Officials of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant group, have completed the most comprehensive restructuring in the denomination's 152-year history.
In 1995, messengers to the SBC's annual meeting approved the Covenant for a New Century, which mandated a massive bureaucratic overhaul and reduced the number of agencies from 19 to 12.
Most visibly, the SBC's North American Mission Board (NAMB)—a new entity with a $100 million annual budget—came into being from the merger of three former agencies: the Home Mission Board (HMB), the Radio-Television Commission (RTVC), and the Brotherhood Commission. Robert E. Reccord, NAMB president, came to the agency as pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.
Three SBC entities—the Stewardship Commission, the Historical Commission, and the Education Commission—have been eliminated and their assignments moved to other agencies. The Southern Baptist Foundation, once a separate entity, has become a subsidiary corporation of the SBC Executive Committee.
Two agencies have been renamed: The Foreign Mission Board is now the International Mission Board, and the Christian Life Commission is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
The restructuring has resulted in the elimination of more than 200 staff positions among affected agencies. The highest-ranking SBC leaders affected include:
—Larry Lewis, who retired as HMB president, became national facilitator for Celebrate Jesus 2000.
—James D. Williams, former Brotherhood Commission president, is now executive director of the Memphis-based Baptist Medical-Dental Fellowship.
—Jack Johnson, former RTVC president, is a special assistant to NAMB's Reccord.
—Steve Carleton, former executive director of the Education Commission, now is on the staff of a private medical-education foundation in Oklahoma City.
—Slayden Yarbrough, former interim executive director of the Historical Commission, is the new executive director of the independent Southern Baptist Historical Society.
"The new structure is in place and functioning," says David Hankins, vice president for convention policy at the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville. "What it will produce in ministry results is yet to be seen, but we are optimistic."
SBC officials have estimated the restructuring will produce a net savings of between $34 million and $41 million in the next five years.
"Southern Baptists have become more intentional in what they want to do," Hankins says of the need to restructure. "It will position us to be at our best in the twenty-first century and has put every bit of our emphasis on international and North American missions, theological education, and moral and religious liberty concerns."
Two other SBC agencies—the Baptist Sunday School Board and the Annuity Board—generate virtually all their own funds, though their board members are elected by SBC messengers. Trustees of the Sunday School Board last month recommended that the agency be renamed LifeWay Christian Resources.
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