Monthly Archives: May 2009

BGCT Presidential Journal 19

Dallas: The Committee on Convention Business (COCB) met this week in Dallas. Mrs. Jeane Law is the chairperson of this year’s committee. The theme for the convention in Houston will be “Texas Hope 2010.” I felt it was important for our convention theme to resonate with our overall mission as a people.

There were two significant decisions or initiations made during this meeting from leaders across the state. One of the most significant will be recommendation from the COCB at this annual meeting. It was the consensus of the committee that the BGCT needs to explore creative and bold moves to improve the attendance and participation at our annual meetings. I know many have had a wide variety of ideas on how to move into the 21st century in terms of our meetings. The COCB will be recommending to the convention that this year’s officers appoint a study committee of our best and brightest minds to come back to the 2011 annual meeting McAllen to propose significant changes to how hold our annual meetings. In this electronic digital age, the study committee will explore all the possibilities open to us to do our work in a more effective and connected way.

In addition, since we are going to the Houston/Galveston area, I have asked some key BGCT leaders to identify at least ten churches that still need help rebuilding and restoring their facilities from the damage done by Hurricane Ike. The idea is that we will do church to church matches and during the week leading up to our annual meeting November 16-17, 2009 that our churches send teams to Houston to help. Much like “Extreme Home Makeover” construction teams from across the state will come to Houston to bring hope and help. As a climax to this “hope project” we will celebrate the work on Monday evening at the convention by a video tribute and a gathering of all the leaders and workers from the churches who make “Texas Hope 2010” much more than a motto, but a reality. Remember we less than six months from November, so let’s get to work!

I also want you to know that the Bill Glass Evangelistic Association will be sending their complete team to Houston to lead a major evangelistic effort in the prisons. We are hoping and praying that we will see several thousand men and women give their hearts and lives to Jesus during the days leading up the convention. One of the most fertile fields for sharing good news in Texas is our massive prison system. In a sense we have a captured audience of the Father’s prodigal sons and daughters, who long for a word hope. It’s my prayer that when we leave Houston on November 17th that we will leave it with more hope than when we arrived.

Let me encourage you to make the trip to Houston, and if you live in the greater Houston area to participate in this year’s convention and the events around the meeting. I believe fresh winds are blowing. We are entering a day of when we need every one at the table, but more importantly at work in the fields.

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Baptist Blogging: The Nervous System or Underbelly of the Kingdom

This week the dark side of the blogging world reared its ugly head. Baptist blogging has gotten a bad rap in many circles in recent years. In fact, there have even been Baptist bodies that have sought to take punitive action against bloggers among our ranks.

As a Baptist blogger I must admit that there are times that I am a bit disappointed with the judgment and posts of a handful of my peers. The instant nature of blogging is its power and danger. Blogging also can leave the illusion of authority and accuracy when in reality it is nothing more than speculation, and at worst slander. However, to clean up blogging one must have much more at his or her disposal than rules and regulations. To get at the heart of blogging one must get to the real “heart” of the matter. Jeremiah observed centuries ago that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Over the last three decades Baptist life has been shaped, and in my opinion poisoned by political agendas, power plays, and factional maneuverings. Trust and relationships have been bloodied on the altar of winning at all costs. Today someone can launch a blog, and climb high on his or her soap box and make any pronouncement and accusation they deem necessary to accomplish their purpose. The timeless philosophy of “the end justifies the means” runs rampant among us to our detriment and harm.

In our battles over the Bible and truth on the “world wide web” we have lost our way. Violating the mandates of Scripture to protect the Bible does not make much sense at all to those paying close attention. I suspect that if Paul lived today and stumbled into the blogging world, he may have posted the following:

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold…29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Eph 4: 25-27, 29-32 (NIV)

I know I sound a bit “preachy” but  I do believe we are called to a higher standard. I am convinced and believe taking  “the high road” is the best path into the future. In fact, the “higher” or “narrow” path does lead to life, greater trust, cooperation, synergy  and understanding, and it empowers us to be the people God has called us to be.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 18

The destination for this week’s travels was to Dallas for the BGCT Executive Board meeting. The Executive Board is a working board charged with the responsibilities of overseeing the work of the BGCT between annual meetings. The board divides its work between its missions and ministries and its institutions. The board is ably led by John Petty.

