Called: A Review of the 82 National Convention
July 22-25, 2018 | Little Rock, Arkansas
The blistering temps and sweltering humidity of Little Rock summertime couldn’t keep 5,000 Free Will Baptists from packing out ten convention hotels and flooding the streets July 22-25, at the Statehouse Convention Center, which sprawls along the banks of the Arkansas River in the Capitol City.
Gathering under the theme “Called” from 2 Timothy 1:9, each convention service focused on a specific area of that calling. After Jeff Crabtree, pastor of Serenity FWB Church (NB, CAN) and member of the Welch College’s board of trustees, opened the convention with a Sunday School lesson on Psalm 118, North Carolina’s Josh Baer, pastor of Cramerton FWB Church (NC) and North American Ministries board member, followed with the first sermon of the convention. Expounding on the call to salvation, Baer asserted, “Although filled with theological implications, the call to salvation is simple enough a child can understand.” On Sunday evening, Ben Gibson, pastor of Phillips Chapel (AR), reminded
congregants we are called to holiness. Using 1 Thessalonians 4:7, he explored three gifts of this call: identity in Christ, direction, and morality. He ended the sermon with an exhortation to repent and to seek holiness.
Monday’s landmark bilingual service appropriately explored the call to unity (Ephesians 4:4). After the congregation sang “Oh the Blood” in both English and Spanish, International Missions’ Lázaro Riesgo, a native Cuban, preached in Spanish, with Florida pastor Jose Rodriguez translating. He urged, “The Church should strive for the same sense of unity that exists in the Trinity.” Tuesday evening’s speaker, 1040i founder Mike Cousineau, reminded the congregation God calls us to suffer (1 Peter 2:21). He does not guarantee physical safety. “The priority of following Jesus is not safety,” Cousineau admonished. “The cross has never been safe…we need to stop insulting God by safe living.”
The Wednesday evening missions service placed an exclamation point on a week of dynamic worship. A children’s choir joined the convention choir and orchestra for a rousing anthem before a parade of missionaries brought the congregation to its feet. North American Ministries Director David Crowe challenged Free Will Baptists to answer the call to preach the gospel, acting locally and thinking globally. Altars filled, and the conference ended the best way possible—men, women, boys, and girls answering God’s call upon their lives.
Throughout the week, convention music coordinator Kevin Justice, worship leaders Joshua Riggs and Micah Turnbough, orchestra leader Chad Donoho, and other members of the Music Commission created a stirring music program built around convention theme song, “We Believe.” With a choir of more than 100 voices, a praise band and orchestral ensemble, and a congregational choir of thousands, the hall filled with sound, and the singing boomed throughout the convention center.
Services were streamed live once again, thanks to the efforts of the Media Commission, with nearly 50,000 people watching at least some portion of a service during the week. For the second year, live streaming was bilingual, offering services translated into Spanish.
Called to holiness, called to unity, called to suffer, and called to preach the gospel—powerful, convicting services were the highlight of this year’s convention, but business also proved memorable. The big news broke Tuesday afternoon when Keith Burden announced his 2019 retirement from his role as executive secretary. Although the announcement left delegates in a mood of contemplation as they face a big decision next year in Cincinnati, they could not help but rejoice as the reports that followed highlighted amazing things God is doing in and through Free Will Baptists.
Highlights to Remember
Early Impact. Each year, convention-goers come together on the Saturday before the convention to impact the host city. This year, 60 Impact Little Rock participants volunteered at a VA healthcare facility, while another 55 worked at the Arkansas Food Bank. At the VA center, volunteers organized donated clothing and freshened up outdoor sitting areas, “making a lasting impact on this facility by serving those who have served us,” according to Director Ken Akers.
Plans for volunteers at Arkansas Food Bank changed dramatically after a powerful storm knocked out electricity to the food bank’s neighborhood. The team of would-be potato sorters quickly transformed into a grounds crew, cleaning debris from the windblown property. Despite the intense heat and humidity, volunteers of all ages energetically worked up a sweat. At the end of the morning, team members gathered to pray over the food bank. Volunteer Coordinator Amber Bryant told volunteers, “It wasn’t the impact you thought you were going to make, but you made an unexpected impact.”
