Entrusted: A Gospel Legacy for the Coming Generations Part 3
February 22nd, 2018 / By: Jim Richards | Executive Director / comments
This is the final installment of my reflections on the beginnings of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We are celebrating 20 years of God’s favor and blessings upon our group of churches.
The first year was a challenge to say the least. After looking through the affiliation forms I was surprised to find there were only 120 churches at the time of the constituting of the convention. At the first Executive Board meeting in January 1999, there was quite a bit of contention. Motions were made to seek to control the convention by a small group. Courageous men and women affirmed the positive direction set at the inaugural annual meeting two months before. The SBTC would belong to the churches.
There was no office, phone or equipment for the SBTC staff. Ronnie Yarber served as a part-time ministry staff person. Judy Van Hooser was employed as a ministry assistant. The hunt was on for an office location. My cell phone was the official number for the SBTC. I had a file cabinet I carried in my car that held all of the convention documents. My family and I lived in an extended stay hotel for the first six weeks. By February 1999, our family had a house. By March the convention had leased office space in Las Colinas. The offices moved into a debt-free building on April 2, 2004.
Throughout the rest of 1999 there were minor skirmishes about the direction of the convention, but by the end of the year there would be no further issues. The course was set. Another 120 congregations were added in 1999 to bring the affiliated church total to almost 250. The SBTC was off and running.
In 2001, I sent a letter to all the Baptist entities in Texas offering a fraternal hand. The SBTC has maintained the founding principle to work with those who share our theological convictions. The SBTC never desired to own or control a school, children’s home or other ministry services. When possible the convention would contribute and support ministries that affirmed our faith statement. In 2000, the SBTC adopted the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement approved in the same year. If an entity or school wanted to receive funds or be in a ministry relationship, they would have to affirm their willingness to work within the parameters of the BF&M 2000.
After my letter was circulated, an editorial was written by another Baptist paper calling me a “liar and a horse thief.” I admit that I have lied. But being a horse thief can get a fellow hanged in Texas. It was never the intention of the SBTC to take over a school or entity. I would pose the question, “Why would a church or person affirming the BF&M 2000 want to send their students to a school or participate with an entity that refuses to affirm their faith statement?” Criswell College, Jacksonville College and Texas Baptist Home for Children are the three ministries that have affiliated with the SBTC in a working relationship based on our common faith statement. The SBTC was forged in the fires of theological controversy. Standing strong on biblical inerrancy and being a confessional fellowship appealed to conservative Southern Baptists who were looking for a home.
In 2001, an attempt was made by the other state convention to reduce the Cooperative Program funding it passed on to the SBC. To help mitigate the SBC’s loss to its operating budget, the SBTC raised extra funds, sent designated dollars and began the process of raising the percentage passed on to the SBC from 50 percent to 55 percent. The churches in Texas responded in giving, and the SBTC simultaneously had the largest one-year jump in church affiliations.
Within four years the fledgling group went from 120 churches to 1,000. Cooperative Program giving grew exponentially. Every year churches gave faithfully. Year after year the SBTC expenditures would be less than receipts, enabling gifts to be made for kingdom work in North America and around the world. The SBTC is missionally driven by the Cooperative Program. Without the CP there would be no Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Churches chose how they would invest their mission dollars. The Cooperative Program still goes further, accomplishes more and changes more lives than any one investment made by the local church. In this 20th year, my prayer is that we will have the highest Cooperative Program receipts ever.
In keeping with the SBTC core value of being Kingdom Focused, a pledge was made to keep a small number of full-time ministry staff. In the very beginning the pledge was to not exceed one full-time ministry staff person per one hundred churches. As the SBTC grew in number of churches, new ministry areas were able to be staffed. By 2005 virtually all ministry areas had developed. Today there are 2,650 affiliated congregations with 24 full-ministry staff. The SBTC has consultants, specialists and part-time employees that provide invaluable assistance to the churches. The SBTC staff aids churches with tools and expertise in more than 100 ministry areas. Church planting and evangelism remain the priority in funding and staffing.
God has been gracious to honor those who honor his Word! I give him the glory for all the churches started, people who have come to faith in Christ, and the maturing of many believers. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention exists by the pleasure of the churches to advance the gospel. My prayer is that in the next 20 years we will see a great spiritual awakening and that God would allow the SBTC to be a catalyst. Even so, come Lord Jesus!