Category Archives: BGCT Presidential Journal

Reflections: BGCT McAllen

El Paso: Nearly a week has pasted since the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting in McAllen. I must admit serving as president of the convention means much of what happened was a blur to me. In some respects it has taken me a week to get my barring back, and to gain some perspective on the event.

Overall, I was very pleased with the spirit of the meeting. I believe a number of significant things were accomplished. Of course, these kind of subjective feelings are not much to build on, but to be frank, I would rather leave with a heart full of positive memories than to walk away with a deep feeling of frustration. The energy in the room was positive and uplifting and the  business was conducted with great dignity and respect.

Of course, one of the big white elephants in the room was the sparse attendance. The attendance was low by any standard. Interestingly enough there were more guests than messengers. In fact, there were more professions of faith (789) during Valley Reach than there were messengers. Without doubt there are 789 people who are thankful Texas Baptists showed up in the valley.

Personally, I believed the new format with three worship services and two business meetings has a great deal of potential for future meetings. In addition I think the Morning of Missions was well received.

From the perspective of planning the meeting the new format allowed for more creativity and energy in the worship services. I had hoped to bring in one or two nationally known keynote speakers to McAllen to create a high sense of anticipation for the sessions, but trying to schedule these kind of speakers on such short notice is very difficult. I believe with the new format of advance planning approved by the convention, the BGCT will be able to bring these kind of speakers to future conventions.

Dr. Everett and Victor Rodriguez challenged the convention with two powerful words of hope. I totally agree with Victor that it is time for us to open our eyes to the future.

I believe Victor Rodriguez will serve as an excellent president. He is a man of vision and courageous leadership. He will represent all of our Baptist family very well, and owns no one for his place of leadership. I am also confident Victor Rodriguez,  Jerry Carlisle and Sylvia DeLoach will serve as a good team.

If you were paying attention you will note that the motions made at the convention by messengers were dealt with by this annual meeting. We made a concerted effort to make sure that the people who were willing to make the trip to the annual meeting would be empowered to do the business of the convention. Three motions from the floor were passed and I believe each of them helped us take a step forward into the future.

In addition, you will note that one recommendation from the Executive Board was voted down, and one major recommendation was amended twice. I believe these are very healthy signs for our convention. We left the rubber stamps at home, and came together to do business. These business items were debated, but the debate was respectful and fair. As moderator I believed that each one who spoke wanted what they believed was best for our convention, and even though many of the votes were divided, it appeared from my vantage point that the  house was not divided. I believe what we witnessed Baptist polity at its best.

In closing, I find myself agreeing with this post by Ken Coffee on his blog Strong Coffee:

Amusingly, some continue to critique the McAllen meeting even though they were not present to witness it. Frankly, I was surprised at the spirit that prevailed. The 1731 people who registered may be the last vestige of support for the BGCT, but, if they are, so be it. Let’s build it from there.

I believe we have something to build on coming out of McAllen. Let’s get to work and spread hope across Texas.

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A “Wright” Moment in McAllen

El Paso: At the close of the business session of the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting, it is customary for the convention to stop and honor those who have joined the great crowd of witnesses in glory during the past year.

Each year this has been a touching moment for me as I am vividly reminded how richly my life has been blessed through the touch and influence of others.

This year as I closed out my second term as president I sat at my place on the platform with my mind racing back over the past four years. During this four years  I struggled to help our Baptist family pull together for our future. Suddenly as my mind was racing through the flood of memories and emotions, I saw the smiling face of my dear friend and comrade Bill Wright smiling right back at me. It was a moment that caught me off guard. I was not fully prepared for the flood of emotions I felt. It was hard for me to control my emotions.

In an instant I remembered Bill asking me to consider being nominated for president when no one else was knocking on my door. I remember our first step in the journey in Lubbock when we invited David Currie to meet us for a face to face meeting to talk about the election and to lay down the ground rules for this journey into the unknown. I remembered Bill’s nomination speech in Amarillo when he closed with these lines “if you can’t vote for David, then by all means vote for Joy!” (As you know Joy won by a slim margin and some even suggested it was his fault… which is clearly not the case. Of course my final instructions to Bill before he stepped on stage was: “Bill, please don’t cuss!”) I remember countless long conversations about the future as we played the parts of good cop/bad cop to our very best.

Bill Wright stood tall as a Texas Baptist. He knew our only hope was not walking away but getting involved. He challenged me to be better than I thought I could be–I miss him more than words can fully express.

