Month: August 2018

John Bisagno, pastor & church innovator, dies at 84

NASHVILLE   John Bisagno, an evangelistic innovator and longtime pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, died Aug. 5 in Nashville following a battle with cancer. He was 84.

During Bisagno’s 30-year tenure at Houston’s First beginning in 1970, the congregation grew from fewer than 400 to 22,000 members, Baptist Press reported in 1999. During that period, the church also baptized 15,000 people, gave $250 million to missions, relocated from downtown to its current location in west Houston and helped launch the Bible teaching ministry of Beth Moore.

Some 500 Houston’s First members entered full-time Christian vocations, including 100 international missionaries under Bisagno, according to BP.

President of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference in 1972, Bisagno was a frequent preacher at state Baptist evangelism conferences and the Pastors’ Conference. In 1990, he began supporting publicly the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence and nominated Morris Chapman for convention president.

But longtime friend Jimmy Draper said Bisagno’s greatest service to the SBC likely was his innovation in evangelism and ministry.

“He really was the leader in evangelism and soul winning and strategizing how to win people to Christ and create a culture where people were excited about seeing others saved,” said Draper, SBC Executive Committee ambassador and president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Following an early career as a Dixieland jazz trumpeter, Bisagno was saved and called to ministry in 1952. He served as an itinerant evangelist for about a decade before accepting in 1965 the pastorate of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla.

First Southern averaged more than 1,000 in worship attendance under Bisagno’s ministry and pioneered the concepts of praise teams and praise bands, said Draper, who followed Bisagno as the church’s pastor. Many Southern Baptists were surprised when he headed for then-fledgling Houston’s First.

As a condition of his move to Houston, Draper said, Bisagno asked Houston’s First to pledge financial resources toward the Spireno — an acronym for “spiritual revolution now” — evangelistic campaign. The campaign involved assembly programs with evangelist Richard Hogue at 45 Houston middle schools and high schools followed by rallies with Gospel preaching. The campaign concluded with two and a half weeks of revival services at Houston’s First and the Sam Houston Coliseum.

The result: 4,011 professions of faith, BP reported in 1971.

Bisagno’s support of women’s ministry also was a hallmark of his pastorate. Draper recalled receiving a call from Bisagno in the 1990s about Moore’s women’s Bible study at Houston’s First. “She’s really going to be good,” Bisagno said. Eventually, LifeWay signed a contract with Moore, and “she’s been by far the biggest author in terms of sales that we’ve had,” Draper said.

Additionally, Bisagno encouraged the ministries of women’s author and speaker Jaye Martin and Carole Lewis, who helped launch the First Place 4 Health program of weight loss and healthy living.

“Bro. John empowered women in ministry,” Lewis wrote in a Facebook post. “Beth Moore, Jaye Martin and I were allowed and encouraged to pursue the calling God had on our lives. He was our greatest encourager and friend. His influence will be felt for centuries.”

In announcing Bisagno’s death to the church Aug. 5, Pastor Gregg Matte said, “Think of all the Sundays that Bro. John rose to come and tell people about heaven. And now, on this Sunday, he is in heaven rising to worship his Jesus face to face.”

The final two years of Bisagno’s life were “extremely difficult,” his son-in-law Curt Dodd said, but he always maintained a positive attitude. His wife Uldine died of cancer in 2017 just after Hurricane Harvey destroyed their house and nearly all of their possessions.

Bisagno lived in Tyler, Texas, with his son Tony before moving to the Nashville area with his son Tim. Bisagno’s cancer of the tongue and jaw metastasized to his lungs, and he spent his final days in palliative care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center singing praises to God and visiting with family, said Dodd, pastor of Westside Church in Omaha, Neb.

The day before he died, Bisagno told his family with characteristic optimism, “I feel great,” Dodd said. “He was always so positive.”

Bisagno earned a bachelor of music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and multiple honorary doctorates. He authored more than 30 books. SBTC presented the W. A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award to Bisagno in 2003 in recognition of his strong evangelistic ministry.

He is survived by three adult children, eight grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

A funeral will be held at Houston’s First on Aug. 17 at 1 p.m.

Bisagno said he would stop preaching when the phone stopped ringing with invitations, Dodd said.

It never did. He was scheduled to speak at a senior adult rally the week before he died.

Georgia DR interns spend summer serving in Houston

HOUSTON—A year ago, neither Kevin Cervantes nor Davey Arrowood, both Georgia college juniors, expected to be spending the summer in steamy Houston, but Hurricane Harvey happened. The two students, each with prior construction experience, spent most of June and July as Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief (SBTC DR) volunteer interns with separate Houston-area churches involved in rebuild efforts.

