Down to the river: FREE WILL BAPTISTS FLOOD
2007 National Convention Review
THE ANGRY, BROWN WATERS of the flooded Arkansas River churned beneath Statehouse Convention Center as more than 6,000 Free Will Baptists met for worship, fellowship, and business July 15-18. Much has changed in the thirteen years since the convention visited Little Rock in 1994.
The denomination has grown by more than 70,000 members, according to a statistical report published by the Executive Office. The statistics reflect 313,444 members in 2006, up from 243,244 in 1994.
Denominational budgets doubled in a decade. The $13 million budget approved in 1994 pushes the $26 million mark in 2007. No one had heard of an NGO in 1994, but in 2007 The Hanna Project, the first Free Will Baptist NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), dominated the convention program with nine presentations in three days.
ONE Magazine was a dream in 1994, but in 2007, the 56-page publication representing eight denominational agencies is reality. Delivered free to more than 60,000 homes six times a year, the magazine is a testimony to denominational cooperation and the vision of new leadership.
Photo: Keith Burden enjoys an Arkansas Razorbacks chair
presented to him by the leadership of the host state.
In recent years, the IMPACT program has turned the focus of the convention outward. On Saturday, July 14, nearly 400 Free Will Baptists from across the nation arrived early for the annual one-day, evangelistic campaign. Volunteers came armed with Bibles, hammers, paintbrushes, and willing hearts—ready to share Christ with the city. Before the day ended, volunteers provided more than 1,400 hours of service, visited 874 homes and spoke to 480 people. They shared the gospel 35 times and rejoiced when one person professed a new faith in Christ.
The names changed in 13 years. The headquarters hotel (Excelsior, 1994) became the Peabody Hotel, the Camelot evolved into the Doubletree, and the Wyndham Riverside replaced the Hilton. “I’ve been coming to the convention for 30 years,” said Steve Trail, prayer coordinator, “And check-in has never been so smooth. The hotel staff has been fantastic.”
Names changed among Free Will Baptists as well. In 1994, Roy Thomas ended his service as director of Home Missions; Roger Reeds addressed delegates one last time as director of Sunday School and Church Training; FWB Foundation director Bill Evans (who retired in 2007) delivered his first report to delegates.
Yet while many things have changed since the last visit to Little Rock, other features of the convention remain unchanged.
More than one convention attendee remarked, “The services this week were the best in years.” Each service seemed to build on the one before as Keynote Speakers Roy Harris, TN; Joe Grizzle, OK; Eddie Moody, NC; Wendell Walley, CA; and Nelson Henderson (AR) addressed the 2007 convention theme, “Helping One Another.”
Photo: Todd Horne (GA) hits a high note during the evening worship service.
Convention Music Coordinator Chris Truett delivered an inspiring program that featured a mass choir with more than 100 voices, a orchestral ensemble and a vocal accompaniment group. Every service featured rousing specials and enthusiastic congregational singing.
On Monday evening, Darrin Dwyer shared a moving testimony, describing for listeners how God used his suffering after the tragic death of his five-year-old son in December 2006 to surprise him. “As I look back,” Darrin said, “I am glad that I have joined the ‘fellowship of suffering,’ because it was only in suffering that I came to understand that God is sufficient.”
A Missions Revolution took place on Monday afternoon when the annual missions rally opened with music by Central-Asian group Zavet. Attendees were challenged to find revolutionary ways to fulfill the Great Commission in their churches. Jim McAllister (CA), Bobby Ferguson (TX), and Karl Sexton, (VA) shared personal revolutions from their own ministries that changed their perspectives on international ministry.
The 2007 Preaching Conference featured Florida pastor Paul Smith and David Crowe, director of development for the Home Missions department. On Tuesday evening, father-son duo, Trent and Wendell Walley, tag-teamed the service when Trent (IN) led worship before his dad took the pulpit.
The 2007 convention concluded in spectacular fashion as more than 6,000 Free Will Baptists crammed into the crowded convention hall for a combined worship event. After the annual “Parade of Nations” featuring missionaries from home and abroad, Arkansas native Nelson Henderson challenged the congregation to “help reach the world.” As the service came to an end, missionaries returned to the stage a final time, creating a memorable visual spectacle for everyone present.
Executive Office – Executive Secretary Keith Burden announced a $500,000 financial turnaround in four years, as the agency retired more than $100,000 in debt, establishing $400,000 in cash reserves since 2003.
