The Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention is a national organization which, since 1845, has sought to maximize local churches’ impact for Kingdom missions and ministries. The SBC is not a Church, as some think; it is a network of churches.
The Convention’s structure is designed by representatives (called messengers) to “elicit, combine, and direct the energies of Baptists for the propagation of the Gospel.” These messengers (up to twelve per church) meet annually to conduct the business of the Convention and to encourage one another to stay focused on Great Commission missions, evangelism, and ministries.
The SBC exists to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of Baptists for the propagation of the Gospel.
Four Pillars of Cooperation
The SBC is the national component of the broader Southern Baptist network composed of numerous autonomous Baptist bodies—thousands of churches, hundreds of local associations, scores of state and regional Baptist conventions, dozens of ethnic fellowships, and a missions auxiliary. These churches and related Baptist groups cooperatively labor to fulfill God’s mandate to make disciples of all peoples.
This expansive array of autonomous bodies is built on four foundational pillars:
- (1) Common commitment to the missional purposes of Christ’s Great Commission and Great Commandment;
- (2) Shared doctrinal beliefs concerning the Bible, the self-revelation of God to fallen humanity, and His redemptive purposes to save the lost through Jesus Christ;
- (3) Mutual trust that each Baptist body, from local church to denominational entity, seeks to operate under the Lordship of Christ and earnestly desires the betterment of the entire Southern Baptist movement; and
- (4) Voluntary cooperation with the values, ministries, and purposes of the Convention.
To the extent these four pillars have been broadly embraced by Southern Baptists at any given time, the Southern Baptist experiment, undergirded by an always fragile set of relationships, has thrived. But when Southern Baptists’ collective commitment to one or more of these pillars has shown signs of decay, the entire enterprise has been imperiled.
Common commitment to missional values; Shared doctrinal beliefs; Mutual trust; Voluntary cooperation.
The SBC “Ad Interim”
Though the Southern Baptist Convention only meets two days a year, the Southern Baptist network is busy doing ministry every day. The Executive Committee (EC) assists the Convention’s cooperating churches by acting for the Convention ad interim in all matters not otherwise provided. The EC’s mission statement assigns two overarching objectives:
- • To encourage cooperation and confidence of churches, associations, and state conventions in the missions and ministries of the SBC;
- • To facilitate maximum support for the Convention’s worldwide missions and ministries.
The Executive Committee serves a dual role for the Convention. As a standing committee of the Convention, governed by SBC Bylaw 18, it follows a deliberative process in handling Convention business. As a facilitating entity of the Convention, guided by six ministry assignments listed in the SBC Organization Manual, it promotes the overall Southern Baptist ministry and promotes cooperation and cooperative giving for the full range of Southern Baptist work.
As a standing committee, the EC is comprised of eighty-six men and women reflecting a mix of active lay persons and ordained ministers from a wide range of denominational, demographic, and geographical interests and backgrounds. The EC members represent thirty-eight states or defined regions of the country. They are elected by the Convention in its annual meeting and can serve two consecutive four-year terms.
As a facilitating entity, the EC employs twentynine full-time staff members to carry out the day-to-day duties assigned to the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee office is one of five ministries housed in the SBC Building in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, which the EC manages according to guidelines adopted by the building’s occupants.
Encourage cooperation and confidence. Facilitate maximum support for worldwide missions and ministries.
Financial Responsibilities and The Cooperative Program
The Executive Committee is the fiduciary, fiscal, and executive entity of the Convention. It is specifically authorized, instructed, and commissioned to act for the Convention in all its affairs not expressly committed to some other SBC entity. Its duties are enumerated in SBC Bylaw 18, the SBC Organization Manual, and the Convention’s Business and Financial Plan.
The EC receives, disburses, and reports all Convention assets, real and financial, in a highly accountable system. All designated and undesignated contributions are disbursed to the SBC entities on at least a weekly basis.
The Executive Committee is specifically charged to promote the “whole Cooperative Program”— which funds both state and national Southern Baptist ministries—and to solicit annual reports from the SBC entities about their efforts to do the same. In recent years, this has been done under the banner “Great Commission Advance,” promoting an aggressive global vision supported by a strong home base, with the entirety fueled by the Cooperative Program.
The Executive Committee also presents to the Convention each year a consolidated and comprehensive financial statement of the Convention and all its entities, showing the assets and liabilities of each, as well as all cash and other receipts. These reports are printed in the SBC Book of Reports.
