Category Archives: BGCT

What’s in a Name?: The Challenge Facing Houston Baptist University

The board of directors of Houston Baptist University have taken the action to study the possibility of changing the name of the university. In the Houston Chronicle article on this study the following was reported:

At the town hall meeting, one of two held last week, HBU board member Ray Cox Jr. argued that “the name Houston and the name Baptist are somewhat limiting to a national Christian university. … That’s why we are considering changing the name.”

In recent history the name “Baptist” has come under a great deal of scrutiny and judgment. Many new Baptist churches are not willing to bear the name of the denomination that funds their efforts. Some churches keep the legal name, yet hide it in their publication and advertising.

So what is in a name? How do you make a good name? How quickly one can destroy a good name?

I have served as the pastor of Baptist churches now for over thirty years and most of those years I served the “First Baptist Church” in local Texas communities. When you are the pastor of the “First Baptist Church” it is very difficult to hide your identity, nor have I ever tried. A long time ago I learned that your name reflects the reality of who you are and who you seek to be. If you hide your name to reach others and then they discover you are  “really Baptist”–does this not create a moral dilemma for the new member who must now question why you were so ashamed of your roots and heritage? I think so.

I believe the better and healthiest approach is to strengthen the scope and influence of your name by the scope and influence of your actions.

Houston Baptist University has a good reputation in Houston and within the greater Baptist family. It was founded by men and women of deep personal faith and conviction. The founders established the school to be a distinctively Christian University shaped and directed by Baptist theology and values.

In fairness to HBU–many of their sister schools do not bear the name Baptist in the name. Schools like Howard Payne (where I serve on the board), Hardin Simmons,  Mary Hardin-Baylor and the flagship Baylor University are distinctly Baptist school from their earliest days but Baptist is not in their name. So in fairness it is very possible to be a Baptist school without bear the name Baptist in the name. However, in the process of dropping Baptist from the name the board of trustees must be very careful to make sure they are trustworthy leaders of the heritage placed in their hands.

The HBU board has cut new ground in recent years by adding non-Baptist trustees to its board. I have gone on record as supportive of this Kingdom move, because I am very much aware the Kingdom of God’s scope and reach are much broader than the Baptist family alone. In trailblazing new ground, I would encourage the board to remember that in their efforts to position the school for the future they must also stay true to the historic roots and values entrusted to them. This tension is one every board must wrestle with as they live between yesterday and tomorrow.

Knowing many of the board members I am prayerful that they will make a wise decision about the future of Houston Baptist University. I would strongly encouragement them to continue to make a good name rather than simply trying to find a good name.

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A Good Choice for Children: Eron Green to South Texas Children’s Home

Hallway conversations at church for a pastor come in all kinds of shapes and forms. In the hallway a pastor learns everything from the condition of the restrooms to the quality of his sermon. A few days ago I had one of those conversations that brings a smile to my face.

When I saw Rod walking down the hall I could tell he had a skip in his step. He greeted me with a smile and asked if I read the article. I confessed my ignorance and with a smile on his face Rod informed me his son-in-law Eron Green had just been named the director of the South Texas Children’s Home to fill the shoes left by Todd Roberson. As he spoke my mind raced by to a conversation I had with Eron and his wife Shelley. They were visiting in El Paso, and Eron asked to visit with me about this position and the lay of the land in Texas. Since they would be moving from Florida, they had many questions about the Baptist family in Texas. They had heard rumors but they wanted to talk with someone who they hoped would shoot straight with them.

The hour we spent together inspired me, and I whispered a prayer that God would open the door. Eron and Shelley possess the qualities we long for in young leaders. They love the Lord. They love each other. They love children. They love serving others. I am thrilled that South Texas Children’s Home will have a leader at the helm who embodies the best of what it means to follow Jesus and serve others.

In the Baptist Standard, Eron summarized his vision as follows:

“My heart is to help children and families through the saving message of Christ…”

Too often we make life and ministry far too complicated.  Helping children and families make all the difference in the world. Eron understands he is not the savior of the world–Jesus is! We would all be wise to keep in perspective we are the helpers and Jesus is the Savior.