Arrowood and Cervantes told the TEXAN that while Houston was at first challenging to drive in, they found joy in helping people in dire conditions where small things can make big differences.

After Georgia Baptist DR director Stuart Lang phoned Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, to offer the interns, Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies, secured their placements.

“The SBTC model is church-based and not convention-centered. We wanted them connected in local churches to engage in ministry relief,” Priest said, confirming that the SBTC provided travel expenses for the interns, who also received assistance from Georgia DR and their host churches.

Cervantes, an accounting major from Greensboro, Ga., learned about the DR internship opportunity from his Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) campus minister at the University of Georgia.

Cervantes found his assignment a natural fit. A veteran of DR trips to New Orleans in 2016 and Orange, Texas, during spring break 2018, he also had worked for a remodeling contractor as a teenager.

Cervantes, who volunteered with Houston Northwest Church, stayed with a host family from the church.

He found the work varied and rewarding.

“It’s been different each week,” Cervantes said. “One week, I’m out in the field doing DR work or helping supervise a crew … other weeks, I worked in the office with the missions team.” Cervantes made phone calls to check on Harvey victims and undertook many trips to Home Depot for supplies. He also assisted with church-sponsored programs such as VBS, a movie night and a healthy eating event.

Calling the summer experience a “leap of faith,” Cervantes said he felt God telling him, “You’ve got to do this.”

He is glad he did.

“I have enjoyed the togetherness of people in church and the community,” Cervantes said, suggesting it seems “simpler for people to come together if everyone is hurting.”

A memorable experience occurred when Cervantes and four other men assisted an elderly woman by repairing a fence.

“Something that simple meant so much to her,” Cervantes recalled. “She was an older woman with hearing troubles, partially blind with two dogs. She was so thankful to us for a job that took us the better part of one morning. It was cool.”

Like Cervantes, Arrowood learned about the DR opportunity from his BCM campus minister. The political science major, who lives north of Dahlonega, Ga., where he attends the University of North Georgia, spent two years after high school working fulltime with his father, a licensed electrician, to save money for college.

Paired with Bayou City Fellowship at its Cypress location at the former Kwik Kopy corporate headquarters, Arrowood stayed in the church’s converted hotel on the property.

Arrowood spent the bulk of his time on campus working in the warehouse for BCF’s relief and recovery ministry, Bayou City Relief (BCR), which focuses on the impoverished Kashmere Gardens area and Houston’s upper Fifth Ward.  

Arrowood, who is considering attending seminary after college, made deliveries, fetched supplies, did administrative work, interacted with DR teams and homeowners, and even supervised projects.

When the TEXAN caught up with him, he was about to make an appliance delivery to a home. The church partners with World Vision to obtain appliances, drywall and other supplies for the rebuild.

NAMB is also partnering with Bayou City, sending workers to help manage the thousands of volunteers coming to help. Arrowood worked closely with SEND Relief’s Gerald and Peggy Colbert, also of Georgia, who will be in Houston until the end of the year and are expected to move from managing the BCR warehouse to working with volunteers, said Colleen Henneke, BCR director.

Calling Arrowood “an answered prayer,” Henneke added, “Davey walked in with an incredible spirit,” noting that much of Arrowood’s work came in the warehouse with no air conditioning as outside temperatures soared to triple digits.

Like Cervantes, Arrowood witnessed God’s hand in the little things, such as delivering a gas range to homeowner Toni. “It was something very simple, a few hours out of our day. When we pulled up, the excitement on her face…she was literally jumping up and down and screaming. It meant everything to her.”

This summer marked Arrowood’s first long term mission trip. Although being away from family and friends was “difficult at times,” he learned that “God will supply my every need.”

While the heat has been oppressive and the “mosquitoes bigger than I am,” Arrowood would not trade the experience. Nor would Bayou City. Henneke said Arrowood is welcome to return anytime.

Interns like Arrowood and Cervantes are the “future workers and leaders in the SBC,” Stice said, expressing gratitude for their service.

Executive Board approves new staff and proposes $28.5 million budget

GRAPEVINE  A church planter in Alaska with international missions experience in North Africa and a Balch Springs pastor with a track record as a field ministry strategist in North Texas were welcomed to the staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention during the July 31 Executive Board meeting.

In a state where less than 8 percent of the population can be found worshipping on a Sunday, Jason Lankford planted True North Church in Girdwood. He and his wife, Caroline, along with their three children, return to their native state of Texas where he will serve as a church planting associate.

“Jason will bring a great amount of experience and vision that we need to help us plant the churches God has called us to plant,” shared Doug Hixson, SBTC missions director.