Some have suggested that under my administration nothing really changed. I would dare to disagree but only time and history will tell the full story. Often times real change must begin in the heart and in the attitude. The BGCT that Bill Wright dreamed of was a BGCT that worked together to share the gospel with those searching for hope. It was a BGCT that sacrificed for those in need.  It was a BGCT that sought to major on the majors and not on the minors.  He dreamed of the BGCT being family not a collaboration of factions and political parties.

I for one think Bill would have had a great time in McAllen. Fresh winds are blowing. If you looked closely the people at the convention wrestled with the issues and made decisions. We left the rubber stamps at home and brought our hearts and minds to bear on the task at hand. In addition, the exhibit areas were abuzz not with closed circles of those plotting some denominational strategy, but with friends laughing with friends, and new friendship being born.

Next year we will return to Amarillo for the annual meeting. I have decided I am going to spend most of the convention in the hallway in a circle with my friends catching up on old times, laughing and having fun! I cannot think of a higher tribute to Brother Bill!

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McAllen Here We Come!

It is hard to believe the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is just around the corner. I will be heading to the Valley tomorrow.

Frankly, we have no idea how many of our Baptist family will gather in McAllen. I had a contact from a pastor in Dalhart who said he would be there. If you can make it from Dalhart to McAllen, you can make it from anywhere!!

I have heard through the Baptist grapevine that some are fearful to go to the Valley because of the Border violence. Since I now live in El Paso I believe I can speak with some confidence–you need not fear. You will be as safe in McAllen as we were on the streets of Houston last year. Besides if we go in the name of the Lord and for His calling, I believe we can count on His watchful eye on us.

I believe this convention will be a pivotal meeting for us as Texas Baptists. We will select a new leadership team. We will consider a number of weighty matters. We will affirm our brothers and sisters in the Valley by our presence. It is still not too late to make plans to join us.

Next week I will lay down the mantle as president of the convention, but my commitment to our cause will not diminish. I am committed for the long haul. We have work to do and I pray we will work hard and not look back!

See you in McAllen!

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First Baptist Church Roanoke Homecoming 2010

Roanoke, Texas: This weekend I had the honor of returning to participate in the centennial celebration of the First Baptist Church of Roanoke, Texas. This historic old church in south Denton County began its ministry in 1874 and moved to its current location in 1910. Over its 136 year history fifty-two pastors served the church, and I had the privilege of being one of its youngest pastors back in 1982. These hardy people called me to be their pastor when I was at the ripe old age of twenty-two years old!

As I look back on their willingness to take a risk on a kid, I am filled with gratitude. In Roanoke, I was ordained, performed my first wedding, baptized my first follower of Jesus, and stood at the table of our Lord as we celebrated communion. Among these saints, I led my first business meeting and worked closely with a small band of deacons who loved me and believe in me.

As I mixed among my friends, I was amazed at the flood of memories. It was also interesting to learn how I was remembered. No one spoke of my sermons, but one lady remembered the week I worked with her husband digging out the sewer line at the parsonage. Another member commented how I impacted her husband because I spent time with him and reached out to him as a friend. When I thank one of the older ladies for her love and support—for raising me as such—she said “We always looked up to you.” This homecoming was good for me. It reminded me of the lessons of “incarnational” ministry. It is not so much what we say, but how we live that makes all the difference. People don’t remember our sermons they remember us as servant leaders.

As I begin my ministry in El Paso, I pray I will not forget the lessons I learned when I was wet behind the ears. I pray I will not forget to “love and lead” the people of God.

Footnote: When you choose to love you also take the risk of being wounded and hurt, but it is worth the risk. Always lead with love and grace and trust God for the results.

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Ezell and the Complicated World of Missions Giving

El Paso: The trustees of the North American Mission Board elected Kevin Ezell, pastor of Highview Baptist Church of Louisville to be its new leader. Ezell brings to the job an incredible record of leadership and innovation. However, after his nomination many found fault with the giving record of his church to the Cooperative Program and to the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions.

In days gone by, those marks would be the benchmarks of record to determine a church’s priorities and passion for missions, but we live in a new, much more complex day. In defense against his critics and more importantly the critics of his church Ezell in a published report shared the following facts:

Highview’s “Million to Missions” campaign sets aside $582,000 for local missions, including $145,000 for a mentoring/intern program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and $340,000 for campus ministry at nearby colleges and universities.

Nearly half of $150,000 for national causes goes to church plants in New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Boise, Idaho. Another $24,000 is set aside for mission trip supplements and $25,000 for a student mission trip, compared to $10,000 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering that supports work of the NAMB.