Jesus observed:

“Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…” Luke 9:48 NIV

Add Eron and Shelley and their little ones to your prayer list and they become the hands and feet of Jesus for the children of South Texas.

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Open Door for Texas Baptists

Yesterday Dr. David Hardage began his work as the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Under David’s leadership I believe great days lie ahead.

As Marv Knox noted in his article about Hardage, David does not come into this post with all the answers, but he will tackle this assignment like every other opportunity God has placed before him. He will pray, listen, work hard, and will seek to lead us from His heart for our Lord and for the great state of Texas.

In his address to the troops, David called on the Executive Board staff to open their doors and open their hearts to all Texas Baptists. David wants the Baptist building to be a place where every Texas Baptist pastor and layperson feels welcome and invited. His door is open, but I don’t believe David is going to sit and wait on people to make their way to Dallas. No, David will be out knocking on your door, and sitting down over a cup of coffee in your hometown to listen to your heart about how we can and will reach this state for Christ.

Great leaders don’t have all the answers, but they help their organizations discover the answers together. We need leaders who listen to those on the front lines before making strategic moves rather than sending out orders from some lofty perch in relative safety.

Pray for David. Talk to David. Give him time to get his feet under him and learn the lay of the land, but most of all be busy in the work God has called you to. The BGCT is not a building in Dallas, it is you and me working together for the glory of God. So let’s get to work.

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David Hardage: The Right Leader for the BGCT

Merry Christmas Texas Baptists! I am so thankful that I can break my silence and highly recommend to my Baptist family David Hardage. I first met David in Milwaukee Wisconsin of all places. I was serving as pastor of the Northwest Baptist Church and David brought a mission team from First Baptist Church Sulfur Springs to work with us. From that day until now I have counted David as a trusted friend.

If you look up Texas Baptist in the dictionary a picture of David Hardage would appear. His father was a Texas Baptist preacher and most of his ministry David followed in his dad’s footsteps. David has been the pastor of churches large and small alike. He is the kind of guy pastors enjoy being around because he always makes you feel significant and important. He listens. He wants his office door to be open to all the pastors of Texas.

From my perspective God has uniquely prepared David for this assignment. His years as a pastor taught him firsthand the challenges faced by our local churches. He served the BGCT as chair of the State Missions Commission and the Mission Funding committee. So he knows unclose and person the opportunities and challenges faced in these vital areas of our work together. In addition, his service as a Director of Missions has prepared him to lead pastors. Leading pastors and leading a church are not the same thing, and David has a gift for inspiring confidence and earning trust. His days working in development for Truett Seminary and Baylor University has given David keen insight into the opportunities and challenges faced by our institutions. His strong relationship with Baylor will be a real asset as the BGCT and Baylor seek to form a strong partnership for the future, but I believe David will also lead a move to strengthen our partnership with all our institutions. It is vital that our churches and institution move in concert in our efforts to reach Texas with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a husband and father David is above reproach. As a man of God he is a very spiritual man who daily allows the word of God to speak into his soul and shape his character. As a friend he is trustworthy and keeps his promises. One of his habits is the writing of personal handwritten notes to those he is praying for. This simple act of kindness and thoughtfulness speaks volumes about his heart and character.

I believe David will bring meaningful change to the BGCT. He will strengthen what we do well. He will help us make hard decisions about what we may need to adjust or end. He will surround himself with leaders who lead with integrity and with a heart for Texas. He will protect us from making foolish mistakes. He will challenge us to keep first things first—“Winning Texas to Christ.” He loves the church and believes the BGCT headquarters are in the local churches not in Dallas.

As you can tell I am all in. Right after David accepted our invitation to be presented to the Executive Board for affirmation. I told him you can count on me. I pray you will join me in welcoming David to this post of leadership. Christmas came a little early this year for Texas Baptists and for this I am so thankful.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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