Month: August 2012

Executive director: SBTC ‘Refocus’ a strategic elevation of key ministries

The SBTC will continue to lead with its frontline ministries of church planting and missions/evangelism, but some other ministries of the convention will be strategically elevated in response to needs cited by several hundred church leaders in a series of 26 meetings held last year across the state, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said.

On Aug. 7, the SBTC Executive Board in its summer meeting adopted a “Refocus Report” calling for a strategic approach in the ministry areas of leadership enhancement—the most cited need among pastors— ministry relationships, discipleship, prayer, Spanish-language ministry, technology, and missions.

The 27-page report follows the series of “Praying and Listening” sessions held last year across the state as SBTC staff members, led by Richards, prayed with and listened to the concerns of pastors and lay leaders attempting to fulfill the Great Commission through their local churches.

The SBTC Executive Board acted earlier this year by authorizing further study and a strategic response through an ad hoc “Refocus Committee” of select convention staff members.

It is not a reorganization, Richards emphasized, but rather a strategy shift. Some organizations alter their operations because of personnel issues or budgetary concerns, but neither is the case with Refocus, he added, noting that CP giving continues to be strong.

The strategy will be reflected in only a few staff changes, with the convention staff emerging in 2013 with a net gain of three positions resulting from the changes.

“In fact, most of what was mentioned in the Praying and Listening meetings is already being done,” Richards said. “However, under Refocus we will have a more strategic and emphasized approach in these areas. For example, although we have been doing useful leadership ministry, we will now have a team leader who will help us promote leadership ministry in an overarching model throughout several departments,” namely church ministries, language ministries and minister-church relations.

Richards said the majority of those who cited leadership as a need were talking about relationships, such as a mentor, enhancing their leadership capabilities.

“So the areas of church ministries, minister-church relations and language ministries will seek to have a leadership enhancement component either through relationships or education or some type of equipping. That shifts all three of those areas of ministry under a paradigm of leadership so that what we do is about leadership.”

Other changes include a ministry associate dedicated solely to discipleship—the second-most mentioned need of church leaders.

“Again, we were doing a lot concerning discipleship but we had no one assigned to that as a major portion of their duties. So it’s more than putting a label on something to give it priority,” Richards said. “It’s actually work assignments, employees, job responsibilities, and a strategy shift.”

Richards said varied forms of discipleship methods were available but most participants in the Praying and Listening sessions asked for a more definitive approach offered by the convention.

What will result is an elevation of that aspect of the church ministries department, with a dedicated minister helping churches as they make disciples, he explained.

Other areas that will receive strategic emphasis include helping churches navigate through the intersection of technology, social media and ministry, another prominent theme among the pastors.

The convention staff is also ramping up its strategy for Spanish language ministry, including a new Hispanic Baptist Institute of Biblical Studies. Although not officially a part of the Refocus Report, the institute dovetails with the strategic shift toward language ministry at an opportune time in the life of the SBTC.

Existing SBTC departments will fall under one of three overlapping teams, namely missional ministries (missions and evangelism), leadership ministries (church ministries, minister-church relations, and language ministries), and supporting ministries (communications, facilitating ministries, and operations).

Missional ministries will now include both missions and evangelism, according to the report.

Also, a prayer ministry dedicated to the aim of seeing spiritual awakening and revival take root will be a part of the leadership ministries area.

In proposing the strategic shift, the Refocus Committee weighed what church leaders requested with the mission statement given to the convention at its founding, Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis told the TEXAN.

The mission statement reads: “The SBTC exists to facilitate, extend and enlarge the Great Commission ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist churches and associations of Texas, upon the authority of God’s inerrant Word to the glory of God the father, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.”

The Refocus Report will be implemented in 2013 pending approval of the proposed convention budget during the SBTC annual meeting, scheduled Nov. 12-13 at Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio.

FIRST-PERSON: Is it hateful to suggest gays can change?

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Last week, Albert Mohler appeared on the CNN program “Out Front” with Erin Burnett to talk about Chick-fil-A and the gay marriage debate. In the course of the discussion, Mohler explained briefly what the Bible teaches about moral renewal in the life of a Christian.

In short, he argued that the same Christ that redeems sinners also helps them to “change” — i.e., to put aside those things the Bible defines as sin. Burnett's response was astonishing at one level and not surprising at another. It's no surprise that she would be in favor of gay marriage. It is astonishing, however, that she would be so overtly dismissive of basic Christian morality — as if it were completely outside the bounds of rational discourse.

Burnett couldn't believe that a Christian would suggest that homosexuals can or would even need to “change.” In the course of her remarks, she told Mohler that his statements were “crazy” and “hateful.” As usual, Mohler did a fantastic job representing the Gospel and parrying the push-back from a hostile host.

