastor and staff in the Annuity Board.