(This report was written by the Executive Department and One Magazine. You may also go to the national website at www.nafwb.org)
Review of the 2015 convention…
Grand Time in the River City
National Association of Free Will Baptists | July 19-22, 2015 | Grand Rapids, Michigan
The surging waters of the Grand River churned past DeVos Place Convention Center, as nearly 3,500 Free Will Baptists gathered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for worship, fellowship, and business July 19-22. This is the first meeting of the National Association in the “River City.”
Free Will Baptists from across the nation arrived in Grand Rapids ready for great worship and powerful preaching, and they were not disappointed. Convention Music Coordinator Kevin Justice and the Music Commission delivered a strong program with a convention choir, orchestral ensemble, vocal ensemble, and a wide variety of special music that prepared listeners to receive the Word of God.
Following a Sunday School lesson from Paul Harrison, pastor of Madison FWB Church (AL), Gary Fry (pictured below), vice president for church relations at Welch College, shared The Word of God: Its Inspiration from 2 Timothy 3:16-17. He reminded listeners that God did not leave His inspired Word open for personal interpretation. Rather, He gave us hard and fast laws within His Word as the basis for absolute truth.
Sunday evening, after Michigan State moderator Ron Helms welcomed the National Association to the state, Rick Locklear, assistant pastor of Woodhaven FWB Church (MI), explored the Interpretation of God’s Word from 2 Timothy 2:15, sharing practical questions to ensure believers are correctly interpreting God’s Word. On Monday evening, Gene Norris, Michigan promotional secretary, took a second opportunity to welcome convention-goers to his home state before fiery Tennessee preacher Frank Woods took the pulpit to address the “confrontational” aspect of the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12). He reminded the congregation that the Word is both quick and powerful—convicting of sin and changing the sinner from the inside out.
On Monday, Sarah, whose full name is withheld for security reasons, spoke at the WNAC Celebration Service on I Surrender All from Matthew 4. She described how the fishermen apostles left everything—even their nets—to follow Christ. She reminded listeners the invitation to follow Christ requires surrendering all, and “letting go of the nets” must be a daily act for every believer. This has certainly been the case for Sarah, who works for a missions organization ministering in limited-access countries.
Tuesday morning’s Preaching Conference featured powerful sermons from Danny Baer, academic dean at Southeastern FWB College, and Brian Williams, lead pastor at NorthPoint FWB Church in Buffalo, New York. Tuesday night, 40-year missionary veteran Steve Lytle preached from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 on The Word of God: Its Proclamation. He emphasized the importance of correct living and correct content in preaching, making it clear that every member of the congregation is both capable and responsible to proclaim the Word of God.
The Wednesday night missions service, always a highlight, started with a parade of home and international missionaries, with 2015 E-TEAM members hoisting the flags of the nations before them. International Missions Director Clint Morgan commissioned the new missionaries, and denominational leaders surrounded them as David Crowe, director of North American Ministries, prayed for their ministries.
Michigan native and long-time missionary to France Tom McCullough shared a message on The Word of God: Its Globalization from Acts 10. Based on the example of Peter and Cornelius, he challenged listeners not to let prejudice or resentment divide the world into “us versus them.” Instead, Christians must understand that the gospel is for all people—no matter how sinful, unlovely, or unlike us. “Acts 10 gives us the perfect window that the Word of God is global. It is for everyone…and this has been the message of God since the very beginning.”
The service closed with thousands of emotional voices joined in the powerful refrain, “Freedom’s calling; chains are falling; hope is dawning bright and true. Day is breaking; night is quaking; God is making all things new—Jesus saves!”
The 2015 convention program was marked by more training opportunities than any meeting in recent history. Engage Leadership Network, a ministry of Randall House, offered 94 workshops. Welch College hosted 22, and WNAC, the Music Commission, International Missions, and the Commission for Theological Integrity took part in these training events, creating an incredibly diverse and jam-packed program. “I can’t believe how many workshops are on the schedule this year,” said Missouri pastor Jackson Watts. “This is a great opportunity, with something for everyone.”
