Monthly Archives: October 2011

BGCT Annual Meeting: Where was everyone?

This week my wife and I made our annual trek to the BGCT Annual meeting. Attending this meeting has been a professional and personal priorities for over two decades. I have traveled from one end of Texas to the end seeking to be a part of the work of the BGCT and to spend time with my friends.

Going back to Amarillo brought back a flood of personal memories for me. It was in Amarillo that I was narrowly defeated by Joy Fenner for the presidency of the convention. I can still close my eyes and see myself sitting on stage as a member of the Committee of Convention Business when the election totals were announced 840 votes for Lowrie, 900 votes for Fenner. Looking back even though I lost I realized I won. That election opened the door for me to get more involved in the life of the convention.

Sadly this week, the attendance at the convention was miserable. Only a little over 700 people voted in the presidential election, and at times the auditorium looked like a ghost town or a group of people who had just viewed the movie “Contagion” and did not want sit too close to someone because of fear of infection!

Marv Knox, the editor of the Baptist Standard made this observation:

The key relationship that must be repaired is the rift between the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its churches. This year, the vast majority of Texas Baptists voted, but not in Amarillo. They voted from home by not bothering to show up. Their no-show ballots indicated they don’t believe the BGCT matters to their churches. They voted to say it is irrelevant to their ministries and their lives. You may disagree, but perception represents powerful reality.

I have no doubt that there is truth to his observation, but the signs around us give off mixed signals. Right, wrong or indifferent, we must admit that the BGCT Annual meeting is still a glorified business meeting. If my local church begins to have huge crowds at the business meetings that probably means something is wrong or trouble is on the horizon.

Not to try to spin the numbers, but to make some observations I would like to speak to the issue of Annual meeting attendance.

1. I do believe there has been a disconnect with many of our churches, and also a disconnect between pastors. I suspect for many of us that did make the trek we did not so much travel to Amarillo  for the business as important as it is, but  for the fellowship. I must admit I had a great time, but I missed seeing many of my friends.

2. Cost: I believe many churches are struggling to make ends me and providing a stipend for the pastor and his wife to go to the convention probably does not rank up high on their priority list. Besides, I suspect many pastors decided to spend their “convention/conference” allowances on conferences like Catalyst, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Orange, One Day, etc…No longer do conventions hold the corner on the marketing on leadership training, in fact, I fear for many the convention’s perspective is very low on the list if not on the list to be avoided at all costs. Why learn from an organization that gives off the appearances of struggling or dying at worst.

3. Distance: In these tight economic times and $3 gas, it is harder and harder for the pastors and laypersons of our many, many small churches to keep driving to the parameters of Texas. I think it would be wise for the BGCT to consider keeping the annual meetings around the I35 corridor between Dallas and San Antonio where the travel distances would be minimized.

4. Cards vs Contacts: I suspect if we are serious about gathering a crowd again we will need to start making personal contacts. A drop in visit, a phone call, a personal letter with a hand written note or a text to a good friend will need to be used. In simple terms, our leaders and staff need to reach out and invited people to come back person to person. We need to tell our friends, we miss you. We want you back. We want your input. We NEED you. The BGCT has no shortage of slick advertisements. Maybe we need to be less “slick” and more “real and personal.” A “slick” ya’ll come is not going to cut it any more.

5. Communication: Almost in contradiction to my earlier statement, the BGCT leadership needs to get the word our far and wide, what is going to happen and be discussed, who is going to come and speak, and why should anyone take the time to come. The program this year was exceptional (a bit too long) but full of inspiration. If missed Bob Roberts presentation watch it on line. He hit a home run. However, who knew he was even going to be there. I am not sure how to solve this problem but it needs to be solved.

I must admit I was deeply disappointed at the turn out for this year’s meeting. I still deeply believe in the mission of the BGCT. I pray fresh winds will blow soon. I pray God will raise up a leader from among us to lead us boldly into tomorrow.


Filed under BGCT

BGCT “50+1” Plan for Universities

In Amarillo when the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) meets for its annual meeting one of the most important motions from the Executive Board will be to allow the educational institutions to elect up to 49% of their boards of trustees. Currently the affiliated schools only elect 25% of their trustees. This is a bylaw change so it must be approved two years in a row to go into effect. Last year the messengers approved this means and I would strongly recommend this year’s gathering in Amarillo do the same.

In light of some of the recent moves by Baylor and Houston Baptist University, there are rumors that some would like to step back from this move and maintain the current agreement. I believe this would be short-sighted and punitive to some of our most loyal Baptist institutions. Our Texas Baptist schools do an amazing job of training and equipping future generations of leaders. Over the past ten years they have stuck with the convention through some lean times when the BGCT has not be able to provide the kind of financial support that was the standard of past generations.

