‘We were looking for a place to hang our hat’
May 30th, 2019 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
Editor’s note: This continues a year-long series profiling SBTC founders.
HOUSTON In the late 1990s, Ed Ethridge, with other conservative Texas pastors, was looking for “a place to hang our hat and see God work in church planting and missions.”
Ethridge played a key role on the transition committee that shaped the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, serving on the SBTC’s Executive Board from 1999-2007 and as the convention’s vice president from 2004-06.
The Seminole, Texas, native was in his 13th year pastoring Woodlake Baptist in Carrollton when he began attending meetings of the Southern Baptists of Texas fellowship, which preceded the convention’s formation. “We were not from large churches. It was just us guys pastoring average-size and small churches,” Ethridge recalled of the conservative group’s constituency.
He was dismayed when, at its 1994 meeting in Amarillo, the Baptist General Convention of Texas voted to redefine the Cooperative Program missions funding plan. Ethridge called this moment “the straw for me” urging separation.
He returned to Carrollton from Amarillo with five fellow church members, including his missions committee chair. Travel discussion about the “major changes” prompted Ethridge to conclude that yes, there would be changes, but not in his church’s CP giving.
“We were very open with our church about what was going on,” Ethridge said as the movement to start a separate convention escalated and sympathetic conservatives began meeting across the state.
“Guys came on board who made a big difference and catapulted us to where we needed to be,” Ethridge said. Camaraderie developed; relationships grew.
“We were all conservative, all committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. It was not political at all. None of us were looking for a job or a position. We just wanted like fellowship and mindset,” Ethridge said.
Ethridge described the November 1998 Houston inaugural meeting of the SBTC as a “great day” and a “high time.”
He complimented David Fannin for providing direction and a constitution and praised the other founders as well.
“We knew what we wanted to do. How it would flesh out, we didn’t know. We had different thoughts and ideas, but we finally settled on the fact that the Lord was leading us to Jim Richards as the executive director. We moved forward from there.”
Recalling the early days when the SBTC owned no facilities and when Richards and Ronnie Yarber shared office space, Ethridge marveled at the new convention’s initial acquisition of property in Grapevine. Ethridge chaired the properties committee during that transaction, praising the debt-free clause of the constitution that required the convention to raise the money to pay cash for the “perfect location.” At Richards’ request, Ethridge also served as chair of the building committee.
Referencing Ephesians 3:20, Ethridge mused that a debt-free clause can be a blessing and a curse. “The curse was lifted the day we moved into it debt free,” he said with a chuckle.
“The bottom line is, as much as some of us were involved, without the Lord’s wisdom and direction none of this would have happened,” Ethridge said. “Many, many have gone on, but it’s a great time when we get together and ask, ‘Do you remember this?’”
Ethridge admitted he lost some relationships over the convention split.
“I have never chosen not to be a friend to someone because of this. If they chose not to be a friend, it was their doing, not mine. I still have a couple of good friends at the BGCT. We weren’t wanting to create a battle,” he said.
“We just did what we thought was right and the Lord blessed it,” Ethridge added.
“We didn’t do this out of malice. We didn’t do this because some of us were looking for position. All I ever wanted to do was pastor a church. God worked it to his glory. We still add churches,” he said.
“When you begin to question the authenticity of the Word of God, you are in trouble,” Ethridge said, adding that it is a “rarity for a denomination to start down a slippery slope and recover,” which the Southern Baptist Convention did during the Conservative Resurgence. “We did recover. We went through a storm. You can’t say enough about guys like Adrian Rogers.”
As for the man who only wanted to be a pastor, Ethridge went on to lead the North Texas Baptist Association with around 80 congregations from across Texas, becoming its full-time director of missions in 2002, a position from which he retired in 2016 and moved with his wife, Judy, to Houston to be closer to children and grandchildren.
He didn’t stay retired long.
Champion Forest Baptist in Houston asked him to become the associate pastor of pastoral care, capping a career that saw him serve several churches in Montana and the DFW Metroplex in addition to the NTBA.
“I am still surrendering to God,” Ethridge said, admitting he fled from the idea of ministry as a young man and adding that he plans to keep pastoring in Houston as long as he is able.