International giving of $700,000 includes $400,000 in Cooperative Program and $100,000 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that supports work of the SBC International Mission Board. Other funds include $100,000 in mission-trip supplements, $5,000 for a missionary house and $10,000 for an international adoption ministry.

As you can see from this glimpse into Highview’s world of missions, Ezell led his church to be hands on in ministry and to be very intentional in the use of their mission dollars. Without doubt these qualities played a significant role in his selection as the new NAMB president.

As Ezell enters his new world as a denominational leader he must face the fact that fewer and fewer churches are giving to missions and to the Cooperative Program as they had in years past.  More and more churches of all sizes are tackling the call to the Great Commission by going themselves and keeping the money under local control. Since this is a pattern Ezell followed, he is in position to find ways for NAMB to capture the imagination and commitment of these churches and to call them to sacrificial giving to NAMB and its work.

The future of NAMB and other denominational entities rests in their ability to create new partnerships and networks with churches and creative dynamic leaders. Using old benchmarks of loyalty will not restore what has been lost. SBC leaders must grapple with the fact we are doing Kingdom in a new world with new paradigms. We sail together into a “sea change” that has called into question the traditional methods of missionary support.

As a leader in the BGCT, and as a pastor of a church on the cutting edge of missions, I feel the pressure, and wish I had the answers we need for tomorrow. Personally I am more inclined to hold to the old patterns, but I realize I am a dying bred. The future will not be captured by looking backwards to our glory days, but rather living with abandonment and creativity as we engage the future.

God has placed Kevin Ezell in a position to help us claim tomorrow. I pray he will bring the same creativity and passion to his role as NAMB president as he did to leading Highview to be beacon of light and hope to the city of Louisville.

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A New “Starr” Rises Over Baylor University

Waco: Baylor University inaugurated Judge Kenneth Winston Starr as its fourteenth president. The largest Baptist university in the world will be lead into the future by a Christian servant leader who has demonstrated his devotion to higher Christian education in the courtroom, classroom and in the halls of power and politics.

The ceremony was a deeply moving and historic day for the Baylor family, and a day of significance for all Christian institutions of higher education because Baylor is the flagship of the Christian armada waging war in the spiritual struggle for the hearts and souls of the next generation of young leaders.

With Judge Starr at the helm of Baylor those of us who value distinctively Christian scholarship have a new champion. Judge Starr lived and exemplifies the very values he seeks to instill into the hearts and minds of the young men and women who come to Baylor to be equipped for world-wide servant leadership.

During the ceremony, Judge Starr’s daughter Carolyn Starr Doolittle stepped forward to read a text from the Old Testament prophet Micah. As she glanced over her shoulder at her dad she read with passion and heartfelt commitment:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (NIV)

With these words the LORD reminded Judge Starr of His path to greatness and significance.

After Judge Starr took on the robes and mantle of leadership over the Baylor he stepped to the podium affirming his vision of the future and linking his vision to the hallowed past.

Pro Ecclesia

Pro Texana

These words from the crest of Baylor University will be his guiding principles—for the Church—for Texas. Under his watch Baylor will serve in the tension between these two realities. Baylor will champion of the cause of Christ and church by advancing the Kingdom through the lives of wave after golden wave of young leaders.

Baylor will continue to inform our greater society how the claims of Christ speak into the injustice and deceptions of our secular world. Starr noted in his address how the “Free Church” movement puts Baylor in a position to seek truth without fear by inquiry, study, and research because as “the truth will set us free.” He also stressed the importance of the individual conscience in one’s spiritual and intellectual journey.

Baylor was founded during the days of the Republic of Texas by Judge R.E. M. Baylor back in 1845 with a vision to be a “city on the hill” that would be “for all ages to come!” I believe under Judge Starr’s watch the light on the hill will shine brighter.

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Baylor Blunder Parable

This morning as I was reflecting on my Baylor blunder of “overdressing” for the presidential inaugural dinner, It dawned on me that one of the reasons I felt uncomfortable was that I was dressed like a “servant.” You see every man in the room dressed in a tuxedo was waiting on tables. Here I sat dressed up but in the moment I was dressed down—like a waiter.

Lessons impact our lives in an amazing ways. On a night when I was hoping to mix and mingle among the Baylor elite, I learned a lesson about humility.  Jesus is relentless in his pursuit of our souls. I can hear in my soul his whisper saying “the greatest of all is the servant of all.”

Once again I learned a life lesson at Baylor!

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