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WRAP: Georgia Baptists elect new president, encouraged to reach younger people at 197th annual meeting

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Note: This story has been updated to include a report on adopted resolutions.

WARNER ROBINS — Speakers urged Georgia Baptists to redouble their efforts in sharing the gospel with young people and training student ministry leaders alongside other business at their 197th annual meeting held at Second Baptist Church here Nov. 12-13.

Messengers also adopted a $41.3 million budget, collected more than 38,000 backpacks for Appalachian children, and elected a new president and vice presidents. 

Generation Yet

Georgia Baptist Convention President Mike Stone led in focusing on reaching young people throughout the meeting. With the theme “Mission Possible: Reaching Generation Yet” and background of Psalm 78:1-8, Stone called on churches to re-evaluate their current methods of evangelizing and discipling children and students. 

Left to right: Steve Parr, Jenni Carter, Jason Britt, Jarrod Thompson, and Ricky Smith discuss strategies churches can establish in reaching the younger generation. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

One of those tools rolled out during the first sessions was “This is My Story.” Acknowledging Fannie Crosby’s influence over the title, Stone spoke about the four-week discipling tool that could help students in becoming more comfortable sharing their testimony.

But that’s not the only things churches could see Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, pointed out to messengers.

“The amazing thing is, you’ll see a number of your student group come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior just in the process of teaching and preparing your saved students to share the gospel,” he explained.

A panel discussion the next day also dove into what churches need to do to win the younger generation for Christ. 

"It was foundational that there is no evangelism that doesn’t begin and end with the next generation,” said Pastor Jason Britt of Bethlehem Church. “That was a top priority championed by me from the platform.”

Churches need to re-think their dependence on programming, a tried-and-true-method in the past, First Baptist, Buford Next Generation Pastor Jarrod Thompson noted. Reaching young people today requires more venturing outside of the church walls.

“We need to encourage our students and leaders … one-on-one discipleship is really important, Saturday morning breakfast with students, Thursday night after football … different things like that I really think are important,” he said.

Early inspiration Sunday night

Florida evangelist Rick Coram set the tone for the gathering at the Inspirational Rally held Sunday, Nov. 11. 

Florida evangelist Rick Coram preaches during the Inspirational Rally on Sunday night, Nov. 11 at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

“Don’t Ever Stop!” cried Coram, using Mark 14:3-9 as his text. He stated, “Mary, the sister of Lazarus, poured expensive oil on Jesus over 2,000 years ago and we remember it tonight. God never forgets our faithfulness or our service.”

Coram urged the crowd to never stop in leaving their offering, living in obedience, or doing whatever they can to point people to Jesus.

“The heroes in your church may be the people who fold the tables from which they will never eat or the people who cook meals they will never eat. The heroes may be the ones who sit on the floor and teach toddlers how to sing songs about Jesus or it may be the nursery worker who changes diapers,” he preached.

Officers elected

With President Robby Foster, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Valdosta, center, stand newly-elected vice presidents: Al Wright, First Baptist Waynesboro; Jack Lee, Altamaha Baptist Church in Jesup; Brad Boynton, Spring Place Baptist Church in Chatsworth; and Ken Alford, Crossroads Baptist Church in Valdosta. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index[/caption]

While GBC presidents are historically given a second unopposed term, Stone chose to not allow himself to be nominated in order to focus on his family, ministry at Emmanuel, and role as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.

Robby Foster, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Valdosta, was elected president unopposed. Those elected as vice presidents include Al Wright, pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro; Jack Lee, pastor of Altamaha Baptist Church in Jesup; Brad Boynton, pastor of Spring Place Baptist Church in Chatsworth; and Ken Alford, pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Valdosta.

In addition to serving in their elected offices, these men will also become members of the Executive Committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

In addition, the Georgia African American Fellowship elected Anthony Wilson as its new president. Former president Jean Ward accepted the new position of executive director, working alongside Wilson.

Anthony Wilson, left, and Jean Ward were elected as president and executive director, respectively, of the Georgia African American Fellowship Nov. 12. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

Baptists close in on 40,000 backpack goal

Last year’s goal of 35,000 was surpassed with a final tally of 38,641, reported state missionary Bill Barker. This year’s total is set at 40,000 but it will be several weeks before the final number is known.

“The number of outstanding backpacks correlates directly to the number of outstanding provisional ballots in an election,” Barker joked. “We will not know the total until the very last backpack is counted.”

Georgia collects half of the 80,000 backpacks for distribution throughout Appalachia as well as two impoverished associations in south Georgia. Appalachian Mountain Ministry, the outreach of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, partners with 10 states to provide school supplies, warm winter coats, and Christmas gifts for children living below the poverty level.