This week the board focused on two primary opportunities, the reorganization of the Executive board staff by Executive Director Randel Everett, and the move to disband WorldconneX.  These two moves were intended to streamline or flatten the work of the BGCT, and to narrow the focus of the work.

The reorganization revolved around focusing the work of the convention on its three historic values and Kingdom assignments: Evangelism & Missions, Christian Education, and Advocacy/Care. Simply put the mission of the BGCT is to work together to reach, teach, and care.  Three new “centers” have been established led by long term BGCT staffers. Wayne Shuffield will be the director of the Evangelism/Missions Center, Chris Liebrum will lead the Education/Discipleship Center, and Suzii Paynter assisted by Ferrell Foster will lead the Advocacy/Care center. This reshaping of the staff was so current that the ink was still wet, and some final assignments had not been totally confirmed.

One of the keys to this move is to enable the staff to work more as collaborative teams, especially in this day of downsizing of the staff. The BGCT staff has had a staff reduction from over 400 to just 270 staffers which include the Baptist Student Ministry staffers scattered across the state. Under Everett’s leadership and vision the BGCT staff will seek to be creative in their efforts to do “more with less.”

Another key component of the new vision of the BGCT work will be making the mission of WorldconneX as now mainstream in the work of the convention. WorldconneX led by Dr. Bill Tinsley sought to be cutting edge in its mission innovations and networks.  At times there seemed to be much confusion among some about the mission and purpose of WorldconneX. In an effort to mainstream its innovation the WorldconneX board resolved to disband its organization and to join forces with the BGCT in reaching the world. Two key contributions of WorldconneX  were its creation of “Inside/Out Weekends” designed to help local churches uncover their Kingdom assignments, and “Front Line Missions” which sought to help local churches send out their own missionaries instead of depending on national mission sending organizations. From my perspective, WorldconneX may have been just ahead of its time, but has given Texas Baptists two great innovations to help position the convention to be a key player on the world stage in the decades to come. I believe WorldconneX has a good investment that will pay long term dividends. We must remember in the rapidly changing world of today that there will be very few endeavors that will last over the long haul. This should not discourage innovation and risk taking; rather these qualities need to be at the cutting edge of our work together.

In addition, the Executive Board is still grappling with the effects of the slow down in the Texas economy. It appears the lagging Cooperative Program gifts reflect the state of the economy rather than an indictment of the work of the convention. In fact last year the BGCT only lost 18 churches and had a net gain of over 50 churches. I believe much of this turn around can be attributed to making Texas Hope 2010 the focus of our work together. Vision and mission brings diverse groups together especially when the mission strikes at the heart of why a group exists.

Overall I sensed a positive spirit at the Executive Board meeting. Fresh winds are blowing, and God is at work among us and within us.

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Baylor Search Committee Listening Session

Baylor University stands at a significant crossroads. For over one-hundred and fifty years Baylor has stood as a light for gospel in the heart of Texas. As the world has changed, Baylor has grown and thrived.

Currently the Baylor regents are searching for the 14th president of this great Texas Baptist school. The selection of a school president is by far one of the most important decisions in the life of a school, especially a private Christian university. In an educational environment where many historic Christian schools have wandered from their Christian roots, the role of the president is crucial.

I want to commend the Baylor Presidential Search committee for taking an unprecedented step of reaching out to the greater Baylor family to get input and feedback. Too often leaders are known for speaking and leading, and not so much listening.  However, listening may be by far one of the most strategic skills of a good leader.

I had the honor to participate in one of those listening sessions led by chairperson Joe Armes, and Ken Hall a member of the advisory committee. This session was in conjunction with the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board meetings in Dallas. Six members of the search committee met with key officers, leaders, and staff members of the BGCT.

