Unintended Consequences: The BGCT and Southwestern Seminary

The firing of Russell Dilday in March 1994 by the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) was like a shot heard around the world among Texas Baptists. This act of control and dominance by the fundamentalists who sat on the board sent a message far and wide among loyal Texas Baptists that the bloody conflict that had marred the landscape of Baptist life across the nation now had come home to Texas. Texans do not take lightly to being bullied and so a groundswell of support arose among leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas to distance itself from SWBTS. This choice and many like it may now be having significant consequences in the churches across the state.

For decades SWBTS had been the training ground for the dynamic gifted leaders of BGCT churches. A few churches would bring in pastors with training from back East or even on the West Coast, but for the most part a Southwestern grad was the first choice in the pulpit and in the pew. During the following years after 1994 the BGCT became the enemy and with its financial commitment to Truett and Logsdon the competition to SWBTS. This break in relationship sipped into the classrooms and filled the minds of the young men preparing for the pastorate with suspicions and doubts about the BGCT.

Now fast forward twenty-five years, many of the strong middle-sized and large BGCT churches face a dilemma as they look for new senior pastors. Most of these churches look for pastors who have experience and whose ages rang between 35-50 years old. Due to the fact that Truett and Logsdon could not produce enough pastors, plus many of the students in the seminaries these days have no interest in traditional pastoral ministry, most of the qualified candidates are Southwestern grads, and many of these young men are loyal Southern Baptists and some are now pastors of Southern Baptist of Texas (SBTC) churches or churches that are dually aligned with the BGCT and the SBTC.

These young experienced pastors offer our churches the seasoning, experience, and skill they are looking for, and the pulpit committees are more concerned about the future of their churches than they are about the convention loyalty of these young men. What a pulpit committee looks for is someone who can preach the Word effectively, lead the church, love the people and help the church to grow in an increasing secular society.

Case in point, a few weeks ago First Baptist Church of Canyon called an outstanding young man to be their pastor Steve Olsen. Steve came from FBC Bellsville. He served on staff at Prestonwood Baptist Church with Jack Graham. His convention background is Southern Baptist of Texas. So in one pastoral change FBC Canyon went from having the President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas as their pastor to having a young man who cut his teeth in ministry under the shadow of the SBTC. This story is one of many I could share with you.

Broken relationships in our past can often come back to haunt us today. In light of this situation it is critically important that the BGCT begin to reach out and restore relationships with these young upcoming leaders. The BGCT leadership needs to tells its story and cast a compelling vision of tomorrow these young leaders can embrace. It would also be very wise for BGCT leaders to sit down with pencil and paper in hand and listen to these young leaders tell their story and listen to their dreams and vision for tomorrow.

Another application revolves around Baylor University. In recent months the relationship between Baylor and the BGCT has been tested. The regents of Baylor voted to allow non-Baptist fellow Christians to join the Baylor board. For many this was a last straw and some want to distance themselves from Baylor. Before the BGCT takes this step it would wise to step back and take a long look at history. If the BGCT is serious about claiming tomorrow it must strengthen its relationship with Baylor but especially with the young men and women who are being trained and equipped in its classrooms. The leaders of tomorrow are forming their opinions about their future relationships today.

The writer of Proverbs wrote:

28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
set up by your forefathers. (Proverbs 22:28 NIV)

Broken relationships have consequences…sometimes it takes years for these consequences to bubble to the surface.  Be careful.



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4 responses to “Unintended Consequences: The BGCT and Southwestern Seminary

  1. David,
    Thank you for your comments. However in Tarrant Baptist Association and our church SWBTS has incredibly few students. I do not know if you have been to campus recently but most of the students are from other countries. In adddition the administration of the seminary is attempting to oust TBA from their building which has housed the staff and held many training and committeee meetings. SWBTS deeded the building and the property under it to TBA in 1999. Today they are attempting to undo the relationship of over 450 TBA churches. While I understand your thoughts. I have another reason for angst about the seminary you and i have loved. Just another recent perspective. Thank you my friend.

  2. Dear Joel,

    For your perspective and insight. Clearly the world has changed, and I am getting old.


  3. Ernie McCoulskey

    David, I appreciate you article and past decisions and events do have unexpected consequences sometimes. While I do think the BGCT should be careful in any future response to Baylor, I am afraid in a day of declining convention resources that to not hold them accountable in some way is hardly the way to go either. The landscape is changing and while its institutions are the BGCT’s great strength I fear they are also becoming its greatest challenge. To resource churches and the institutions from a smaller and smaller pool of resources had become the challenge of the moment. Thanks for you willingness to speak out and speak up.

    Ernie McCoulskey

  4. Travis

    I may not know enough about all the politics of SWBTS to comment but I have a perspective. I used to hear a lot about the “fundamentalists” and the “moderates” and the “Liberals” each putting labels on the other etc. Yet I never saw any evidence of leaders committed to prayer until God restored unity. I see us trying to solve problems in every way except the Bible way. The only verse they can hang differences on is the one where Paul and Barnabas parted ways but lets not forget that Paul and Barnabas were reunited and Mark was accepted. Thats what grace will do. There will never be peace as long as these so called “wise” men keep saying “things are just too complicated” That kind of talk shows how little they really know about Jesus. Paul said “…until we all attain to the UNITY OF THE FAITH and of the knowledge of the SON OF GOD to a MATURE MAN to the MEASURE OF THE STATURE which belongs to the FULLNESS OF CHRIST. As a result we will no longer BE CHILDREN tossed here and there by waves and CARRIED ABOUT BY EVERY WIND OF DOCTRINE by the TRICKERY OF MEN by CRAFTINESS IN DECEITFUL SCHEMING. Men show what they believe by what they do.

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