Still Rising. The 4,714 who registered for the convention in 2018 continued the upward trend in attendance, marking a six-year high. In addition, the number of seminars, panel discussions, workshops, and activities expanded from 83 in 2017 to 89 in 2018. After a number of lean years, the financial outlook also increased as departmental budgets surpassed pre-recession levels, with the annual budget nearing $30 million.
Exhibiting Excellence. The Exhibit Hall featured the highest number of exhibitors in years. Educational booths like Randall University, Welch College, and Southeastern FWB College were ready and waiting to interact with prospective students and alumni. International Missions spotlighted strategic partners from around the globe. Ministries such as Bible Mission, Bridge Builders, Village of Hope Uganda, and Jungle Kids for Christ explained to interested visitors how they share the gospel with the unreached in unique ways. North American Ministries’ booth celebrated 80 years of ministry. These are only a handful of the exciting opportunities enjoyed by visitors to the hall.
Laughter, Latté, and Ladies. Always a joyful event, WNAC’s fellowship on Monday night was filled with laughter. Missionary kids Amy and Caroline McDonald serenaded the sold out crowd before the entire McDonald family shared some of their favorite verses with the 300-plus women in attendance.
Business at Hand
General Board. On Monday, July 23, the General Board heard reports from nine national agencies and four commissions as Moderator Tim York guided board members through a three-hour, 48-minute meeting. The board approved a flurry of recommendations, including the 2019 denominational budget of $29.9 million; an Executive Committee recommendation the 2024 convention be held July 21-24, in Tampa, Florida; a recommendation to raise representation fees to $175 in 2020 and $200 in 2025 to address rising convention costs; a recommendation that a five-member Committee on Denominational Research (funded by a grant from the FWB Foundation) be formed to guide and undertake denominational research; that Welch College be allowed to make financial reports based on the college calendar; and to publish the Free Will Baptist Yearbook in digital format to save money and stay current.
All resolutions were approved by delegates during the business session, and Moderator Tim York appointed Danny Baer (NC), chairman; Ron Hunter (TN); Eddie Moody (NC); Tim Eaton (OK); and Mark McPeak (TN) to serve on the research committee.
Clerk Randy Bryant additionally read the names of 19 appointments to national committees: Credentials (5), Nominating (6), Resolutions (5), and Obituary Committee (2). During the Tuesday and Wednesday business sessions, delegates approved reports from the following departments:
Executive Secretary Keith Burden expressed thankfulness for a stable financial picture, noting the Executive Office—including building services and ONE Magazine—ended in the black. Burden warned, however, that expenses, especially convention expenses, continue to rise, requiring ongoing budgetary vigilance. “We are profoundly grateful for those who continue to support this office and make this financial stability possible,” he concluded.
Burden introduced Dr. Danny Dwyer, administrator of Rekindle church revitalization. Dwyer explained the program will connect coaches with struggling churches for a 12- to 16-month period to bring churches into spiritual health through a series of steps to renewal. “This is a giant step in the right direction for our churches,” Burden observed regarding the program. Burden additionally thanked the Foundation for a grant underwriting two upcoming “bonus issues” of ONE Magazine (PULP1T) designed especially for pastors and their families.
At the conclusion of his report, Burden announced his retirement, effective December 31, 2019. “Only a few individuals have had the opportunity to serve as executive secretary of the denomination,” Burden noted, “and it is a privilege and responsibility I have not taken lightly.”
After thanking Burden for his fine work as executive secretary, Moderator Tim York announced the following procedure for selecting a new executive secretary:
The Executive Committee is charged with the responsibility of presenting a single candidate for the position of executive secretary to the General Board of the National Association of Free Will Baptists by July 2019.
The Executive Committee will receive candidate recommendations for executive secretary until October 30, 2018. A candidate profile form must accompany each recommendation. This form will be made available at www.nafwb.org by August 1.
All pertinent information regarding this process will be dispersed to pastors, state leaders, General Board members, state papers, and printed in ONE Magazine.