One consistent theme flowed through the meeting. The theme was that the next president needed to lead Baylor to continue to be tied to its historic Texas Baptist roots.  The call was for Baylor to continue to be a center of education tied to a dynamic Christian faith, and an unquenchable quest for truth and excellence.

In a post-denominational world, when so many Christian institutions and conventions are struggling for relevance and significance. It is essential that Baylor continue to train and equip the next generation of young leaders to make a difference for the Kingdom of God in every facet of life. In many ways, Baylor holds one of the important keys to Texas Baptist life, because if the BGCT loses touch with the next generation of leaders, I fear it is game over.

One final observation: The Baylor family in recent years has had its fair share of struggles. Various lines have been drawn in the sand as strong leadership factions has struggled to shape the future of this great school. I believe each faction has the best of Baylor at heart, but their agendas have not always been compatible.  I would strongly encourage everyone who wants to influence Baylor’s future to remember that the bottom line is the students. Baylor does not exist for the alumni, nor faculty and administration. Baylor does not exist for the regents or the churches. Baylor exists for students; a generation of students that have been unique equipped and called to touch the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes remembering why you exist helps to put into perspective what you need to be doing.

I pray the LORD will raise up a leader for Baylor that will position this great school to continue to be a shining light in the world as it equips and unleashes another generation of young leaders for the glory of God.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 17

This week I had the opportunity to participate in one of the final meetings of the Future Focus Committee led by Stephen Hatfield and Andy Pittman. This committee was formed in response to a recommendation from Ed Jackson, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Garland at the 2007 Annual Meeting in Amarillo.

The following is the committee’s assignment: “The committee will study, analyze and project income for the BGCT and address relationships between the BGCT and its institutions. The purpose of this committee is to determine the best use of resources to win Texas and the world to Jesus Christ and to encourage and support the ministries to which God has called us.”

Clearly, this assignment is easier said than done. When this committee accepted its assignment little did its members know we would plunge into what many economist shave deemed “The Great Recession.” This economic downturn has complicated and made even more significant this task.

Over the course of the last eighteen months in dialogue with Randel Everett, Executive Director of the BGCT, and his key leaders, ideas, thoughts, and conversations have turned into visions and practical applications. In light of the magnitude and significance of the hour, many of the key components of this shift in vision and priorities are already being implemented. The Executive Board staff has already moved into three new teams strategically focused on mobilizing our work together on three historic and relevant fronts: Evangelism & Missions, Christian Education, and Advocacy/Care. 

In a time of streamlining and flattening of organizations, the BGCT will narrow its focus to three vital initiatives. These “big three” will be the main thing for our future together. We strive to be a people who share the gospel and start all kinds of new and innovative churches. We strive to be a people who equip and prepare our people to make a difference in the world. We strive to be a people who care enough to move out from behind our stained glassed windows to get our hands dirty and on occasion to get our hearts broken. Simply put, we are a people who reach, teach, and care.

From my perspective for this vision of the future to take hold, we must move in from the margins, and pull together around heart beat for ministry. We must rally around our core values, and make “grace room” for all the diversity among our ranks. No longer should we get our hands dirty drawing lines in the sand separating the orthodox from the other; rather we need to get our hands dirty touching the world around us with the gospel of Jesus through collaborations of grace.

In a few months, the final report of the Future Focus Committee will be in the hands of our people. The key for its impact will be if it moves from our hands into our hearts.

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BGCT Presidential Journal 16

This week I served the convention from my “Canyon White House.” It was good to spend a week at home. Clearly being a husband, father, pastor, and president makes for a full plate, and at times as they say in Texas “too many irons in the fire.” If it were not for the patience of my wife, the understanding of my daughters, and the hard work of ministry team of First Baptist Church of Canyon, it would be practically impossible to serve effectively in this role of leadership.