Briefly, I would like to share with you my perspective on this motion as a pastor and as a member of the board of trustees for Howard Payne University. As a pastor I support this move because I believe it will strengthen our partnership between the BGCT and our schools. You may ask how can having fewer trustees strengthen our partnership? That’s easy, it boils down to trust. It is time for us to demonstrate our trust in the boards of trustees of our universities and the presidents selected by these boards. I believe we can trust Gary Cook, Paul Armes, Randy O’Rear, Lanny Hall, Bill Ellis, Dub Oliver, and Rene Maciel. Having worked closely with these men as president of the BGCT I can assure you that these leaders are highly supportive and vested in our future together. To a president, they believe this is the right move for all of us. Trust has been the victim of our years of infighting. It is critical we once again lead with trust.

As a trustee I must inform you that the “white elephant” in the room on this issue is MONEY. As the BGCT has declined, and its gifts have been reduced, our schools have been sailing into a perfect storm. If you think it is hard to make ends meet in your church then multiply this by two or more and you will understand the challenges faced by our universities. During the recession private Christian education has been viewed as a luxury for families in a bind.  The Texas Equalization grant funds have been significantly reduced. It is getting harder and harder for students to get school loans. Endowment receipts have been down. Donors have less and less to give and more people are holding tight to their money. In this “perfect storm” our Baptist schools are seeking to provide the highest standards of Christian education in the nation.

If you visit their campuses and talk to the students you will find that they are succeeding at this objective, but most of our schools are living year to year in a survival mode. I know first hand that Howard Payne continues to have to do “more and more on less and less” as one of our former presidents put it.

By encouraging our schools to elect up to 49% of their boards it will open opportunities for them to reach out to Baptist trustees across our state, but also importantly out of our state. Many of the best and brightest of  our future trustees will be graduates of our schools that now live across our nation. Even though they may live in L.A., Chicago, New York, Boston, or Washington D.C. or as close as Oklahoma City or Santa Fe, their hearts are still back in Texas at Hardin Simmons, Howard Payne, Mary-Hardin Baylor, Dallas Baptist, BUA, Wayland or East Texas Baptist. These key leaders can bring expertise to the boards, and also financial networks.

In these difficult economic times our schools need to opportunities to mine the fields of their alumni for future trustees who can be strong financial supporters of the school, and also help the school to identify donors who believe in higher Baptist Christian education as much as we do. There is no other Baptist convention in the nation that has the wealth we have in our schools, and we need to help our schools be successful by giving them this great opportunity to expand their circles of influence.

I fear if our convention rejects this recommendation that our decision would be “reactionary” at best, and controlling at worst. We will not embrace our bold new future by playing it safe and doing what we have always done. We are moving into uncharted waters. For the Kingdom of God to be on the march today, we need our schools to be at their best training and equipping young leaders prepared for the challenges of tomorrow. Our example will set the tone for this education.

In this new world “trust” will be essential. The challenges we face are complicated. To be frank, I have barely touched the surface of all the challenges facing our schools today. Send a strong message in Amarillo that we are behind our schools and their presidents by approving this bold motion and joining them on their quest to change our world in the name of Jesus.


Filed under BGCT, Howard Payne, SBC

Amarillo Here We Come Again: Reflections on Baptist General Convention of Texas Annual Meeting 2011

Once again the BGCT will be gathering in Amarillo for its annual meeting. This year the convention will test drive its new format which has been modeled after the Catalyst Conference with fast paced sessions  featuring key leaders  and speakers encouraging and challenging the messengers and guests. Mixed in with the inspiration will be a couple of important business meetings that will set the course for the convention in the coming year.

Personally I am looking forward to the changes with great anticipation. I am especially excited that Bob Roberts and Ed Stetzer will be speaking. When I was president I had hoped to have Stetzer join us but his schedule would not permit his participation. I believe Kyle Henderson and his “green hat” team did an excellent job in moving our annual meetings forward into the future.

The business sessions will prove to be lively this year with a number of issues coming to the floor for the messengers to debate on and handle. First, the convention will be asked to choose between two exciting presidential candidates. It has been announced by the Baptist Standard that Jerry Carlisle, First Vice-president of the convention, and pastor of First Baptist Church of Plano, and Randy Wallace, pastor of First Baptist Church of Killeen will be nominated. We cannot go wrong with either candidate. Each one of these men love the convention and have demonstrated their commitment to our cause by their involvement. I count both as friends. I must admit this will make my decision a bit harder, but I will vote with a smile because to be frank this was the kind of scenario I dreamed about a few years ago when I threw my hat in the ring. I don’t believe we are returning to the “good ole’ days” but I like the way the future is turning out. People believe they have a voice and they are using their voice. We have much to be thankful for.

In addition, Jeff Johnson and Byron Stephenson will also be nominated for the v.p. spots. Both are capable leaders. Who knows there may be a number more qualified candidates nominated in Amarillo. In my book the more the merrier.  Texas is a big state with many capable leaders, so if you are reading this and you have someone you would like to nominate for an officer, do it, win or lose it will be good for us to have more capable leaders to choose from for our future leadership teams.

Baylor will be a hot topic at the convention. Baylor and the BGCT have renegotiated their special agreement, and the BGCT Executive Board will be proposing a new funding plan for our educational institutions that will reduce Baylor’s funding significantly, while raising the funding to all the other schools. This plan has been met with mixed signals. The convention will weigh in on this issue in Amarillo.

