There are those out there who do not think that change can occur in the BGCT, or that if it did, it would matter.
There’s no question that change is needed, and that many people who are active in convention life recognize this. A couple of years ago, we did what Baptists do when we wake up and smell the coffee, so to speak. We form a committee and charge them with coming up with some kind of program to deal with the problem. That allows the rest of us, in a mental sense, to put the problem out of our mind and carry on with business as usual, thinking that the problem has been addressed and will be solved. But there’s been a paradigm shift and a committee, no matter how talented or experienced, cannot deal with attitudes, which is where the changes need to be made in order for the convention to remain relevant and viable into the future.
It’s a good thing that the convention has acknowledged the need for change by suggesting that a committee be formed and empowered to make change. We are missing a gigantic segment of adults between 18 and 40 years of age in convention life, largely because we are missing them in our churches, too. The thing is, even if we reach them for the church, there is no guarantee they will participate in a denominational structure or convention. The changes that the convention may be required to make in order to continue its role in the ministries it now supports may cause it to look vastly different than it does now. Is one committee enough to bring that about? Is there any way that kind of change could even come about, considering the present structure and situation?
The BGCT, as it now exists, is a closed structure very much like a circled wagon train. Its leadership, in protecting itself from what it perceived as a “hostile takeover,” has adopted many of the same tactics that it once protested when used by the perceived enemy. It has continued to self-perpetuate long after the threat of a “fundamentalist takeover” has evaporated with the 2,000 or so churches that have left to form their own convention. With Cooperative Program revenues declining by the month, investment income suffering from the recession, messenger registration dwindling with each succeeding convention, someone finally recognized the need for change, and made a motion to form a committee to deal with some of the most pressing issues. The Future Focus Committee has been working for two years, and will deliver a required report at the Houston convention in November. That is, at least, a start.
I don’t think there is any question as to whether the BGCT is worth saving. There are aspects of its ministry which are, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to the vitality of the church and the growth of the kingdom, in Texas and elsewhere. The universities alone are worth whatever effort might be required, though in fact most of them would be able to exist and function quite well apart from convention support and affiliation. The discipleship consultants on various age group levels are invaluable to the churches that use them in consultation. Along with that, there is also a lot of room for genuine restructuring, reogranizing, dropping ineffective, inefficient operations, cutting costs and streamlining.
Bring together Baptists with ideas related to making necessary changes in a state convention structure and you will get a variety of opinions about what to do. One thing that has been made very clear, considering the circumstances, is that business as usual is not going to produce the desired results. What needs to be done, and how to go about it is a matter of opinion. And everyone seems to have one.
In the course of dealing with all that has happened in recent years, there are those who have been in convention leadership, or in close proximity to it, who have reached the end of their patience and endurance. They are done with the BGCT. That’s certainly understandable, considering the circumstances. Their response to the questions in the title of this article would be “No, and No.” Fair enough.
A second perspective would be those who defend the current system out of a sense of loyalty to it. They do not see anything wrong with the influence peddling, string pulling, lobbying, politicking and even nepotism that keeps the leadership circle narrow, exclusive, and limited in its scope of producing ideas that will help the convention remain relevant. They defend entrenched bureaucrats as “good guys” who have the convention’s interests at heart like no one else can, while ignoring an army of equally “good guys” who could make positive contributions as well, except they can’t get in the door. This perspective is antithetical to the kind of change that the convention needs to survive.
There is a third group that simply says to allow things to take their natural course. The convention structure is not relevant, and can’t become relevant, so it needs to be allowed to die a natural death. Something effective will emerge in its place, and artificial life support will only keep that from happening. What winds up emerging will be practical, efficient and effective, at least, that’s the hope.
In defending TBC’s plan to control the presidency of the BGCT by asking potential candidates to serve only one term, the first individual to occupy the office under that plan, Ken Hall, said that, since the BGCT is blessed with an abundance of excellent leadership, one term presidencies would allow twice as many excellent leaders to serve in half the amount of time. He was correct. Applying the same principle to the convention’s committees, boards and to the executive board, and collectively to the whole convention leadership structure, would produce the same results. Term limiting the current leadership to two terms of one leadership role per lifetime, and limiting the number of members from any single church to just one at a time on any board or committee would vastly increase the number of different, excellent leaders who would bring a vast increase in the number of relevant, workable ideas and solutions to the convention’s problems in a relatively short period of time. The argument that experience is also needed along side the fresh new faces fails to be convincing if the limit is two terms, since that is plenty of time for any board member to gain the necessary experience needed. The offsets in rotations would also guarantee that at least half of every board and committee is made up of people who have already served one term.
The BGCT does matter. Expanding the leadership tent is the quickest path to the most effective kind of change. Join me in Houston this November and support the constitutional amendments and bylaw changes needed to energize, expand and diversify our leadership. Change can come.