The Executive Committee will recommend one candidate to the General Board.
The General Board will recommend one candidate to the National Association.
The executive secretary will be elected by majority vote of the National Association.
Director Ron Hunter acknowledged the positive financial momentum experienced in 2016-17 continues into 2018. This continued turnaround is a result, he explained, of making financial health a top priority for the department. Hunter expressed thankfulness for good cash flow, the absence of short-term debt, increased assets in operational accounts and reserves, and manageable long-term debt as the department ended 2017 with a gain of $238,747.
Dr. Hunter expressed a renewed, intentional emphasis on discipleship through curriculum and materials, training conferences (Truth & Peace, YET, and the Engage Leadership Network), and events such as the Vertical Three and D6 Conferences. He noted the D6 Conference continues to expand, now with international events in Norway, France, and Southeast Asia. In light of the growth and development of Randall House events, Hunter announced a careful review and revision of Randall House event policies. He also identified a focused effort to increase academic books and resources for maximum influence in the culture.
Hunter closed his report by telling delegates, “Your publishing house has published books to help your ministry, curriculum for everyday discipleship, and the D6 conference to get you on the right track. We are here to help.”
Hunter honored outgoing board member Mark Braisher (OK) for 12 years of committed service to the Randall House Board.
North American Ministries
David Crowe, general director of North American Ministries (NAM), thanked God and faithful givers for helping the department make significant financial progress by reducing deficits by nearly a half-million dollars over four years. He expressed gratefulness for financial progress made without staff or program cuts, while providing a free conference each of the four years. In addition, NAM introduced a new program of church revitalization and strengthened the chaplain support ministry.
The department continues to expand its ministry, with 89 church plants (both English-speaking and Hispanic congregations), resulting in more than 1,200 salvation decisions in 2017. Two churches launched in 2017-2018 with six additional churches to launch by the end of the year. Crowe announced the Hispanic work in Rupert, Idaho, has reopened and the department is making plans to open another Hispanic church in Buhl, Idaho. In addition, Dr. Rufo Gómez is moving to Nashville, Tennessee, to begin a new work.
Church revitalization also continues to expand, now hosting revitalization weekends designed to help churches make immediate changes to restore growth and health. In May, the fourth Acts 1:8 Power Conference celebrated a record attendance of nearly 500, and was well received by conference-goers. Master’s Men continues disaster relief efforts, responding to natural disasters in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix, USVI, in 2017.
Crowe honored two church planters whose congregations reached self-supporting status since last year’s convention: the Kivettes at 180 Church (TN), and the Osborns at Oakland FWB Church (TN). Kerry Steedley honored Chaplain Roy Swisher and his wife Jan for their service and congratulated Chaplain Swisher on his retirement.
Board of Retirement
Director John Brummitt celebrated record enrollment over the last two years, with 124 new participants in 2016 and 125 in 2017. This, along with contributions from existing participants (up 52%) and funds from the new institutional investing program resulted in the largest one-year net increase in the 48-year history of the department: $9.27 million.
The new institutional investing program is available to any church or church agency looking for a greater rate of return on organizational assets. Brummitt celebrated an 11.1% return to the program over the last six months of 2017. With the help of a grant from the FWB Foundation, the Board of Retirement will produce biblically-sound financial resources and financial training events for new ministers.
Brummitt urged listeners not to wait to start saving for retirement but to be good stewards by saving early. “Our desire is that every Free Will Baptist employee will be prepared for retirement,” Brummitt concluded. “This will allow them to move into new ministries during retirement years.”
Free Will Baptist Foundation
Director David Brown challenged listeners to help the Foundation “make history” by investing in the financial future of the denomination. He noted the Foundation made some history itself last year, with a record $8.4 million increase in assets.
Although the department experienced a $104,000 loss in operating expenses in 2017, Brown explained this was due to lingering cancellations of estate plans expensed in 2017. The issue has been resolved by increasing the price for estate planning from $2,300 to $2,995 and additional organizational adjustments. While the department may continue to experience a loss in the area of estate planning, Brown insisted the program is a significant and worthwhile investment in the future of Free Will Baptists.
