Arizona So. Baptists celebrate CP in multisite meeting

Nov 23, 2020

By Elizabeth Young/Arizona Southern Baptist Convention

Photos by Stella and Olivia Frasca

The AZSBC Annual Meeting, livestreamed in Phoenix, Yuma, Tucson, and Flagstaff.

Despite an uncertain year caused by the pandemic, Arizona Southern Baptists celebrated increased Cooperative Program giving so far in 2020 and adopted a 2021 budget that will send more to Southern Baptist Convention causes for the seventh straight year at their annual meeting Nov. 13.

In a first for Arizona Southern Baptists, messengers gathered at four sites linked electronically throughout the state to conduct business and worship together.

The single afternoon worship and business session was conducted at CalvaryPHX Church in Phoenix and simulcast at Mountain View Baptist Church in Tucson, Iglesia Cristiana Tierra Fertil in Yuma and Greenlaw Baptist Church in Flagstaff. During business portions of the program, messengers at all sites could see and interact with one another.

The meeting, with the theme “Above & Beyond,” was attended by 160 messengers and 27 registered guests from 73 of Arizona Southern Baptists’ 469 churches.

Budget and officers

Messengers adopted a $4,336,337.04 operating budget for 2021. The operating budget includes $3,461,200 in anticipated Cooperative Program giving from churches, the same as the 2020 budget.

David Johnson, Executive Director of the AZSBC.

The Cooperative Program budget allocates $1,263,338 or 36.5% — an increase of a .5 percentage point — to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries.

The percentage increase represents another step in reaching Arizona Southern Baptists’ Centennial Vision goal of giving 50% of Cooperative Program receipts to missions outside the state through the SBC by 2028. It’s the seventh consecutive year for an increase, resulting in a total rise of 10.5 percentage points.

The remaining Cooperative Program budget will be distributed as follows: Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, $1,713.294 or 49.5%, a decrease of a .5 percentage point from 2020; Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries, $242,284, 7%; and the Arizona Campus of Gateway Seminary, $242,284, 7%.

The operating budget is a $615,660.04, or 12.4%, decrease from the 2020 budget.

Income sources in the AZSBC operating budget beyond Cooperative Program giving by Arizona churches include $224,250 from the North American Mission Board — down from $1,077,514.50 in 2020, and $383,387.04 in fees and other revenue.

The AZSBC has not been spending all of the church planting money available from the North American Mission Board, so this was reduced by about $500,000 to a “more realistic” level, AZSBC Executive Director David Johnson told the Convention Council, which voted to recommend the budget to messengers earlier this year. In addition, some NAMB church planter development funds were not available for 2021. However, the budget includes no reduction in NAMB evangelism funds, he said.

Another reduction came from LifeWay Christian Resources, which discontinued ministry partnership funds to state conventions, resulting in a loss of about $55,000.

Savings were also realized in reducing Portraits magazine, Arizona Southern Baptists’ official publication, from six to four issues per year starting in 2021.

Jack Marslender, senior pastor of Avondale Baptist Church in Avondale, was unanimously elected as president. He succeeds Ashley Evans, pastor of 22nd Street Baptist Church in Tucson, who completed a second one-year term as president at the annual meeting.

Ramon Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Phoenix, was elected first vice president in a ballot vote of 85-32 over George Lyman, outgoing second vice president and pastor of Desert Shores Community Baptist Church in Bullhead City. Then, Lyman was unanimously elected to a second one-year term as second vice president.

Centennial Vision report

Johnson presented his annual Centennial Vision report, updating messengers on Arizona Southern Baptists’ progress on goals guiding their work through 2028, sharing where the AZSBC is headed and proposing a name change for the convention.

During the past year, a 12-member group of AZSBC staff members and pastors has been developing a new approach to working with Arizona Southern Baptist churches.

“We believe the best role for our convention as an entity is to be a catalyst to enable our churches to experience greater effectiveness through the synergy of working together,” Johnson said.

The key question to ask churches, he said, is, “What is the next step you need to take to accomplish your mission and how can we help you take it?”

This will mean connecting directly with churches regarding their unique next step and focusing less on events, he said. The process-driven, rather than program-driven, approach will be accomplished through cultivating relationships between the convention, pastors and churches and also between churches themselves, convening leaders, curating the strengths of churches and leaders, and expanding vision, he said.

The results will be developing disciple-makers, strengthening leaders, multiplying churches and transforming communities, Johnson said.

“It will take time for us to adjust to this new approach, but it has the potential of energizing our work in a whole new way,” he said.

Along with this change, Johnson introduced a proposal to change the name of the convention to Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists.

“We work together as a network of churches to accomplish our mission,” he said. People understand the word “network” better than “convention,” which is sometimes misunderstood as an event, he said.

“Our network is made up of Southern Baptist churches, but our identity is not defined by any region of our country,” Johnson said. “Our mission begins in Arizona, and it extends to all nations.

