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.