Monthly Archives: November 2008

A Smile

Monday I spent the day in Dallas at the offices of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I had my first scheduled meeting as president with the officers of our convention Carolyn Strickland and Bobby Broyles. It was a good productive meeting as we discussed our responsibilities and opportunities as leaders. Randel Everett, Steve Vernon and our host for the day Chris Liebrum were very helpful and insightful as they helped equip us for the task at hand. I believe we are off to a good start.

During a break, I strolled over to the wall of portraits of the former Executive Directors of our convention. It was intriguing to see the faces of men I had heard about and a few I had met. Leaders like James Landes, J.H. Williams, Charles Wade, T.A. Patterson, and Forrest Feezor. One thing that struck me as odd was that only one of these men were smiling in their portraits. The only smiling face was that of Dr. Bill Pinson. I wondered why he broke rank and smiled. I guess I could ask him, but as I looked at his portrait I was caught up by a sense of optimism and joy. Pinson led us well during wonderful times of growth and expansion, and difficult days of division. His faith and joy helped us to work together in the best and worst of times.

A simple smile sends a strong message of hope. Now that the weight of leading our convention rests on my shoulders, I pray I too will smile as we face the future together. I am reminded of the words of Nehemiah speaking to his people broken by their sin and failure after hearing the Word of the Lord from the lips of Ezra. Nehemiah challenged his people standing in the midst of the rubble of their past to face the future with hope by saying “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” I  too pray the joy of the Lord will light our way into our future.

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Principles of Trust

“Trust is almost always needed when leaders are accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations”—Leadership Challenge

“Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters”—Proverbs 25.13 NIV

In large complex organizations trust makes cooperation and effectiveness possible. An environment of trust fosters the opportunity of creativity, innovation, teamwork, and synergy. When fear and suspicion poison the environment, the organization has a tendency to divide up in small tribes and clusters; the individual feels isolated, and teamwork becomes increasingly difficult. Suspicion undermines creativity and risk-taking because those on the edge fear that no one has their back, and that limited success or networks of highly placed people are their only protection.

For the Baptist General Convention of Texas to fulfill its Kingdom assignment trust must become the norm for all of our relationships. In recent years due to scandals and struggles within the family, our trust between each other has been injured, but it is far from dead. I believe we can experience a rebirth of trust in the coming years by simply going back to the basics of good, healthy relationships.

Leaders, both professional and positional, must work to reestablish trust . There are leaders among us who have titles and job descriptions describing their roles within the family, and there are other leaders whose influence far outweighs any title or lack of title. Our leaders at every level must begin by setting the example of trust in their words and actions.

In the book Leadership Challenge the authors make this observation about the role of leaders in building trust:

“Leaders must demonstrate their willingness to trust the members of their teams first, before the team members can wholeheartedly put their fate into the leader’s hands.”

In other words leaders go first. People trust us when we trust them. People trust us when we listen to them and take their concerns and ideas seriously. People trust us when we demonstrate our confidence in their integrity. People trust us when we keep our promises and commitments, when we admit mistakes and ask for forgiveness, and when we protect the reputation of those not in the room.

Kouzes and Posner in The Leadership Challenge give these practical suggestions on how to establish a culture of trust:

1. Always say we.

2. Create interactions

3. Create a climate of trust

4. Focus on gains, not losses, focus on opportunities, not problems, and create winners, not losers.

5. Involve people in planning and problem solving.

6. Be a risk taker when it comes to trusting others.

This week I received a long distance telephone from a former officer of our convention who called to congratulate me on my election as president. In the course of the conversation he acknowledged that he had not voted for me. However, he called to encourage me and to get to know me. In the course of the conversation we were able to share about our hopes and dreams for the convention. We spoke of some of our concerns. At the end of the conversation, I sensed I had a new found friend and comrade in the struggle to help us move forward. Some who know us from a distance might suggest we are on opposite sides of our current struggles, but it became quite clear in reality we were pulling together in the same direction. A simple telephone call or face to face conversation can go a long way toward helping us to learn to trust each other and work together.