Lankford earned his undergraduate degree from Ouachita Baptist University and will soon complete a master of arts in Christian studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to serving as a journeyman with the International Mission Board, he pastored students and families at First Baptist Church of Van Buren, Ark.

“I want to be a part of church planting in the state I as born into and push back the darkness that is here and work with churches,” Lankford said.

Alex Gonzales will move from a part-time field ministry strategist to a full-time position as an associate in Pastor Church Relations.

“Experienced pastors are longing to pour themselves out into younger pastors,” PCR Director Tony Wolfe told the board. In looking for someone who could guide pathways toward mentorships, Wolfe said Gonzales kept coming to mind. “He embodies our values very well, having been a field ministry strategist. He’s a friend to pastors.”

Gonzales has pastored Hickory Tree Baptist Church in Balch Springs since 2008 and previously served churches in McKinney and Mesquite. He is completing his undergraduate degree at Criswell College. Gonzales and his wife, Tabitha, live in McKinney with their two children.

“I’m excited to get young ministers plugged into some of our churches throughout the state. If we give them opportunities, if we give ministry away, we can really see what God can do,” Gonzales said.

In addition to approving the two new staff members, the Board accepted the Administrative Committee’s 2019 budget proposal of $28.8 million that requires approval of messengers at the Nov. 12-13 annual meeting in Houston. It represents an increase of just $938 over the current year.

While receipts in the second half of 2017 were significantly lower due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and other factors, Cooperative Program giving through June of 2018 has been the highest first six months in the state convention’s history at $14,243,791.

“Even though this budget we have just adopted is a flat line budget, it is really a hallelujah budget given where we’ve been,” Board chairman Kie Bowman stated.

CFO Joe Davis reported total net operating income through June in the amount of $704,572. While CP receipts were $20,298 under budget through June, actual expenses were $614,135 under the prorated in-state budget.

Giving through Southern Baptist mission offerings by SBTC churches showed increases over the previous year. Nine months into the reporting year, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions received $9,111,725, a $520,267 increase for the same period last year. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, with nine months reporting, amounted to $2,771,201 million, an increase of $229,186 compared to last year.

Reach Texas State Missions Offering giving dipped slightly at $1,246,901 with 10 months of reporting, down $58,009 as compared to the previous year.

Sixteen churches were approved for affiliation with the SBTC while eight were removed—six having merged or disbanded and two requesting removal. The action brings the number of affiliated churches to 2,680.

Board member Chris Moody of Beaumont asked for more information on the affiliation of The Village Church in Flower Mound. Credentials Committee Chairman Jordan Rodgers shared that the missions pastor expressed an interest in working with SBTC to plant churches.

“Their full elder board is aware of this request and approved that,” Rodgers said, adding, “They are in full understanding of what it means to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and excited about planting churches with the SBTC.”

Board members also modified the policy for ministry relationships to use the term “cooperative” instead of “affiliated” in order to avoid implying an element of control.

Funds were allocated for the SBTC reception and exhibit space at next year’s meeting or the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards offered ministry highlights from recent months and pledged that the SBTC staff “will continue to promote unity around the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 to accomplish missions through the Cooperative Program.”

Board members also heard a report from Buzzshift President and Co-founder Eddie Badrina who described his company’s work in developing a coherent brand for SBTC to increase the effectiveness of communicating with church lay leaders, pastors and church staff.

Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation Executive Director Bart McDonald reported over $72 million in assets being managed as compared to $28 million at the end of 2014. With over 80 planned giving seminars and 76 estate plans closed last year, McDonald said those efforts will yield “millions of dollars in kingdom resources in the years ahead.”

The Board heard reports from Criswell College President Barry Creamer, Jacksonville College President Mike Smith and Jason Curry, president of Texas Baptist Home for Children.

Creamer told the group, “We are one hundred percent committed to four core values—doctrinal integrity, practical ministry, academic rigor and cultural influence.”

He celebrated the $5 million lead gift from an anonymous donor that will allow the school to break ground In January on a much-needed residence hall. “This is transformative for us as our model of educating students is able to reach out to a brand-new group,” he said, anticipating higher success in recruiting traditional-aged students.

Creamer thanked SBTC for providing $391,440 from Cooperative Program receipts. “When you run things as tightly as we do, that 6 percent [of the school’s budget] makes a difference.”

Smith thanked the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation for helping the two-year college reorganize its accounting practices and expressed gratitude to the Board for financial support from SBTC. “Without it we really couldn’t have this ministry.”

With an enrollment of about 600 students last year, Jacksonville College attracted 36 students from 19 different countries. With other students taking courses online, Smith said, “We are reaching world wide as a small college in East Texas with a witness around the world.”

