NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BNM) - During a June 2 virtual event SBC Advance, the Southern Baptist Convention’s president and other entity leaders reported on their 2019 calendar year efforts. SBC Advance replaced the reports portion of the convention’s COVID-19-canceled Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida. SBC Advance was hosted by the SBC Executive Committee and emceed by EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd. This article summarizes President J.D Greear’s address and reports from Guidestone Financial Resources, WMU and LifeWay Christian Resources. Two additional articles report information shared by the SBC’s other entities.
Addressing the convention virtually, J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, shared four things he felt the Lord was challenging him with during this crisis. First, he said, “This is no time to despair.” Times of disparity are times for God to work. When we are not in charge, God is. Time like this causes us to be dependent on our Source of power.
Second, “New challenges are met with new mercies,” Greear said. He encouraged Christians to walk with Him one day at a time and do not worry about tomorrow. Next, he said, “Times of distress have historically been good for Gospel mission.” While we grieve the lives lost during the pandemic, we realize this is a moment where believers can show the hope of the Gospel.
Last, Greear explained that “God is sovereignly using this moment for the advance of the mission.” "What Satan means for evil, God means for good," Greear said. Greear encouraged churches to read Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations." "When you can't work, that is when God will work," Greear concluded.
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Christian Resources, listed projects GuideStone has continued throughout the pandemic. The entity has maintained its Vision 20/20, increased market shares, responded to changes in the marketplace and aggressively managed costs. Hawkins assured members that they are controlling spending to continue helping churches and pastors during this economic downturn.
Hawkins reported that the 2020 budget is less than the 2014 budget. And, the organization’s operating expenses are at the lowest level since 2013. The staff is smaller than in 2011, and their relocation has saved $4 million in ongoing dollars annually. Also, "Mission Dignity recipients have seen no reductions or missed a payment during the pandemic," Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that their team continues to work on opportunities to serve their Southern Baptist partners better. He noted that GuideStone exists to be a lifelong partner with their participants in enhancing their financial security. "We have no idea how long this downturn will last, but we put our trust in the Lord," he concluded.
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, WMU executive director and treasurer, reported that in these troubling times, she likes to walk through the WMU's Walk of Faith. She takes courage when she sees the bricks of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong and so many others that courageously led them through the trials of their days.
Linda Cooper, WMU national president, said that it is unsettling to see the WMU building empty and quiet. But its priorities were the well-being of employees and business continuance. "We began listening for how God would use us and respond during this global pandemic," she said.
WMU immediately launched 30 Days of Prayer for missionaries and pastors that hit inboxes daily. It provided free mission discipleship lessons online, and began hosting web-based events and posted videos to teach people of all ages. State leaders expressed a need for PTSD resources, so a grant from the WMU Foundation provided "Your Pain is Changing You," by David Crosby, to pastors all across the convention. State leaders gained free access to PTSD Bible studies, as well. WMU also provided online Bible studies, sent books to those sheltered in place through Honor 6:2, and launched a podcast called "On the Journey Conversation."
Melissa Lamb, president of New Mexico WMU, began an online Bible study using these resources, with more than 300 women participating. Lamb is the wife of Beau Lamb, pastor of First Baptist Church, Santa Rosa.
Wisdom-Martin concluded that God is at work in our midst. "It's humbling to know that God entrusted us with this sacred season," she said. "We are so grateful for the Cooperative Program, the one giving mechanism that has enabled the proclamation of the Gospel in all the earth.”
Ben Mandrell, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said that this past year had been one of the most challenging transitions for LifeWay. In November, the organization closed its last bookstore and transitioned to online sales. At the end of February, LifeWay saw significant growth in all sales, rebounding faster than expected. But in March, when COVID-19 hit, LifeWay felt the effects immediately.
"We went from serving the churches gathered to serving the churches scattered," Mandrell said. He said that LifeWay quickly rallied to create digital resources to assist churches amid the crisis. "The church is always going to find a way to gather and grow while proclaiming the Word," he said. Knowing that churches are facing challenges and financial strain, LifeWay created the Church Assistance Package to help churches bear the burden of this crisis.
By mid-April, revenue was down across all of LifeWay’s sales channels. Its leadership team formed a new plan: a series of budget freezes and staff reductions. They cut the 2021 Operating Budget by $30 million, explored selling Ridgecrest Conference Center, and studied the future use of LifeWay’s Nashville headquarters building. Mandrell said the cost-saving step allow LifeWay to invest in the most significant opportunities for the future.
"These are challenging times for all of us. But, I am confident that the Lord is going to use this for His glory and push LifeWay into the future in a fresh way," Mandrell said.