 

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Messenger Count: A Historic Perspective

When the Baptist General Convention of Texas met in Fort Worth on November 10-11, 2008 only 1891 messengers were registered to be part of these historic days. Even though Fort Worth is linked into the I-35 corridor which houses much of the Texas population, we had less messengers made their way to “Cowtown” than travelled to Amarillo the year before. Many suggest these numbers reflect the apathy and demise of the convention. Others suggest that we must begin to embrace the digital age by moving to a webcast of the convention proceeding to satellite sites across the state so our messengers don’t have travel so far to have their voice heard.

Just for the sake of perspective we would be wise to remember that in Houston the Southern Baptist of Texas held their 10th annual meeting. According to published reports there were 1033 messengers at their historic gathering. So between the two Texas conventions there were 2924 messengers sent from Baptist churches. Between the years 1972-1979 the BGCT averaged 2501 messengers. During these “peace” years our attendance was less than the combined total of the two conventions this year. In other words maybe we are not at such historic lows as one might suggest. Besides I want to argue that messenger attendance may not be the best measure of the health and vitality of an organization to start with.

Take your local church as an example if you are having historic high attendance at your monthly, or quarterly business meetings I suspect someone is in trouble, or you are having a Blue Bell Ice Cream social right after the meeting. Few of us gage the health of our churches based on attendance at business meetings, so why would attendance at the Annual meeting be any different. Granted, I want to explore ways of getting more people involved, and I would like to see the attendance improve, but that in no way is this job one for any of us.

I do believe our format does limit the involvement of many of our faithful churches and leaders. When I was in the Minnesota/Wisconsin Baptist Convention we held our annual meetings on Friday evening and Saturday morning. Our convention was a convention of small churches. Most of our pastors were bi-vocational so we sought to make it possible for them to take a long weekend and join us for what was closer to a family reunion than a business meeting. Believe it or not, the BGCT is also a convention of small churches, granted we have a large number of flagship churches, but the vast majority of our churches average less than 100 in attendance and many of them less than 50. If we are serious about broadening the tent we may need to explore ways of making our annual meetings more accessible to these churches by exploring new days or even new times of the year.

Before we begin to panic about the slow demise of the BGCT let’s remember:

  1. We are now dealing with “two” Baptist families in Texas not one, so let’s compare apples to apples.
  2. We are moving into a time of “peace” and away from the struggles of the recent past.
  3. We are adapting to a “post-denominational” world on many fronts.

On the bright side the spirit of our convention is good. We have a huge Kingdom assignment to keep us business in Texas Hope 2010, and I am confident that fresh winds of change are in the air!

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Trust: The Life Blood of Cooperation

On Tuesday, I will complete my first week in office as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. I suspect not only am I the first second generation president in our history. I may be the first “blogging” president. Concerning my blogging in the days ahead, due to my increased travel schedule and trying to balance all the good things in my life I may not be able to blog as often, but I will try to write from time to time. I enjoy blogging because it gives me an opportunity to express some of the issues and truths I am wrestling with, and it also has created for me a network of friends and even at time critics who help to keep me grounded and in tune with the world around me. As you know leadership at its best cannot be done from ivory towers, but must be down in the dust and mire of the real world and relationships. Too often leaders surround themselves with those who tickle their ears with platitudes rather than speaking the truth in love.

Once the weight of responsibility nestled on my shoulders good and firm, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Why was I so passionate about this place of leadership for the last three years? Now that I could put hands and feet to making my dreams a reality where should I begin?