There is a key take-away from this exchange that Christians need not to miss. What Mohler contends for is something that all Christians will have to contend for if they wish to be faithful to Christ. The focus of this particular conversation is homosexuality, but the implications of Burnett's dismissal go beyond that single issue. Her incredulity calls into question what Christianity teaches about the nature of salvation.

The Bible teaches that Christ not only saves sinners from the penalty of sin but also from power of sin (Romans 6:14). That means that genuine Christianity inevitably results in a changed life on the part of the one who trusts in Christ. From the moment of conversion, the Spirit of God progressively transforms Christians into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Without this kind of holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). To reject God's purpose of holiness is to reject Christianity altogether (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).

What the Bible teaches on this matter is not aimed only at gay people. It goes for all sinners, gay or straight. Every person who receives Christ and believes the gospel must change. They cannot remain the sinner that they were without calling into question the validity of their conversion. As one preacher put it, “If the faith that saved you didn't change you, then it didn't save you.”

This does not mean that sinners become perfect all at once. There's no waving of a magic wand to make one completely sinless in this life. It is not that way for any sinner, including gay ones. The work of sanctification is a progressive work that extends over the course of one's life. There are stops and starts, triumphs and failures along the way. But it is nevertheless the mark of a Christian that he is working out his salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work in him both to act and to will according to God's good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). For many gay people who come to Christ, it may be a life-long struggle. But the Bible teaches that they will have what they need for the fight (2 Peter 1:3) and that they are not bound by this sin any longer (Romans 6:6).

What Burnett dismisses as “crazy” and “hateful” is at the heart of the Christian faith. To deny that the Gospel can change sinners — even homosexual ones — is to deny Christianity altogether. That is why Mohler's answer was profoundly and biblically right. He didn't give any ground on this issue, and neither should any Christian who wishes to give a defense of the hope that is in him (1 Peter 3:15). It is neither crazy nor hateful to suggest that gays can change. It's the essence of love that God enables them to do so.

We won't be able to please all the people all the time. And that means that, occasionally, we may have to take our lumps. As the world rages against God's Word, we must stand firm to uphold it. And we must not be surprised when scoffers denigrate our faith as folly and nonsense. “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

This article was written by Denny Burk. Burk is associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

The 2012 election: Why abortion trumps other issues

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—In 2008, a handful of notable pro-life evangelicals and Catholics threw their support behind a presidential candidate sworn to uphold elective abortion as a fundamental right.

They argued that doing so constituted an enlightened pro-life vote that was morally superior to the narrow party politics of religious conservatives. Instead of passing laws against abortion, so the argument went, the candidate and his party would “reduce” it by addressing its underlying causes.[1] True, they said, he was mistaken on abortion, but he was right on other, important “whole-of-life” issues such as opposition to war, concern for the poor and care for the environment.

The candidate's political strategy was simple: shrink the significance of abortion so it was more or less equal with other issues.[2] It worked. Twice as many white evangelicals age 18 through 44 voted for Barack Obama in 2008 than voted for John Kerry in 2004. Catholics, meanwhile, supported Obama at 54 percent, up seven points from what they gave Kerry four years earlier. The candidate got just enough pro-life votes from these groups to tip the election his way.[3]

I submit that each of these alleged pro-life votes represents a profound misunderstanding of the pro-life position. The fundamental issue before us is not merely how to reduce abortion, but who counts as one of us. How we answer will determine whether embryos and fetuses enjoy the protection of law or remain candidates for the dumpster. As Francis Beckwith points out, a society that has fewer abortions but protects the legal killing of unborn humans is still deeply immoral.[4] Given what's at stake, it's vital that pro-life Christians persuasively answer five key questions before the 2012 election:

1. Are pro-life advocates focused too narrowly on abortion? After all, informed voters consider many issues, not just one.

Of course abortion isn't the only issue — any more than the treatment of slaves wasn't the only issue in the 1860s or the treatment of Jews the only issue in the 1940s. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Thoughtful Christians attribute different importance to different issues, and give greater weight to fundamental moral questions. For example, if a man running for president told us that men had a right to beat their wives, most people would see that as reason enough to reject him, despite his expertise on foreign policy or economic reforms. The foundational principle of our republic is that all humans are equal in their fundamental dignity. What issue could be more important than that? You might as well blame politicians like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt for focusing too narrowly on defeating the Nazis, to the neglect of other issues. Given a choice, I'd rather pro-lifers focus on at least one great moral issue than waste their precious resources trying to fix all of them.[5]

2. Why don't pro-life advocates care about social justice both here and in developing countries?

They do, which is why pro-life crisis pregnancy centers vastly outnumber abortion clinics in the U.S. and why committed evangelicals, most of whom are pro-life, give more than their secular counterparts.[6] Nevertheless, pro-life Christians should reject the premise that because they oppose the intentional and unjustified killing of innocent human beings, they must therefore take responsibility for all of the world's ills. Is the American Cancer Society wrong to focus on one deadly disease to the exclusion of others? It's highly unfair to demand that local pro-life groups take their already scarce resources and spread them even thinner fighting every social injustice imaginable. This would be suicide for those opposed to abortion. As Frederick the Great once said, “He who attacks everywhere attacks nowhere.” True, as defenders of human dignity, we should care about the poor, clean water and the rights of others everywhere. The U.S. government, however, is not going to solve those problems in developing countries the way it can solve abortion here. For example, our government can't ban poverty or stop the sex trade of young girls in Thailand. That is the job of that nation's citizens and government. However, the U.S. government can and should ban the killing of unborn humans within its own borders. That is why prudent pro-lifers have always sought both moral and political solutions to that problem.

