AS THE 5,913 ATTENDEES OF THE 70th Free Will Baptist National Convention filed reluctantly from the final service, waves of excitement swept across the vast convention hall. Attendees had good reason to be excited. From the opening welcome to the closing prayer, the 2006 convention was marked by decisions that will affect the denomination for years to come.
A GROWING IMPACT
The 2006 convention started early for some. On Saturday, July 15, nearly 400 Free Will Baptists from across the nation gathered at churches and homes for Impact Birmingham, a one-day evangelistic campaign. Volunteers came armed with Bibles, hammers, and chainsaws.
With determination, they turned the focus of the convention outward. Before the day ended, 390 volunteers provided more than 1,000 hours of service, visited 508 homes, distributed more than 800 flyers, shared the gospel 33 times, and rejoiced as six people made professions of faith.
Denominational statistics also reflect a growing impact with an increase of nearly 5,000 members in 2005, taking the membership of the National Association to 308,000. The denomination supports 96 missionaries in 20 international locations and 68 missionaries in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Convention delegates approved ministry budgets exceeding $24 million.
Executive Secretary Keith Burden introduced Roy Harris as executive administrator of his office. Harris brings to the position the broad experienceof a senior staff member. A veteran pastor with a background in administration, he will represent the executive office at state meetings, coordinate stewardship and leadership training, organize disaster relief, and oversee the creation and maintenance of fwbpastor.com, a website dedicated to providing resources for pastors.
Ray Lewis, recently appointed director of the Board of Retirement, gave his first report to convention delegates, and the news was good. Lewis reported a record $2.7 million in new contributions in 2005.
“My goal is to enroll every Free Will Baptist pastor in the retirement program,” Lewis said. Since he assumed the role a year ago, the agency has enrolled 72 new participants and developed an identity package, including a new logo and promotional materials. Lewis directs a program with more than 1,400 participants and $35 million in funds. His appointment marks only the second change in leadership in 36 years.
Bill Evans, director of the FWB Foundation, told delegates he will retire after the 2007 convention. The Foundation board has already begun the search for his successor. Evans became the agency’s first director when it separated from the Board of Retirement in 2005. Before that time, he served as director of the Board of Retirement for 26 years. The Foundation manages over $35 million in funds and announced $5.9 million in new contributions in 2005.
Delegates said goodbye to Dean Jones with a rising vote of thanks. Jones served as convention manager for the past six years. Keith Burden expressed appreciation for the leadership he brought to the convention, “I have come to respect Dean’s skills and abilities as a meeting planner. He is, without question, one of the best Religious Meeting Planners in the industry. Free Will Baptists have been fortunate to have him on our team.”
After Home Missions honored, Chaplain (Colonel) Kerry Steedley for his years of service, he smiled and said, “For the past 28 years, I’ve had the best job in the U. S. Army as a Free Will Baptist Chaplain.”
Executive Department—In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, convention delegates adopted a disaster relief plan to coordinate the distribution of funds in the case of a similar catastrophe. The move came after Katrina prompted $206,000 in donations.
The plan requests that each state appoint a representative to communicate disaster-related information in the event of an emergency. The Executive Office will act as a channel for collecting and distributing donations to affected areas through their state associations. The move will extend the ability of the National Association to provide effective relief on a much larger scale.
ONE Magazine—The fledgling magazine continues to meet with widespread denominational acceptance. Since the first day of publication, an average of nine new subscribers have been added to the mailing list daily. The magazine now goes into more than 60,000 homes. Many new subscribers are Free Will Baptists who have never received any denominational publications.
Randall House—After a tough year in 2004, Randall House created a $165,000 turnaround in the last six quarters with the combined sales of curriculum and books. With more than $3 million in curriculum sales in 2005, CLEAR has shown remarkable growth, earning industry recognition along the way.
CLEAR Horizon magazine won the 2006 award of excellence from the Evangelical Press Association, with competitors like Focus on the Family Magazine and Christianity Today. (See more information on this and other awards on page 46.)
Director Ron Hunter announced the creation of a digital publishing division headed by Creative Director Keith Fletcher. Hunter states, “The new division will effectively replace the shrinking CTS market and place materials in the hands of users more effectively.”
Randall House expects to name a new director of Student and Children’s Ministries within 45 days. The position has remained vacant since Dean Jones stepped down in 2005.
Home Missions—the department commissioned missionaries to seven new locations in 2005. Three churches achieved self-supporting status, and cross-cultural ministries continue to flourish.
Director Larry Powell told delegates that the agency is expanding to the North and West, specifically the states of New York and Colorado. “Across the country,” he said, “We are building bridges to families with the Gospel of Christ.”
International Missions—In order to avert a funding shortfall, International Missions Director James Forlines told delegates that it is time to return to undesignated giving, the standard when the denomination first began sending missionaries.
International Missions has experienced significant growth, with 535 new mission works in 10 years, nearly 200% increase in international church attendance (29,000), and 1,441 conversions in 2005.
