Published December 1, 2011
LAWRENCEVILLE — First Statesboro pastor John Waters was elected president of the Georgia Baptist Convention for 2012, garnering 749 votes against Tifton pastor Fred Evers’ 656.
A total of 1,408 votes were cast in the Nov. 15 election at North Metro First Baptist Church where the 190th annual session of the convention was meeting. It was the first time in a decade that two candidates ran for the post.
In an interview with The Index shortly after the election, Waters talked about the lostness of Georgia and the pressing need to reach the state for Christ.
“With the growing lostness of our state we need all of our pastors, churches, and associations to work together as never before. We need to be transparent in our relationship with one another and be committed to a passionate pursuit of the Great Commission wherever we find ourselves.”
Waters said pastors “need to love one another as brothers in Christ and we need to celebrate directors of missions as heroes and champions of cooperation. We also need to link our churches together in a common bond of unity for missions and evangelism.”
Georgia a priority in Acts 1:8 strategy
The south Georgia pastor talked about the need to be sure Georgia is not overlooked in the broader call to reach North America and the world.
“If we are to obey Scripture we must first start with reaching Georgia with the Gospel,” he stated. “Jesus’ command in Acts 1:8 points us to our Jerusalem first and then to the ends of the earth.”
He said he is grateful “for this great opportunity to serve Georgia Baptists and to be an encourager for every pastor, church, and association.”
The Louisiana native, who considers First Warner Robbins as his home church, just observed his sixth year as pastor at First Statesboro. On Nov. 6 his 3,000-member congregation moved into a new sanctuary at their current location. The project, which cost $11 million and doubled the size of the former 600-seat sanctuary, will host multiple worship services.
Waters and his wife, Cynthia, are parents of two adults daughters – Trisha and Bethany.
The first vote was recalled within minutes of when ballots were collected because messengers were not properly punching out the chads. Clearer instruction resolved the problem and the election proceeded.
In commenting on Twitter after the election, GBC parliamentarian Barry McCarty said, “We overcame the potentially defective paper ballots. Out of 1,408 votes cast for president, only 3 were rejected.”
Campaign promise: enlarging the tent
Both candidates campaigned heavily on the platform of reaching the lost in Georgia and enlarging the Baptist tent when it came to greater representation on state convention committees – especially the powerful Executive and Administration committees. But Waters, in his Nov. 8 campaign website posting, drove his point home by noting that the forthcoming Nominating Committee report, specifically the nominations for the At-Large seats on the Executive Committee, illustrated his concern.
He made the observation that one of the four nominees was being appointed to a fourth term and a second was currently serving on the Executive Committee as a vice president. Waters stated such appointments were in keeping with the unspoken policy of “‘recycling’ existing leadership and enlisting close political allies for key positions of leadership.”
He spoke admirably of each individual’s character and dedication to the state convention but questioned why others of like dedication, who had never served, were not given that opportunity.
Waters was the first candidate to announce when Valdosta pastor Wayne Robertson of Morningside Church endorsed him on Dec. 30, 2010 – barely six weeks after Dan Spencer was elected to his second term. No other candidate was announced until July 28 when Lawrenceville pastor Frank Cox of North Metro First Baptist Church announced his intentions to nominate Evers, pastor of Tifton’s Northside Baptist Church and chairman of the Executive Committee.
With the announcement of the second nominee the campaigns quickly took on a greater urgency and broke the mold in how the individuals actively pursued the office. Websites touted each candidate’s vision including listing individuals – primarily pastors – who were lining up behind each nominee.
As the annual meeting drew near, the candidates began crisscrossing the state in their bid to get their message to the largest audience possible.
Pastors took sides in the campaign, using their personal blogs and Twitter accounts to let followers know of their support. Cox’s video email to Georgia Baptist pastors became the first time such a high-teach approach was used to raise visibility of a nominee.
Other officers elected
In other business, messengers elected other officers, affirmed the GBC GCR Task Force report, welcomed 65 new churches and missions, and approved an amended Cooperative Program budget that cut spending again – for the fifth consecutive year – by six percent. The state convention will now be operating at a budget level not seen since 1999.