Burden praised first-year convention coordinator Roy Harris for his excellent planning. He lauded the efforts of the ONE Magazine staff in producing the publication that goes free into 60,000 homes and recently expanded from 48 to 56 pages per issue.
International Missions – General Director James Forlines delivered a glowing report describing a “wave” of 84 missionary candidates who will graduate from FWB colleges in the near future. He described unprecedented growth of new converts, new churches, and new workers on international fields. Yet his report was greeted by more than 20 delegates who crowded microphones to express concerns, ask questions, and cheer on the director’s proposal to restructure the current missions funding system.
In order to “get the wave on the field,” Forlines explained, the denomination needs to return to more undesignated missions giving. The International Missions Board will launch a study and meet with state leaders and pastors in order to make a strategy recommendation to the denomination by 2008. If the plan is approved, it will be fully implemented by the department by 2010 or 2011.
“If all the funds sent to International Missions in the past 10 years had been undesignated,” Forlines said, “no missionary account would have ever been in the red, no missionaries would have had to come off the field early to raise support, all needs would have been met, and we would never have had a general fund deficit.”
Some delegates appeared stunned at the suggestion. Others quickly offered verbal support. Still others wondered if the proposed study would respect the donor’s right to designate funds. In any case, resolution of the issue appears to lie three or four years in the future.
With afternoon adjournment approaching, Forlines paused to recognize retired missionaries Bobby and Sue Aycock (Brazil) for 40 years of faithful service. When he presented the respected couple a plaque of appreciation, delegates responded with a lengthy standing ovation.
Photo: Retired missionary Bobby Aycock embraces International Missions Director James Forlines after being honored for 40-plus years of faithful service in Brazil.
Free Will Baptist Bible College – “We continue to be a name you can trust in education,” President Matt Pinson told delegates Wednesday morning, during his upbeat, fast-paced report.
Citing the largest graduating class in 23 years, a budget surplus of $239,000, and four new degree programs to be launched by 2009, Pinson called the next five years “heady days” for the school. He asked for wisdom, prayer, and patience.
He updated delegates on plans to relocate the campus. Thirty-five potential buyers have contacted the college since mid-March when the previous buyer cancelled the existing contract. An offer from one potential investor exceeds the amount of the earlier contract. Administrators continue to narrow the search for a site for the new campus.
Enrollment at FWBBC has increased 37% since 2001 with a 22-year-high of 420 students during the 2006-2007 academic year. Ministry enrollment, up by 40%, is the fatest-growing program on campus.
Randall House – Sales surged to $4 million in 2006, and the agency made $250,000, thanks mostly to printing curriculum in-house, according to Executive Director Ron Hunter. Their award-winning literature design swept multiple categories in publishing industry awards for the second year in a row.
The agency revealed a simplified logo to match their new name when convention delegates approved the change from Sunday School and Church Training Department to Randall House Publications.
As Hunter completes his fifth year at the helm, Randall House publishes 172 pieces of printed curriculum per year and has expanded into the arena of digital publishing. Delegates received free videos about the innovative D6 program that assists parents in developing spiritual conversations with their children.
Hunter expressed his intention to revisit long-standing contracts with state bookstores in an effort to curtail dwindling unit sales (which have dropped 26% between 1989 and 2003). Delegates approved a motion from the floor requesting the agency to meet with state leaders and bookstore managers to discuss concerns and to seek resolution.
Home Missions – Two standing ovations punctuated the Home Missions report from General Director Larry Powell. The first came when he announced the retirement of Free Will Baptists’ only active-duty Navy Chaplain Robert Cooper after 27 years. The second followed a similar announcement about the retirement of Richard Adams, director of development. Both men received plaques of commendation and briefly addressed delegates. Powell called Adams “the finest fund-raiser in the denomination” and announced the establishment of a $1 million dollar perpetual endowment in his name.
He called 2006 a record-setting year with 14 new church planters in nine states and three church planters reaching self-supporting status. Six church-planting teams were authorized in the past six months, and 55 Hispanic students have graduated from the Gwen Hendrix Bible Institute (South Carolina), giving cross-cultural ministry a boost. The graduates have started 33 churches in nine states.
Master’s Men – Master’s Men celebrated their 50th year of service in 2006 and doubled in the last 10 years. Director Ken Akers offered a free, three-minute DVD to pastors or churches interested in organizing a chapter. The agency added eight new chapters this year.
Board of Retirement – Director Ray Lewis reported a record-breaking 24.5% rate of earning during the last half of 2006. The agency enrolled 102 new participants and recorded 22 percent growth to increase managed funds to $39.5 million. Lewis hopes to reach $50 million in managed funds by 2007. The agency introduced the $10 Club, a new program designed to encourage workers to enroll.
