Monthly Archives: October 2008

Tinkering or Transforming

As the Baptist General Convention of Texas moves toward its annual meeting in Fort Worth, many may be wondering what the future holds. Some suggest that “something good is dying”, and there may more truth to their sentiments than we might dare to face. Others believe things will be fine, we just need to “hunker down” and weather the storm like our friends on the coast did as Hurricane Ike blew and blew against their homes. Some believe the basic mission and vision of the convention is fine we just need to “tinker” with the engine—all we need is a “tune up.” Some take the long look into the future and believe we are entering a new day, and that God is calling on His people to follow Him in new ways.

Loren B. Mead, in his book The Once and Future Church suggested that the church of today needs to take the long look into the future. He wrote:

“If we are, as I am convinced, in a time in which the paradigms are changing, a cosmetic approach to change, the kind that deals with surface appearances, is inadequate. Organizational specialists distinguish between ‘transitional’ and ‘transformational’ change. By transitional change they mean the adaptations and shifts brought on by temporary dislocations and discomforts, moving to a new stability. By transformational change they mean the shattering of the foundations and the reconstitution of a new entity.”

“Churches that tinker with program and marketing are barely beginning to be on the edge of transitional change, but the building of the future church requires transformation at it very core.”

As I read his prophetic words written in 1991, and reflect upon the harsh realities and struggles we face today. I must agree that we need to stop “tinkering” and start seeking a “transformation” led by the Spirit to cast a new vision for cooperation and networking among Baptists for years to come. As we seek change we must remind ourselves we are dealing with a “living organism” of interdependent relationships not a machine that needs on overhaul. The change will probably proceed at the pace of natural growth and change. There will be seasons. It’s my prayer we are in the “winter” of deadness and hibernation, but the “spring” will soon break out all around us.

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Scared Straight

Do you remember the last time your heart raced in panic and fear? Too often fear grips and controls us. Too often fear colors our faith into dark shadows of gray.

 

In recent days fear and panic have stuck the power centers of the Western world. As the stock market swooned, and politicians in Washington circled their wagons, the American people waited wondering what in the world was going on. Some in the media sounded like the childhood character “Chicken Little” crying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.”

 

As the national election nears, you hear reports of the party faithful wringing their hands in terror that their hero will not be elected, and that chaos will grip the land if the people make the wrong choice. Many fear we stand firmly on “sinking sand” and soon all hope will be lost.

 

Even the followers of Jesus are not immune to fear and panic. One fateful night the disciples found themselves caught up in a raging storm, while Jesus slept soundly in the stern of the ship. In their panic, they woke him up pleading, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Too often the storm colors our view of Jesus.

 

Startled from sleep, Jesus stands and speaks directly to the wind and waves saying, “Quiet! Be Still!”As quickly as the tempest arose the raging sea turned to a sea of glass. In the quietness of the moment, Jesus had a rebuttal question, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Let’s face it who in their right mind would be afraid when Jesus sleeps aboard their boat?

 

I was intrigued by Mark’s account of what followed. He wrote:

 

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:41 (NIV)

 

Now the disciples had a “new fear”—the fear of God in the boat. No longer would Jesus fit into their “box” as a great teacher and humanitarian. Jesus never does quite fit into our boxes.

 

C.S. Lewis spoke of this “untamed God” in his children’s story The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As the children prepared to meet the King who turned out to be Aslan, the lion instead of a man, Lewis painted an insightful picture of Jesus, the Lion of Judah. He wrote:

 

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 

Jesus is far from safe just take that conversation up with Satan sometime. No, Jesus is not safe—but He is good! Sometimes in the storms of life we discover we have nothing to fear when Jesus is in the boat.

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A Simple Plan for Change

In less than a month, the Baptist General Convention of Texas will gather in Fort Worth for their annual meeting. In many ways it will be an historic meeting. It will be the first convention preceded over by President Joy Fenner, a wonderful Christian stateswoman who has ably led the convention this year. It will also be the first convention under the new administration of Executive Director Randel Everett. Once again representatives of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will be manning a booth in the exhibit area. In addition, this will be first time in over fifteen years that the Texas Baptist Committed did not endorse a slate of nominees who were destined to win the populous vote of the convention.

On the other hand, the BGCT faces a number of challenges that continue to cloud its future. Once again the Executive Board budget will reflect significant cuts in programming and ministries due to the lack of financial support of the member churches. The “trust” factor still looms on the horizon as many question the directions and decisions of the past and speculate if true meaningful change is possible.

Into this mixed bag of realities, I would like to suggest some simple steps for change.

