Monthly Archives: January 2008

A Divided House: A Response to Burleson’s Resignation

Wade Burleson resigned as trustee of the International Mission Board on January 30, 2008 with a simple terse statement:

 “This letter is to officially notify you and the other members of the IMB Board of Trustees that I am resigning my service on the Board effective today.”

 His resignation came after a long lengthy struggle with the trustee leadership of the IMB over policies and restrictive guidelines placed on the actions of the trustees that for all practical purposes muted the trustees from any kind of public dissent. Burleson wrote what he considered a lengthy explanation of his actions and an apology of sorts, but the IMB rejected his statement and the impasse widened to the point of no return.

 On one occasion Jesus was accused of working by the power of Beelzebub as He drove out demons. To this audacious accusation He replied:

 “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.

23 “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. Luke 11:17-23 (NIV)

In the spiritual realm division brings devastating and deadly consequences. Those who draw lines in the sand to divide the followers of Jesus over less than essential doctrines ultimately hurt and hinder the work of God among us. When we take a “lose/lose” attitude toward conflict in our ranks, the body of Christ suffers, and our mission to reach the ends of the earth is hindered.

We should not be surprised that there would be an attempt to divide our ranks. Remember we are struggling in a spiritual war for the hearts and lives of nations. The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to live in contentious times. He even contributed to the conflict at times like when he and Barnabas split ways over John Mark. (A decision I believe he lived to regret, and repent of). Paul wrote:

11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph 6:11-12 (NIV)

 Is it any wonder that Jesus shortly before facing the cruel cross prayed to our Father saying:

 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. John 17:11 (NIV)

 It appears Jesus recognized that any attack on the unity of His body was an attack on the very heart of His mission.

 As moderate Baptists are gathered in Atlanta celebrating a “New Baptist Covenant”, the reason for this call to unity is vividly being lived out in the actions of the IMB in Gainesville, Florida. Meanwhile, over 5000 IMB missionaries struggle to keep their eye on the ball and win the world to Christ while we play a version of high stakes “political chicken” behind closed doors. Being “one in Christ” is not as easy as it may appear on the pages of the Scriptures but it is worth striving for with all our hearts, because being “one” with Christ and with each other stands as one of the keys to the explosive expansion of the Kingdom and our enemy knows it very well.

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New Baptist Covenant

The New Baptist Covenant

History will be made today in Atlanta as Baptists from across North America gather as an expression of our “unity in Christ”. This dream of unity across racial and theological lines hopes to reverse recent divisive trends among the people of God who claim the name Baptists.

The stated mission of this covenant finds its heart beat in the words of Isaiah quoted by Jesus as the mandate of His personal mission:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19 (NIV)

The framers of this gathering stated this mission as follows:

We Baptists of North America covenant together to:

  • Create an authentic and prophetic Baptist voice for these complex times,
  • Emphasize traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality, and
  • Promote peace with justice, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and marginalized, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.

As I read the stated mission and objectives of the covenant it resonates with heart felt feelings I have had for years. I have longed for the day for the lines we have drawn in the sand between us to be blown away by the winds of the Spirit. I can find nothing wrong with the stated mission of this gathering, and I pray with all my heart this will be the birth of a new day in Baptist life. I pray this spirit of unity will find its way to my immediate family that goes by the name the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I too dream of a day when labels and letters no longer define us, and we strive together as one people on one mission.

A young Texas Baptist leader who has made the trek to Atlanta wrote of his dream for this meeting. Ken Williams wrote on the Baptist Young Professionals blog:

“As a result, several thousand young Baptist leaders like me are headed to Atlanta on January 30 to participate in the New Baptist Covenant. We are going because we believe the next chapter in Baptist history is going to start sounding more like the first. We are going because we believe Baptists of tomorrow must adopt an entire new set of values—values big enough to include renewed sense of social justice and racial reconciliation. We do not expect to change 30 years of corruption in three days; we only hope to take the first step on the journey we have been called to travel.”

I pray his dream is realized in his generation. I hope it is not too late for mine. I will be working to reverse those trends as long as God gives me breath. Last night as I was reflecting on this significant milestone in Baptist life I was drawn to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote in his classic work Life Together this call for unity. He wrote:

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it is a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

I believe we lost something in all our political maneueverings of the past 30 years. I am afraid we have forgotten who it is that truly binds us together—Jesus!

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Looking into a Glass Darkly: The Language of Money (part 3)

When people chose to speak to an organization in the dialect of dollars and cents storm clouds can be seen brewing just over the horizon. Among Christian organizations and churches I suspect that “money language” is the language of last resort.. The worst part of speaking to an organization through money is the fact that those who suffer are often those least responsible, and are often those in the greatest need.

