Gathering Nov. 13-14 in Dallas around the Ephesians 4-inspired theme of “Belong,” the messenger count for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s (SBTC) annual meeting was its largest since 2008.
Photo courtesy of Southern Baptist TEXAN
Tony Evans, popular author and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, took the stage Nov. 14 for the final sermon of SBTC’s annual meeting. Photo courtesy of Southern Baptist TEXAN.
Officers set out to design an environment of encouragement for pastors. And it couldn’t have come at a better time than in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the most deadly church shooting in American history a week prior in Sutherland Springs.
A series of eight sermons preached sequentially through Ephesians 4 and part of chapter five featured Juan Sanchez of Austin, Nathan Lino of Humble, Andrew Hebert of Amarillo, J. R. Vassar of Grapevine, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards of Keller, Criswell College President Barry Creamer of Dallas and Josh Smith of Irving.
SBTC officers crafted breakout sessions that gathered pastors and laypeople in small groups based on their location in Texas and the size of their churches. Before leaving each discussion, participants exchanged contact information with at least one other person in order to develop a supportive relationship for future ministry.
“We wanted our pastors to go home invigorated and re-inspired, believing that the Holy Spirit is for them and with them,” said Lino, who served as SBTC president the past two years.
Messengers and guests packed Ruth Chapel on the campus of Criswell College for worship led by musicians from Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble and Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and a series of expositional sermons from Ephesians. They also handled the business of electing new officers and approved a budget, committee recommendations, nine resolutions and a few other matters.
Couples offered scripture readings and prayer during each of the sessions, including Shanon and Sophia Thomas of Rockwall Friendship Baptist Church in Royse City, Pete and Niha Raiborde from The Lighthouse Church International Ministries in Coppell, Donald and Lisa Tittle from First Baptist Church of Flower Mound and Ryan and Heather Fontenot from The Mount in Keller.
In addition to worship through music, the reading of scripture and expository preaching, messengers and guests took part in auxiliary meetings, alumni gatherings and after-hours fellowships. They also heard reports from the ministries churches support all year through their gifts to the Cooperative Program, the funding mechanism Southern Baptist churches use to accomplish missions and ministries in the state and around the world.
The Nov. 14 afternoon session compresses the business that is indispensable to the work of the convention as messengers set the future course for their cooperative ministries.
Photo courtesy of Southern Baptist TEXAN
Mike Gonzales, SBTC director of Hispanic Ministries, left to right, discusses pastoral ministry with pastor Jerry Vincent of Elmcrest Baptist Church, Abilene, and pastor Michael Cooper of Grace Community Church, Mabank during a Nov. 14 “Belong Group” breakout session at the SBTC annual meeting.
Resolutions addressed prayer for First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, gender identity, sexual harassment, the ministerial housing allowance, adoption tax credit, the centrality of scripture and Hurricane Harvey, while also expressing appreciation for Lino’s leadership and the hospitality and generosity of Criswell College and others whom God used “to bring about a meeting characterized by evangelism, worship and true Christian fellowship.”
Messengers approved a 2018 budget of $28,880,178, a 2.56 percent increase from the current year. This budget is funded by $28,528,178 in Cooperative Program gifts and $352,000 from partnerships with the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.
The convention continues to send 55 percent of its budget for Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program ministries – the highest percentage of any Baptist state convention – while designating 45 percent for Cooperative Program ministries in Texas.
Tellers accounted for 1,040 messengers and 225 guests with several hundred more in attendance who did not register.
Forty-three Southern Baptists from small, medium and large churches were approved as new members of the Executive Board, committees addressing missions, evangelism, church ministries, ethics and religious liberty, pastor/church relations, credentials and order of business, or on boards of Criswell College, Jacksonville College, Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation and Texas Baptist Home for Children. In total, 150 pastors and laypeople from affiliated churches serve throughout the year on SBTC committees and related boards, and another 39 serve on committees that function during the annual meeting.
With the devastation leading up to the SBTC annual convention – a hurricane that destroyed communities and a horrific shooting that devastated a congregation – Lino in his message as SBTC president called pastors to remember the purpose of preaching.
Drawing from Ephesians 4:7-16, he said God’s gifts to believers, when used in concert, are designed to build up the body and mature a congregation into the fullness of Christ. And a pastor’s preaching is among those gifts.
“The greatest gift is to become more and more like Jesus Christ – not one day when we die and go to heaven, but here and now in this world that is under the curse of sin,” Lino said.
Referencing Numbers 22, Lino said it should amaze no one that the God who chose to speak through Balaam’s donkey also chose to speak through weak and sinful humans.
“God wants to display His glory in this world,” he said. “He wants to maximize His glory in this world and He says in His word His glory is most maximized when He displays it through the weakest creatures. And He chose us to preach,” Lino said. “Just think about that.”
Tony Evans, popular author and pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, took the stage Nov. 14 for the annual meeting’s final sermon. Evans praised Southern Baptists for continuing to hold “the torch high for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and staying “tethered tightly to the truths of the text of scripture.”
Calling ecclesiology – the doctrine of the church – his “passion,” he characterized Ephesians as “an ecclesiological document,” applicable to personal life yet dealing with the church, noting the apostle Paul’s frequent use of the word “church” or its synonyms throughout the letter.
The church is first mentioned by Jesus, “its head and creator,” in Matthew 16, Evans said, referencing Jesus’ conversation with his disciples by calling them the “Galilean Baptist Convention.”
“Who do y’all say the Son of man is?” Evans loosely translated verse 13, noting the plural form of the Greek word for “you” to explain that both question and answer, “upon this rock I will build my church,” were directed to the whole group, not just Peter, who received a name change and promotion from Simon (“pebble”) to Petros (“rock”).
Jesus did not imply that he would build his church upon one man, Evans said, but a “collection of stones minted together to form a larger cliff, rock or slab.”
Basing his message on Ephesians 4:25, J. R. Vassar, pastor of Church at the Cross in Grapevine, challenged listeners to view the church as a place of truth, restoration and generosity as he delivered the convention sermon.
“Christianity is not primarily about a new start; it’s actually about a new self,” not experienced from the “outside-in,” but “from the inside-out,” Vassar said.
In the “new community” formed by the God of Jews and Gentiles, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or geography, “the church stands as a sign to the world of the truth of the gospel,” Vassar said.
“It’s not enough to simply stop sinning,” Vassar said, adding that Christians must “grow in virtue,” seeing people as Jesus sees them.
For example, the tongue can “bring righteousness to life” when instead of gossiping, it spreads news of Jesus.
Next year’s SBTC annual meeting celebrates the 20th anniversary of the founding of SBTC by returning to Houston Nov. 12-13 to meet at Second Baptist Church North. Messengers at this year’s meeting approved Jordan Rogers, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Nederland,to deliver the convention sermon, with Jacob Fitzgerald, pastor of Denman Avenue Baptist Church in Lufkin, as the alternate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Ledbetter, Bonnie Pritchett, Jane Rogers and Bill Bumpas contributed to this report for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)