The position of innovative leadership that the SBTC holds among Southern Baptist state conventions is one thing that excites me about being a part of this fellowship. The SBTC represents a new way of organizing Southern Baptists—leaner, forward thinking, confessional, biblically faithful. For the past six months a group appointed by your Executive Board has been prayerfully developing updates for our Constitution & Bylaws that will strengthen us to stay in the lead for the future.
We are proposing a number of changes that are important legally—you and I may mean the same thing whether we use the word “entity” or “agency,” but those two words can have different legal implications. Other changes simplify or standardize the language of these documents, just to make them easier to read and understand. We also tried to make the documents more practical in some cases: We set the time and place of our annual meetings more than one year in advance. We have employees at the convention office who preserve our minutes, not leaving that for our volunteer elected officers to do. The proposed changes to our Constitution & Bylaws will conform to these common-sense practices. In a few cases, however, we are proposing changes to our Constitution & Bylaws that will actually change the practice of our convention to address developing needs.
Some of these have to do with the qualifications that a church must meet in order to affiliate with the SBTC. At present our documents require that affiliated churches contribute regularly through the Cooperative Program. We are proposing that we change that. No state convention in Southern Baptist life is more committed to the Cooperative Program than is the SBTC. We are the only state convention that forwards more CP dollars for national and international causes than we keep for CP missions in Texas. Nevertheless, we have some churches among us who affirm the BF&M, share our view of the Bible, and give sacrificially for Southern Baptist cooperative missions, but who do so through a different formula than that of the Cooperative Program.
In a case like this, the convention faces a choice between two kinds of dishonesty or two kinds of honesty. First, we could dishonestly look the other way and pretend not to notice that we have churches that are not giving through CP. Second, we could dishonestly redefine “Cooperative Program” to mean something other than the CP that Southern Baptists have been following since 1925. But these dishonest approaches, although they may be too common in Southern Baptist life, are beneath this great convention. We choose the path of honesty.
Our third option is to go honestly to these member churches saying, “We regret that you no longer meet our qualifications for membership. We are excluding you from the SBTC.” That approach, however, seems unduly harsh and also unwise. We are not afraid to define the boundaries of our fellowship appropriately and to enforce them, but when a member congregation simply wants a higher percentage of their gifts to go to international missions, does that rise to the level for us to break fellowship with them? We think not.
And so, we recommend that we embrace the fourth option and honestly change our affiliation criteria to require that churches cooperate “with the work of the Convention” rather than requiring that their financial cooperation be “through the Cooperative Program.”
Also, we propose that we update our language concerning women in pastoral ministry to bring it in line with the wording of the BF&M. The SBTC predates the BF&M 2000, as do our documents. We simply have not yet updated our documents to reflect the wording adopted by the SBC that year. We simply wish to bring our documents into line with our statement of faith, which all of our churches have already affirmed as a requirement for affiliation.
We also propose a change in the way that the convention allots messengers to SBTC churches. At present, we allot messengers to churches on the basis of the number of names on that church’s membership roll. For churches that change to a stricter accounting of church membership, the SBTC’s organizational documents may penalize them with a reduction in allotted messengers. It strikes us as unfair to think that a church that still has the same attendance, gives the same gifts to the convention, and performs the same ministries might have a smaller voice in the convention’s operations simply because they came to new convictions about how to count their membership. We therefore propose that we simply allot 10 messengers to every participating church.
Finally, because we know that sometimes we all may be tempted to extend our fellowship over breakfast during our annual meetings, and therefore not everyone is making it to our Tuesday morning sessions in time for the opening gavel, we propose that we lower our quorum to 25 percent of our registered messengers for our meetings. It would be a shame for us not to be able to conduct business on Tuesday mornings, and we fear we may have gotten close to that state of affairs once or twice in recent years.
These are the most significant changes that we are proposing. In each case your Executive Board has agreed with us that these changes make us a stronger convention to meet the Great Commission needs of the coming years. We will bring these proposals to our annual meeting in Amarillo. Our convention must approve them for two consecutive years before they will go into effect.
—Bart Barber is pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville and served as chairman of the Constitution & Bylaws Review Committee charged with drafting changes to the SBTC’s governing documents.