Ushering in the Baptist World Alliance's second century of ministry, BWA leaders unveiled plans to strengthen the international organization's effectiveness and impact in the 21st century.
For starters, the BWA's annual General Council meeting was renamed the BWA Annual Gathering, signaling a desire to expand participation beyond the BWA's leadership circle.
Approximately 420 people from 50 countries attended the July 3-7 gathering in Mexico City. By contrast, the group's Baptist World Congress, held once every five years, attracts several thousand participants from around the globe.
Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, said the annual meeting is an opportunity “to show the essential unity of Baptists in Jesus Christ — that's what Baptist World Alliance is all about.”
That unity was severely tested two years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention, the BWA's largest member body, withdrew. SBC leaders cited concerns about a drift toward theological liberalism — charges BWA leaders insisted were unfounded.
Since that time, the BWA has continued to attract new member bodies, including the moderate Baptist General Convention of Missouri which was voted into BWA membership last week.
The Missouri convention, which has 125 member churches, joins the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia as state Baptist conventions that have joined BWA since the SBC's departure.
Participants also approved membership for the Ethiopian Addis Kidan Baptist Church, a convention of 63 churches, and the India Baptist Convention, which includes 65 congregations. BWA now has 214 member bodies from approximately 120 nations.
Format changes at the Annual Gathering included reducing the number of business sessions from four to one and adding a dozen forum sessions on such topics as AIDS, pastoral leadership and understanding youth culture.
Wanda Lee, executive director of national Woman's Missionary Union, is co-chairing an implementation task force seeking to flesh out the BWA's ministry strategy for the 21st century.
“There's a new generation coming along in the BWA,” she explained. “We want to help a younger generation learn what the BWA is all about. As Christians, we share a common desire to make a difference in the world.”
She said the BWA will seek to focus on several major “clusters of commitment,” including worship and fellowship, missions and evangelism, human rights and religious freedom, and theological reflection and education.
During the Friday morning business session, participants adopted resolutions addressing concerns about violence against women and children, the international HIV/AIDS crisis and human rights abuses in Myanmar and Sudan.
BWA President David Coffey, who will retire next week as general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, cited “big questions” and “big mysteries” Baptists around the world face.
Urging Baptists to have “big ears” in order to hear God's “big answers,” Coffey added, “Dare to believe God has more light and truth to bring forth from his Word. … There are so many big answers in Scripture.”
Coffey also challenged Baptists to “listen to the voice of God through the voices of each other,” noting that “we're going to be pulled forward by the vision God gives us.”
Ministry reports addressed such issues as a BWA team's recent visit to Vietnam to promote human rights and the BWA's first “Living Water” leadership and evangelism conference held last fall in St. Petersburg, Russia. Future conferences are planned for Kenya later this year and Thailand in 2007.
Victor Rembeth, former general secretary of the Union of Indonesian Baptist Churches, reported about Baptists' widespread ministry efforts in the aftermath of the region's devastating tsunami and other recent natural disasters.
Sally Smith, partnerships advisor for the United Nations' AIDS initiative, told meeting participants, “The death toll of AIDS is equal to a tsunami every six weeks.”
Urging Baptists to “provide a loving and warm welcome for people living with HIV,” Smith added, “Make every church a safe place. … A resolution isn't enough. We need to have an action plan.”
Lotz, who has announced plans to retire next year as BWA general secretary, told the Western Recorder, “At a time of great unity and great hopefulness, this is the right time to turn over leadership — hopefully next year — to a younger leader.”
John Sundquist, chairman of the BWA's personnel committee, said nominations for Lotz's successor will be received through Oct. 31. He said the search committee's goal is to recommend a new BWA leader for consideration during next year's Annual Gathering in Ghana.