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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.