In spite of the busy schedule, Free Will Baptists found plenty of time for fellowship, with events like Laughter and Latté (sponsored by WNAC), dinners, receptions, reunions, and simply catching up with friends in the Exhibit Hall.
They sampled local flavor at nearly 100 restaurants in downtown Grand Rapids, hitting the streets where they relished comfortable temperatures in the mid-80s. “Grand Rapids has been a great convention city,” said Mark Driggers (SC). “I have enjoyed the break from the heat, people have been friendly, and the food has been fantastic! I hope we come back here again.”
Business on the River
On Monday, July 20, the General Board heard reports from nine national agencies and four commissions as Moderator Tim York guided board members through a three-hour, 36-minute meeting in the Ambassador Ballroom of the Amway Grand Hotel. The board approved several recommendations, including a 2016 denominational budget of more than $25 million, an Executive Committee recommendation that the 2021 convention in Birmingham, Alabama, be changed to July 17-20, 2022, and a wording change in the Treatise to clarify and strengthen the denomination’s legal stance on marriage and the family.
Clerk Randy Bryant (pictured above) read the names of 22 appointments to 2015 national committees: Credentials Committee (5), Nominating Committee (7), Resolutions Committee (5), and Obituary Committee (5).
During Tuesday and Wednesday business sessions, delegates heard, discussed, and approved the following reports from departmental directors:
The Executive Office
Although the Executive Office finished with a $5,922 operational deficit due to a downturn in giving to The Together Way, Auditor Terry Hill reported the Executive Office remains in stable financial condition. The agency finished with a surplus of $23,850 when considering the financial reports of the convention and building services. Executive Secretary Keith Burden made note of a looming budgetary shortfall, however, and indicated that unless financial conditions improve, the 2016 administrative budget will be reduced $10,584. He warned that few areas remain to trim operations.
Burden also made note of the fact that independent legal counsel approved the 2014 merger between Home Missions and Master’s Men in a seven-page legal opinion. He announced the development of a security plan for churches after recent violence against a congregation in South Carolina.
He recognized Todd Smith for his work on the Executive Committee and updated delegates on the development of church revitalization efforts. The pilot program conducted in Springdale, Arkansas, is nearing completion, and revitalization will be the focus of the Leadership Conference in December. Burden also told delegates that ONE Magazine, which continues to reach nearly 55,000 Free Will Baptist households, recently celebrated its first decade in print.
He challenged Free Will Baptists everywhere to help meet our full potential. “I stand in opposition to those who say the day of the denomination is past. Now, more than ever, we need to lay aside differences and join hands to advance the Kingdom of God.”
President Matt Pinson reported continuing academic and community excellence, with regional and national accreditation, an annual ranking among the best colleges by U.S. News and World Report, and consistently high scores on the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Survey. He celebrated a campus culture of spiritual formation where “young men and women discover how they can serve Christ, His Church, and His world.” He asserted that Christian higher education is more important now than any other time in the school’s history, as the college develops students who will be salt and light in a crumbling culture.
He reported that the college turned a corner financially in 2014-15, aided in part by a boost in enrollment after Gateway College closed in 2013. The college finished the year with a surplus of $180,000. While this may not be a trend, it is a welcome respite. He introduced a new program, a Master’s degree in Theology and Ministry.
Pinson also rejoiced over the sale of the West End campus and reported the start of construction on the new campus near Gallatin, Tennesee. “The excitement is almost palpable,” he shared. “We have waited so long, and now, it has come to reality. We are launching out in faith, building on the work of those before us.”
He introduced Building on the Legacy, a capital campaign that seeks to raise $5 million toward the cost of constructing a new campus, scheduled for completion by January 2017. He was pleased to share that $2.1 million has already been raised during a silent phase of the campaign and shared plans for the new campus, with new technology and classic Jeffersonian academic structures.
Executive Director Ron Hunter described 2014 as both rewarding and challenging. As predicted at the 2014 convention, the publisher experienced a loss of $322,249, the result of the cost of developing a new line of curriculum (while continuing to produce existing products), accounting adjustments for obsolete products, and significant remodeling to operational facilities. “While these financial challenges are concerning,” said Hunter, “they were not unexpected, and we have implemented a 6% budget correction in 2015 to counteract the expenses.”