In spite of a volatile stock market during the first half of the year, the Foundation captured $500,000 in capital gains before the instability began. As a result, the Foundation had the ability to award 27 grants to Free Will Baptist ministries and efforts around the world in 2018.
In closing, Brown noted, “Our future can be a great one. When we look to the future and project where we will be as a denomination 50 years from now, I know I won’t be here...but I know the Foundation will be here and many of the ‘future gifts’ we are working on today will be contributing income to a future denomination...Our history hasn’t been written yet. Let’s make it a good one.”
General Director Clint Morgan thanked Free Will Baptists for faithfulness during recent difficult years but urged listeners not to rest on these previous accomplishments, noting, “Let’s be careful not to miss God’s greatest blessings by being content only with His blessings.”
Returning to a 2017 proposal, delegates approved the department’s name change from Free Will Baptist International Missions to IM, Inc. The change was made for accessibility and security reasons when obtaining visas to limited access countries.
Morgan celebrated advances in the 20 by 2020 initiative, with 34 new churches contributing to IM since 2015; liquid reserves at 25.9%, well above the 2020 goal of 20%; one new missionary; 5,436 new non-western believers, surpassing the 2020 goal; and 365 new FWB churches outside of North America, again exceeding 2020 expectations. “God has worked in amazing ways,” he concluded.
Morgan advanced four strategic objectives for the Mission:
broaden the Free Will Baptist footprint in India;
form teams to reach immigrants and refugees as their numbers continue to increase worldwide;
adopt the “NONs” (16% of the world’s population who claim no religious affiliation) as an unreached people group; and
develop more international teams.
Morgan mourned the passing of Radostin Tsvetkov, an integral member of the Bulgaria team. The 30-year-old collapsed and died April 4 while playing basketball with a group of boys. He also remembered former missionaries Jimmy Aldridge, Tom McCullough, and Sarah Mayhew, who also died this year. He honored 12-year IM Board member Nelson Henderson (AR) for his service, along with retiring missionaries Dale and Sandra Bishop
(Japan, 44 years) and Robert and Judy Bryan (France
and Côte d'Ivoire, 50 years).
WNAC Director Elizabeth Hodges celebrated God’s graciousness to (and through) Free Will Baptist women. The department received several large gifts enabling WNAC to eradicate all debt and focus on expanding its ministry. Women across the nation gave a half-million dollars to missions and ministry causes this year. Gifts to the Steward Provision Closet totaled $42,000, and met the specific needs of 145 home and international missionaries.
Women continue to support the next generation through the department’s three scholarship programs, and the 2017 Shine! conference, hosted by Randall University had the highest registration to date. Hodges announced an upcoming Shine! conference on October 20 at Madison FWB Church (AL).
Internationally, WNAC hosted a retreat for 35 Bulgarian women (including seven non-believers); helped with a Panamanian retreat attended by 110 women, where seven were saved; and assisted a Panamanian youth camp where 50 non-believers attended and 22 accepted Christ. WNAC also partnered with Oklahoma WAC to provide a Uruguayan women’s retreat.
“God is working among us, and we are thankful for the doors of opportunity He has opened,” concluded Hodges. “We want to broaden our outreach while we keep our original purpose...Together, we can do more for Him.”
“This has been an amazing year of growth!” exclaimed Matt Pinson, president of Welch College. He noted the college set a 33-year enrollment record, with full-time students up by 11% over the previous year. This growth is reflected in annual financial increases as well: tuition up 7%, unrestricted gifts up 13%, and more cash gifts than any other year in the college’s history (outside of the recent capital campaign).
However, Pinson also acknowledged the financial challenges facing the college due to unexpected construction expenses, increased operational expenses for the new facilities, and lower than expected community grants. Still, he noted overall finances are as expected and encouraged listeners to pray hard and trust the Lord. “We will be out of relocation debt in five years,” Pinson predicted. “We are thankful for the Free Will Baptists who have given so faithfully to this relocation effort.”
