FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — The Baptist General Association of Virginia adopted a far-reaching governance proposal Nov. 13 which leaders said would position the network of 1,400 churches to more effectively meet the challenges of the 21st century while maintaining broad representation from its diverse constituency.
The shift, the most significant governance change in the 190-year-old BGAV since the 1920s, reflects a growing trend among Baptist organizations to explore new governing structures. Proposals have been aired in both the Tennessee and District of Columbia Baptist conventions, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is implementing a structural overhaul adopted last year. Three years ago the Southern Baptist Convention modified its unified giving mechanism to accommodate changing patterns in church contributions.
The BGAV’s proposal, adopted during its annual meeting Nov. 12-13, shifts policy-making authority from the 97-member Virginia Baptist Mission Board to a new 20-member Executive Board, while creating a Mission Council of up to 120 members to function in a consultative role.
In addition, the Executive Board will develop annual budgets to be recommended to the BGAV, replacing the existing budget committee, which has functioned separately from the Mission Board.
Unlike the existing Mission Board, 75 percent of whose members are recommended by district associations, most of the Executive Board’s members will be elected on an at-large basis.
Constitutional and bylaw changes necessary to implement the new structure will be recommended at the BGAV’s 2014 annual meeting and, if adopted, the new system likely will be in place by the beginning of 2015.
During discussion in two breakout sessions and in a plenary business session prior to the vote, some messengers expressed concern that details of the plan remained vague, while others questioned its ability to ensure diverse representation on the governing board.
But a motion to delay approval for one year failed by a large majority.
Details are well developed and clearly expressed in a written document endorsed in October by the Mission Board and widely distributed, said Jim Baucom, who presented the proposal on behalf of a 14-member study authorized last year.
“We just need to change the constitution and bylaws to reflect those details,” said Baucom, pastor of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va. “We [the study committee] have worked on this for a year, but the BGAV has actually been considering a change for the past 15 years. The time is right to do it.
“If next year we come back with a set of constitutional changes that do not accomplish what you believe you voted this year to accomplish you should vote against it,” he added. “Give us an opportunity to bring back the changes. If it is consistent with what you voted on this year, then I hope you’ll approve it.”
The new Virginia Baptist Executive Board will consist of 15 rotating members along with the BGAV president and two vice presidents, the executive director and the treasurer. The rotating members will be drawn from up to 15 nominees, as needed, offered by the Virginia Baptist Mission Council. The Executive Board will select at least four of those nominees each year, and can, if it chooses, select a fifth nominee apart from the 15. All Executive Board nominees will be presented to the BGAV for election.
The Mission Council, in addition to nominating Executive Board members, will serve as “the sounding board of the Virginia Baptist family.”
“Mission Council members would … serve as liaisons who communicate from churches and associations, and ambassadors who communicate to churches and association,” the committee wrote in its report. “The Executive Board, the BGAV executive director and appropriate … staff would consult with the Mission Council regularly and intentionally. The Mission Council leaders would also perform the key task of helping to identify potential Virginia Baptist servant leaders.”
Nominees to the Mission Council will be made by clusters of churches in seven regions in Virginia, as well as an eighth cluster of churches which don’t fall into those regions — essentially those outside of Virginia.
The council will meet once a year in a meeting chaired by the BGAV president. The Executive Board will meet at least six times a year, electing a chair who may not necessarily be the BGAV president — a change from current practice, which requires BGAV presidents to serve simultaneously as chairs of the Mission Board.
All existing members of the Mission Board will serve out their terms as the first Mission Council members, who ultimately will have three-year terms. The council’s first meeting likely will occur in the spring of 2015.
The initial Executive Board will include 10 persons nominated by the former BGAV presidents, none of whom can be a nominee. Nominations for the remaining five will come from the Mission Council. A system of rotation will eventually result in three-year terms, with the possibility of reelection to two additional terms.
Giving the Executive Board budget-making authority will combine strategy and funding for strategic priorities in a way that doesn’t currently exist, the report suggests.
“Some might express concern that this would put too much power in the hands of the smaller body,” it says. “However, we think its connection to the larger body would ensure appropriate accountability and help unite strategic oversight functions to facilitate the entire system’s focus on all of the mission efforts to which God calls us.”
Robert Dilday ([email protected]) is managing editor of the Religious Herald.