He celebrated the release of 14 books in 2014-15 (nine by Free Will Baptist authors) and introduced D6 2Gen, a new curriculum line based on a comprehensive discipleship strategy for church and home. “I am more excited about the launch of D6 2Gen than I have been about any previous Randall House initiative during my tenure,” Hunter said.
The new curriculum, which starts Fall 2015, will be available in print and digital format and feature three separate studies each quarter—one month in the Old Testament, one month in the New Testament, and one month reserved for special topics such as apologetics, key theological concepts, and cultural issues. The material continues to use the CLEAR learning system, although the system has been improved and adapted for the new content.
While enthusiastic about these achievements, Hunter cautioned delegates about the future: “All Christian publishers are facing challenging days as church attendance declines in the United States. So far, Randall House has weathered the storm that has put many other publishers out of business. In recent days, however, as a result of our emphasis on Free Will Baptist doctrine, we have seen a significant decline in sales outside the denomination. Now, more than ever, we need Free Will Baptist churches to support Randall House by using our curriculum. We are the only Sunday School publisher on the market dedicated to teaching our doctrine.”
He encouraged the denomination to embrace church revitalization by focusing on strengthening and equipping families for generational discipleship.
Director Clint Morgan rejoiced that the department ended 2014 in the black, and thanked the 700 churches that gave to International Missions during that year. However, he also challenged the remaining 66% of Free Will Baptist churches to support the cause of global evangelism. In May 2015, World Missions Offering totaled $567,150 (down nearly $120,000 from last year), but according to Morgan, it is not too late for churches to take part. “The power of one obedient Christian—if fearless and focused—is formidable,” Morgan told listeners, “but the power of the Body of Christ working together as one is unstoppable!”
He shared exciting statistics from 2014—950 conversions, 927 baptisms, and an average international weekly attendance of 26,371. The Hanna Project has upcoming trips to Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, and Tajikistan, and two teams, with a combined 25 participants, took part in CMP (College Missions Program) trips earlier this year. Five additional students spent six weeks serving as Overseas Apprentices, and more than 100 high school students participated in E-TEAM, traveling to 11 sites around the globe for a firsthand look at missionary work on the field. “We cannot neglect the fact that 41 of our present 74 missionaries went on short-term missions trips,” Morgan reflected. “This shows we are getting a 55% long-term return on our short-term participation.”
Morgan pointed out growing challenges to global evangelism: 50 countries now have restrictions for preaching the gospel and planting churches; 22 countries are completely closed to the gospel; NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) are being forced out of many countries; and an estimated 100 million Christians faced persecution in 2014. “We believe the number of ‘restricted access countries’ will increase over the next 10 years,” he cautioned listeners, “and this means we must find creative means to enter these areas.”
Though not ready to make a proposal, the Mission is considering a name change as the next logical step in meeting these challenges. The department welcomes thoughts, feedback, and perspectives regarding the idea.
Morgan introduced several “international” missionaries. Trif and Vanya Trifonov are Bulgarians who have been appointed as career missionaries to their home country. Cuban missionaries Lazaro and Ariadna Riesgo will serve as Hispanic educational specialists for the department.
He celebrated the arrival of career missionaries Josh and Lydia Provow in Bulgaria after nearly five months of waiting for visas and introduced Eddy and Amanda Simmons as new missionary appointees to the Samburu, an unreached people group in Kenya.
As he closed his report, Morgan honored veteran missionaries Steve and Judy Lytle for four decades of missionary service. Judy will continue to work in a part-time office role as financial clerk.
Executive Director Elizabeth Hodges rejoiced over $900,000 given by the 4,000 members of Women Nationally Active for Christ in the past two years—$419,000 in 2014. In addition, women gave $45,000 to the Steward Provision Closet in cash gifts, gift cards, and supplies, making it possible to share provisions with more than 100 North American and international missionary families in the past year.
WNAC awarded six college scholarships in 2014-15. Two Indian pastoral students (names withheld for security reasons) received $1,775 from the Cleo Pursell Foreign Student Scholarship. Four additional Dr. Mary R. Wisehart scholarships of $1,000 were awarded to female students at each Free Will Baptist college. Recipients include: Briana Hurley (Welch), Blake Braishier (Hillsdale), Angie Fuller (California), and Rebecca Collier (Southeastern).