Another issue facing the messengers will be the approval of a new plan for the selection of the trustees of our educational institutions. The new plan which was approved in McAllen, and faces its second approval for ratification will give our affiliated schools the opportunity to select up to 49% of their trustees. Currently these schools can select 25% of their trustees. I intend to write on this issue in a future blog before the convention, but in short I believe this is a good move for our schools and will grant them the opportunity to make the most of their board appointments.

As you can see Amarillo will proved to be a very exciting and eventful gathering of Baptist. There are still rooms available. Jump in the car and join us in the Panhandle.

Leave a comment

Filed under BGCT

10 @ 10 FOR I-10

Today across America a call to prayer and action has been sounded to cry out to God to stop slavery in our land. Ignorantly many think the age-old practice of slavery ended at the end of the bloody Civil War, but sadly its ugly head has reared itself in some ways a darker more sinister form.

The new name for this ancient practice of treating human beings like possessions is “Human Trafficking”. Sadly hundreds if not thousands of young lives are bartered and sold across our land. The main artery of this grisly work is Interstate 10 which runs across the southern border of the United States along the border of Mexico. It is across the porous border that this flood of human victims enter our land to be exploited by the underbelly of our society. Most of the victims are children bought and sold to satisfy the unthinkable lust of a nation far from God. Sadly, I fear the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah would blush at what happens in the dark shadows of our land.

So what can we do. First we can pray. The challenge is for all of us to set aside time to pray on the 10th of every month for God to stop this terrible crime against humanity. It is suggest you pray at 10 in the morning and 10 at night for I-10. Today our staff stopped and prayed for God to intervene.

Second, we can encourage the law enforcement agencies in our region to educate the officers with the unique challenges of fighting this crime. Often the victims work in the realms of prostitution, and sadly are arrested for the “crimes” when in reality they are the victims of crimes. Police need to be on the look out for “children” caught up in the sex trades, and rescue them and arrest the “pimps.”

Third, we need to work with local social service agencies to provide “safe houses” for those rescued from this black market until they can put their lives back together or get home to waiting family. Once a child is rescued the help only begins it does not end.

Fourth, we need to preach the gospel. America’s addiction to lust drives this industry. We need God to transform our nation from the bottom up. In the dark places the light of the gospel needs to shine. The ultimate hope for real lasting change will come from a spiritual transformation of our land–one heart at a time.

The prophet Amos nailed what we long for with these words, and this is my prayer:

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24 NIV)


Leave a comment

Filed under Border Journal, El Paso Journal

Preachers and Politics: Walking the Tightrope

Last night I became aware of a difficult situation one of my fellow pastors got himself into a few days ago. Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, traveled to Washington, D.C. to introduce Governor Rick Perry at a gathering of conservatives, and in the process to give his “personal” endorsement of Perry’s run for president.

In his speech Jeffress acknowledged one of his reasons for supporting Perry was the fact that Perry openly proclaimed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jeffress felt it was critically important at this time in United States history to have a devote Christian in the White House. In the process of endorsing Perry he implied that some of the other candidates…in fact one in particular…did not meet this standard.

After his speech, Jeffress was cornered by the media and questioned about his views of other candidates and his view of Mormonism. In the course of the interview, Jeffress espoused his view that Mormonism was not considered within mainstream Christianity…calling it a “cult.”

In the pulpit of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress defended his actions to his people. He tried to explain that his “personal” endorsement of Rick Perry did not represent the “official” position of the church. He also defended this theological statements about the tenets of Mormonism to the standing ovations of his people.

As a pastor, I understand all too well the challenges of being “prophetic” and yet not becoming a “pawn” in the hands of politicians. When one is the pastor of a high-profile church it is very difficult to separate the “personal” from the “corporate.” In some sense, one of the reasons people care about our perspective on things is because of the positions of leadership we hold. As this story unfolds First Baptist Dallas now must deal with the consequences of the “personal” actions of their pastor. Even if he was well-meaning, his actions have created a firestorm that sadly undermines the reach of the gospel.

When one takes on the mantle of being a pastor, a higher calling falls on one’s shoulders. This higher calling demands ultimate allegiance to one Kingdom–the Kingdom of God. Endorsing candidates and political parties or movements may appear to  be prudent, but in the end I fear these actions undercut the church’s voice into the society.

In addition, in the post-Christian world we live in, pastors will have an increasingly difficult time making theological arguments in our highly secular world ruled by sound bites. To explain the differences between evangelical Christianity and Mormonism cannot be done on a bumper sticker or with a simple slogan. The differences cut to the heart of the gospel and person of Jesus Christ. I fear the secular media has no patience nor understanding of the real issues, but enjoy creating a stir that paints the church in a bad light. Therefore pastors need to be careful in their approach to these issues.

In the highly charged political environment we face spiritual leaders need to be very thoughtful and strategic in their actions and statements. I would recommend we err on the side of preaching the gospel and leave the politics to those called to serve in that arena.



Leave a comment

Filed under Church and State, Devotion