While poverty and the sex trade are evil, no one in America proposes legalizing them. Abortion is different. Far from reducing the practice, our government currently advocates it both here and abroad. For example, during his first week in office, President Obama restored funding to organizations that promote and perform abortion overseas. A year later, he signed a health care bill that subsidized insurance plans that fund it here in the U.S. At the same time, he rescinded federal regulations that protect doctors from forced participation in elective abortion and threatened to cut off Medicaid funding to any state that denied tax funding to health care entities that provide abortions.[7] Finally, he nominated to the federal courts justices sympathetic to the abortion license whose rulings could set the pro-life cause back for decades to come. Because ours is a government of the people, Christians have a fundamental duty to work within the political system to limit evil and promote good. Shouldn't social justice start in the womb?

3. Why don't pro-lifers oppose war like they do abortion?

War can be a moral evil, but it isn't always so. Careful thinkers make distinctions between intrinsic (absolute) moral evils and contingent ones. For example, the decision to wage war may or may not be wrong, depending on the circumstances. However, the decision to kill intentionally an unborn human being for socioeconomic reasons is an intrinsic evil and laws permitting it are scandalous. True, a general in a just war may foresee that innocent humans will die securing a lasting peace, but he does not intend their deaths. With elective abortion, the death of an innocent human fetus is not merely foreseen; it is intended.

4. Instead of passing laws against abortion, shouldn't pro-life Christians focus on reducing its underlying causes?

First and foremost, the abortion debate turns on the question of human equality. That is, in a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, do the unborn count as members of the human family? With that fundamental question in mind, it's unreasonable for liberals to insist that pro-lifers surrender the legal fight to focus on underlying causes. As my colleague Steve Weimar points out, this is like saying the “underlying cause” of spousal abuse is psychological, so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men. There are “underlying causes” for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it misguided to have laws banning such actions.[8]

Moreover, why are liberals even concerned about reducing the number of abortions in the first place? If destroying a human fetus is morally no different than cutting one's fingernails, then who cares how many abortions there are? The reason to reduce elective abortion is that human life is unjustly taken — but if that's the case, then restricting the practice makes perfect sense. Imagine a 19th-century lawmaker who said that slavery was a bad idea and we ought to reduce it, but owning slaves should remain legal. If those in power adopted his thinking, would this be a good society? True, politics isn't a sufficient answer to injustice, but it's certainly a necessary one. Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “The law can't make the white man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me.”[9] Frankly, if Christians don't think the government-sanctioned killing of unborn children merits a political response, then they not only misunderstand the moral gravity of the situation, but also their mandate to love their neighbor as themselves.

5. Should pastors challenge church members who support politicians sworn to protect elective abortion?

Yes and no. They should challenge believers and nonbelievers alike with the truth that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being — and that truth should impact who we support. They shouldn't claim that supporting a particular party or candidate saves us from God's righteous wrath against sin (only the Gospel does that) or that members of the opposite party are not Christians. Nevertheless, in a nation where the people are the government, Christians have a duty to apply their biblical worldview in a way that limits evil and promotes the good insofar as possible given current political realities. At the legislative level in particular (House and Senate races), that usually means voting for those that, though imperfect, will best protect unborn humans against one that sanctions killing them. The reason is simple: at the legislative level, political parties more than individuals determine which laws see the light of day. Consider the House of Representatives. If a party committed to elective abortion controls the chamber, it will squash pro-life bills and promote pro-abortion ones. Even if that pro-abortion party has a few pro-life members, those members will likely never get to vote on a pro-life bill unless their party is not in power.

If parties drive legislation, how should a pastor educate his flock on the relationship between politics and Christian morality? First, he should teach a biblical worldview affirming that all humans have value because they bear the image of their Maker. Second, he should challenge church members to live out that biblical view in every area of their lives, including their political affiliations. Third, he should stress that while no political party is perfect, on the question of fundamental human value, some parties are more in line with biblical truth than others. Suppose, for example, that it's 1860 and 50 percent of professing Christians in your church are members of a political party dedicated to the proposition that an entire class of human beings can be enslaved or killed to meet the needs of the white race. If you're a pastor committed to applying a biblical worldview in all areas of life, is this OK? You might be sympathetic to new converts coming to grips with Christian teaching, but mature church members? Pastors can't use church resources to endorse political candidates or parties, but they can (and must) teach that a biblical worldview informs our political behavior.
This column first appeared in the Christian Research Journal. Subscribe at; 6 issues, $39.50. Reprinted with permission. Scott Klusendorf is president of Life Training Institute, online at

1 For an evangelical example, see the interview with Donald Miller on August 25, 2008: For a Catholic example, see Michael New, “Professors Robert George and Douglas Kmiec Debate Abortion, a Pro-Life Recap,” Life News, June 1, 2009.

