For more than a decade, largely through controversy, there has been a lot of talk about the future of the BGCT. Ravaged by the denominational politics that erupted in the Southern Baptist Convention more than 25 years ago, the BGCT emerged from a serious split into what has become a delicate stability and an uncertain future. Control of the denomination’s boards and committees remained in the hands of those identified with the “moderate” side of the Baptist controversy, though many of them hold theological views that are as conservative as some of those who left to form the SBTC. Though the BGCT still claims three fourths of the churches that belonged to the convention prior to the split, the vast majority of those churches are theologically moderate and remain uniquely aligned with the SBC. It is hard to gauge the level of SBC loyalty among those congregations. There are those who continue to support the SBC at the request of some of their members, or because of loyalty to missionaries, but there are many others who see no need to leave the SBC, desire to set aside the denominational politics and power struggle, and want to focus on Kingdom work, believing that is more important than who runs the show or who calls the shots, or who the favored, prominent and pedigreed leaders are.
What has become clear, while we have been bickering and fighting with each other over who gets to be in control and who has the power, is that paradigm shifts taking place in society have affected the way churches go about their Kingdom work, and those changes will have an effect on the way churches cooperate through conventions and denominational structures. The automatic, built-in loyalty for giving money to the Cooperative Program, and putting responsibility for some kinds of ministry through denominational convention structures is being challenged by the changes. The median age of our church membership is increasing, we are reaching fewer individuals for Christ in the younger generations, and this also affects the convention in that it, too, is aging. There is little interest among those younger generations in the denominational convention structure, the business proceedings, the meetings, pronouncements and other trappings of denominational life.
We have done this to ourselves.
At one point, several years ago, I began to look at the SBC’s boards and committees. It seemed as if certain individuals always found themselves on a trustee board or a committee, or the executive board. I didn’t do detailed research, but it didn’t take much searching to discover a list of individuals who were almost in continuous service on trustee boards, or on convention committees. Along with some of them, their wives also served. In addition to that, a list of churches emerged from which as many as six or seven members were serving on boards at the same time. I find that remarkably narrow leadership in a denomination which claims 16 million members, and speaks often about “broadening the tent.”
In the past three years, I have done the same thing with Texas Baptist annuals and the BGCT. It must be a Baptist thing. We are really not much different than the SBC in this regard. We have individuals who have rotated from board to board and committee to committee, some serving on as many as eight or nine different entities over almost a lifetime of appointment. There is also a list of churches from which as many as five or six members at a time can be found serving on boards. And there are individuals who sometimes serve on a board and a convention committee at the same time. This is not the way to open the door to a prosperous future.
The first resolution to this problem is to elect officers committed to appointing new names and faces to the committee that chooses board members. The more people involved, the more churches involved, the more support the BGCT can expect, since these people will become advocates and cheerleaders in their churches and associations for convention causes. There is no reason not to do this. We have trained agency employees who can guide trustees and committees through the ins and outs of their agency or entity. The two-term appointment guarantees that at least half of any board will have experience to pass along to newcomers. There are over 700,000 active members of almost 5,700 churches. That is a source of more good leadership than we could ever use.
Second, I think it is time for bylaws to be introduced to limit the terms of service for board and committee members. Once a person has served their full two terms on any board, they should be ineligible for service on any other convention board. Let some fresh ideas into the mix. Also, no more than one member of any individual church should serve on any board or committee at a time. There is no reason multiple members of the same church should be appointed. Yes, it would require the committee that makes the selections to look beyond their own membership and those who are their personal friends, school-tie buddies and acquaintances for individuals they might have to get to know through others, or through conversation, but I believe doing so will strengthen the convention and expand its exposure. And sometimes, I have to wonder how individuals who serve as pastors and staff of local churches can serve on boards and agencies for twenty years and still have time to do their regular job.
There are those who will not like this suggestion. Texans, and Texas Baptists among them, love the pedigree and prominence that comes with leadership. They love to peddle influence, and they love the power to grant favors to friends. Genuinely, most do not see this as arrogance, even though that is how it often appears. But narrow leadership causes stagnation. In light of what the BGCT has experienced in the past decade, it can no longer afford narrow leadership.