The department helped underwrite the cost of installing new bathrooms at the seminary in Altimira, Mexico; and paid for improvements to the seminary in Chamé, Panama. They sent $3,000 to help construct and outfit a Feminine Health Center in Cotê d’Ivore, West Africa, and sent $1,000 to the hospital in Doropo to help rebuild and refurbish the hospital after a recent fire.
Director Hodges announced three upcoming retreats: the Flourish national retreat in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, September 3-5, and two Shine! regional retreats for 12 to 18-year-old girls, moms, and youth leaders. The retreats were made possible by the pilot grant program at FWB Foundation, which provided $7,500 toward expenses. The first Shine! retreat will be hosted by Fairview FWB Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina, October 23. The second will be held at First FWB Church, North Little Rock, Arkansas, November 21. Learn more: www.WNAC.org.
Delegates unanimously approved the proposed WNAC charter, created after the organization joined the National Association in 2014, before Hodges introduced the 2016 WNAC theme “I Surrender All,” based on Romans 12:1-2. She concluded her report by saying, “This is an exciting time to be part of WNAC! Please let us know if we can serve you in any way.”
North American Ministries
Director David Crowe expressed gratitude to Free Will Baptists, who gave $4.3 million in 2014, enabling the department to improve financially. The Church Extension Loan Fund continues to thrive, with $56 million in loans helping to underwrite the cost of general expenses. He thanked 54 church-planting families and eight Free Will Baptist chaplains ministering to men and women in the Armed Forces. Forty-one churches (80 when combined with Hispanic outreach efforts) are currently being planted in 23 states—16 new since last year’s convention. In 2014, 11 churches reached or neared self-supporting status. According to Crowe, the average time to start a church has dropped from 9.5 years to 7 years, and he anticipates the timeframe will drop even further.
Crowe praised his staff at North American Ministries (NAM) for their hard work on behalf of the ministry and introduced a new website (www.fwbnam.com) that reflects recent changes in the organization. He celebrated the success of the department’s first POWER Conference held in Branson, Missouri, May 25-26. Approximately 330 people from 17 states attended the conference, leading the department to sponsor a second conference in 2016, addressing the theme “Hands Held High” and the ministry of encouragement.
Although Master’s Men merged with North American Ministries in 2014, the organization’s activities have continued without pause, including: IMPACT Fort Worth; disaster relief efforts; leading a college missions trip to Haiti; Operation Saturation in Pennsylvania; and several sports fellowship activities.
Crowe honored Publications Editor Ida Lewis, who will retire at the end of the year after nearly 25 years with the department. “The thing I am going to miss most about Ida is her laughter,” Crowe said. “She set such a good tone of humor in our office.”
As he finished his report, he remembered the faithfulness of former Board Chairman Randy Wright, who lost his struggle with cancer in February 2015. The department will publish Randy Wright’s Journal, which contains his devotional thoughts and notes from his final sermon. Crowe also honored outgoing board member Ron Parker for his service on the department’s board.
Board of Retirement and Insurance
After being honored by the board, outgoing Director Ray Lewis (pictured below with board member Jack Daniel) thanked the denomination for the opportunity to serve 32 years with the Board of Retirement. He joined the organization in 1983, serving under directors Herman Hersey and Bill Evans before becoming director himself in 2005, when the Board separated from the Foundation. Lewis will complete his duties December 31.
During his years in the office, assets grew from $3 million to more than $56 million and from 735 participants to 2,700. This growth continued again in 2014, with $2.7 million in contributions, 44 new members, and less than 1% in operational expenses.
Incoming Director John Brummitt will begin his new responsibilities January 1, 2016. Brummitt graduated in 2011 with an MBA from Tennessee Tech University. A 2004 graduate of Welch College, he has been with the Board of Retirement since 2006, working alongside Lewis for nearly a decade. “I’m excited to step into this role,” Brummitt shared. “It has been my honor to serve under Ray’s faithful ministry, and I am thankful for the time he has invested in me and my family. I’m also thankful his ministry will not end here, but he will continue to serve the Lord in new avenues.” He asked delegates to pray for him and his family as he enters his new role.