2 Alex Spillius, “Barack Obama Doubles Support from Evangelical Christians,” The Telegraph, November 7, 2008.

3 “How the Faithful Voted,” Pew Research Forum, November 10, 2008.

4 Francis J. Beckwith, “Why Reducing the Number of Abortions Is Not Necessarily Pro-Life,” Moral Accountability, February 12, 2009.

5 See Randy Alcorn (EMP Blog, November 16, 2008) and Steve Hays (Triablogue, January 30, 2006) for more.

6 Helen Alvare et al., “The Lazy Slander of the Pro-Life Cause,” Public Discourse, January 17, 2011; Arthur C. Brooks, “A Nation of Givers,” The American (March/April 2008).

7 O. Carter Snead, “Protect the Weak and Vulnerable: The Primacy of the Life Issue,”Public Discourse, August 22, 2011.

8 Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture(Wheaton: Crossway, 2009), 169.

9 Speech at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963.

New DR ministry aims for long-term healing

DR Care ministry will link adoptive churches with needy churches and families after initial phase of disaster relief.

Arguably, Southern Baptists’ greatest public witness has been the yellow-shirted disaster relief volunteers who flock to civil emergencies armed with mobile kitchens, shower units, cleaning supplies, chainsaws, and hope. In the days after 9/11 and Katrina, these very special forces were everywhere that helping hands were needed.

But long after the waves of volunteers from church groups and other non-profits go home, those most affected by disasters are often left to tend their remaining wounds alone or nearly so, with local churches doing their best to offer comfort and encouragement but frequently stretched in their manpower.

A new disaster relief ministry of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention called DR Care (Disaster Relief Church Adoption & Restoration Effort) aims at long-term restoration of buildings and souls long after the last first responders leave.

It’s a collaboration between an adoptive church, a church in a disaster area, and families in need, explained Rick Head, DR Care facilitator. So far four adoptive churches have been matched with four families in the Bastrop area east of Austin, where wildfires last September destroyed more than 1,600 homes and thousands of acres of timber and other vegetation.

“This ministry will be an extension of the first-response DR volunteers,” Head said. “When you say adoption, you really signify a longer-term commitment to build relationships with the adopting churches, and the churches and families in need. We want those families that have been affected to build relationships with those adoptive churches.

“We want to help the people not only with their physical needs but also with their spiritual and emotional needs, to try and laugh and cry with them, to pray with them, to share the gospel with them, and to build relationships that really will hopefully last much longer than the brief time that they are going to be able to spend with them.”

Once a church commits to adopt a family (or another church reeling from disaster), a local pastor will assist in the process and begin building a relationship with the family alongside the adoptive church.
“And once the adoptive church begins to scale back from its work, the local church continues that restoration process on the spiritual and emotional ends,” Head explained.

One recent DR Care collaboration occurred between Highland Park Baptist Church in Kilgore—the adoptive church—and Primera Iglesia Bautista in Bastrop, which had been ministering to a 58-year-old single woman burned out of her small, rural home by the Bastrop wildfires last year.

Riley Pippen, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Kilgore, said he had taken the men of his church on a mission trip annually, and in hearing about the needs and in speaking with Head, the group was led to the Bastrop project.

In July, Pippen took 16 of his men to Bastrop to frame a 14-by-40-foot cottage for the woman, who insisted on a simple, almost primitive design without air conditioning and only a large ceiling exhaust fan to cool it. Pippen said the group tried to talk her into air conditioning but she refused. Not wanting to push too hard, he said the group relented to her wishes.

“We could have done more and would have done more, but she has lived like that most of her life and she is not used to someone else doing things for her,” he explained.

Pippen said the woman was overwhelmed by the group’s efforts. He described her as a very giving person but seemingly leery of churches.

Four of the 16 men who went were first-timers on a mission trip. Fighting through several days of temperatures of 108 degrees, the work is a bonding experience for the men, who bring that unity back to the local church, Pippen said.

Presented with an opportunity to minister in Utah or in Bastrop, the men chose Bastrop because the need seemed more urgent.

“They get a sense of how God is moving us and directing their work,” Pippen explained. “They realize they had a part in fulfilling God’s work. Their interest is not just for that one week; it continues on.”