  1. New Faces and New Perspectives: If we are going to enact meaningful change we will need to bring some new perspectives to the table. I would encourage the officers and appointing boards and committees of our convention to cast a broad net in the selection of our future leaders. Instead of using the litmus test of denominational loyalty or party participation, I would encourage that we look for the best and the brightest among us. We need leaders with hands on field experience to cast a bold new vision for tomorrow. We need to hear from leaders who are interacting with emerging church thoughts and practices. We need to listen to the leaders of the Western Heritage movement who have helped us to have “boots on the ground” in a huge emerging population responsive to the gospel. We need to enlist insights from strategists that are learning how to reach our urban centers whether it is the booming suburbs or the struggling inner cities of our state. We desperately need to get a handle on ways to reach the booming Hispanic population in Texas. We must not allow the failures and scandals the past to hinder daring attempts in the future. We must face the reality that we will not reach Texas if we lose our cities.
  2. Missions 101: I am in full support of the Texas Hope 2010 emphasis. I believe it was a genius move by Dr. Everett to get us back to the basics. However, I believe we need to come along side this evangelism emphasis with a renewed commitment to church planting. New churches continue to be the best answer to what ills Texas and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. There is no question that churches plant churches, and the local church must take the led, but the BGCT can be a huge partner in this process. I know the huge difference the BGCT can make from two distinct perspectives. In the late 1980’s I was a church planter in the North Dallas area. I know from personal experience the vast difference it made in my life and ministry to have the mentoring and financial support provided from the BGCT. The BGCT made a daunting task much more manageable. I also know from the perspective of a sponsor church pastor the incredible asset it is to have the resources and support of the BGCT at the table. Granted partnerships like this bring red tape and hoops to jump through but the relationship and the accountability are worth it. The world is coming to Texas and we need to make church planting a primary emphasis of our bold new vision of tomorrow. I believe there is no reason that we should not have the finest church planting movement in the United States and possibly in the world.
  3. Strengthen the Ropes: We must aggressively and humbly seek to restore trust among our member churches and seek to regain their trust in the vision and mission of the BGCT. We must make the motto “we can do more together” more than a slogan and make a reality. If we do not reverse the financial trends of the last ten years, we will miss a great opportunity to be on the front lines of Kingdom work in Texas. The local church has more and more options for their mission dollars. No longer does tradition dictate how a church invests its mission dollars. We must confront the perception that the mission and vision of the BGCT is irrelevant. To those who suggest our mission is irrelevant I want to ask a few questions: When did planting new churches become irrelevant? When did mobilizing an army of volunteers to respond to natural disasters become irrelevant? When did educating a generation of young students in a distinctively Christian university become irrelevant? When did providing a Christian presence on every major university campus in Texas become irrelevant? When did ministering the children at risk become irrelevant? When did equipping leaders for the challenges of today and tomorrow become irrelevant? I suspect this feeling of irrelevance really finds its roots in the party spirit and politicizing of our convention life since the dark days of the “Conservative resurgence” and battles over fundamentalism. I totally agree we can no longer spend our time drawing lines in the sand about orthodoxy when we are losing our state and our culture. I believe Texas needs the BGCT to step up more now than ever. If we are going to step up in full force we need a renewed commitment to the financial support of the convention. In order to gain this support, we need to make a concerted effort to rebuild trust, to broaden the tent of leadership, to initiate dialogue with churches that are pulling back or pulling away, and to understand fully what our churches and leaders are trying to tell us by their reduction in giving. There is no question that money talks but it does not communicate very well. When a church stops giving it tells us that something is wrong, but it does not tell us what is wrong. We need to go find out and respond to what we learn in an aggressive proactive way. I may part of a dying breed but I believe conventions can and will play a key role in the face of the Kingdom of God in the years to come, but only the conventions that pour the “new wine” into “new wineskins” will last. Choosing the status quo will require that “pre-need” arrangements be made because for all practical purposes churches and conventions who are not willing to change are choosing to be placed on hospice care. The truth is many great institutions and movements die and have a natural lifespan, but I believe the work of the Kingdom of God is an exception to this rule if we allow the Spirit to breathe new life into our hearts and minds and to give us His vision of tomorrow.

Only history will be able to define how significant this year’s convention in Fort Worth will be, but it is my prayer that it will be the dawning of a new day in the great history of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

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Voice of the Prophets

How does a local church leader prepare for a world of constant change? How can leaders raise on the “old wines” of denominationalism and traditional church forms embrace the “new wine” of the emerging, missional church? How does one who survives on the traditions and practices of the old system turn loose of the old and embrace the new—especially when turning loose of the old may involving losing your position, power, and influence.