In a day when so many my age and younger question the necessity of large cumbersome denominations, and complex conventions that seem to seep the life blood out of churches to fulfill missions at times appear to be detached from the heart beat of the local church, why would one give his or her self to this task? Why do we need denominations and conventions? To be frank, I don’t “need” a denomination or convention; I “want” to be a vital part of a denomination or convention. No I don’t believe I have lost my mind or that I live in a traditional fog created by too much fried chicken and banana pudding. I want to be part of something larger than myself and what my church can do. I believe cooperation, networking, interdependence, and working together are timeless Kingdom values. Values essential for doing Kingdom work on a “God-sized” scale, both here in Texas, and around the world.

Listen to Paul writing to the church in Rome:

4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5 (NIV)

Some may argue he is speaking of the local church, but I believe the principles are far reaching and do speak to the opportunities and challenges of doing Kingdom work on our Kingdom agenda together. Where do we want to get our strategies and models for ministry? Do we want to only depend on the organizational and leadership trends of our day or do we want to catch the wind of the Spirit and move in rhythm with God at work among His people.

Since we live and exist as “one” in Christ, I believe job one for me and for us corporately will be to work hard to establish trust as the life blood of our relationships and work together. I will speak more to this issue this week, but I cannot stress enough how essential it is that we learn to trust each other. I know trust at the highest levels must be earned, but I believe in the Kingdom we start at trust not suspicion.

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60 Seconds

On Monday afternoon I sat waiting surrounded by family at the Baptist General Convention meeting in Fort Worth. We were anticipating President Joy Fenner’s announcement of vote totals from the election for president. It felts as if the clock was standing still as I waited in anticipation for the results.

Earlier in the afternoon, Bruce Webb had nominated me for the office of president. He did a wonderful job, and there were even times that it sounded like he was describing me. (I am going to have to get him to preach my funeral one day!!) Likewise, Dr. Bill Tolar did a good job placing into nomination the name of Dr. Stephen Hatfield, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lewisville, and the co-chair of the Future Focus Committee of the BGCT. After the nomination speeches the crowd of approximately 1400 people sat in silence. Without the benefit of polling it was impossible to know the mood of the crowd, so that only increase the feelings of uncertainty.

As the seconds ticked by as minutes, we waited and waited. Shortly after 2:00 p.m. President Fenner was handed a note. She studied the note closely and paused for what seemed like the three and a half years of the tribulation. She then announced that she had the results from the presidential election. Now time sped up and my hearing slowed down, and my mind became like a slow computer. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she reported that thirteen hundred some odd votes were cast. Immediately I begin trying to do the math. Half of thirteen hundred would be six hundred and something. While I was slowly computing the percentages, President Fenner said “For David Lowrie…seven hundred and” at this point my brain froze up. I thought to myself “Did she say seven hundred—seven hundred is half of fourteen hundred—I have more than half the votes.” At this point I am trying to make sense of what I was hearing, then it hit me “I was elected president.” A big smile crossed my lips. A huge weight was lifted. Two years of working and dreaming came true—a miracle happened, and I was going to get to serve as president. Those around Robyn and me began to celebrate, and I hugged my wife and gave her a quick kiss.

This excitement and joy lasted for thirty glorious seconds, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks, “I was elected president of the BGCT.” Much like the punch line from a bad joke, I had received the good news and the bad news all at once. A friend of mine reminded me of a quote he heard from President Bill Clinton after he was elected president, allegedly he said that I feel like a dog that just caught the car he was chasing and stopped and asked “what am I going to do now!” As quickly as the weight of the election had lifted, the weight of the responsibility feel on my shoulders and to be honest, it was a bit more than I could bear alone. The good news is that I don’t have to do this alone. I am convinced we are all in this together, and the best news of all, is that we are partnering with the LORD Himself in this Kingdom assignment.

For two years I have talked and dreamed about what we could do together. I offered ideas and suggestions. I did my best to be a team player. Now as president, I challenge all of us to step up and claim the future God has laid out for us. At the press conference following the election I said to the writers that I did not believe the election showed a divided convention. No I believe that 100% of the votes were cast for positive, progressive, proactive change because Stephen Hatfield and I only want what is best for our convention and our future.