Harold Welch, pastor of Primera Iglesia, an English-speaking congregation of mostly third- and fourth-generation Hispanics, said he is continuing to pray for the woman’s spiritual state and is continuing to see that her needs are met.

“She is very sensitive to the fact that God is at work through these volunteers,” he added.

“We continue to stand with her and continue to do the things God wants done, little things like buying her a staple gun. I told her it was her first house-warming gift,” he said, explaining that she is a very hands-on person.

He said three other Bastrop-area families have also been assessed and are being helped or awaiting help from three other adoptive churches.

“We do follow up to see how these families carry on with their lives, to talk with them and pray with them. When churches come to minister in such a hands-on way, that’s more names where we can go and reach out to them. Most people are still very receptive to the gospel, after the fires.”

“As the Lord opens the doors to do it, we will continue to minister to folks,” Welch said. “I’m glad churches have come along and helped us. It’s been a blessing to see.”

Head added: “We are looking for a deeper commitment and relationship. When you say adopt, it is more than that. They are going to have the opportunity to share the gospel with them and laugh and cry, to hold their hand and help with whatever is necessary in that restoration process.”

For more information on the DR Care ministry call the SBTC Disaster Relief office toll free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC).

Historic Houston church rebounding in eclectic Heights neighborhood

HOUSTON—What do the following have in common? A funeral home. A banquet hall. An indie film venue. A Hari Krishna temple.

Each place used to be a church in the historic Heights district of Houston. To everything there is a season. Businesses and residents have come and gone. Once vacated and dilapidated turn-of-the-century homes have been remodeled and reoccupied.

But for the 108-year-old First Baptist Church Heights, staying alive, albeit on life support at times, has been primed by prayer and a tenacious spirit, say the church’s newest pastor, John Schmidt, and Gordon Knight, an SBTC field ministry strategist who has served the church in his convention role.
“When I started visiting that church they were in big trouble,” Knight said.

In 2009 FBC Heights had no pastor and only a few dozen members when Knight was invited to shore up the church and try to prevent what seemed inevitable. The remnant congregation was presented with few options. They could shut down—essentially close the book on yet another church in this neighborhood—and restart under a new name and charter making them eligible for supplemental funding as an SBTC church plant.

Or they could accept the offer of Houston’s First Baptist Church to make their campus a satellite location of the much larger congregation. Financial and personnel resources would be poured into the effort but the result would be the same as the first option: First Baptist Church Heights would cease to exist.

Time and again church members told Knight, “We want to keep praying and asking God to help us revitalize this thing.”

For two years Knight assisted with the pastor search. Through a protracted and God-driven chain of events, 42-year-old Schmidt was called to lead the congregation from the brink of extinction. And in an ironic twist, Schmidt represents the ebb and flow of life and death in this community. Born and raised in Houston, Schmidt attended Woodland Baptist Church in the Heights. But at 16 years old, Schmidt recalled, “I got my wheels and I was gone.”

And so was his church. Schmidt said FBC Heights and Baptist Temple are the only two remaining Baptist churches in the neighborhood.

And just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the spiritual world. As churches of all denominations have shuttered their windows or sold their land in this area just west of downtown, the void has been filled with an eclectic conglomeration of drug-riddled corridors, homosexual churches, wealthy homeowners, impoverished families, and artist havens.

Schmidt was hired in December 2010 for a three-month stint as interim pastor. Six months later he was offered the job as senior pastor and by September 2011 the call was affirmed. He knew it was Providence that brought him to the church at that time. As a businessman he was skilled at turning struggling enterprises into profitable ventures. He knew those same talents could be used to turn a dying church into a thriving place of worship and service to God.

And he spoke bluntly, yet passionately, about the state of FBC Heights and the neighborhood it seeks to serve and save. Sporting a t-shirt, faded jeans and flip-flops, Schmidt sat in his office and pointed out the window to one of the many gentrified homes that define this area, naming and describing the resident and comparing him to his antithetical counterpart down the street. He knows the owner of a nearby coffee house. He’s an atheist but Schmidt will sit on the front stoop of the shop sipping coffee while the owner takes a break for a smoke. They talk. And, sometimes, Schmidt believes, his new friend listens.

“You have to get into people’s world here in the Heights. Unless you’re willing to do that you’re not going to connect,” he said.

And as the pastor of a Southern Baptist church, Schmidt seems a perfect fit for this unconventional neighborhood. He holds no advanced degree (He hopes to complete his business undergraduate degree at the University of Houston when time allows); he has the equivalent of an associate’s degree from the now-defunct South Texas Bible Institute; he has taken classes at Tomball College and completed a business management program at Rice University. His youth was spent in a Southern Baptist church but his formative years as a Christian were in the Assemblies of God.

Not your typical Southern Baptist pastor for your not-so-typical neighborhood. Still, Schmidt said FBC Heights stands on the truth of Scripture and the heritage of the 108-year-old fellowship.