 Tony Campolo in his book Speaking My Mind spoke of the slow gradual demise of mainline denominations in America. He observed that as these denominational leaders pursued various “social” agendas and positions they lost touch with the rank and file members in the pews. As they lost the hearts of the people the pocketbooks followed which showed up significantly in the bottom line. As the money dwindled, the programs of these organizations had to be downsized. Campolo illustrated this by recounting the story of the National Council of Churches:

 “The Interchurch Building on Riverside Drive in New York City, which serves as the headquarters of the National Council of Churches, was once bustling with staff running a host of interdenominational social justice programs. Today, the failure of church members to put up the money to run such programs has resulted in such huge cutbacks that only a skeleton crew remains. Some office space is rented out and much space is left unused.”

 As I read this account my heart sunk as I reflected on recent lay-offs at the BGCT. The stately Baptist Building on Washington Ave. in Dallas once stood as a reflection of the strength, vitality, and goodness of God among our people. If our current giving patterns continue will we begin to lease offices to other organizations to help pay the bills?

 As we closed out the 2007 budget year the gifts from our churches once again dipped and we finished the year by giving $1 million less this year than in 2006 (2007 receipts $39.9 million/ 2006 receipts $40.9 million). Much of that loss occurred over the last 45 days of the year after the Amarillo convention. Due to this unanticipated slump in income we face another challenge this year in the area of stewardship. The 2008 BGCT budget calls for gifts of over $43.3 million from our churches, which will demand an increase in giving over last year of over 8.5%, and remember in 2007 our giving declined by 2.5%. To cut to the chase, we may not have reduced the budget enough last year even though we eliminated 29 positions from our staff.

 From my perspective there are at least two ways to address this problem. We can attack it on the control side and continue to cut and slash our budget and personnel. Or we can attack the problem from the supply side. Our churches need to give more, and we need more churches giving. We also need to stop losing our churches out the back door.

A number of years ago I read a story about a young African-American Baptist pastor who was called to an old congregation. As he tried to implement his vision for the church he met great opposition from a number of “Fat Cats” in the church. These so called leaders showed up on Sunday driving expensive cars, and wearing flashy jewelry. At every turn these leaders undercut the pastor, so he decided to check the financial records of the church to see how much these “Fat Cats” were giving. To his amazement in spite of their flashy attire their giving records were pitiful. In an effort to silence their voice among the people or to challenge them to step it up he took the unorthodox approach of publishing the giving records of the church members in a book on display in the church foyer. Any church member or guest could thumb through the pages of this financial record and see who gave what. As you can imagine suddenly the voices of the “Fat Cats” were silenced and the people realized who the real players were in the church.

 In a sense the BGCT already does this, and if you took the time to read the fine print in the most recent giving report in the Baptist Standard dated January 7, 2008 you might be surprised what you find. Over the past twenty years the leadership core of our convention has had Texas Baptist Committed and CBF ties. These leaders rose up and fought off Fundamentalism in our ranks and protected our beloved convention from a hostile takeover. However, the financial strength of our convention still to this day rests with our BGCT/SBC churches. Recently I have been in circles where questions have been raised about the loyalty of strong SBC churches like Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler. Those questioning their loyalty did not realize this great East Texas church gave more money to the BGCT than any other church (for instance in this most recent report GABC gave $639,944 to the BGCT). Mean while I know of two men who held significant positions of leadership in our convention and when I looked at the giving records of their churches between the two of them their churches gave $8,930.

 I have heard much talk about historic Baptist principles in our ranks in recent years. For me financial stewardship and cooperation would rank right up there with practically any Baptist value. If we are serious about capturing a new day for the BGCT it is time for us to put our money where our mouth is. No question the leaders of the SBC Fundamentalists have a terrible record in this area and were called on the carpet in Greensboro NC, but if we look close we are not doing much better. If someone is serious about being a leader among us then lead by sacrifice and commitment. It’s time to pass the plate again!

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A Response to Lee Concerning New BGCT Executive Director

I decided to post my response to some comments by Lee Saunders to my post on the new Executive Director of the BGCT “A New Day Dawns”. Lee and I both hoped for a new Executive Director who would have had stronger public ties to the “constructive conservative” churches of our convention. Below are a few of my thoughts on this issue. I believe our best course of action is to get behind Dr. Everett and to help him lead us to be all God wants us to be.

Lee,

Thank you for your comments. I intend to blog on the issue of the budget in the coming days. I agree with you completely Dr. Everett has been set up for a major crisis in the area of finances, and the situation will not get much better if he is perceived to be a strong moderate leader. Our BGCT churches who had connections with the SBC want change and to be included in the power structures of the convention. I hope Dr. Everett will strongly encourage our BGCT officers to fill the study committee mandated by the last convention with a strong majority of BGCT/SBC leaders and new faces. This would send a clear indication that we will not be dealing with business as usual.

