By / Nov 8

The following article is adapted from remarks made by ERLC President Brent Leatherwood to Michigan Baptists.

In my recent conversations, I’ve detected quite a bit of fear. Outside the walls of our churches, fear is rampant. It often comes out as fear of the unknown, fear of the results of the election, or, as another put it, fear of what “they” may do to us. For the most part, it’s causing people to respond in one of two ways: either despondency and pulling back from the world, or seething with anger and deploying the language of warfare and conquest. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is seeping into our churches. I have been told this by pastors and ministers in numerous conversations I have had over the last six weeks.

There is no doubt we live in a challenging and confusing moment, and we should be clear-eyed about the challenges we face. But allow me to offer a gentle reminder of Paul’s reassuring words to Timothy: “. . . for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Spirit-led courage, unceasing love, and humble self-control are qualities that stand in complete opposition to the times in which we find ourselves. And they are qualities Christians should exude at all times, whether we are going to another country, planting a church in a new context, or entering a chaotic public square.

Life in the public square

The public square is where the ERLC operates on a daily basis and where Southern Baptists have spoken for over a century. It is vital that we continue to do so by serving and responding to the needs of our churches while continuing to build on the legacy of those who came before us. The best way to do that is through partnership, or, to use that rich Baptist term: cooperation. When we cooperate in our missional work, I truly believe there is no better gospel force on the planet than our convention of churches. And given the state of our public square, it is crucial that we see it as a mission field that is in dire need of those who are cooperating together for the sake of the gospel.

Last summer, we witnessed the most significant victory in the history of the pro-life movement with the Dobbs decision that overtuned Roe v. Wade. Abortion, as an issue, can now be directly dealt with at the state level. A number of states, overnight and in the ensuing weeks, shifted to a legal posture that respects life, defends preborn lives, and serves mothers. But we must acknowledge some have taken the opposite path. A path where more lives are lost and more mothers are allowed to be targeted and preyed upon by the abortion industry. At the same time, not every state has settled this question. 

To find an example, all one has to do is look at a state like Michigan.There, the question of abortion rights is being placed before voters on Election Day. 

Proposition 3 seeks to amend the state constitution to create a right to abortion, prohibiting the state legislature from regulating the procedure before viability. This law could take the state well beyond even the disastrous Roe framework. I encourage Christians in Michigan, and throughout the U.S., to be people of life who speak into this moment (and others like these) clearly and convictionally. Those who live in Michigan should vote against this diabolical measure and instead work to institute a culture of life with policies and leaders that protect both mother and child. The right to an abortion in Roe was wrong in 1973, and Proposition 3’s anchoring of a right to abortion in the state constitution is wrong in 2022.  

Because this issue has long been important to our churches, we have many stories to share about ways lives have been saved and mothers have been protected. As Tim Patterson, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, wrote in August, “Keep telling the story and living the life. It has and does make a difference.” That’s why the ERLC wants to come alongside ourBaptist brothers and sisters in Michigan—and members of SBC churches across the nation—as you proclaim the dignity of preborn lives, inviting you to our pro-life conferences and gatherings, and why we want to continue placing life-saving ultrasound machines in centers that will directly confront Planned Parenthood and the lies they tell vulnerable mothers and scared fathers.

Other important issues in the public square 

The same is true for other issues important to our Baptist family that are within our ministry assignment. We want to continue being the foremost Baptist voice on religious liberty, which, in a legal sense, is on its strongest footing ever right now. Yet, we know the challenges to that standing are growing. So we must safeguard this liberty––which is our first freedom, our essential liberty.

The same goes for our human dignity issues like pursuing real, Ephesians-like racial unity and continuing to advocate before the state for laws that help families flourish. And of course, it is imperative we cooperate on an issue like combatting sexual abuse. This terrible scourge has been with us for far too long, and I am encouraged that our convention of churches has resoundingly said, “No more.” At the ERLC, we are proud to be partnering with our new SBC president, Dr. Bart Barber, and the new Implementation Task Force that is turning recommendations into action to serve you and your churches and to make sure they are safe from abuse and safe for survivors.