As part of the revitalization of the church some members suggested a name change. By removing “Baptist” from its marquee, they argued, they would be removing a stumbling block to those outside the church who had preconceived ideas of what it meant to be Baptist. The church shares the neighborhood with a sizeable homosexual population.

But the current congregation is just one in a long line of congregations that have served the Lord under the name First Baptist Church Heights, Schmidt pointed out. And that history is rich with missions and church plants. This parent church has outlived some of those it birthed. Instead of changing the name, Schmidt is determined to change people’s perceptions of Baptists.

Schmidt wants to keep missions at the forefront of the congregation’s efforts—locally and internationally as the church joins into the numerous community events, residents will begin to put a face and personality to FBC Heights. The existing food and clothing pantry make the church an ideal location for an SBTC Disaster Relief base site during an emergency, Schmidt said.

The church also offers volunteer support for a summer feeding program that operates from one of its buildings. And it will continue to build upon its relationship with Harvard Elementary School across the street. Schmidt said the church has established itself as a good neighbor to the school.

Within the FBC Heights membership is a Spanish-language congregation. The two groups meet separately but join occasionally for a common worship service. Schmidt hopes to augment that relationship as the church reaches out to the Hispanic population in the neighborhood.

And Schmidt will not write off reaching the homosexual population, although they are served by two Heights churches that affirm homosexuality. Such a ministry would require the service of church members with the gift of mercy, Schmidt said.

Internationally the church supports a missionary in Dominique. Schmidt would like to expand that mission by establishing a hurricane disaster relief program there.

The spiritual revitalization of FBC Heights came with a physical makeover as well. A major sewage back up in the foyer bathroom flooded the adjoining sanctuary. Knight said it was a mess that forced the church to remodel and complete repairs left undone following Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Knight and other SBTC representatives attended the rededication services July 8. Following the service he said, “To see what it was then and what it was yesterday was a blessing.”

Schmidt’s aspirations for FBC Heights are not just wishful thinking. He brings his head for business to the task of his heart—to “help people fall in love with Jesus.” In the years before coming to the Heights, Schmidt operated a $300 million business, and he served as a pastor bringing home $600 a month. In all his efforts he followed a common practice of delegating tasks to trusted co-laborers. That has brought success in his business and church enterprises, he said.

But whatever the means, Schmidt’s goal is to have “a thriving, evangelical Jesus-loving church that breaks down every negative stigma associated with Baptist.”

And it might just begin with a cigarette-smoking, atheist coffee shop owner.

Affiliated ministries report to board

SBTC Executive Board members on Aug. 7 heard reports from affiliated ministries, including Texas Baptist Home for Children (TBHC) in Waxahachie, Jacksonville College in Jacksonville, East Texas Baptist Family Ministry (ETBFM) in Timpson and Criswell College in Dallas, with each expressing gratitude for funding made possible by the Cooperative Program (CP) gifts of SBTC churches.

Of the 20 children adopted this year through TBHC, President Eddie Marsh said three of the 10 adoptive families are from SBTC churches, with additional churches involved in foster care of many of the 126 children in TBHC’s care.

Reflecting on a recent camp experience for the children, Marsh said revival spread through one cottage with five people making professions of faith over two weeks.

“The greatest words I ever heard at Texas Baptist Home were ‘I got saved today,’” he said, recalling comments from children. “You are a part of every victory,” he told the board members, who represent churches across Texas.

Jacksonville College President Mike Smith reminded the board that the school is the second-oldest junior college west of the Mississippi, having been founded in 1899. In praying for a movement of God represented by the new motto “challenging minds and changing lives,” Smith said he is encouraged by a new discipleship program for students and dorms filled at capacity due to growth in enrollment.

Telling the story of a homeless teenager the school helped last year who has since become a Christian and is gainfully employed with money to pay his own tuition this year, Smith said God reminded him that amid all the construction and institutional advancement, “it’s still about transforming lives.”

ETBFM President Gerald Edwards called the completion of 15 buildings and $5 million in assets a miracle made possible by “giving through the churches.” Drought continues to cause physical damage to the property with prayer requested for rain. Wild hogs have also become a nuisance on some areas of the property, he said.

“We haven’t touched the hem of the garment,” Edwards said in describing progress of retirement homes, maternity care and a prayer chapel, anticipating construction of a 10,000- square-foot building to care for up to 25 young girls. Edwards said five children have been born in the past year to girls receiving maternity care and four children have been placed in foster care. The money is there to begin construction, and the needs are great, he added.

Criswell College President Jerry Johnson said no college in the last 40 years has provided more leaders for Southern Baptists than the Dallas-based school. The college partners with SBTC in providing evangelistic block parties, Worship University and the Engage student-led revival ministry.

“For some of these students the first revival they’ve been in is the one [where] they are preaching,” Johnson said. Long-range plans call for an expanded selection of academic majors and more traditional campus housing options.

