Since the news of Dr. Everett’s looming call to First Baptist Church Midland began to sweep the great state of Texas, the Baptist grapevine has been working on overload. The blog world which often is closer to fiction than reality has been filled with dialogue, predictions, suggestions, and speculation about the meaning of all these events. In some respects I have found blogging is a pseudo-history on the fly which is often colored sharply by one’s own bias, perspective, hopes, and fears. I fear it is hard to make sense of the storm in the midst of the downpour. Too often the darkness of the hour reduces our perspective.
I must admit that my perspective on the future of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is bias in a positive way because I believe in our family of churches, and I believe in spite of our losses in recent years, that the BGCT is still one of the most powerful forces for good in the world. Now that you understand this about my perspective, you will be better prepared to interpret my thoughts. I urge my readers to deal with my thoughts like one would eat fish–eat the fish and spit out the bones!
Many are speculating on why Dr. Everett is leaving so quickly from his post as leader of the BGCT. At face value, Dr. Everett believes God is calling him to be pastor of the First Baptist Church of Midland. He believes at this point in his life and in the life of that great church that he is well suited to be their leader in the years ahead. I suspect he also believes that he can serve well our Texas Baptist family by leading FBC Midland to be a flag ship church in our Hope 1:8 strategy. We must never forget the BGCT is churches–so the most valuable position in the life of our convention is leadership in the local church. I believe in the future much of the innovation, creativity and effective models of ministry will come from the grassroots rather than from the top down. No longer does vision and innovation come simply from the “experts” in Dallas or Nashville. Vision and innovation grows out of experiences on the front lines. I believe Everett will do a great job leading FBC Midland to lead the way for our Texas Baptist family.
Having just completed my presidency of the BGCT I can also assure you that leading the BGCT in these days is not for the faint of heart. The strength of the BGCT is also one of its greatest challenges for a leader. The BGCT is a very complex, diverse network of churches. We may have once been a family, but that kind of close relationship has been strained in recent decades. The issues and challenges faced are complex and are often times divisive. The majority of our churches are at times relatively silent while a strong minority voice is strongly felt by those in leadership. The leader must wrestle with the common good, and is often the object of criticism and critique regardless of what he or she does.
Everett was genius in calling our Texas Baptist family back to the basics of Missions/Evangelism, Christian education, and advocacy. These bedrock beliefs historically have been our rallying cries for action. Over the past three years we have gained some momentum toward these objectives, but to be frank we have not turned the ship completely. Hard decisions and choices loom on the horizon.
Everett carried the load of this vision of tomorrow coupled with the weight of our diversity and past for the last three years. It has taken a toll on him. He has grieved over our losses. He has celebrated our accomplishments. He has spend long hours racing across our state seeking to restore bridges and create alliances for change. He has spent sleepless nights making hard choices that affected the lives of those he loved and who served under his watch. He has suffered fair and unfair criticism. He gave us his all, and in my book the Lord has assigned him to a new place of service. I am thankful he came our way, and I was honored to serve with him. I will miss him at the helm of our convention.
I know there are many others who will weigh on this issue. Each of us has our own perspective on why, but the truth remains all our speculation is just that– speculation. I hope we can learn from the why questions, but it is the where question that will determine our future.
Where are we going to go from here?
Recently Marv Knox wrote an insightful analysis of the challenges facing the BGCT in the Baptist Standard. He issued a call to getting back to the basics with more pinpoint focus in our ministry endeavors. I have spoken with others who advocate a start from scratch mentality, calling on the BGCT to totally reinvent itself into a new mission movement.
I suspect the BGCT has much more in common with an old downtown First Baptist Church than it does with an innovation new church plant. Transitioning the BGCT into a mode of ministry for the challenges of today will take a skilled hand at the helm or if the change comes too fast the whole convention could splinter into hundreds of pieces. Of course some might even suggest this splintering would actually be best for the Kingdom.
In McAllen the remnant that gathered there rallied around the theme of Hope 1:8 rooted in the words of our Lord in Acts 1:8. Jesus said:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What would happen is this commission from our Lord became the “where” for our work together? What if the power came not from position, prominence, or population but rather from the Spirit of God blowing in and through our churches. What is witnessing was not something a few did on a Tuesday night at visitation, but rather “you will be my witnesses.” A witness whose very life was the witness and his or her words explained the transformation only Christ could bring through a Spirit-filled life. What if our churches took back the whole mission cause and realized it was not the work of the “convention” rather it was our work, and that the BGCT was in reality churches working together rather than sending in money so someone else could do the work.
Where we go from here rests with us. I pray we boldly move into the future with our eyes on Jesus, with our hearts burning with a passion to be His people, with our feet quick to move at the impulse of His Spirit, and with our hands reaching out to Texas and the world with the hope of the gospel.