Other financial duties include certifying that all SBC entities follow generally accepted accounting principles; assuring that no Convention entity appeals directly to a church for financial contributions; and making monthly reports of all receipts and disbursements through Baptist Press and forwarding the reports to SBC entity presidents, state Baptist convention executives, and state Baptist publications.
An aggressive global vision; a strong home base; fueled by and through the Cooperative Program.
Publicizing and Promoting Missions and Ministries
The ministry entities of the Convention are focused on assisting churches in the fulfillment of Great Commission ministry goals. The Executive Committee serves as the facilitating and coordinating ministry to and for the Convention’s entities and its cooperating churches.
To that end, the Executive Committee publicizes and promotes the ministries of the eleven SBC entities. It also interprets and publicizes the overall Southern Baptist ministry, including myriad missions and ministries occurring through local churches, associations, state conventions, ethnic Baptist fellowships in the United States, and numerous affinity groups across the entire Southern Baptist network.
Interpret and publicize the overall Southern Baptist ministry.
The SBC Annual Meeting
The Executive Committee recommends meeting sites for future SBC annual meetings and oversees the arrangements for the meetings of the Convention, including oversight of the exhibit hall.
An interesting matter of discussion at successive SBC annual meetings in the 1920s addressed what had become a perennial problem. Following the successful launch of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign in 1919, exhibitors began flocking to the SBC annual meeting, attracting crowds to the exhibit space and disturbing the proceedings in the convention hall. In 1923, the Convention adopted the following resolution: “Resolved, That we accept no invitation from any city for the sessions of the Southern Baptist Convention without the Executive Committee of the Convention having exclusive control of all exhibit space.”
The Executive Committee also assigns the Convention’s press representative, coordinating news operations for the annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. The press representative is charged to “cooperate with representatives of the secular press in furnishing intelligent, accurate, and creditable reports of this Convention while in session.”
Oversee arrangements for the SBC annual meetings. Furnish intelligent, accurate, and creditable reports of the Convention while in session.
Authority and Autonomy
SBC Entities. The ministry endeavors of each SBC entity are entrusted to the entity’s Convention-elected board of trustees. The boards of trustees are accountable directly to the Convention. Though the Executive Committee has no authority to control or direct any entity of the Convention, it is charged to maintain open channels of communication between itself and the trustees of the Convention’s ministry entities.
The EC is charged to obtain information from the entities about their ministry plans, accomplishments, and financial data. It maintains the SBC Organization Manual, listing the responsibilities the Convention has assigned its entities, and presents recommendations intended to expand, clarify, and/or eliminate overlap in their assignments of responsibility.
State Baptist Conventions. The relationship between the Executive Committee and each of the forty-two state Baptist conventions that cooperate with the SBC is one of voluntary and close cooperation. The Convention has directed the Executive Committee to act as an advisor on questions between the state conventions and the SBC and its entities. The Great Commission Task Force report, adopted in 2010, clarified that the Executive Committee should collaborate with the state conventions to promote cooperative giving to Southern Baptist causes though the Cooperative Program, the Convention’s basic program of giving.
Ethnic Fellowships. On any given Sunday, Southern Baptists worship the Lord in more than one hundred languages across the United States and its territories. The Executive Committee, in concert with the SBC entities, develops and maintains close relationships with leaders of these various racial, ethnic, and language fellowships that cooperate with the SBC. The EC seeks to understand the perspectives these diverse churches and church leaders bring to our common task of reaching our nation and the nations with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, sharing those perspectives with Southern Baptist pastors and SBC entity presidents.
Associations. While the Executive Committee does not work directly with local associations, it interacts regularly with national associational networks. It solicits and reports news stories of cooperative ministries that are best exemplified at the local associational level. The Executive Committee collaborates with associational staff and state conventions when fielding inquiries from churches expressing an interest in becoming Southern Baptist.
Churches. Each local church that voluntarily cooperates with the SBC retains its full independence and autonomy in all matters. The Executive Committee and the SBC entities have been given specific ministry assignments to assist its cooperating churches.
Very intentionally, each ministry assignment begins with the words “assist churches.” Churches do not exist to assist the Convention; the SBC exists to assist the churches by providing “a general organization for Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.” This is the heartbeat of the Southern Baptist structure.