Related to the school’s involvement with the IMB’s Embrace endeavor to engage unreached peoples, Criswell is offering Arabic this fall. There is also a new major in church planting and revitalization.

Also, Johnson said California pastor Rick Warren would deliver the Founders’ Day address on Oct. 4. This year’s Criswell Theological Lectures on Oct. 12 will cover the span of views on biblical eschatology.

Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation Executive Director Johnathan Gray reported on a new level of investment screening to consider which causes companes support to ensure “we are honoring God and fulfilling our biblical responsibility with that.” Gray noted that church construction loans continue to be offered in partnership with the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma.

Board elects evangelism director, approves strategic refocus, budget

The Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention elected Nathan Lorick of Malakoff as its new evangelism director and passed a proposed $26.3 million budget that reflects a strategic “refocus” of ministry in response to 26 “praying and listening” sessions with pastors and lay leaders across the state in 2011.

Under the proposed budget, evangelism and missions would remain the largest budgeting priority. with 16.5 percent of the recommended in-state budget of $12 million devoted to evangelism and 20.2 percent to missions.

The board voted to reduce the number of ministry relationship categories from three to two, and received two dozen newly affiliated churches. The board also approved a resolution presented by SBTC President Terry Turner that offers support of traditional marriage and asks President Obama to reconsider his endorsement of same-sex marriage. (Signatures to the resolution are being gathered at

In addition to Lorick, the board elected Garrett Wagoner of Frisco, a former student evangelism intern, to fill the vacant student evangelism position.

Lorick replaces Don Cass, who retired last February after nine years with the SBTC. Lorick has pastored First Baptist Church of Malakoff since 2007 and serves as a trustee of the International Mission Board. He holds doctor of ministry and master of divinity degrees from Liberty Theological Seminary, as well as an honorary doctor of divinity from Louisiana Baptist University. He is an East Texas Baptist University graduate.

He also pastored Martin’s Mill Baptist Church in Martin’s Mill and served as student minister at Sylvania Baptist Church in Tyler and First Baptist Church in Waskom. He and his wife, Jenna, have three sons and a newly adopted daughter.

In addition to serving on the SBTC Executive Board, Lorick served as first vice president of the SBTC Pastors’ Conference in 2009.

Early SBTC leader Ronnie Yarber, a member of the Malakoff church who once served as interim evangelism director, lauded Lorick’s “level of spiritual maturity beyond his age of thirty-one years,” giftedness as a preacher and passion to see people won to faith in Christ.

Wagoner first served as a student evangelism intern at the SBTC, enlisting participants and directing the summer Engage Team ministry, which holds revivals in smaller churches throughout Texas. He received his bachelor of arts in biblical studies from Criswell College, where he is pursuing a master of arts in ministry.

Since 2004, he has also been an itinerant evangelist, preaching at youth camps, revivals, and discipleship events, and has served in church planting.

Cass, the former evangelism director, praised Wagoner’s selection to “one of the most important places of service with SBTC because of its focus on reaching teenagers with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”


The recommended budget of $26,343,626 for 2013 is a .26 percent increase. Messengers to the SBTC annual meeting in San Antonio in November must approve the budget, which continues to forward 55 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to Southern Baptist Convention ministry with the remaining 45 percent allocated for in-state ministry.

The budget reflects several strategic changes suggested by an ad hoc “Refocus Committee” formed earlier this year by the board to respond to feedback from 26 “praying and listening” sessions held with church leaders across the state in 2011.

“Refocus is a thorough convention-wide examination of SBTC’s ministry prompted by suggestions received from pastors and laypeople throughout the state,” explained Gary Ledbetter, spokesman for the convention. “The committee’s recommendations included enhancing SBTC’s strategic focus in the areas of leadership, discipleship, technology and language ministries.”

Administrative committee chairman David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, said the process involved four staff members joined by SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards in considering ways the convention might “refocus” its efforts in light of the praying and listening sessions. Richards noted it is not a convention reorganization but rather an “elevating” of priorities to give strategic focus to things the convention is already doing. In 2013 the SBTC staff will have a net gain of one ministry staff member.

The board moved into executive session to deliberate over the Refocus Report, with budget, salary discussions, and several staff changes reflecting those priorities. The new budget includes reserve funds of $100,000 to cover unanticipated needs resulting from the new structure.


Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis reported that year-to-date CP receipts through July were $388,214 ahead of last year while noting that early August income appears stronger than July, which was a slower-than-usual month. Actual expenses remain under budget with a net operating income through July of $712,192 including interest income and designated giving receipts.

Also through July, giving through the Reach Texas Offering for state missions was $453 higher than the same period last year. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions was up through July by $74,625. Meanwhile, the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, in its first month of the giving year, started off slowly, at $210,112 compared to $660,134 in June 2011.