Pinson honored Trustees Ken Simpson (MO) and Mark Stripling (AR) for 12 years of service to the board and celebrated the release of Light and Truth: a 75-Year Pictorial History of Welch College.
Music Commission. Doug Little, chairman of the Music Commission, thanked those who plan and implement music for the national convention. He indicated the Music Commission is developing a website funded by a recent Foundation grant. The interactive site will offer worship tools, training materials and videos, and the ability to network. “A vibrant music ministry is essential for every church,” Little concluded. “And the Music Commission exists to come alongside and help those churches.”
Media Commission. The Media Commission continues to focus on live streaming at the national convention, with a growing number of viewers watching services in both English and Spanish. The commission additionally continues to expand the text-to-give and online giving program that allows attendees and online viewers alike to participate in convention offerings.
Commission for Theological Integrity. Commission chairman Matt Pinson encouraged listeners to participate in the 22nd annual theological symposium, October 22-23, 2018, on the campus of Randall University. He indicated the commission is currently compiling the next issue of Integrity Theological Journal.
Historical Commission. Eric K. Thomsen, commission secretary, honored Chairman Dr. Robert E. Picirilli for his multi-decade efforts as curator of the FWB History Collection. This year, the collection made the transition to its new home on the Gallatin campus of Welch College, where it continues to complete the FWB Minutes Project, seeking to digitize all denominational minutes in searchable digital files and archive those documents on fwbhistory.com.
In other business, delegates heard the report of a committee formed to consider the feasibility of forming a national church revitalization department. While the committee acknowledges this real and serious need, committee chairman Stan Bunch advised against forming a new department, recommending an emphasis on existing revitalization efforts by the Executive Office and North American Ministries. The committee advises these programs continue, working strategically, cooperatively, and jointly in revitalization efforts.
Convention by the Numbers
NAFWB attendees – 3,871
Vertical Three – 3,416
Total Attendees – 4,714
Note: Many attendees register
for both conventions.
Sunday School, July 22
Jeff Crabtree (NB)
Sunday Morning, July 22
Josh Baer (NC)
Sunday Evening, July 22
Ben Gibson (AR)
Monday Evening, July 23
Lázaro Riesgo (TN)
Tuesday Evening, July 24
Mike Cousineau (OK)
Wednesday Evening, July 25
David Crowe (TN)
Executive Office - $829,241
FWB Foundation - $2,214,000
North American Ministries (Home Missions) - $5,032,620
IM - $7,200,000
Retirement - $659,120
Randall House - $4,948,000
Welch College – $8,774,753
WNAC - $242,500
Theological Commission - $5,700
Historical Commission - $5,295
Media Commission - $5,460
Music Commission - $6,125
Total – $29,922,814
Elected in 2018
Welch College - 2024
Will Beauchamp (FL)*
Theron Scott (SC)
Tim Campbell (AR)
IM - 2024
Danny Gasperson (NC)
Mark Price (OH)*
Robert Posner (TX)*
Randall House Publications - 2024
Kendall Ross (AR)
Mike Mounts (OH)*
Mike Trimble (MI)*
Women Nationally Active for Christ - 2024
Amy Johnson (IL)*
Khristi Shores (NM)
Sarah Sargent (OH)*
Theological Integrity -
Thomas Marberry (OK); replacing Randy Corn, who
resigned for health reasons
Matt Pinson (TN)*
Historical Commission - 2023
David Crowe (TN)*
Music Commission - 2023
James Stevens, (TN)*
Media Commission - 2023
Stephen Lopes, (TN)*
Executive Committee -
Glenn Poston (TN)*
Edwin Hayes (OH)*
Mike Wade (OK)*
Moderator - Tim York (TN)
Assistant Moderator -
William Smith (GA)
Clerk - Randy Bryant (FL)
Assistant Clerk - Ernie Lewis (IL)
*replacing himself or herself
General editor: Eric Thomsen
Reporters and Editors:
Karlee Alberty, Emily Faison, Deborah St. Lawrence,
Victoria Thomsen, Phyllis York
Photographers: Abigail Fawbush, Sydney Walker, Rodney Yerby