Wither Whither Texas Baptists?

Early Sunday afternoon, I made my way down the I-35 corridor from Dallas to Austin for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. By Sunday evening, I was seated toward the back of Great Hills Baptist Church to hear the Rev. Dwight McKissic preach on the assigned subject, “The Pastor’s Helpers.”

Before the meeting began, I joked with Rev. McKissic that he should select Romans 16:1-16 as his text, highlighting the deacon ministry of Phoebe of Cenchrea, the ministries of Priscila and Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Julia and Olympas. McKissic chose Acts 6 as his text of reference, then proceeded to expound quite eloquently about the preparation, selection, and administration of ministry support staff. Before he preached, he received a standing ovation of the house, prompted by the applause of his own congregation, who had gathered in Austin to lead in choral worship.

Earlier that evening, the pastor of Great Hills Church, the Rev. Michael Lewis, preached on “The Pastor’s Harvest,” offering the challenge to personal evangelism and soul-winning that is standard faire for such conferences. At one point in his sermon, Rev. Lewis likened the sufferings of the Apostle Paul — stoning, shipwrecks, whippings and scourgings, etc. — to the the suffering experienced by Southern Baptist leaders at the hands of bloggers.

Somewhere in my mind images conjured of Br’er Rabbit being flung into the briar patch.

On Monday afternoon, I heard SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards of Resolution No. 5 fame preach on the subject of holiness. Richards is a good speaker, with an earnest style and pleasant demeanor. For the most part his sermon was a commendable reminder of the importance of personal sanctification, and he shied away from addressing the alcohol issue in much detail. I suppose he and I both are tired of that silly saga of Southern Baptist history.

Richards did share with pastors’ conference attendees that his home has an “angel box” that censors out vulgarity and profanity from his television. I have searched the internet to find such a contraption, but the closest I came was the TV Guardian 201 Series, which claims to filter out 95% of all television profanity while you watch. I don’t think I’ll be investing in one any day soon, however, because I don’t watch that much television to begin with. I’m curious what programs find their way onto Jim Richards’ television that necessitate such a device?

The Andy Griffith Show always seemed so clean to me, unless, of course, we’re talking about Otis Campbell’s moonshine swillin’ ways. No telling how many boys and girls ran out to build liquor stills on account of those episodes of reprehensible and irresponsible programming.  For more on these and other concerns about the shows you thought were okay to watch, please refer to our old standby at Baptist Blogger, Pastor Tony Smith.

Of course, it’s a good thing Southern Baptists lifted our boycott of Disney last year. Now we can happily watch Fraggle Rock and Brother Bear and Power Rangers, sitcoms which are no doubt certain to remove any need for Rev. Richards’ little box.

At another point in his sermon, Richards juxtaposed the sins of embezzlement and fornication with the sins of “muckraking bloggers,” which elicited a mixture of approving hoots and grunts. I can hear it now:

“Microphone No. 2, please state your name and your motion.”

“I am Jim Richards, messenger of First Baptist Church of Ft. Worth, TX, and I would like to offer an amendment to resolution number three, ‘On Blogging.'”

“Thank you, Brother Richards, the Chair will recognize you for three minutes.”

“Thank you. I would like to insert the following resolved after the first “Be it resolved” to make the resolution read: ‘Be it further resolved that we urge no one to be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a blogger.'”

“Thank you, Brother Richards, do we have a second?”

(Somewhere down in front in the ‘reserved’ section a ‘second’ is shouted, followed by Jim Richards appeal that blogging is a sin like fornication, graft, and drunkenness — which explains why the SBTC website has removed their blog)

“And is there anyone to speak against the motion to amend? Microphone number one, are you speaking against the amendment.”

“I am.”

“Then please state your name and your church.”

“Thank you, Mr. President. I am (insert the name of your favorite muckraker here)….”

Late Monday afternoon, a Romanian Baptist named Paul Negrut preached on the subject of humility, choosing also to address his concerns about blogging and the internet. Having just watched this film, I was pleased to know that some sectors of Eastern Europe have internet access after all. Perhaps the tiny town of Glod should start a blog about the injustices they have experienced at the hands of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

My favorite moment of the SBTC Pastors’ Conference was the election of officers, which occurred at lightning speed without any need for ballotting. At the time to vote — a time when “pastors” are to be voting for officers of the “pastors’ conference” — I gleefully observed not a few women, including a former ERLC trustee and current IMB trustee from West Texas, Mrs. Skeet Workman, lift her hand — presumably not as a pastor — to vote for the candidates.

