Ernest Easley answers questions about SBC messenger qualifications
Mar 21, 2014
By BP STAFF

NASHVILLE (BP)—In a Q&A with SBC LIFE, Ernest Easley, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, addressed some of the main issues surrounding a proposal regarding how churches qualify to send messengers to the SBC annual meeting.

The Executive Committee placed on its June 9 agenda a proposal to update Article III of the SBC constitution, and Southern Baptists are encouraged to provide feedback by emailing article3@sbc.net. The committee’s deliberations, then, will determine whether the proposed revision will be presented to messengers at the June 10-11 SBC annual meeting in Baltimore.

Article III of the SBC constitution has been amended 11 times, with the latest proposal coming as a motion from the floor at last year’s SBC annual meeting to re-evaluate the minimum qualifications for seating additional church messengers at the SBC.

Easley is pastor of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

Q: Why is the Executive Committee recommending a change to Article III of the SBC constitution?

A: There have been 16 motions referred to the Executive Committee by messengers over the past 35 years, with another this past June. We just felt that it was time to update the minimum giving standards which date back to 1888, and we saw it as a good opportunity to lift up Cooperative Program as the preferred model of giving to convention work. 

Some of the other proposed changes, such as consideration for natural disasters and referencing our confession of faith, were surfaced in a lengthy and thoughtful discussion of the bylaws workgroup last September.

Q: What is the minimum threshold for a church to send messengers to the convention?

A: Right now, a church that makes a contribution of any size to convention work qualifies for one messenger. Under the proposal being considered, that number would double to two. We felt like this was an appropriate change for two reasons. 

First, many of our churches only send two messengers to the annual meeting. In the years where records have been kept, most churches send two messengers. The second-largest category of representation is of churches that send only one messenger. 

Second, pastors are often accompanied by their wives. We thought it reasonable to encourage them to come as a couple, no matter the size of the church or the amount of the church’s gifts to the convention.

Q: Why do you suggest dropping the 250 members portion of the current Article III?

A: While we don’t think this has happened, under the current system, a church of 2,500 members could send a full complement of 10 messengers for no more than the cost of a cup of coffee. We felt that wasn’t right. Under the proposed system, the smallest church in the convention qualifies for two messengers for no more than the cost of that same cup of coffee. We believe in the value of every church in the convention and wanted to provide a more level playing field for the smaller churches in the convention.

Q: Don’t you feel like the $6,000 figure for each additional messenger will alienate many of our smaller churches?

A: We sincerely hope not. In fact, we think it should encourage them for several reasons. 

First, it should encourage our smaller churches to know that this raises the threshold of giving for our larger churches. Under the current system, the largest church in the convention could seat 10 messengers for a very small percentage of its undesignated receipts. 

For an extreme example, if a church had a budget of $1 million, it could seat a full complement of messengers for as little as that cup of coffee I just mentioned, or for no more than a $2,500 gift to convention causes. That’s only one quarter of 1 percent of the church’s gifts—for 10 messengers. We think this is patently unfair. 

Under the proposed system, that same church would have to give at least $60,000 to qualify for a full complement of messengers. We think it is both reasonable and fair to challenge our larger churches in this way. Thankfully, most of them already give much larger sums than this amount.

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