Concerning your desire and my desire for a leader more closely aligned with the values of many of our conservative churches, I believe in the light of our current situation that we need to be pleased, and committed to help Dr. Everett succeed. The Search Committee was a blend of good people. I believe they want what is best for our convention, but they were trapped in a very difficult situation. The power structures and values of the BGCT over the past 20 years have been strongly moderate. Fundamentalist continue to create a cloud of fear and suspicion. Interpreting the last convention in Amarillo was a test for even an OT prophet. Was it a Panhandle fluke? Do those of us who have started the movement to bring the BGCT back toward the SBC churches in our convention mean business? Do we have what it takes to broaden the tent and to get the majority of our churches to send messengers to the convention to establish meaningful change? Is the TBC still the moral/values conscience of the convention or have the winds of change truly began to blow?

In light of these uncertainties I believe they made a wise choice. Dr. Everett can work with the present power structures (i.e…TBC, CBF leaders). However, if Dr. Fish is right about him, and I trust Dr. Fish, Dr. Everett has a Kingdom view that can embrace the values of the “constructive conservatives” among us. If Dr. Everett is pragmatic, and practical it will be a “no brainer”. He will realize that 90% of the resources come from BGCT/SBC churches. He will realize that his two top giving churches and their pastors are strong SBC guys (Green Acres/FBC Midland). He will see that we must stop the financial drain immediately or we will severely compromise our ability to do what God has called us to do.

In light of these realities, those of us we want to see meaningful change need to step up the plate immediately. We need to show him we are friends, not foes. We need to prove by our actions that our agenda is Kingdom First, not control.

The ball is in our court. We can help him and our convention succeed, or we can throw stones and suspicion and allow this great Kingdom enterprise to die a slow, agonizing death. I choose to get behind him, and to fan the winds of change.

David

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New Day Dawns!

Today the BGCT Executive Director Search Committee announced that they will recommend Dr. Randel Everett of FBC Newport News, VA to be the next Executive Director of our state convention. I suspect for most of us he was not one who was on the radar screen. He may come as a surprise to most, but I pray we will rally behind him.

I know very little about him, but those who do have great confidence in his abilities, integrity, skills, and leadership. We have prayed the Lord would raise up a leader for this hour, and Dr. Everett now stands before us as that leader. The fact he comes from outside the system could work for or against him. The fact that he is relatively unknown to many Texas Baptists could have much the same effect. The thing I like most about him without knowing him is the fact that he said “YES” to a “God-sized”, “Texas-sized” challenge. I am willing to get behind someone who is willing to charge hell with a squirt gun if that is what the LORD wants him to do.

Restoring trust is a two way street. I believe this will be job one for him on many fronts, but we can help him out by trusting him now. I know trust must be earned at certain levels, but I don’t see any immediate advantage in taking a wait and see approach. I think it is time for us to put him at the top of our prayer lists and rally behind him. He is God’s man for this hour, but the task ahead of us will demand a total team effort. Dr. Everett can count on me and my church today, and I pray you will join me. I believe the winds of change are blowing among us and bright days are ahead.

I appreciate Ken Hugghins and his committee for their work.

Remember “we can do more together”–let’s make this motto a reality in the days ahead.

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A Remnant: Engage, The Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference 2008

Newspaper writers tend to be lousy historians. To be fair, it is not always their fault. It is difficult to understand, and explain the magnitude of a situation when you are standing in the “present”. Like the ol’ adage you cannot see the forest because of the trees. Interpreting the meaning of a “current” event can be as difficult as predicting weather in the Panhandle of Texas.

I attended the Texas Baptist Evangelism conference in Rockwall this week with a couple hundred of my brothers and sisters. Due to conflicts in my schedule and a bit too much fellowship in the hallways I was not able to attend all the sessions, and workshops, but what I did attend challenged, convicted, and encouraged me. John Randles too a big step of faith choosing the venue, and if you did not sit up front (Note: sitting up front as Baptists seems to go against the fundamentals of our faith) you felt like you were attending a late September afternoon Texas Ranger baseball game after the season is lost and the stands are filled only with vendors, and die-hard fans.

After the meeting I began to reflect on what it meant. Why did we have such a small crowd? We could point fingers at lack of promotion, or lack of high profile preachers, or division in our ranks. We could suggest the attention of our people is on the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta later this month. You could declare like a prophet of old that this is a sign we have lost our evangelistic fervor and the demise of our once great convention is at hand. You could explain it away as another sign that we are out of touch with the post-modern world, and and we created an event even the gray-heads would not attend.

Since this is my blog let me share what I took away from the meeting. First I was personally blessed. I did not get to participate in as much of the conference as I would have wanted to, but the sessions I attended ministered to me, and challenged me to be more intentional as a pastor, and as a believer in sharing the good news. I was especially challenged by Jon Randles message, and I intend to blog on this in a later post. Secondly, I enjoyed being around my friends. One of the reasons I attend BGCT meetings is because they are like family reunions to me (and this one did not involve voting on anything!).