This week the world of cyberspace has drawn my attention. The week started with a Baptist blogger calling for a BGCT staffer to either resign or to be fired. The issue raised was concerning apparent interference of a BGCT staffer in the process of a church calling a pastor. In order to get to the heart of the matter, I called the blogger and asked for the details. The blogger chose to not incriminate anyone but wanted to give the offender opportunity to confess. However, in just a matter of days, the Baptist blogger pulled his blog, and posted an apology.  This apology took some of the sting of the accusation away, but there still remains some lingering issues. One huge challenge we face today with instant and quick communication through emails, Facebook, and blogging is the accuracy of information. It is critical those of us who choose to communicate using this medium take the high road, and seek to be very responsible in our communications. Cyberspace does not release one from the challenges of Jesus to go face to face to offending parties and to seek for repentance and reconciliation.

I believe Baptist blogs are one of the reasons I was able to gain a following and get a message out to people who I did not know. I am continually surprised by those who tell me that they read my blogs and observations. I have tried to treat my blogging like standing behind the pulpit. I seek to be very careful about what I write especially about others if it is critical. My personal mission is to build up, not tear down, to encourage, and not to expose.

In addition this Lee Saunders, Minister of Education at Garden Oaks Baptist Church in Houston posted some recommendations he intends to present at the BGCT Annual Meeting in Houston. His recommendations have to do with how the BGCT selects and appoints its leaders who serve on our committees and boards. His recommendations would strongly encourage more and more representation of our rank and file churches, and would minimize certain individuals rotating from board to board, or from certain highly positioned churches have numerous appointments while other churches have no representation at all. His recommendations are modeled after similar bylaws in other Baptist conventions. His post has stirred quite a firestorm of response. I gave Lee a call and when a good open discussion about his recommendations. The thing I like about Lee is that he still deeply cares, and he is a very deep and thoughtful observer of Baptist life. Lee challenges me to be at my best and for this I am grateful. I am thankful he is part of the “conversation.” I believe the challenges we face demand the best from all of us. I believe the answers for the future will be born out of a synergy of our brightest and best minds tackling these hard problems together.  One thought I have on this matter is that I believe if we can regain an environment of trust and cooperation we could see meaningful change in this area.

On a side note, Aaron Weaver, known in blogging circles, as Big Daddy Weave, posted his comments and observations about Saunders recommendations. He also posted at the end of his post related articles. One of the related articles was posted by Rick Davis and had exerts from an online interview I did with him in 2007. As I read my comments from those days, I realize I have grown and changed, but it also reminded me to be careful what you write because in this “new cyberworld” your comments leave tracks. I think James had it right when he wrote: “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry!” We would all be wise to learn to listen more!

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BGCT Presidential Journal 15

This week my travel took me to Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas where I attended the Currie-Strickland Lectures in Christians Ethics, and attended the board of trustee meeting. Since 1889, Howard Payne University has been faithful to its calling of equipping the next generation to change the world. This small Baptist university located in the heart of Texas has done a remarkable job of preparing young leaders for the challenges of extending the work of the Kingdom of God around the world.

The Currie-Strickland Lectures in Christian Ethics were established two years ago by the generosity and vision of Dr. and Mrs. Gary Elliston. It was their dream to establish the lecture series to honor two men who significantly shaped their lives Dr. Phil Strickland, and Dr. David Currie. This year’s lecture was on the relevant topic of “Ethics and Evangelism and the Problem of Hunger.”

The guest lecturers were Dr. Bill Tillman, T.B. Maston Professor of Ethics at the Logsdon School of Theology, and Dr. Jim Denison, Theologian in Residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Also in attendance at the lectures were Carolyn Strickland, 1st vice president of the BGCT, and wife of Dr. Strickland, and Bobby Broyles, 2nd vice president of the BGCT. Both Carolyn and Bobby are significant advocates for the need for Texas Baptists to step up to the challenge of addressing the hunger needs in Texas and around the world. In some opening remarks, Carolyn Strickland reminded us all of some significant insights of her late husband who often asked “Do you believe the earth God created can feed us all?” She closed by vividly reminding one and all that Phil Strickland believed that “hunger is a moral outrage.”