Kester Brewin in his book Signs of Emergence suggests that before the “new” can be born within us we must read the last rites to the “old” that has been our foundation, security, and safety. In a sense the grave must precede the resurrection. Or as Paul put it “the old has passed away and behold everything has become new”.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann in his book Hopeful Imagination looked closely at the responsibilities and roles of the ancient prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. They were called to the daunting task of leading their people through the death of their nation, the exile and the rebirth of their dreams. He wrote:

(These prophets) are cast in the difficult role of providing voice and articulation to the faith and experience of a community in exile. Their pastoral responsibility was to help people, enter into exile, be in exile, and depart out of exile…to help them relinquish the old world, and receive the new.”

It occurs to me that God may be raising up among us prophets who have the same challenging and exciting task. Some of us may have to fulfill these roles today. If own journey is like that of Israel, we do not enter the exile willingly, but rather by force knowing in many ways we are suffering the consequences of our own sins and failures. Living during the exile calls for a faith that can trust God in a new land surrounded by strange people and customs and yet holding firm to Christ. The good news is God does not leave His people in exile—He leads them by the hand back home to new days of fruitfulness and faithfulness.

To be frank, I am not sure if we as a people are entering the exile or in the exile, but I am hopeful that we will soon be entering a new day in our history. May we learn the good and hard lessons of the past, but more importantly may be dream bold dreams of tomorrow with absolute faith in the One who can make all things possible.

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Old Wine Skins?

As I have been preparing my heart and mind for the days ahead, I have been seeking to see the Baptist General Convention of Texas through new eyes. As most of my readers may know, Bruce Webb, pastor of First Baptist Church of the Woodlands, has announced he will nominate me for the office of president this year in Fort Worth. Even though the days leading up to this year’s election has been much quieter than last year the challenges we face loom just as daunting and critical.

You need to look no further than last week’s Executive Board meeting in Dallas to discover the perils of our times. At the convention this year the Executive Board will propose another reduced budget. In light of the reduction of giving by our rank and file churches, we must learn to tighten the belt and live within our means. This belt tightening does not come cheaply. Thousands of ministry and missions dollars had to be cut from the budget and major past priorities like Worldconnex took much of the hit this time.

I believe Dr. Randel Everett stands as God’s man for this hour in our history, but one man and his vision alone cannot turn nearly a decade of decline around in a matter of months no matter how bold or daring his vision may be. If elected I am determined to come along Dr. Everett’s side to dream and implement a vision to help us embrace Texas with a movement that emerges from the heart of God and challenges the people of God to be mobilized on mission for the Kingdom.

As I have been mentally preparing I have been reading widely. I came across an intriguing book by Kester Brewin of England. I knew nothing of this young Christian leader from the Britain, but as I read his book Signs of Emergence: A vision for the church that is organic, networked, decentralized, bottom-up, communal, flexible—always evolving my mind began to resonate with his thoughts and ideas. As you may know the church in England and Western Europe may be a reflection of where our churches may be in two decades if we do not change. Brewin speaks out of the context many of us fear. He also speaks words of hope and change that we would be wise to heed.

In the introduction of his book he writes:

“To blame the demise of the church on personal holiness is a dangerous and wrong position. I believe that rather than focusing on changing individual lives, we need to change our corporate practice. New wine is currently being wasted by ruptured wineskins, and it is outrageous to ask the workers to keep pressing grapes when the vineyard keeps pouring it into old skins, allowing them to rupture and spill the newness into the drains”.

I suspect Brewin has unlocked a mystery many of us have struggled with. Could it be that in our struggles for “denominational purity” on either extreme that we have been distracted to the real challenges and issues facing the church today? In answer to this kind of question, Brewin shares an illustration from politics in England that sounded way too close to home.

“To use an example from politics, we have become a party unelectable. The faithful on the ground try desperately to talk policy and engage in debate with voters, while the party leaders fall out, backbite, and point fingers. One can always tell that an institution is in trouble when infighting starts and those at the top begin to lose sight of the outside world, focusing all their energies on internal wrangling, seemingly determined to pull the house down around them rather than lose face. It is not the party faithful in the constituencies who are losing elections, but the very structure of the party institutions and it is here that we must set the locus of change”.

As I read his description of the political institutions of England I could see us there. I fear we have lost sight of “the outside world.” The “world” we are called to love and reach has changed, and continues to change. Many of our churches in their efforts to speak into the change have changed as well. From conversations I have had with many of the leaders of our innovative large churches who have walked away from our convention, I sense they believe the BGCT has become outdated, irrelevant, and out of touch with reality. I believe many of these accusations may be unfounded and out of touch with much of what is really happening, but I must agree that business as usual will not “seize the day” looming on the horizon.

