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.

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

9 responses

  1. Jack Matthews says:

    We have the same problem in Tennessee. In fact, there’s a guy in my church who just rotated off the executive board, and is now on one of the other agency boards. He’s had his finger in one pie or another in the state convention for about 20 years, and is also a big shot in the association. He’s a layman, owns an insurance business, so he can take time off for meetings. He’s got some buddies who have served with him at various times and places, and from his conversation about his service, I gather that he is one of the hard core resisters of any kind of change. He’s also been an advocate for some of his buddies in trying to bypass the procedures for getting jobs at the convention, though I don’t think his string pulling has actually worked.

    I think our convention here in Tennessee passed some bylaw revisions several years back to make a few changes like this. I’ll check and see. Perhaps you could propose some bylaw changes, if for no other reason than to get people thinking it might be time for this kind of change.

  2. KGray says:

    School-tie buddies — that made me laugh.

    Ask everyone on each committee “What is your spiritual gift?”

  3. David Lowrie says:

    Lee,

    I think you are on to something. I believe we need a balance in this approach to change. I agree we need new faces at the table, and we also need a handful of strong leaders who can keep us in touch with the history and the lessons learned from the past.

    As you know my father held practically every position imaginable in Texas Baptist life and was also able to serve on the board for Lifeway. However, I served over 20 years and attend most every convention before I had my first opportunity to serve on the board at Howard Payne. My wife also was given an opportunity to serve on the Worldconnex board beginning this year. It was an honor to be given this opportunity to serve. I am committed to broadening the tent and opening door to some new leader ready and willing to help us become all God wants us to be.

    I fear the challenge of this change will be the importance of building new relationships and reaching out to new circles of friendships. Our circles have become to small. I suspect the diminishing of the local associations has hurt us in our efforts to broaden the tent. Also fear and suspicion have forced us to close ranks way too tight in our fight against dangers in the bushes.

    Thank you for challenging us establish new habits for a new day.

    David Lowrie

  4. Ken Coffee says:

    While I am not in disagreement with most of your premise, I do know why it is the way it is. There are certain people in our state who are really creative, high profile leaders. Every institution wants them for their board. The BGCT wants them, too. They get selected often because they function well and contribute to the overall well being of their assigned board. I believe Texas Baptists want our brightest and best to keep serving as long as possible. However, there are lots of slots available for new people. Not too many yeas ago I was one of those young pastors who wondered why some guys served all the time while others of us were never asked. When I finally got the opportunity it was always some kind of job where I actually had to do something…work, plan, coordinate…while others just seemed to go to meetings. But, I waited and waited and finally, at the age of 48 and a life long Texan, got an unexpected opportunity to serve on the denominational staff, where, guess what, I worked, planned, coordinated, while some of my superiors went to meetings. The lesson I learned is that we needed to have people like me who worked, and we needed to have people like my superiors who thought through issues and motivated those of us who were workers. I wholeheartedly endorse your call for broadened participation, but at the same time call for patience.

  5. Lee says:

    Every year, at budget time, we have team members who question the amount of money we give through the Cooperative Program, particularly the portion we give to the BGCT. We are in a neighborhood where a prosperous, culturally and ethnically diverse population is moving in literally in droves and we have a congregation that has a desire to reach them, and is somewhat equipped to do so. Over the years, the perception has developed that the BGCT is resistant to change, has grown increasingly unable to assist churches particularly in cutting-edge kinds of ministry. They no longer look to the BGCT as a resource related to the kind of ministry we do, but find sources like Saddleback and Willow Creek, among others, much more relevant and helpful. We went through one downsizing several years ago when the BGCT opened up the option for churches to determine their own division of CP funds between the BGCT and the SBC, and our church chose to forward two thirds to the SBC and give one third to the BGCT. With the BGCT taking on world missions tasks that seem to duplicate what the SBC is doing, and the appearance over the past few years that it wants to distance itself even further from the SBC, the pressure increases to make further cuts in that financial support.

