With relatively little fanfare, and no discussion, our church seamlessly switched affiliation last night from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.  The discussion took place at a town hall meeting held the previous Sunday, following about two months of study and the work of a team that was put in place last August.  Many questions were asked, and answered, and concerns were addressed.  The team was prepared with several different approaches, had there been anyone who had a reasonable objection to a complete switch.  There was none, and as a result of the vote, the church will pursue unique affiliation with the SBTC.

There has been a lot of talk among Baptists in Texas about “tactics” used by the SBTC to get churches to switch their affiliation, and about “lies” told about the BGCT.  I can say with certainty that was not the case here.  We’ve been visited in the past year by individuals representing both conventions, and when it came down to the actual presentations made to the church, the team that had been given that assignment was responsible for gathering the information and presenting it to the church.  We were aware of several other churches in our association which had made similar decisions in recent months, and our decision basically followed the same pattern. 

Ultimately, there were two issues which led to the decision.  One involved acceptance of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, though that was not the main reason.  The second involved the direction of the BGCT as it relates to the Southern Baptist Convention.  This church has never approved of the reduction in the share of Cooperative Program money going from the BGCT to the SBC, and has been particularly concerned with both the IMB’s portion, and what goes to theological education.  It has also not been able to come to a point where it shared in the BGCT leadership’s vision of operating its own entities related to mission-sending, theological education and literature publication.  Over the years, a number of our church families have had students at BGCT-related educational entities, and some of them have reported things taught in classrooms that were not consistent either with their own personal convictions, developed as they were raised in the church, or with those of the church. 

The politics of the past few decades has also had an effect on the church’s perception of its convention relationships.  Many Houston area churches already feel a sense of separation, and sometimes of deliberate exclusion, from convention-related events, or even informal gatherings, perceiving that the leadership is very oriented toward, and sensitive to the needs of a Dallas-Metroplex oriented constituency.  The bulk of Houston-area appointees to committees and boards are from CBF-affiliated churches, and there is a strong perception here that the BGCT has picked out a small group of “prominent” congregations from which all of the region’s leaders are selected.  Likewise, there is the perception that the group which has controlled BGCT leadership has sometimes chosen leaders who, rather than being willing to work with all constituencies in the state convention, have been deliberately antagonistic toward those who prefer to keep close ties with the SBC.  A good percentage of our church leadership was very well aware of Valleygate, which certainly did not help improve the image of the previous BGCT administration.

I’m sure there are some other factors involved.  In recent years, as the church has transitioned to attempt to minister in a highly diverse inner city neighborhood that has seen major turnover in home ownership, massive re-development, and soaring property values because of its historic appeal and proximity to downtown, many of those in the church who are under 50 and who have joined here in the last decade have come either from one of the more conservative megachurches, or via the baptistry, and are still in the early stages of discipleship.  We have a group of members who left a mainline Protestant church over “liberal” theology and practices, and several families who came from a nearby moderate Baptist church when it affiliated with CBF.  So there is some political influence. 

For me, personally, it is not something I would have anticipated supporting as recently as five years ago.  However, though it may seem like it has been a long journey from where I was to where I am now, to me it feels somewhat like a return home after having been on a long, long trip. 

I wish the BGCT well.  Denominational organizations, including both Texas Baptist conventions, the SBC, and virtually all others, are facing some challenges related to a paradigm shift we call “post-denominationalism.”  Churches are facing it, too.  I suspect the future will look far different than what we see now, or than what we might even be able to imagine. 

 

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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.

13 responses

  1. Jack Matthews says:

    Well, you went and did it. If I may ask, how much influence and direction did you personally provide?

  2. txevangelist says:

    Very well written article. I live in the DFW area, and the BGCT better start embracing Houston churches given the rate at which churches up here are moving to the SBTC.

    For me, and my experience may not be typical, it seems that the SBTC focuses on what they are for, while the BGCT focuses more on what they’re against (mainly the SBC).

  3. Lee says:

    Jack,
    I facilitated a visit to a deacon’s meeting by an SBTC staff member. He was in town last spring at the local branch campus of Southwestern Seminary and spent about 15 minutes with our deacons. Our pastor search team has had several candidates who have brought up both the BFM 2000 affirmation and our state convention affiliation, referencing some of the issues that our church has wrestled with as well, and so the question was raised related to what we might want to do. I suggested a “denominational relations committee” but at about that same time, our interim pastor suggested an Interim Agenda Team to cover a number of other pastor search related issues that have come up, and they did the study. I had some input, though the team considered information directly from BGCT and SBTC sources. As an ex-officio member of the team, I supported their decision to make a recommendation to the church to seek unique affiliation with the SBTC.

    txevangelist,
    Thank you. This was the right decision for us to make at this time.

  4. doug says:

    WOW!!! alot of work to decide who to side with and the lost would have been happier if your letters would have been QVC … at least they would know what they were.