Tony Branham, campus minster at the Armstrong campus of Georgia Southern University, loads another box of backpacks into one of two semi trailers at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins. JOE WESTBURY/INdex

Ebenezer Baptist Church in Douglasville is one church that represents the vast majority of smaller churches that are energized by the annual event. Pastor Terry Braswell Jr. said his congregation, “which averages about 30 on a good Sunday,” collected 46 last year and surpassed that with 50 this year.

Their contribution found its way to Kentucky with 500 others from West Metro Baptist Association which took them directly to a ministry center.

Gwen Newman receives Trudy Price Award

Gwen Newman, wife of Ray Newman, pastor and longtime Georgia Baptist Convention state missionary who passed away in 2013, was undergoing cataract surgery during this year’s annual meeting and not able to attend the Georgia Baptist Ministers’ Wives luncheon. Mary Cox, GBMB state missionary to ministers’ wives, will deliver the award to her home personally.

Newman was saved and called into ministry when she was 13 years old. Several months later, she and Ray met. They dated throughout high school. In 1965, they married and he pastored churches throughout Georgia and Alabama as well as in Fort Worth, Texas while in seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While there, Gwen worked as a secretary for the seminary.

Mary Cox stands with 2018 officers, Laura Foster, Heather Neville, and Harriett Dollar. MYRIAH SNYDER/Index

Throughout their ministry, Gwen not only served alongside her husband in the many ways a pastor’s wife does, but as interim weekday director with her association, coordinating various ministries. In addition, she taught Sunday School, led missions organizations, and was a VBS director, organist, and music leader.

In a video interview made exclusively for the luncheon, Newman was interviewed by her son, Rusty Newman.

He asked for her advice to ministers’ wives. She said two main things: 1) Be in a right relationship with God and 2) Be submissive … to God, her husband, and her church.

“If she has that relationship with God together, all those other things will fall into place,” she said.

Barry Snapp, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Rockmart, presided over the Preaching Conference at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

Preaching Conference

Rockmart pastor Barry Snapp, president of the GBC preaching conference, welcomed a large number of worshippers to rain-soaked Warner Robins on Monday afternoon and acknowledged that the men he invited to be a part of the conference were men he liked to hear preach.

The conference was blessed with the Christian music artistry of Rhon Carter, worship pastor at First Baptist Church in Statesboro, and his vocal team. The preaching conference, sponsored by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was accented by showers of blessings both literally and figuratively.

Those addressing the crowd included Jeremy Morton, co-pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock; evangelist Rick Coram from Arkansas; and James Merritt, senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.

Stone steps up, Peek and Hulett challenge messengers

Georgia Baptist Convention President Mike Stone preaches at the Monday evening session, filling in for Arkansas evangelist David Miller, who was unable to attend. SCOTT BARKELY/Index

In addition to presenting the President's Address, Stone also filled in for evangelist David Miller Monday evening and hit a grand slam with his message.

Stone preached a message entitled “Reaching Generation Yet” based on Psalm 78:1-8. His three points were: (1) a duty that cannot be delegated, (2) an apathy that cannot be accepted, and (3) a priority that cannot be postponed.

Blackshear’s Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor made a passionate appeal for Georgia Baptists to reach our children and youth, and even those generations yet to come.

Stone exclaimed, “One pressing duty that we have is reaching the next generation. This duty cannot be delegated to the church, to the convention, nor to the clergy. We have tens of thousands of middle and high school students that should be trained and unleashed to reach their peers. It is a duty that cannot be delegated.

“Secondly, there is an apathy that cannot be accepted; and we will never change what we can tolerate.” The GBC president cited several statistics, one indicating that 88 percent of kids leave church after graduating from high school. Another survey revealed that 70 percent and another reported that 61 percent of kids leave church after high school.

First Baptist Church, Pelham Pastor Matt Peek delivered the Doctrinal Sermon Tuesday morning, pointing to how Hurricane Michael impacted the area where he ministered. A similar devastation, he pointed out, happens to the Christian who stops looking to Jesus.

“People were in a panic, because they had lost their power; and they bought $700 generators to try to get some kind of power. I discovered that if you lose your connection, you lose your power; and I am afraid that we have lost our power. It appears to me that our baptisms, our Cooperative Program giving, our attendance, perhaps even our holiness is in decline.

First Baptist Church, Pelham Pastor Matt Peek delivers the Doctrinal Sermon. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

"I would argue that we are in decline because we have lost our connection. In verse 5 of our text Jesus said, ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’ We need to return to an utter state of dependence upon God.”   

