DULUTH — A March 13 Executive Committee meeting saw a call for statewide political unity and a celebration of increased Cooperative Program giving. But those business items were upstaged by a standing ovation for Executive Director J. Robert White who announced his surprise retirement effective Dec. 31.
White, 71, celebrated his quarter-century with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board during last November’s annual meeting. His forthcoming retirement will cap 26 years of strong support for the Cooperative Program and leading the Mission Board to new heights of missions and evangelism.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was a restructuring and rebranding of the agency in September 2015, changing its name from the Georgia Baptist Convention to the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. That shift recognized the largest state convention east of the Mississippi River as a valid mission board reaching the state, nation, and international field through the Cooperative Program and its Mission Georgia state missions offering.
“I never imagined that God would call me out of the pastorate to enter ministry through a denominational position,” White read in a prepared letter to the Executive Committee and guests, “but the call could not have been more clear. I knew that this was God’s will and that assurance has been multiplied time and time again through these years.”
The Alabama native and former Georgia Baptist pastor at Tabernacle Baptist in Carrollton was affirmed as the new state director at the 1992 annual meeting. He officially returned to the Peach State in January 1993 after serving in Paducah, KY.
“Even though Dr. White has been our executive director – a place of high responsibility and honor – he’s always been a servant … an encourager. He’s always considered his churches, his pastors – us as his friends – as more important than himself,” remarked Andy Childs, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Toccoa and Executive Committee chairman. Following the approval of a motion presented by GBC President Mike Stone, Childs was officially tasked with convening a search committee for White’s replacement.
Discussion over committee to end ‘political climate’
Prior to White’s announcement, a discussion urging a call to unity culminated in an amended motion introduced by Fred Evers, senior pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Tifton.
The motion called for a committee to be established that would bring recommendations to the September meeting of the Executive Committee towards “end[ing] the political climate which continues to exist in our state convention.” Comments from various Executive Committee members revealed different positions on the need for – and even willingness to participate in – such a committee.
Evers’ original motion called for the committee to be made up of the current GBC president, current Executive Committee chairman, and all previously-elected presidents of the GBC and chairmen of the Executive Committee dating back to 1988 who are still members of a cooperating Georgia Baptist church.
Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index, would serve as chairman of the committee with J. Robert White being an ex-officio member and committee consultant.
Wayne Robertson, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, offered an amendment that instead tasked Harris and White with choosing its members.
“The issue sometimes is trust,” he pointed out. “Having said that, if there’s two men in the world that this room respects it’s Gerald Harris and J. Robert White. … I don’t think there’s anyone … who would refuse to meet with [them].”
After a voice vote proved inconclusive, a standing vote revealed the amendment passing by a 45-to-27 vote.
Later, in a meeting break, Robertson expounded on his amendment for The Index.
“I felt like what the original motion desired to accomplish was a good intent,” he said. “But who the people trust has everything to do with its success. I felt Gerald Harris and Bob White [in those positions] would be the best opportunity to gain what the motion wanted to accomplish.”
After further discussion Evers motion passed by an overwhelming majority.
Georgia continues to lead in Cooperative Program giving
In his report, White praised Georgia pastors in their efforts to set the tone in Cooperative Program support.
“Of all the 42 Southern Baptist conventions, Georgia has led in Cooperative Program giving,” he noted. He further pointed Executive Committee members to information in their packets showing a .41 percent increase in total gifts received from 2016 to 2017. Viewing the standard church calendar, year-to-date giving from Oct. 1 through Feb. 28 found a nearly-11 percent increase between 2016-17 and 2017-18.
In the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget since Oct. 1, 2017, Georgia led Southern Baptist conventions in collecting $8,299,934.14. Alabama followed at $7,779,003.62 as did Tennessee at $6,654,538.92.
Earlier in the meeting GBC President Mike Stone had provided an update on the Cooperative Program Long-Range Study Committee. David Mills of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, Stone reported, will serve as chairman of the committee. Another committee Stone proposed at the December Executive Committee meeting, the Building Proceeds Committee, will be led by Vann Dempsey, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Jesup.
Fall annual meeting to focus on Reaching Next Gen
Drawing from the December Executive Committee meeting, Stone reiterated his desire for Georgia Baptists to minister to young people. The Reaching Next Gen emphasis, he declared, will “very much” be the theme of Georgia Baptists’ annual gathering slated for Nov. 11-13 at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins.
Doing so would be accomplished through focusing on reaching teenagers and children. It can be accomplished, said the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Blackshear pastor, through the family, churches, and at the state convention level.
“A vital part of that last emphasis will happen in September. We’re challenging the children and youth of our churches … to spend that month sharing the gospel of Jesus with their peers through a simple presentation based on their own testimony.”
That movement, he relayed, would be called “This is My Story,” admitting that, yes, the title was inspired by the hymn penned by Fanny Crosby.
The next Executive Committee meeting will take place Sept. 12 at the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Building in Duluth.
Managing Editor Joe Westbury contributed to this report.