It is clear that there is urgent work to be done. Work that is not for the timid or fearful. And it is work that can be accomplished through our Southern Baptist cooperation. As we at the ERLC come alongside to assist you, your church, and your convention, it will allow us to speak more adeptly from our churches into the public square––a chaotic, messy, noisy public square that is in desperate need of the hope and peace that can only come from hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

By / Oct 28

The months of October and November are the time when most of the SBC state conventions hold their annual meetings. Here is what you should know about these state-level groups that assist local Southern Baptist Convention churches in fulfilling the Great Commission.

What are SBC state conventions?

State conventions are voluntary networks of local SBC churches within a particular state or geographic region. The state convention is distinct from both the local Southern Baptist associations within the various states and from the national SBC and its entities (such as IMB or ERLC).

As with local SBC churches, SBC state conventions are autonomous organizations.  Any work they may choose to do together is based solely on having a cooperative relationship and working voluntarily together in a particular ministry or project. Churches cooperate with their state convention by giving to the Cooperative Program (CP) and by participating in the leadership and ministries of the state convention.

How many state conventions are there?

There are currently 41 state conventions throughout the United States (though not all refer to themselves as a “convention”). Eight conventions are composed of more than one state (North Dakota and South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, Maryland and Delaware, Minnesota and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and South Jersey, Utah and Idaho, Northwest, which includes Washington, Oregon, and part of Idaho, and New England, which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). Two states—Texas and Virginia—have two state conventions. Puerto Rico is the only U.S. territory to have a state convention.

Are all local SBC churches a part of a state convention?

More than 99% of churches that cooperate with the SBC also maintain a cooperative relationship with a state or regional Baptist convention. Due to the long-established practice of cooperation with state Baptist conventions and local associations, the SBC encourages such multi-level cooperation (local, state, and national) and does not encourage churches to practice national-only cooperation.

Each local church is autonomous, though, and can choose to not be a part of a state convention. 

How are state conventions funded?

The primary means by which cooperating churches fund SBC missions and ministry entities is through a plan of giving called the Cooperative Program (CP). The “cooperative” of CP refers to the interdependent relationships between the local church, the state Baptist convention, and the SBC.

Individuals provide tithes and offerings to their local church, and the participating churches forward a portion of their undesignated funds to their state convention. During the annual meeting of each state convention, messengers from local churches across the state decide what percentage of Cooperative Program gifts contributed by local congregations stays within the state to support local missions and ministries, and what percentage is to be forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention for North American and international missions. 

At the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, messengers from across the country decide how the gifts received from the states will be distributed among SBC entities. 

How much funding do the state conventions pass along to the SBC?

Each state determines for themselves how much of the giving by local churches will be used for in-state ministries and how much will be forwarded to the SBC. Some states, such as Alabama and Florida, forward about half of the CP funds they collect to the SBC. Currently, Iowa (55.7%) and Texas (55.2%) are the state conventions that forward the highest percentage to the SBC.

From 1930 to 2020, Southern Baptists have given $19,998,788,139 to the CP, with 37.67% of that total staying with the states and 62.33% being forwarded to the SBC. Since 2016, the average percentage given to the SBC has been above 41%.  

Do state conventions hold annual meetings and pass resolutions?

Each state holds its own annual meeting. As the South Carolina Baptist Convention says, “The Annual Meeting is a great place to build relationships, be encouraged, and learn from others around the state. It’s also where we elect officers and committees, pass the annual budget, and make plans for the coming year.”

Another activity that occurs at state conventions is the passage of resolutions. Within the SBC, resolutions have traditionally been defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action. A resolution is not used to direct an entity of the denomination to specific action other than to communicate the opinion or concern expressed. Each year, resolutions are passed during the annual meetings of the state conventions just as they are at the national annual meeting.

How do state conventions differ from associations?

Associations are voluntary networks of local SBC churches that join together for a particular mission. For example, the Heart of Texas Baptist Network is a group of 60 churches in central Texas. The network joins together for such functions as maintaining a missionary-in-residence house that is available to vocational missionaries who are returning to the U.S. for furlough and partnering with the Southern Wisconsin Baptist Association to support church plants in Wisconsin. 

The conventions serve many of the same functions as associations, but on a larger geographic level. In some states, the associations voluntarily align themselves with state conventions, representing the state convention at the local level.

How are state conventions involved in disaster relief?