When Jesus spoke of new wine skins he was calling for change—radical change from those steeped in, and supported by the old systems. If Jesus calls for a similar bold change today, we must be willing to be wise stewards of what has been entrusted to us. Our forefathers do not want the BGCT to die on our watch, so I believe they are calling on us to have the same “frontier” spirit that brought this great convention into existence on the wide open plains of the old West. What would “new wineskins” look like in Texas? I don’t know if any one of us knows for sure, but I believe that through the creativity of the Spirit, and the commitment and vision of bold leaders amazing things can happen in Texas. I am praying that a new paradigm of cooperation will be take shape in Texas, and that we can lead the way into the new frontier!

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The Business of Missions

I believe we are living in a day of unprecedented time of change in the Western Church. As the world has “flattened” as noted by Thomas Friedman the face and focus of missions has be changing to embrace this reality. The day of missionaries deployed on “slow boats to China” is a relic of the past like the telegraph in the day of text messages. I suspect the role of the traditional mission sending organizations like the International Mission Board must and will change dramatically over the next decade. These changes will have much more to do with vision, methodology, and strategy than theological lines in the sand.

As the world has flatten the Western Church has been force to come to grips with the harsh reality that “missions as usual” will simply not cut it in a world with billions walking this planet having never even heard the name of Jesus, much less having a face to face relationship with a Christ follower. The enormous cost of deploying thousands of career missionaries will continue to be a daunting task as denominations and local congregations struggle to make ends meet financially. We cannot entrust the future of missions to the Cooperative Program alone in a day when cooperation at the denomination level is being increasing more difficult and rare.

I realize my ideas proposed here are not ground breaking nor cutting edge, but I would like to add my voice to the chorus for meaningful change in how we pursue the Great Commission of “making disciples of all nations” in my lifetime. I believe the Baptist General Convention of Texas has a unique opportunity to forge new vision of mission for tomorrow with a strategy partnership between our Baptist colleges and seminaries and tapping into the financial and business strengths of our people.

Here is a rough draft of someone sitting in the bleachers analyzing the game on the field. I propose our schools intentionally seek to equip and deploy young men and women to the mission frontier as business leaders and mission strategists. I don’t even know if this degree would be possible, but I propose the creation of a MMBA (masters. The young men and women who come out the program will be train strategist in both business models and church planting movements.

The components of the basic strategy are as follows:

  1. Train and equip our students to be well versed in establishing success international businesses and also how to plant churches overseas.
  2. Encourage the students to hire on with Fortune 500 companies or international companies that will send overseas on their payroll, or create a business platform organization for missions that provides the seed money for new business ventures. The business/missionary will enter the country as a business man or woman, and will work hard to establish a success business that will continue to provide the financial backing to help them remain in country, but this business venture will also allow for networking within the business community for the establishment of new churches.
  3. The “Business Platform Organization for Missions” (BPOM) would work with highly trained business leaders to help them establish “Christian” companies. The goal will be for the BPOM to provide the financial and oversight support to help these businesses to be established. Depending on the industry the financial support will vary. As a novice I would suggest a three to five year phase out of funding. In other words, if the new business does not make within three to five years the endeavor will be terminated, but hopefully a Christian presence would have been established that would continue long after the failure of the business platform. However, if the business platform succeeds it will then provide the financing of the church planting movement for many years to come. In addition, the business platform could hire additional trained MMBA Christian business men and women to further the work of the mission.
  4. So mission organizations have explored this model but from my perspective too often the business platform was nothing more than “hanging a shingle” but the business side of the project was either poor pursue or intentional ignored. In some cases I am aware of this “fake” business platform has raised some real ethical and legal difficulties for the missionaries. I fear the deception involved often opened us up to needless attacks from the “enemy” of our mission.

Granted to establish this model of missions could be very expensive. To launch a BPOM could cost in the millions of dollars, but I believe in the long run it would be a great investment in long-term missions. On the positive side, we already have the finest Christian colleges in the land. Many of these schools have some of the finest theologians, mission strategists, and business leaders in the state. If these great minds work together can you imagine the impact of this wave of young leaders coming out of our school could have on the world?

By principle I tend to be a “both/and” kind of thinker and dreamer. I am not suggesting the end of career missionaries as we have known them; I am only suggesting that we deploy a new breed of mission/business leaders for the new flat world we must embrace.

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