Challenging days lie ahead, but I believe some of our best days are just around the corner. For those of you voted for me, thank you for believing in a dreamer and giving me this opportunity to serve you. For those who voted for Stephen, thank you for being part of the process and helping us determine the Lord’s will in an open election that took the high road, and I pray in the days ahead that we can work together for the future of our great convention, but more importantly for the advance of the Kingdom of God in our lifetime.

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Why?

Why would anyone in their right mind allow someone to nominate him or her to be president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas? I have wrestled with this question for a couple years now. Those who know my story know that I will be nominated on Monday, November 10th in Fort Worth to be president of the convention by Bruce Webb, pastor of First Baptist Church of the Woodlands.

I wish I could claim insanity as the reason, although it could be my midlife crisis kicking in at the ripe old age of forty-eight years old. I have been told that when men reach their midlife crisis they either buy a “Harley” or a convertible, or run for political office. With one daughter in college at Howard Payne and another heading off to college next year, I could not afford the sports car. That is not to mention the fact that I have my first daughter Lorin getting married next June. So here I am throwing my hat in the ring hoping to get elected.

It would be easy as a pastor to suggest that I am doing this because I believe it is God’s will for my life. It is true that I do feel compelled to do what I can to help our convention embrace the future. However, I have been known on occasion to confuse my voice for the voice of God. One huge comfort I have in this matter is the fact that it will not be my decision whether I am elected president, but rather the decision of the messengers to the convention, and ultimately in God’s hands.

One of my greatest concerns is that I have gotten involved for all the right reasons. Ego can be deceiving, and Jeremiah warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things.” I have wrestled long and hard with why am I really do this?

To answer this question, let me invite you into my private world. The road to this decision for me dates back to 1979, when I was a student at Baylor. As most Southern Baptists remember, this was when political maneuvering and plots became part of the Baptist story. The “Conservative Resurgence” began on the floor of the convention in Houston. Suddenly all the rules changed. A “winner take all” mental struck the leadership of the convention. Over the next several years, the Fundamentalist narrowly won heated elections and took the all the spoils of war by stacking the boards of trustees with their loyal foot soldiers. Soon the Fundamentalists held major vote on all the boards and one by one good loyal Baptist leaders were ousted in favor of card carrying Fundamentalists. In Texas this dark reality became more than a nightmare when Dr. Russell Dilday was ousted from his post at Southwestern, and locked out of his office to boot. Much like the historic cry of “Remember the Alamo” in Texas history, when Dilday was fired Texas Baptists rose up to protect the Baptist General Convention of Texas from takeover, and to safe guard its institutions. The Baylor Board of Trustees took unprecedented action to distance itself from the fray and to maintain its Baptist heritage.

Now the struggle became very personal for Texas Baptists who by and large were very conservative theologically. Since most of the pastor in Texas were Southwestern grads, and most of the churches in Texas were by nature conservative the fight became a very difficult “civil war” as brother fought against brother. Much like on the national level the elections in Texas were highly contested, and the victor took the spoils of war and filled the key leadership posts with loyal Texas Baptists. From my perspective the radical Fundamentalists fringe of the convention began to make overtures of splitting the convention and starting a new convention in historic Baptist faction. Who knows how many of our churches find their roots in unresolved congregational squabbles?

At first few of us felt this would ever happen. Surely Dr. Pinson could help hold us together, even though the seeds of dissention were taking roots and bearing ugly fruit in the form of character assassinations, false rumors and accusations. I don’t have time to explain all that happened but needless to say ten years ago the Southern Baptists of Texas convention was formed and over this decade a couple of thousand churches left the BGCT or chose to be dually aligned.