A new Hispanic Baptist Institute of Biblical Studies program aimed at educating pastors, church planters and lay leaders for future ministry was also approved. The Spanish-language Bible training is being replicated from the efforts of Chuy Avila, SBTC church planting missions associate, in his ministry with pastors and church planters in Laredo.

The goal, Davis said, is to enlist associations and churches statewide in hosting the new Spanish-language Bible training. The Hispanic Baptist Institute for Biblical Studies is not a new entity but rather the descriptor for a new convention ministry from which students can earn a non-accredited certificate of completion.

The Hispanic Baptist Institute of Biblical Studies Commission, led by a seven-member convention standing committee to act as an advisory group to SBTC staff members responsible for the ministry, replaces the education commission.

The board also approved a reserve funding grant of no more than $5,000 to assist participating churches in Laredo in the incorporation of the Laredo Ministry Network.


SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the board that ministry to students through camps and Student Evangelism Conferences in north and south Texas “saw scores of people coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and savior” and dozens of others recording other spiritual commitments, including the call to ministry.

The summer M3 and Alto Frio camps set attendance records, he said, while the Engage Ministry conducted by collegians and seminarians saw many more come to saving faith, including more than 20 people at one meeting.

Additionally, Richards said church planters continue to be trained and new churches planted. Texas churches are also continuing to embrace unengaged peoples worldwide and in North America.

In closing, Richards urged the board to enlist pastors and laypeople to join other SBTC messengers and guests Nov. 12-13 for the SBTC annual meeting at Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio for business and worship, including a Tuesday night sermon from former SBC president and Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley.

Richards said hearing the renown pastor would be a “once-in-lifetime opportunity” to hear “in person one of God’s choicest servants.” The encouragement of other like-minded believers and a celebration of shared ministry through the Cooperative Program are more reasons to attend, he added.


—Board members approved new language replacing the existing policy for ministry relationships. Relationships will be either “affiliated” or “related ministry” relationships, with the category of “fraternal” ministry relationships eliminated. New relationships will require Executive Board approval.

Existing fraternal relationships with Houston Baptist University and the Baptist Credit Union will continue through 2012, allowing time for them to request new status in the future. The Baptist Missionary Association of Texas, the Korean Baptist Fellowship of Texas and Texas Life Connections may re-apply for related ministry agreements, while existing affiliated entities will not be impacted by the new policy.

—The board also approved the affiliation of 24 churches while clearing its roll of 11 disbanded congregations. The total number of SBTC-affiliated churches as of Aug. 7 was 2,381. Any additional churches that sought affiliation before Aug. 12 will be reviewed by the credentials committee, giving the executive committee permission to approve those requests in time for seating of messengers at the annual meeting.

—A $40,000 grant to the Indian Baptist Society of Bangalore, India, will be used for completion and furnishing of a second-floor addition to their office building. SBTC currently relates to this organization as part of the IMB Embrace the Ends of the Earth strategy.

—The board selected Ernest J. Gregory, Jr. as the recipient of the 2011 Paul Pressler Distinguished Service Award, to be presented at the annual meeting. The “missionary kid” is a World War II veteran and surgeon who used his medical skills to pioneer treatment of drug addicts in San Antonio, and remains active as a member of Castle Hills First Baptist Church, host church for the upcoming annual state convention meeting. He served as president of Baptists With A Mission, a conservative layman’s group that helped establish the SBTC. He also served on the editorial board of The Plumbline, a forerunner to the Southern Baptist TEXAN, as well as several SBTC committees.

—With additional reporting by Jerry Pierce

Baptists debate notion of Christian America

It might surprise some to learn that conservative Southern Baptists disagree on the answers to these questions and have debated the topics vigorously.

While some say America’s Founding Fathers intended for the government to show an official preference for Christianity above other faiths, others argue that they meant for America merely to uphold religious liberty without government endorsement of any religion.

When it comes to whether America is a Christian nation today, opinions are again varied—with some insisting that the government should still exalt Christianity and others arguing that the label “Christian nation” is both inaccurate and inappropriate.

Was America a “Christian nation”?
Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said that while the Founders granted freedom of religion to people of all faiths, they intended for America to regard Christianity as foundational to its national identity.

“The framers of the Constitution and the earliest American jurists demonstrated a clear preference for Christianity,” Jeffress wrote in his book “Twilight’s Last Gleaming.” “They did not hesitate to declare that America was a Christian nation. John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, referred to America as ‘our Christian nation.’”

The First Amendment of the Constitution does not demand that the government be neutral or hostile toward Christianity, Jeffress argued. Rather, it was intended “to guarantee that no particular denomination within Christianity would be elevated above other denominations to become a national church in which all citizens would be forced to worship.”

He quotes Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, a James Madison appointee, in support of the idea that the Founders intended to elevate Christianity above other religions in the nation’s institutions and among its citizens.

Story wrote in his “Commentaries on the Constitution,” “The real object of the [First] Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism [Islam], or Judaism, or infidelity by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.”

Jeffress added, &