Free Will Baptist Foundation – General Director Bill Evans delivered his final report to the convention. He retires July 31, after serving 14 years as director. He introduced successor, David Brown, who promptly quipped, “Bill Evans wears a size 10.5, and I wear a size 13. But I still have big shoes to fill.”
Board Chairman Waymon Fields presented a plaque of appreciation to Evans as delegates delivered a standing ovation to the popular director.
Commissions – The Commission for Theological Integrity presented a proposed Treatise appendix on marriage. The proposal will lay on the table for one year and be presented to delegates in 2008 for consideration. To read the proposed statement, visit www.onemag.org.
The Historical Commission distributed copies of their second in a series of historical pamphlets, “Free Will Baptists and the Perseverance of the Saints,” written by Robert Picirilli.
The Music Commission is developing a music ministry website and discussed the recent reprint of The Free Will Baptist Hymnbook: Rejoice.
The Media Commission indicated plans to meet with Executive Secretary Keith Burden to reorganize.
Photo: Wendell Walley and son Trent pray before Wendell takes the pulpit to preach the Tuesday evening message.
In further action, delegates...
Voted to meet in Louisville, KY, in 2017.
Recommended that the Executive Committee evaluate the nominating process and bring recommendations to the 2008 convention.
Adopted a Treatise change defining “standing delegates” to the national convention.
Welcomed the Eastern Iowa Association of Free Will Baptists into membership.
Approved the Ridge Church Committee Report authorizing funding for repairs on the First FWB Church in New Durham, NH.
Thanked the Arkansas State Association for hosting the 71st annual session.
Instructed the moderator to appoint a nine-person committee to study a proposal by the International Missions Department to restructure missions funding.
Requested Free Will Baptist Bible College to make financial reports available to delegates at registration.
NATIONAL CONVENTION AT-A-GLANCE
Total Registered - 8,104
Actual Count - 6,045*
* Many attendees register for more than one convention.
Sunday Morning, July 15
Mark Paschall, MI
Sunday Morning, July 15
Roy Harris, TN
Sunday Evening, July 15
Joe Grizzle, OK
Monday Evening, July 16
Eddie Moody, NC
Tuesday Morning, July 17
Paul Smith, FL
David Crowe, TN
Tuesday Evening, July 17
Wendell Walley, CA
Wednesday Evening, July 18
Nelson Henderson, AR
ELECTED IN 2007
Home Missions Board
2013 Matt Upton (CA),
Jerry Atwell (MS),
Bobby Shepherd (AR)
Board of Retirement and Insurance
2013 Rick Cason (NC),
Craig Cook (TN),
Jack Ward (NC)
Master’s Men Board
2013 Ken Oleson (OK),
Jason Vinson (AL),
Rudy Taylor (MI)
Board of Trustees, FWB Foundation
2009 Len Blanchard (GA)
2011 Mark Price (OH)
2013 Brian Hurst (TN),
Donnie Miles (SC), Wendell Walley (CA)
Commission for Theological Integrity
2012 Leroy Forlines (TN)
2012 ack Williams (TN)
2008 Mark Ousley (TN)
2009 Keith Fletcher (TN)
2012 Kevin Norris (MI)
2012 Doug Little (TN)
2008 Iowa, Jim Martin; Kentucky, Chris Sturgill; Tennessee, Glenn Poston
2009 Oklahoma, Mike Wade
2010 Alabama, Rick Cash; Arizona, Charles Marshall;
Arkansas, Tim Campbell; Association of Mexico, Luis Felipe Tijerina; Atlantic-Canada, Fred Hanson;
California, Millard Sasser;
Colorado, Mark Thomas; Florida, Paul Smith; Georgia, Len Blanchard;
Idaho, Gene Kissinger; Illinois, David Shores
2009 Mike Wade (OK)
2010 Tim Campbell (AR),Fred Hanson (CAN), Rick Cash (AL)
Moderator - Tim York (TN)
Assistant Moderator - William Smith (GA)
Clerk - Randy Bryant (FL)
Assistant Clerk - Ernie Lewis (IL)
Thanks to members of the 2007 convention coverage team:
Business Jack Williams
Worship Marian Pilgrim
Exhibits Larry Hampton
Special Events Ida Lewis, Deborah St. Lawrence
NYC Danny Conn
WNAC Sarah Fletcher
Editor Eric Thomsen
Photographer Travis Penn
Videographer Victor Albright