Oakland Baptist Church, Hazlehurst Pastor Royce Hulett preached the Missionary Sermon with Matthew 28:16-20 as his background text.

Hulett began his sermon by talking about the mother who asked her young son to take out the trash and he responded by saying, “I ain’t going to do it.”

Royce Hulett, pastor of Oakland Baptist Church in Hazlehurst, preaches the missionary sermon Monday night, Nov. 12. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

The mother was concerned that he refused to take out the trash, but equally concerned that he used the word “ain’t” which she considered very poor English.

She decided to give him a lesson in English grammar and said, “Now, son I want you to listen to me. First person singular is ‘I am not going.’ Second person singular is, ‘you are not going;’ and third person singular is ‘he is not going.’ Do you understand that?”

The lad responded. “Yeah, I get it. It sounds like there ain’t nobody going.”

Hulett indicated that Georgia Baptists are “not on the go with the gospel.” His sermon beautifully reinforced the theme that seemed to permeate the annual session of the GBC meeting.

Former Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springfield, Ark., also addressed attendees to close out the Tuesday morning session.

Floyd pointed out a way Christians and pastors may misread Scripture as a way of not doing evangelism in their own lives. 

"Do the work of an evangelist," he preached. "... I do not believe 2 Timothy 4:5 – to do the work of the evangelist – is referring to the office of the evangelist. It is specifically referring to encourage pastors, Christian leaders, churches generally to do the work of an evangelist."

Resolutions of appreciation as well as regarding hate crimes legislation

Georgia Baptists adopted three resolutions. While addressed appreciation to host church Second Baptist in Warner Robins and another to the ministry of retiring Executive Director J. Robert White, another spoke to hate crimes legislation in the state. 

"There is an attempt on the part of some – and several bills have come up before the legislature in years past – that would curtail religious liberty of our churches, freedom of speech as well, give special consideration to groups and ... show partiality in judgement and jurisprudence," said Resolutions Committee Chairman David Mills, pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens. "Even the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has gone so far as to let it slip that they consider evangelicals a hate group." 

The resolution, Mills explained, called for an opposition to any legislation that contained hate crimes language. 

All three resolutions were adopted unanimously. To read them in their entirety click here. 

Executive Committee meets

Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Committee members received updates about Cooperative Program giving and heard testimony from a south Georgia pastor on Hurricane Michael’s destruction, among other items, during their meeting in conjunction with the Georgia Baptist Convention annual gathering, held this year at Second Baptist Church.

Executive Committee member Michael Wilkes, pastor of Center Baptist Church near Helen, gives the devotion prior to the meeting. SCOTT BARKLEY/Index

While introducing David Williams, pastor of Iron City Baptist Church, First Baptist, Ludowici Pastor Eric Rentz mentioned how he’d never heard of the little town before. Taking the microphone, Williams countered with, “Well, I’d never heard of Ludowici, either,” to laughter from the crowd.

On a more serious tone, Williams recounted how he and his wife along with their children, ages 1 and 3, rode out the storm. “The last thing my wife and two boys heard before the power went off was the hurricane is making landfall and getting stronger. aren’t supposed to do that.”

Executive Director J. Robert White reported that from October 2017 through September 2018 Georgia Baptists collected $62,213,262.68 in mission dollars. Of that, 55.77 percent was sent on to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in Nashville. And while Cooperative Program giving year-to-date lagged behind by .1 percent, giving for October 2018 outpaced October 2017 significantly by 21.8 percent.

Gerald Harris, senior editor of The Christian Index, reported on The Index’s 73 percent growth in readership since 2016 as well as key stories driving online traffic. Among them were White’s announcement that he would be retiring at the end of the year and the announcement of Thomas Hammond as the choice to be White’s successor.

Executive Director-elect Thomas Hammond, left, shares a moment with J. Robert White, center, and state missionary Jon Duncan at a reception for Hammond and his wife, Kerri. BRYAN NOWAK/Special

A reception was held at the end of Monday evening’s session in honor of Georgia Baptist Executive Director-elect Thomas Hammond and his wife, Kerri. Another reception was held the following night at the conclusion of the final session in honor of outgoing Executive Director J. Robert White, who will conclude 26 years in his position with Georgia Baptists at the end of the year. White will begin a new era of ministry Jan. 1 as president and CEO of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation.

Recording Secretary Danny Henson reported 966 messengers at the event. Next year’s annual meeting will be held Nov. 11-12 at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville.

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