    This is not just an anecdotal account, it is happening in hundreds of churches, to a greater or lesser degree, all across Texas, and in most cases, it is not because there is another state convention competing for support. Two recent search committees related to executive staff have made “safe” decisions by choosing individuals based on the traditional methods of connections, influence and a pedigree of past service. While both of those gentlemen are clearly committed servants, neither of them represent a movement in the direction of the kind of ministry it will take for the BGCT to have a future. Our future is in equipping and partnering with our churches to evangelize the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural populations in our cities. We do a lot of talking about that, but we have few resources or staff members equipped for that kind of ministry. And the fact of the matter is that we are declining in membership, and losing churches left and right in the very heart of those cities. The next time we hire a high profile executive, it should be someone who has a measure of success and some experience reaching the population of our inner cities, which isn’t just hispanic any more.

  6. Ken Coffee says:

    “The next time we hire a high profile executive, it should be someone who has a measure of success and some experience reaching the population of our inner cities, which isn’t just hispanic any more.”

    Lee, that utopian scenario sounds good, but the truth is there are not more than three or four of those people in Texas. Actually over the past two decades, no group of Baptists on earth has been more successful than the BGCT in helping churches reach other ethnic groups. I remember when we had just 300 ethnic churches in Texas. Now there are probably two thousand. We learned long ago that ethincs reach ethnics better than even the most well meaning anglos can do it.

  7. Lee says:

    No argument that the BGCT has been good at reaching hispanics. That is clear, and it is an emphasis we need to continue. I also do not doubt the sincerity of our elected and hired leaders with regard to reaching people for Christ and having a heart for ministry. But I am not convinced that the traditional way we seem to be using to hire leadership will help the convention remain relevant in the future. I believe we are at the point where we need to start thinking out of our Baptist box. Our churches, on which we depend for financial resources, are turning elsewhere for resources related to the challenges they face in reaching people. I know they are doing it, they are all around me. I’m doing it myself. Once that happens, the church leadership legitimately questions why they should continue financially supporting a convention that we have no real connections with anymore. And in the past week, I have heard a lot about the narrow circle of leadership that runs the BGCT. Steve Vernon was a TBC endorsee when he was elected BGCT president. That has left a particular impression, I assure you.

    If you compare the BGCT, and even the SBC, with other evangelical ministries, particularly the non-denominational groups that are having success reaching people of multiple cultures, you can immediately see the differences. They don’t hire people because of pedigree or influence, they hire them for their expertise. Their organizations are streamlined with very little administrative and executive leadership, and an abundance of consultants and field experts. There are no fancy office buildings, no inter-office protocols, no structures, and extremely limited expense accounts. They have a different approach in working with churches.

    We need to at least look at that.

  8. Ken Coffee says:

    The expertise we employ is not in the executive positions, but in the program areas. Practically all our program people are there because they had done it in their churches. People with that kind of expertise are not always strong administrators, which is what executive positions are. For instance, Patty Lane is a recognized expert on mul.ti-cultural issues and has been in that job for nearly twenty years. She does not even handle hispanic, but has been instrumenal in helping churches start hundreds of Asian, Indian, Russian, Kurd, etc. churches across Texas. Have you ever talked with her? People who feel they need to go elsewhere for that kind of expertise are not well informed about what their convention already offers. I am quite familiar with what Willow Creek and others make available, but it is no better than what you could have had, if you had just looked at whats there. I agree that it is important to employ people with expertise. My contention is that we already do so, although perhaps not in the administrative positions.

  9. Colby Evans says:

    Lee,
    Keep calling for leadership change in the BGCT. It is needed, desperately, if the BGCT is to remain relevant and have a future. I agree with Ken that there are many bright spots in the convention’s work, and people with expertise in the organization, but its administration and much of its board leadership is very much old school, old style, and is drawn from a very narrow spectrum of people who are tighly connected to each other. The recent selection of both executive officers is a clear indication of that. At the next meeting, take a look around at the number of under 30’s, or even under 40’s in attendance. Some Truett grads and a few of the Baylor crowd, and that’s it. The continued distance between the BGCT and the SBC, in spite of the few cosmetic changes that have been made, will continue to keep the drain of churches and their resources open to the SBTC. Real change, the kind that is needed to keep the doors open and the lights on, will not be a priority while the control group is circling the wagons. Keep blogging about it. It is needed.