The beginning of Southern Baptists involvement in disaster relief is traced back to 1968, when a group of Texas Baptists assisted victims of Hurricane Beulah in 1968. At that time the Brotherhood Commission, along with state Baptist Brotherhood leadership, took the lead in organizing Southern Baptists to respond to disasters by creating the coordinating agency for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and hiring the first national disaster relief director. 

The turning point for SBDR came in 1989 when Southern Baptists responded to Hurricane Hugo. Since that time, Southern Baptists have grown to become the third largest disaster relief organization in the country, behind only the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts are divided among the state conventions and have nearly 70,000 trained volunteers.

By / Oct 27

Throughout October and November, SBC state conventions will be gathering for their annual meetings. However, many Southern Baptists might be unfamiliar with their state conventions or only have a limited knowledge of what they do. Seth Brown, the director of convention relations at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, answer questions below about these entities and shines a light on the value of cooperation throughout the SBC. 

Lindsay Nicolet: What is the role of state conventions within the Southern Baptist Convention? 

Seth Brown: The 41 state and regional conventions across the United States have a primary purpose, and that is to serve local congregations. We connect churches to the relationships, resources, and services they need. A key part of that effort is participation with our national family of churches and entities through our unified giving channel, the Cooperative Program.

LN: How does your state convention specifically carry out its mission? 

SB: N.C. Baptists are a movement of churches on mission together. We are fueled by local churches and focused on local churches. Everything we do is geared toward serving congregations with an emphasis on helping them work together to make disciples of all nations.

We have staff deployed from the mountains to the coast to ensure churches are getting what they need when they need it. Other staff members serve in specialist roles to assist churches when they have specific needs. Our camps and conference centers provide beautiful spaces for rest and renewal. Plus, we have the privilege of training the next generation of faithful pastors, ministers, and missionaries through Fruitland Baptist Bible College.

LN: How can churches best utilize and partner with their state convention? 

SB: We have around 2,800 churches actively engaged with us, but there are many churches that miss out on what their state convention offers. We find that some church leaders are simply not aware of all the resources and services available to them. The best first step for a church to receive more value from their state convention is to ask about all the cooperative ministries they operate and resources they provide. Our N.C. Baptist staff is eager to help churches find what they need to support their local ministries.

In addition, I highly encourage more people to get involved with their state convention. Attend the annual meeting. Sign up for events. Recommend someone or make yourself available to serve on boards and committees. Ask lots of questions.

LN: How do state conventions relate to the national entities (NAMB, IMB, ERLC, seminaries, etc.)?

SB: We consider the national entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to be close partners in ministry. Each of our organizations is self-governing (or autonomous), so we don’t answer to them, and they don’t answer to us. But our relationship is one of support, trust, and a common vision to help churches take the gospel to the nations. 

N.C. Baptists deeply value our SBC partners and pray for those relationships to continue deepening through the years. 

We couldn’t be more proud of the many N.C. Baptist missionaries serving with the International Mission Board. In 2023, we’re launching a new prayer emphasis called “Praying for the Nations” that will highlight missionaries from our state. N.C. Baptists recently launched a groundbreaking church planting partnership with the North American Mission Board called “SendNC.” We are grateful for our six mission-focused and doctrinally faithful seminaries across the nation, including our beloved Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. And, last but not least, we stand for life alongside the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission through a partnership with Psalm 139, an effort that has allowed us to help place ultrasound machines in strategic pregnancy centers.

Our partnerships run deep, and we believe that springs from the spirit of cooperation and unity embraced by our congregations.

LN: What are some particular opportunities and challenges unique to state conventions related to the SBC? 

SB: Baptists at every level are facing opportunities and challenges that represent two sides of the same coin: unity and division. Our society has been marked by polarization and fracturing for some time now. Christians have a plethora of wonderful opportunities to display the kind of gospel unity that transcends social, ethnic, and political boundaries. 

Like all generations, we have the opportunity to speak the gospel anew to a rapidly changing world. I pray that state conventions can do our part to equip and assist Baptists along the way.

LN: How can state conventions be effective in shaping the public square within their region?

SB: As statewide or regional networks of churches, conventions can help bring a great deal of unity around cultural issues and public policy. In addition, they normally have close relationships with local associations as well, so they are well-suited to understand cultural issues from the ground level all the way up to state capitols. Ideally state conventions are able to work alongside both churches and associations to engage the public square with uniquely Christian character and values.