In this context, Dr. Tillman and Dr. Denison challenged the participants with how the claims of Christ and the Bible speak to the issues of hunger and poverty today. Dr. Tillman laid out the case for action like a lawyer making his case in court. His insightful analysis left practically no stone unturned. He concluded his remarks with what he called “Tillman’s Overly Simplified Approach” or ( TOSA as coined by Dr. Denison later). He pointed out as followers of Christ there are five options in response to hunger:

  1. Thou Shalt Not: In other words, believers should follow all commandments to not overlook those in need.
  2. Thou Shalt: All believers should work to feed the hungry as an act of obedience.
  3. I Must: All believers need to recognize their God-given duty to care for the least of these.
  4. I Will: All believers need to internalize the truth of God’s word and make it the wellspring of life and creativity in their response to the needs of others.
  5. I Am: All believers need to become like their Lord in the core of their being.

These insights challenged and convicted me. As a people we need to seek to internalize and live out the claims of Christ in our values and everyday lives.

Dr. Denison took this theme and applied it to the local church and our work together as churches. Denison pointed out three imperatives that defines and directs the response of the followers of Jesus.

  1. Obey Scripture: Believers need to respond to the hunger needs of others in obedience to Christ’s commands and the demands of scripture. He pointed out how this theme of caring for the poor transverse the whole of scripture.
  2. The church must respond to the hungry to reach the hungry: If the church is to be the church and to accomplish its “Great Commission”, it must follow Jesus’ example of placing bread in the hand  before introducing the bread of life into the soul. He quoted Randel Everett, Executive Director of the BGCT, who recently said, “I don’t have the right to preach to someone who is hungry.” Denison pointed out we earn the right to preach by our actions of compassion and care.
  3. The church must respond to hunger if we are to earn the right to reach the culture: Denison pointed out we live in a very skeptical and secular day. No longer do the claims of the Bible resonate with this society. Religion as we know it is slowing losing its grip on our society. Even though there may be a Bible in practical every home, this does not mean the claims of the Bible direct the values and thoughts of our land. He noted a Pew Survey that observed that 25% of young adults between the ages of 18-29 have no religious values at all. He also pointed out that on any given Sunday only 23% of Americans attend church. In a world where “truth is personal and subjective”, the church must step up to the challenge of earning the right to speak by showing in acts of compassion that its faith is relevant and effective in a day like today.

I was deeply moved and challenged by Denison’s comments. I jotted down this question as I reflected on what he said: “Is First Baptist Church of Canyon relevant?” and “Is the Baptist General Convention of Texas relevant?” I am convince if we are going to claim our future we must be able to say yes, but more importantly those who we seek to touch must also say yes!

Two closing comments:

  1. In a few days, Dr. Lanny Hall, president of Howard Payne, will be assume the post of president of Hardin-Simmons University, a sister Baptist school. HPU owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Hall for his faith and effective service to HPU. Dr. Hall has demonstrated the finest qualities of Christian leadership during his days at the helm of HPU. As president of the BGCT I am thankful he will continue his Kingdom work at Hardin Simmons, but he will be greatly missed in Brownwood. Please pray for the Presidential Search Committee of HPU, in these uncertain times, it is absolutely critical the right leader step up to lead HPU into the future.
  2. At this meeting of the trustees, the annual budget for HPU was adopted. Due to the financial struggles of the BGCT, the contribution from the convention to the work of HPU is projected to drop by over $200,000. This continues a downward spiral in support over recent years. This is a trend that must stop and be reversed if we are serious about higher Christian education. Private schools are feeling the pinch of the recession more and more. In a time when charitable giving is down, the higher costs of education must be passed onto the students in the form of higher and higher tuition. As tuition costs escalate the challenge of recruiting students to our Baptist schools only gets harder and harder. It is incumbent on us as Texas Baptists to step up to the challenge and to continue sacrificially support the mission of our universities. Investing in the next generation of young Baptist leaders is essential if we are serious about changing the world.

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