The department is striving to create church planting movements on various fields, especially areas where traditional missionaries have been denied access.
Master’s Men—After watching numbers decline for some time, Master’s Men rebounded dramatically in 2005, adding 10 new chapters.
Master’s Men disaster response efforts sent more than 50 workers to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast in the weeks following Katrina. The agency also partnered with Home Missions for Operation Saturation in Green Bay, WI, and hosted the third Marriage Enrichment Conference with Women Nationally Active for Christ.
National Commissions—Although their roles are diverse, the work of the four FWB National Commissions is often viewed as one ministry. The Music Commission welcomed new chairman Chris Truett (NC). Truett replaces Randy Sawyer (NC), who chaired the committee for 13 years.
The Media Commission is compiling a list of all radio and television programs by FWB churches and organizations. The Commission for Theological Integrity published the third issue of Integrity: the Theological Journal. The Historical Commission announced the release of booklet, “Free Will Baptists and the Perseverance of the Saints,” second in the series of historical pamphlets.
Delegates adopted the following resolution from the Commission for Theological Integrity which reaffirms marriage as the union of one man and one woman:
Whereas Free Will Baptists have historically respected the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage,
And whereas the scriptural view of marriage is under assault by the current secular culture,
And whereas both Scripture and nature as designed by God affirm the union of one man and one woman in a one-flesh relationship,
Be it therefore resolved that the National Association of Free Will Baptists, in its seventieth annual session, reaffirm that:
The biblically sanctioned one-flesh union is the sole and beautiful context of the divine plan for the marital relationship of man and woman as image-bearers of God, as well as the foundation of the family as the basic, divinely ordained unit of human society.
Violations of this one-flesh union, whether heterosexual, homosexual, premarital, or extramarital, contravene the divine plan for family and the conception and rearing of children, bringing spiritual despair and guilt and death to individuals and cultures.
Calling it the “most significant decision since its founding in 1942,” Free Will Baptist Bible College President J. Matthew Pinson told convention delegates that the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to sell the current nine-acre campus in Nashville, TN, secure a new site, and build a new campus by 2008.
The Board’s vote came on the heels of an offer to purchase the campus for $16 million, the sale of
123 acres in Joelton, TN ($820,000), and the positive results of a six-month feasibility study headed by Colonel Mark Johnson, son of former president, L.C. Johnson.
Early estimates place the cost of construction around $30 million. The college expects to begin relocation with approximately $24 million—$18 million generated by the sales mentioned above and $6 million in long-term loans. The final $6 million will be generated by a capital campaign.
In a moving presentation, a weeping President Pinson told delegates, “We have found a way to grow—relocation! It is time for this cause that is ‘dearer to our hearts than gold’ to flourish and grow beyond our fondest expectations. For us, it is 1942 again. Please lock arms with us in prayer and financial commitment.”
Executive Secretary Emeritus Melvin Worthington agreed to direct the capital campaign. “The time is right to relocate. The team is in place. This is a massive project, but I believe Free Will Baptists can do it.”
Board member 51
Home missionary 62
International missionary 35
Licensed minister 42
Local church delegate 10
Ordained deacon 130
Ordained minister 616
State Delegate 78
Sunday Morning, July 16
Jerry Williams, AL
Sunday Morning, July 16
Tim Campbell, AR
Sunday Evening, July 16
Len Blanchard, GA
Monday Evening, July 17
David Potete, IL
Tuesday Morning, July 18
Steve Ashby, OK
Burt Hall, WV
Tuesday Evening, July 18
Jim Puckett, OK
Wednesday Evening, July 19
Richard Hendrix, AL
ELECTED IN 2006
Free Will Baptist Bible College Trustees
2008 Mark Stripling
2012 Ken Simpson, MO
Bob Bass, TN
A.C. Allen, SC
International Missions Board
2012 Randy Wilson, OK
Jerry Norris, MO
Nelson Henderson AR
Sunday School and Church Training Board
2012 Edwin Hayes, OH
David Womack, GA
Mark Braisher, KS
Commission for Theological Integrity
2011 Paul Harrison, TN
2011 Jeff Cockrell, SC
2011 Monte McKenzie, GA
2009 Daron Dwyer, NC
2011 Donnie Burke, GA
2008 Gary Fry, MO
2009 Jim Marcum, NC
Jim Nason, NE Association
Darrell Smith, NW Association
Mike Stokes, OH
Ernest Harrison, Jr., OK
Mike Jones, SC
Charles Thigpen, TN
Keith Woody, TX
Glen Johnson, VA
Luther Morgan, WV
2008 Gary Fry, MO
2009 Ernest Harrison, Jr., OK
Glen Johnson, VA
Keith Woody, TX
Moderator Tim York, TN
Assistant Moderator William Smith, GA
Clerk Randy Bryant, FL
Assistant Clerk Ernie Lewis, IL