Lewis closed his final report by honoring outgoing board member Jack Daniel, who has served the department for 28 years. He urged pastors to enroll in the retirement plan and encouraged congregations to support their pastors, associates, assistants, and teachers as well. “I want to challenge you to roll up your sleeves,” Lewis said. “Focus your minds and hearts, join hands with the new director, and boldly face the future of Free Will Baptists.”
Free Will Baptist Foundation
This has been a momentous year for Free Will Baptist Foundation, according to Director David Brown, with record growth of $8.4 million, bringing total assets to more than $60 million, up 76% since 2008.
The department piloted a grant program in 2015, using realized gains from investments to award $75,000 to six national departments and two national commissions. This grant program will continue, with more than $5.1 million in the grant pool if all holdings were liquidated.
In cooperation with Cornerstone Estate Planning, the Foundation has helped 870 families plan their estates. While the Foundation does not break even on this program, Brown reminded listeners, “This is not a money-making venture. We want the program to be offered as a service to our members. We may see great returns in time as they remember Free Will Baptist ministries in their estates.”
“It bothers me deeply to hear people say Free Will Baptists are done as a denomination,” Brown concluded. “No! We’re not done! And in many instances, we are just getting started…Sure, we face many challenges, but God has gone with us in the past, and He will go with us as we face the challenges ahead.”
During 2014 and 2015, the Historical Commission took a significant step toward developing a digital archive. Thanks to a large contribution from David Crowe and North American Ministries, the collection added more than 700 books, records, newspapers, personal diaries, and journals in searchable PDF format. In light of this donation, the commission named the digital archive the David Crowe Digital Collection. These files are available on both the Welch Library website and the growing online collection at www.FWBHistory.com.
The commission has also undertaken the monumental task of scanning and archiving national, state, and local association minutes to be added to FWBhistory.com. If you can help fill the gaps in the collection, please contact the commission. Commission member Eric Thomsen thanked FWB Foundation for a $5,000 grant to purchase new equipment for scanning historical documents.
Commission Chairman Travis Penn honored outgoing treasurer Adam Carnes for his service to the Media Commission and introduced Josh Owens as his successor. He praised commission members for their work in streaming and archiving convention services and thanked FWB Foundation for their financial assistance.
Commission for Theological Integrity
Dr. Matt Pinson, chairman of the commission, thanked other members for their work and encouraged delegates to visit www.FWBTheology.com to read weekly blog posts. He also solicited papers for the upcoming Theological Symposium to be held on the Hillsdale College Campus in October.
The commission continues to assist with planning and leading the convention music program, according to Chairman Doug Little. The organization is in discussions with North American Ministries to provide assistance in church planting and revitalization efforts.
2015 Convention Overview
Board members – 56
Licensed ministers – 16
Local church delegates – 45
NAFWB Attendees – 1,830
NAFWB Staff – 14
Ordained deacons – 74
Ordained ministers – 390
State Delegates – 59
NYC – 2,586
Total Attendees 3,475*
*Note: Many attendees register for more than one convention.
Total Visitors – 5,266
Unique Visitors – 3,126
Total Visitors – 1,493
Unique Visitors – 924
Executive Office – $857,350
FWB Foundation – $1,223,600
Home Missions – $5,043,420
Int’l Missions – $6,900,000
Retirement – $561,000
Randall House – $4,624,250
Welch College – $5,508,831
WNAC – $286,000
Theological Commission – $7,700
Historical Commission – $4,280
Media Commission – $3,020
Music Commission – $3,775
Total – $25,023,226
Sunday Morning, July 19
Sunday School: Paul Harrison (AL)
Sunday Morning, July 19
Gary Fry (TN)
Sunday Evening, July 19
Rick Locklear (MI)
Monday Evening, July 20
Frank Woods (TN)
Tuesday Morning, July 21
Danny Baer (NC)
Brian Williams (NY)
Tuesday Evening, July 21
Steve Lytle (TN)
Wednesday Evening, July 22
Tom McCullough (MI)