I am reliably informed that the SBTC passed a resolution on glossolalia, which I have not seen due to my having to leave Austin to conduct funeral services Tuesday afternoon for a church member. Early Tuesday morning, however, I was able to meet with a group of BGCT pastors for breakfast and discuss our similar concerns about our respective state conventions. A number of SBTC pastors have asked me what my plans are for continued participation in SBTC, and how I would advise them regarding their own affiliations.

My position is this: State conventions are tremendous wastes of time and resources. SBTC at least has the sense to continually minimize its own percentage of Cooperative Program dollars, though it is regrettable that any money is directed through SBTC to backwards backwoods landmark insititutions like Jacksonville College.

Nevertheless, pastors do not affiliate with state conventions; churches do. I am affiliated with the SBTC by default because the church where I pastor is uniquely aligned with that particular convention. My sympathies may not concur with everything done in the SBTC, but affiliation with the convention was a matter of my congregation’s choosing, and I do not see any point in formally pushing or pulling Parkview Baptist Church away from that affiliation. At this point, Parkview sends 5% of undesignated receipts through SBTC, an increase from a flat $100.00 a month at the time of my election as pastor. This year, I have prepared budgetary recommendations for our finance committee that maintain this commitment, while exploring other channels for more direct missionary support. I have also prepared a letter of enquiry to SBTC leadership regarding the existence of means for negative-designation of certain ministry line items that might not harmonize with the ministry philosophies and visions of member churches.

If I was in a church that had affiliated with the BGCT, I would take a similar stance; and I have encouraged my BGCT friends not to jump ship to SBTC unless their laymen absolutely insist on it. We in Texas have two imperfect conventions, each with their own set of idiosyncratic problems and their own group of power-players. Likewise, they both have commendable opportunities for shared ministry venture and forums for healthy fellowship among churches in Texas.

My basic thought is this: Ride the horse you’re on. If it bucks you off, don’t try to saddle another horse in the barn. One of them has no brains. The other one has no guts. One needs a lobotomy. The other needs a swift kick in the hind quarters. Both of them have been outdated forms of transportation since the invention of the combustion engine.

Any way you slice it, state conventions are a dying species. Personally, I passed the time at SBTC’s pastors’ conference trying to count white heads and portable oxygen tanks. My few moments in the BGCT plenary session left me with a similar impression. And while I don’t think we should hasten their respective deaths, I am fully committed to signing a “Do Not Resuscitate” order on the both of them. Others, no doubt, will keep the feeding tube flowing long after rigor mortis has set in. Only the church universal has the guarantee of heaven’s bulwark against hell’s gates. Conventions of churches, like spring dandelions, may flourish with beauty for a season. In the end, however, they usually produce more weeds.

8 thoughts on “Wither Whither Texas Baptists?

  1. Does Richards not get that everytime he “posts” his little opinion articles on the SBTC website for the “world” to see he is essentially blogging? The only difference is that there is no comment section, oh wait there are other bloggers who do that too. So, he’s a blogger. He shouldn’t talk about himself that way.

  2. I think part of the problem is not with the idea behind a state convention organization itself, but with the baggage that comes along with it. It often seems to me that the influence peddling, personal kingdom building, good ole boy networking and climbing the Baptist corporate ladder are at cross purposes with the cooperative missions ministries statewide that are behind the vision and purpose of the organization. The socializing seems to be the most important part of the meeting. Various ladies groups strutted around in matching outfits, while the older men, mainly in suits and ties, clustered in the hallways and the exhibit hall, which had to be closed in order to push people into the meeting hall for the general sessions. There were a lot more younger men in jeans, and younger, more casually dressed women than I saw the last time I attended the BGCT meeting in 1994.

    I think your observation about the future of the state convention is right on target. The convention structure and organization is the “thing” of the older generation, and it will be replaced by something different when they pass off the scene, which is going to be in fairly short order.