Finally, I learned what a “remnant” feels like. I have enough gray hair, and miles on my odometer to remember the “glory days” of the Texas Baptist Evangelism Conferences, especially the ones held in Ft. Worth. In fact, my baby daughter was born fourteen years ago during the conference. Her arrival followed my wife having to climb to the top of the Tarrant County Convention Center to find a seat!

In those days we took a great deal for granted. I assumed we were immune to change and decline. I was wrong, and I was living in the land of denial and I am not talking about Egypt. When I stared out over the hundreds of empty seats this week, I was disappointed and sadden, but not deterred from my convict that fresh winds of change are blowing among us.

As I reflected on what I sense God is doing among us I was drawn to the words of Isaiah 11:21-22.

20 In that day the remnant of Israel,
the survivors of the house of Jacob,
will no longer rely on him
who struck them down
but will truly rely on the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob
will return to the Mighty God.

Isaiah 10:20-21 (NIV)

It appears the lesson of the remnant is: RETURN AND TRUST IN THE LORD.

I fear that we corporately have wandered away from our trust and reliance on the LORD. I believe we must face the harsh reality we need to return to the LORD, if we are going to be all He wants us to be in the years to come.

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Looking into a Glass Darkly (part 2)

One of the challenges faced by the church today may be the need to adopt a “both/and” mentality instead of an “either/or”. Our boxes may be too small for the complex realities of today. Like “new” wine in “old” wineskins, we may be about to ruin a good party by having our “new wine” splattered on the floor and soaking into the carpet because our “old” traditions and wineskins of the past cannot contain the “spirit(s)” of today!

 The old mainline denominations have already shown us what not to do by their unintentional demise in recent history. Their church rolls and financial income dwindled while they hooked their wagons to the “social” agendas. Tony Campolo in Speaking My Mind noted this near fatal mistake writing:

 “To make matters worse, church members often diametrically opposed the positions on social issues articulated from the pulpits of mainline Protestantism. Sociologists have conducted studies validating the fact that church members generally have more conservative stances on political and social matters than do their denominational leaders, or even their clergy” (Campolo, Speaking My Mind, pg.5)

“Even those who agree with the liberal positions many of the leaders of the mainline churches have taken will have to admit that such liberal positions on those matters I have cited are not conducive to fostering growth in church membership or increasing financial support. Thus, it is not surprising that for the last few decades, church membership in mainline denominations has declined, and giving has dropped below what is needed to sustain denominational programs” (Campolo, Speaking My Mind, pg.6)

 These statements challenged my thinking on the future of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Over the past ten years our moderate leadership has challenged our churches and membership to confront a number of social and theological issues. Many of these issues may have needed to be addressed but many could have waited for a more prudent time. From my perspective often the issues arose in reaction against actions and blunders of the Southern Baptist Convention. Too often in my opinion our convention leadership was too reactionary, and may have wandered from our core values in an effort to distance us from the extremes of Fundamentalism.

 A key factor in leadership involves gaining and keeping a following. If a leader gets too far ahead of his or her people often the influence of the leader is diminished. Take the issue of women in ministry as an example. I believe God wants women to play a vital and significant role in the advance of the Kingdom. However, the issue of woman pastors is a hot button for many people who sit in the pews of our “conservative” churches. If a leader chooses to make woman pastors/woman ordination a major agenda item it would appear to me that he or she would be losing touch with the rank and file churches of our convention. At one point we had 5000 BGCT churches and only 1 church had a woman senior pastor. Beside it appears to me that calling a pastor and ordination are local church issues, and our convention leadership needs to trust our local churches to follow the leadership of the Lord in these matters.

 In the latest Baptist Standard, Dr. Wade pointed out the balance in our recent approach to ministry by calling attention to the Evangelism conference next week in Dallas, and the New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta later this month. I believe he is on to something. However, I trust he is aware that a large number of our conservative churches and members may be troubled by the political overtones of the New Baptist Covenant gathering with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter has headliners. I know Dr. Wade feels deeply the BGCT must be a significant player in this gathering, but in making this decision I hope he counted the cost in terms of its impact on the perception of our convention leadership among our churches. By making the NBC such a high profile event, and by spending significant (private) resources to promoted this historic Baptist gathering he runs the risk of splinting our fellowship further.

To be honest, the actions of the BGCT have not reach the depth of the dissonance the mainline denominations have taken in recent decades, but it is clear from the “church drain” that we have drawn some lines in the sand that many were not willing to cross.

My conviction is that we need to keep the “main thing the main thing”. We need to focus our energies on missions, evangelism, church planting, higher Christian education, ministerial equipping and meeting human need. Granted there is a place for advancing certain social agendas, but not on the front burner.

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