As this exodus occurred the BGCT began to suffer financially. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were channeled in new directions, and the BGCT leadership did their best to hold the ropes. However, the weight of carry the mission of the convention and sustaining the work of its institutions became more than one could bear and the strain began to be telling. With each year the budget was cut or supplemented by financial reserves. On the grassroots front, many loyal BGCT/SBC churches found themselves feeling disconnected from the mission and the vision of the BGCT. Much of this disconnect could be traced to efforts by the BGCT leadership to distance themselves or to correct moves made by the Fundamentalists leadership of the SBC.

As the good Baptist ship began to take on water, I felt it was time for someone to stand up and say that we needed to change. Business as usual was not going to help us embrace the future. Besides, the world over the twenty years of the struggle changed dramatically, and for the most part we missed the implications of the change because of our internal struggles. I am now convinced that the greater challenge we face today has little to do with the theological and political struggles of the past, but rather to do with the fact that our vision has become very close to “old wineskins” in a day when “new wineskins” are a necessity.

So two years ago, Bill Wright and I began to dream of what would happen if we set a new course into the future. One not dictated by the struggles of the past, but rather by a bold new vision of the future. A vision rooted in our “Kingdom Agenda” (as Randel Everett likes to call it) and fueled the timeless principles of Kingdom cooperation. I believe vision and cooperation will be the key retooling the BGCT to be a powerful movement for Kingdom growth and ministry in a world where denominations are slowing dying all around us. I believe the BGCT has the opportunity because of its position, polity, diversity, and “can do” spirit to set the course for others to follow. However, we must be willing to taste the bitterness of our own failures, and disappointments in order to embrace the future. Like the seed that must be buried and die before the new growth can bud, I suspect we are struggling with death in certain arenas, so new life can be born.

When I began this journey I felt much like a revolutionary calling for radical and immediate change, but I am convinced now that change is in the air, but it will come much more like the nature rhythms of nature. I believe we are either in late fall, or early winter, but the spring is coming. With the coming of spring will be new visions and new hope. I believe young and old alike will be inspired by the Spirit to embrace the future with new strategies and expression of life founded on the bedrock principles of our past. I don’t think any of us know what the end reality will look like, but I believe all of us can have a part in shaping this future if we are willing to continue to communicate, cooperate and work together.

On Monday afternoon, I will confident the Lord will accomplish His will through the votes of His people. I believe Stephen Hatfield and myself only want to help us move into the future. If Stephen is elected, I must admit I will be somewhat disappointed, but I will also have a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have had the privilege to be part of history being made right before our eyes. I believe a new day is dawning for the BGCT and I am excited to be apart of it. I will also go to bed at night not having any regrets. I did my best, and I will trust the results to the Lord.

On the other hand, if the people elect me to be the president it will be a thrill of a lifetime. I know one man cannot be the answer for the future, but I pledge to do my best to help us move into the future with a bold commitment to be the greatest Kingdom force in Texas by joining hearts and hands to make Texas Hope 2010 a reality by sharing the hope of Jesus with every man, woman and child in Texas, and making sure the least of these among us have been touched by our love.

Join me in Fort Worth, and let’s be part of history together.

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Strong Coffee

Change is in the air. James Shamburger has announced that he will nominate Ken Coffee for the position of first vice president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. In a new day of “open” conventions, this is good news. Ken Coffee is the kind of quality leader we need in Texas Baptist life. He brings to the table a wealth of knowledge about the ins and outs of convention life and a huge network of relationships. Ken has served our convention well in the past, and if elected he will bring a great combination of history, and passion to the post.

As most who read this blog are aware, Carolyn Strickland will also be nominated for this post. Mrs. Strickland is a wonderful Christian stateswoman, who served along side her husband Phil through many years in leadership in Baptist life.

The real winner in the end will be Texas Baptists.

The important thing much like today in our national election is for people to show up and vote. Apathy is the great enemy in BGCT life. Now more than ever we need our churches to get involved in the process, and to invest their lives not just their money in the mission of our convention—because our mission is still the Great Commission of our LORD!!

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