    I think the future is something we cannot imagine so our leaders are scared to lead towards it.

  5. Ken Coffee says:

    Lee, I would assume this means you will NOT be attending the BGCT this year and will NOT be presenting your proposed ammendments to the by-laws/consitution. I realize the move over to SBTC will not be official, perhaps, but it would seem your intent would eliminate you from any discussionon how the BGCT operates. I am sorry to lose your church and your voice in BGCT matters.

  6. Aaron Landis says:

    Lee,
    I can fully understand the desire of your church to move to the SBTC, as we did it last year at about the same time.
    While both have their issues, as was stated, one is concerned with the future, and from what I’ve seen, since I just came back from their convention meeting on Wednesday, it seems younger.
    Best wishes to you and your church, and look forward to seeing you and your church there.

    Aaron

  7. Lee says:

    Yes, Ken, though our church will qualify for messengers to the BGCT meeting, and would be considered a “contributing” congregation through December 31, I will not be making any proposals for constitutional or bylaw changes, nor will I be in attendance as a messenger.

    We know Baptist conventions and organizations are not perfect, because they are operated by people, though most of those people have good intentions and the closer they are to the core of the organization, the more passionate they are about its values. Our church made its decision to leave the BGCT because they did not see enough willingness on the part of its leadership to resolve ongoing difficulties with the SBC, and to be as supportive of the latter body as most of its churches seem to desire, including ours. We have a historic commitment to both international and home missions that has expressed itself almost entirely through the two mission boards, and have supported theological education through the SBC by both financial contribution, and by choosing men who have received their training at one of the six seminaries as pastors and staff members, especially Southwestern Seminary.

    We would acknowledge at least part of the responsibility for the elected and appointed leadership of the BGCT not reflecting what is the apparent and obvious desire of the majority of its churches to find a way to work out its difficulties with the SBC in that we have allowed other things to become priorities over our participation in the convention through the election of messengers to which we are entitled. The perception that convention business is mainly “preacher business,” and that what happens there has no effect on us out here is a strong one that we are only just beginning to see change.

    Most of our current church leadership, and perhaps most of our membership as well, were not around when the conservative resurgence began in 1979, however, they are in agreement that a theological course correction was in order. Regardless of whether or not they believe that it warranted some of the actions that were taken, there is still a feeling that the BGCT, which has stiffly resisted both the actions and the theological and doctrinal changes that they brought about, needs some correction and change of direction as well. Though this was not the main reason for our departure, it was most definitely a factor. It is certainly something the BGCT leadership needs to consider if it does not want to continue losing churches. I cannot speak for others, but I know that, of the remaining BGCT congregations in our corner of the Houston area, I can only think of one, out of perhaps six, that isn’t considering either a move, or at least an affirmation of the BFM 2000. Every church that departs should ring a loud bell at the Baptist Building in Dallas. Ours, at the present time, doesn’t even think it will be a blip on the radar screen.

  8. Lee,
    I’m just one of the little guys out there. But welcome to the SBTC. I look forward to meeting you one of these days.
    I continue to pray for Garden Oaks Baptist as they seek a pastor. May God bless you all in the days ahead.
    David R. Brumbelow
    nsbc77562@LWOL.com

  9. Bart Barber says:

    Welcome. I look forward to getting to know you better.

  10. David Lowrie says:

    Dear Lee,

    You will be missed. To be frank, you have inspired and challenged me on a number of fronts concerning the issues facing the BGCT. So much of what the people in your church long for are things I long for as well. As president my influence is somewhat limited, but I believe progress is being made on many of the fronts. I know the people I appointed this year from Houston were good men and women.

    Without question the SBTC has been able to send a much higher percentage of their funds to the SBC and the IMB, but as you know the BGCT has the weight and responsibility of holding the ropes for 27 institutions that are changing the face of Texas.

    I believe under Dr. Everett’s leadership a new bolder day is dawning for the BGCT.

    I pray the Lord blesses you and your church in the days ahead. As far as I am concerned we are on the same “team” and we are struggling against the same opponent. Thank you for caring enough to speak up and to get involved. I pray you will find a place of influence among our SBTC friends.

    Sincerely,
    David Lowrie
    BGCT President

  11. Robert T says:

    Another one bites the dust! I guess the questions remains – which tastes dirtier? BGCT or SBTC?

  12. Jeff Stehle says:

    Strange, we had the opposite experience a year ago. After two months of research which involved having representatives from both BGCT and SBTC here as well as a town hall discussion, our church voted to leave SBTC and return to BGCT.
    The BGCT seemed the more forward-looking convention of the two. The SBTC only seemed to tell us what they were not instead of what they were.
    Eventually, both are going to cancel each other out if they continue this path. I’m 31 years old and I see both conventions becoming extinct in my lifetime if something doesn’t radically change now. I see the same thing happening with the SBC.