Also elected later in the evening were John Darsey, first vice president, pastor of Centennial Church in Rutledge; GBC state missionary Ray Newman, second vice president, layman at Macedonia Community Church in Braselton; Chris Hall, third vice president, pastor of Whitewater Baptist Church in Oglethorpe; Terry Trivette, fourth vice president, pastor of White Oak Church, Trenton; Danny Henson, recording secretary, pastor of New Liberty Baptist, Ringgold; and Tom Vann, assistant recording secretary, pastor of Rentz Baptist.
GBC GCR Task Force report affirmed
Shortly before the election results were announced messengers also overwhelmingly affirmed the GBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report. The report, two years in the making, urges Georgia Baptists to embrace “a specific, effective, and strategic approach to engaging the whole of the Georgia Baptist Convention in reaching the soon-to-be 8.1 million lost people in the state.”
The five approaches include a greater emphasis on spiritual renewal, kingdom generosity, church revitalization, church planting, and authentic evangelism.
In his part of the report GBC GCR Task Force chairman Frank Cox, host pastor for this year’s convention, urged fellow pastors to follow his lead by “giving up to $30,000 a year over the next three years to help a new church plant” become established. Cox said he would lead his church to make the nearly $100,000 commitment beginning in the 2013 budget year since the church’s 2012 budget had already been approved.
At the conclusion of the report’s presentation messengers were able to choose one of the themes, inscribed on a stone, to remind them of their commitment.
In addition to Cox, Task Force members included NAMB Evangelism vice president Larry Wynn, former pastor of Hebron Church in Dacula; outgoing GBC president Dan Spencer, pastor of First Thomasville; Brian Stowe, pastor of Maysville Church; Evers; Bucky Kennedy, pastor of First Vidalia; Tom Moore, layman of First Vidalia; and Jeremy Morton, pastor of Cross Point Church in Perry.
2012 GBC budget approved, reflects 6 percent decrease
The previous day messengers approved a $42.3 million budget for 2012, a 6 percent decrease from the previous year. Budget committee members trimmed $2.7 million from the budget to bring it in line with projected income.
Messengers were told the budget had been revised downward by an additional $1.7 million from the original $1 million decrease approved by the Executive Committee and as reported in The Index on Sept. 22. That 2012 budget was originally set at $44 million.
The now-approved $42.3 million budget is down sharply – more than 19 percent – since the Convention began cutting costs at the outset of the recession in 2008. That year’s budget, the last one before the slump, came in at $52.3 million.
The budgetary downsizing at the Missions and Ministry Center, which includes staffing levels, continues the reductions first set in place when the effects of the recession began to be felt. Since that time 39 staff positions have been eliminated as the state convention works to bring expenses in line with income levels.
The reduction in the 2012 budget now returns the state convention to $300,000 below 1999 funding levels.
The largest section of the budget cut came from eliminating the CIEP program that had provided capital improvement, scholarships, and endowment funds for Georgia Baptist institutions such as colleges and retirement ministries.
The program began in 1955 when the economy was much stronger and extra funds were budgeted from Cooperative Program receipts. But funding has become more difficult in recent years and the program is no longer viable.
Since the program began, $73 million has been allocated from CP funds and more than $53 million from matching funds, resulting in more than $126 million used to strengthen those institutions.
The restrictions on how to qualify for those funds were lifted in the new budget and now the participating institutions have direct access until the funds are depleted. In 2007, the year before the current recession, the funds totaled $1.2 million but are currently at $700,000, explained Assistant Executive Director and Vice President for Operations Mike Williams.
“The CIEP had simply been suffering a slow decline due to the economy and the repeated budget reductions for the past several years,” he added.
The institutions’ standard line item allocations will not be eliminated by the loss of the program and their relationship to the state convention has not changed, Williams stressed.
Williams said the amended budget was based on declining fourth-quarter income. Cooperative Program receipts from churches, through Nov. 10, were down 5.41 percent. That meant the state convention expected to end the year with about $42 million and is what drove the last-minute move to amend the budget downward.
The 2012 budget also added a new line item, capital debt service identified as Division 5, which at $1,692,300 represents 4 percent of the budget.
Next year’s meeting will be held Nov. 12-13 at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins, where Jim Perdue has just been called as pastor. See related story.
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