  3. The lack of humility, the abundance of arogance, the obvious disdain you feel towards men such as Dr. Richards is so transparent that even a ‘mindless sheep’ like myself can get a sence of what you are about Bro. Ben. When I read posts such as this in comparison to posts like you have presented in the previous comments on letters to small children, one wonders which Ben is Jekyl and which Ben is Hyde?


  4. Good report Ben. I haven’t lived in Texas for 25 years but I like to keep up with the comings and goings. I agree with most of your thoughts on state conventions but I think if when you say the state conventions are a dying species you are talking about the annual meeting you may be right unless they change. Most Southern Baptist are tired of attending meetings held to applaud and perpetuate the control of those in power. However, if you are talking about the state convention as an entity, I think they will continue and have a purpose. In our state the state convention does a good job of serving the midsize and small churches. In addition it serves an accountablilty function for the Baptist colleges, orphanage, and other ministries of the state. It also does a good job or promoting church starting, disaster relief and missions ministries outside of our state. Many of the super churches don’t support state conventions because they do these things on their own and don’t care if any one else in the state does or not. You have to remember also that you are in the SBTC which is a sort of hybrid kind of like a mule. It is not a typical state convention. It does not have the minsitries of most. It was designed to pull people away from the BGCT and give them a way to fund the SBC without going through the BGCT. It also serves as a pool for appointees to the SBC trustee boards and allows their loyalty to the conservative resurgnce to be demonstated by their willingness to withdraw from the BGCT.

  5. Thanks for the comical and genuine report Ben.

    As to what Bro. Jack says – I see no difference in shielding yourself behind a pulpit at a state convention and spewing forth a personal opinion under the guise of ‘preaching’ or openly sharing it on the internet with the built in accountability of comments.

    I think it is important for us not to get so loyal to things that are man made and are not God instituted. God established the family and the church (primarily) we should be unequivocally loyal to both with God’s Word as our guide. To waste thousands of dollars on bloated salaries, steak dinners, airplane tickets, expensive gifts and the like is just plane shady. One thing I am so fond of with the Missional conversation is the way they give things away. Sermons are free, you can download books, and conferences are affordable and small. It is not this traditional giant political rally that we see in our state and in our nation. I just have HUGE issues with someone shaking the hand of some bi-vocational small church pastor, smiling, looking him in the eye and asking him to lead his church to give no less than 10% to the CP all the while collecting exorbitant salaries living in houses that some would call mansions in DFW’s finer neighborhoods.

    It is time for some questions and far past time for some answers. Just because Southern Baptist is in the name does not mean it is beyond approach.

  6. jowiki – I can agree with that – I am not at all happy with some of the return rhetoric coming from those who have been attacked. Dr. Richards has had everything form his hair to diction attacked, but still, I do not believe in the over generalazation of bloggers…and I withheld my AMEN from his comments from behind the sacrad desk.

    As far as your comments concerning the bloat…kind of hard tyo argue with your premise, however I am not so sure it is aplicable in every sense. This idea that becasue one is a denominational servant he or she is automaticaly a fatcat simply is not true.


  7. Jack,

    Thats true. I agree with you that Jim should not be attacked based on superficial issues and those who would do so, probably suffer from a moment of weakness or chronic immaturity. Thanks for the conversation – Josh King

  8. I have been around Texans since the late seventies. Texans! What more needs to be said. In my opinion, there is not a great theological divide between the BGCT and SBTC. I know individuals from each convention and most would agree on the fundamentals of the faith. Politics and egotism drive both conventions. In dealing with Texans and the two Baptist conventions in general, non-Texas must understand that it is The Very Most Biggest Ego in opposition to The Most Biggest Ego with the roles being interchangeable. One funny TCC story involved R. Land, a Houstonian by divine birthright, who proudly announced to the class one day that he had descendents that had fought at the Battle of San Jancinto, to which a question came from the back of the classroom, “Dr. Land, on which side?”

    Ben, I was glad to hear (not suprised) of your meeting and dialogue with pastors from the BGCT side of the fence. A main concept behind associations and conventions (state and national) is cooperation, and while you may be correct stating that the present convention framework is “a dying species,” I think the need for some type of organization to help facilitate this cooperation will need to continue.

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