“We’re a network that’s held together and focused on the Great Commission,” he continued. “And the expression of that is working together to reach our state with the gospel, helping each other to make disciples, sending missionaries around the world.”

Messengers adopted a recommendation from the Convention Council to vote on the name change at the 2021 annual meeting, allowing time for prayer, fasting and discussion in the coming year.

Reporting on progress toward the Centennial Vision goals, Johnson said in 2019, Arizona giving through the Cooperative Program was a record $3.5 million, $150,000 more than 2018. Through September 2020, giving was $85,000 ahead of last year’s pace.

“I cannot explain the increase in giving, except to say glory to God,” he said. “So, thank you, God, for your provision, and thank you, Arizona Southern Baptists, for your generosity.”

Because of the financial challenges to churches due to COVID-19, the Arizona Mission Offering became a Helping Churches in Crisis Offering in 2020. More than $153,000 was given to the offering, and so far, 30 grants, totaling almost $70,000, have been given to churches to help with pastors’ and staff salaries, utility bills, building payments and rent, Johnson said. Funds are still available to help churches in need.

Arizona Southern Baptists have a Centennial Vision goal of having 1,000 churches by 2028. At the end of 2019, the AZSBC had 462 churches, down seven from 2018, Johnson reported. Because of churches planted in 2020, the number is back to 469.

Since 2013, Arizona Southern Baptists have planted 137 churches but lost 130 churches due to the churches dying, leaving the convention or merging, Johnson said. “Our dream is still to have a thousand churches [by 2028],” he said.

As part of his report, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of Gateway Seminary and the 25th anniversary of Gateway’s Arizona Campus, Johnson invited Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg to speak.

Arizona Southern Baptists and Gateway Seminary have a true partnership, Iorg said. The AZSBC provides space rent-free to Gateway and has made a “long-time financial investment” in Gateway and the Arizona Campus, he said.

In return, he said, Gateway “[makes] it possible for Arizona Southern Baptists to have a fully accredited seminary — one of the 10 largest seminaries in the nation — at your beck and call, serving your ministry needs and working as hard as we can to make you successful.”

Reporting on how Gateway has fared during the pandemic, Iorg said, “Gateway Seminary has not laid off anyone, not cut any classes, or reduced any academic programs. In fact, we’ve actually grown.”

Because of “a robust commitment to educational technology,” Gateway was prepared, he said. The seminary is now delivering about two-thirds of its credit hours in distance-learning formats rather than in classrooms in face-to-face instruction.

Johnson presented two lifetime achievement awards, both given posthumously with family and church members in attendance, in honor of Simon Tsoi, retired pastor of First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix, and Gary Marquez, long-time pastor of North Swan Baptist Church in Tucson. Both men died earlier this year.

“Both of these men set a great example for us of sharing the gospel and helping people come to Jesus,” Johnson said. “Let’s follow that example.”

A challenge to grow

Richard Blackaby

In the closing message, Richard Blackaby, author, speaker and president of Blackaby Ministries International, used Peter’s experiences recounted in Luke 22 to challenge leaders to grow.

“You could be at the peak of your leadership in one moment and only moments away from the worst failure you’ve ever had in the next,” he said. “We’re always most vulnerable when we’re at our height, because … unless you grow, you’re done. You’ve reached the limit.”

Signs that “you’ve come to the edge of your leadership,” he said, include a failure to heed the signs, a failure to pray, failing to do things God’s way, failing to walk closely with the Lord and failing to see oneself accurately.

Blackaby said he wonders what the kingdom of God would be like today if all those leaders who hit the wall and are no longer leading had heeded the warning signs, made an adjustment, sought help and cried out to God.

“Aren’t you glad Peter didn’t remain as a failure?” he asked.

“Arizona Baptists don’t need the same leadership you’ve been giving them in years past,” Blackaby said. “People desperately need your very best — God’s very best in you — and God can do it. God can take a guy who denied three times he even knew Him and make him one of the greatest preachers and evangelists in human history. And He can take you if you’re ready to go there. … 2021 could easily be the finest year you’ve ever had.”

Prior to the afternoon session, Arizona Southern Baptists participated in a guided prayer gathering and Pastors’ Conference. The day before, many attended Engage AZ 2020, a conference focusing on evangelism and prayer. The live missions fair normally accompanying the annual meeting was conducted through photos posted on Facebook.

The guided prayer gathering was the final activity in a year where Arizona Southern Baptists were led by AZSBC President Ashley Evans to focus on prayer. At last year’s annual meeting, prayer guides were distributed. Throughout the year, Arizona Southern Baptists prayed for every pastor and church, prompted by postings on social media. Two statewide online prayer meetings were held in July and September.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 12 at Calvary Baptist Church in Lake Havasu City. Joe Donahue, associate pastor, invited Arizona Southern Baptists to come early for a day of play and evening of worship Nov. 11.

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