How does it work? A crash course on the Southern Baptist Convention

Communications Staff — June 8, 2009

With Louisville hosting the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 23-24, some Southern Seminary students will see for the first time the structure and operation of the world’s largest Protestant denomination. For the uninitiated—or those needing a refresher course—here are some questions and answers on how the annual meeting and the denomination operate.

WHAT IS THE SBC?

The term “Southern Baptist Convention” refers to both the denomination and its annual meeting. As a denomination, the SBC is an alliance of more than 42,000 churches that pool their funds for joint ministry endeavors and own 11 ministry organizations known as entities. The churches of the SBC also share a common core of beliefs about and from the Bible articulated in a confession of faith called the “Baptist Faith and Message.” The SBC was established in 1845 in Augusta, Ga., and is now America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 16 million members.

Each summer the churches send messengers to an annual meeting. At that meeting the convention transacts its business for two days. The SBC exists legally only during those two days. During the days between annual meetings, the Executive Committee (see below for description) acts on behalf of the messengers in business and financial matters.

WHAT ARE THE ENTITIES OF THE SBC?

SBC entities are organizations owned by the convention that carry out its ministry functions. There are 11 entities plus the Executive Committee. Each entity, as well as the Executive Committee, is governed by a board of trustees elected by the convention.

Here are the entities and their functions:

— Executive Committee: Composed of 81 members, the Executive Committee acts on behalf of the convention between annual meetings. It reviews the financial statements of the other entities and recommends an operating budget to the convention annually. In addition, the Executive Committee receives and distributes the money Southern Baptists give in support of denominational ministries, acts as the recipient and trust agency for all convention properties and provides public relations and news services. During each annual meeting, it makes recommendations to the messengers regarding convention business.

— GuideStone Financial Resources: GuideStone provides retirement, medical, life and disability coverage, investment management and executive planning services to Southern Baptist ministers, church and institutional employees and seminary students.

— Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission: The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission helps Christians live out their beliefs in their homes, their communities, their jobs and the public square. It informs Southern Baptists of important moral issues and articulates the SBC’s stances to government officials.

— International Mission Board (IMB): The International Mission Board sends more than 5,000 missionaries to proclaim the Gospel worldwide. Additionally, it helps coordinate thousands of short-term mission volunteers annually.

— LifeWay Christian Resources: LifeWay provides ministry resources to Southern Baptist churches through a chain of bookstores, a publishing house and a number of experts to advise churches on various aspects of ministry.

— North American Mission Board (NAMB): The North American Mission Board proclaims the Gospel in the United States and Canada by starting and assisting churches. Approximately 5,000 missionaries are associated with NAMB.

— Seminaries: Six Southern Baptist seminaries train ministers to fulfill the Great Commission and make disciples worldwide. The six seminaries are The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.; Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.; New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, La.; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

HOW DOES THE SBC ANNUAL MEETING WORK?

All business at the annual meeting is conducted by a vote of the messengers and operates according to Robert’s Rules of Order. Southern Baptists believe a democratic governing procedure best reflects the congregational polity Scripture prescribes for churches.

Among the things that occur at each annual meeting:

— Each entity reports to the convention on its ministries, and messengers have opportunities to ask questions.

— The Executive Committee recommends actions for the convention to take, and messengers vote on each recommendation.

— Messengers make motions from the convention floor on any subject they care to address. Normally, the motions are referred to entities for consideration during the year to come.

— Messengers adopt resolutions stating the convention’s position on theological, political and social issues. Unlike motions, resolutions do not call for any action. They simply state a position. A Resolutions Committee appointed by the convention president recommends the resolutions on which messengers vote. However, the messengers can vote to consider resolutions not recommended by the committee.

— Preachers and musicians lead in worship through sermons, congregational singing and special music.

— Messengers elect trustees for each entity and the Executive Committee. The Committee on Nominations recommends the potential trustees. Then messengers have the authority to accept the proposed trustees, reject them or amend the committee’s recommendations one trustee at a time. The Committee on Nominations is nominated by the Committee on Committees, which is appointed by the president. Each year, messengers also approve nominees for the following year’s Committee on Committees.

— Messengers elect convention officers including president, first vice president and second vice president, among others.

WHO ARE THE CONVENTION OFFICERS AND WHAT DO THEY DO?

The convention officers are a president, first and second vice presidents, recording secretary, registration secretary and treasurer. The messengers elect all officers, except the treasurer. According to convention bylaws, the president of the Executive Committee always serves as treasurer.

The president’s greatest power lies in his ability to appoint the Committee on Committees and thus indirectly influence the appointment of trustees. The president also appoints several other standing committees, acts as a leader and ambassador for the convention and presides at the annual meeting.

The first and second vice presidents provide leadership in consultation with the president. The recording secretary keeps the official records of the convention, and the registration secretary coordinates messenger registration for the annual meeting.

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