Smith added, “We’re giving back to the convention through our churches,” pointing to students who are serving in vocational ministry.

Curry shared that Texas Baptist Home for Children has served 280 clients during the past year as 32 children were placed for adoption.  “We saw 21 children find an eternal father in heaven even in the darkest circumstances of their lives,” he reported.

One of those children who accepted Christ was an eight-year-old boy orphaned by parents who committed suicide after receiving prison sentences for horrific crimes. “Our foster parents went above and beyond by taking him to synagogue on Saturday,” in keeping with the written request of the biological parents, “and a Christian church on Sunday,” Curry said. “They helped provide the healing he desperately needed. Now he is a renewed boy who has gone from hopeless to hopeful.”

Curry thanked the board for their support, including members of SBTC churches serving on the TBHC board and the assistance of the SBT Foundation in developing long-term donors.

REVIEW: “Disney”s Christopher Robin” is a charming film for the whole family

Christopher Robin is an overworked father who needs a vacation.

His day job as an “efficiency manager” at a luggage company is stressful enough, but now his boss – the owner’s son — is demanding that he cut costs by 20 percent. And with his report on the finances due in just a few days, he is forced to cancel a much-anticipated summer weekend getaway with his wife and daughter so he can crunch the numbers.

He’s working hard to give his family a better life, but his wife’s not buying it.

“We don’t care,” she tells him. “We want you.”

From her perspective, she hasn’t heard him laugh or seen him have fun in years.

“Remember me?” she asks, rhetorically. “I’m your wife.”   

Christopher Robin seems destined for a life full of work and no play – not to mention a strained marriage – when the unthinkable happens: A stuffed bear from his childhood visits him. He believes he’s imagining things, but then the bear – named “Winnie” – leads him to the forest and unveils other stuffed animals from his youth. There’s a donkey named “Eeyore,” a tiger known as “Tigger,” a pig called “Piglet,” and a tiny Kangaroo known simply as “Roo.”

Christopher Robin believes he can get rid of them, but the characters are on a mission. They want to help him re-discover the joys of his childhood. Will it work?

Disney’s Christopher Robin (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, less than one year after a similar-sounding movie – Fox Searchlight’s Goodbye Christopher Robin – hit theaters. But while that earlier movie told the story of author A. A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, the newer film shows Christopher Robin all grown up with a family, trying to find his way in life. 

It stars Ewan McGregor (Star Wars prequels) as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell (Captain America series) as his wife, Evelyn; and voice actor Jim Cummings (Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog) as Winnie the Pooh.

The move is entertaining and squeaky-clean, with the charming and innocent elements of Paddington and Paddington 2 and the life lessons for parents found in films like Storks. We all could learn a few things from Winnie the Pooh.

“Sometimes, the [best] thing to do is nothing,” Pooh says, urging Christopher Robin to stop filling his life with busy-ness and work.

Like the Paddington films, it features a mixture of live-action and computer-generated characters.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. Winnie and the other animals discuss Heffalumps and Woozles – supposed monsters in the forest – but we only hear them. Later, Christopher Robin proves they don’t exist. One dream-like scene shows Christopher Robin under water.


None. We see Christopher Robin kiss his wife twice in public.

Coarse Language

None. The worst we hear is “what the devil” (twice) and “bum.”

Other Positive Elements

Winnie the Pooh and his friends don’t argue, don’t ridicule others, and don’t fight. It’s a refreshing difference from other modern-day children’s programs. Even when Christopher Robin says something that makes Pooh sad, the bear doesn’t retort. The main character of the Paddington films has similar qualities.     

Life Lessons

If only every children’s movie was this positive. Children gets lessons on encouraging one another (which Pooh and his friends do) and putting others first, while parents get lessons on avoiding workaholism and rediscovering the simple joys of life – like family.


Christopher Robin believed he was putting his family first. After all, he was working hard at the office, at nights and on weekends, to ensure they had food on the table and a roof over their heads. He even planned on sending his daughter to boarding school to prepare her for life.

But he failed to see that his daughter Madeline wanted and needed him most of all. She didn’t care that her father was climbing the corporate ladder. She only cared if he was going to be there to read to her, play with her and talk to her. She didn’t want to go to boarding school.

“I’m been a father of very little brain,” he says at one point, borrowing a line from Pooh.

His lesson is one that nearly all parents could learn. The family – and not work — was God’s first institution. When we get our priorities out of line, problems always follow.   

What Works

The animation. The voices. The interaction between Christopher Robin and the characters. I was a big fan of Winnie the Pooh as a child. This is the big-screen Pooh that I imagined.

What Doesn’t

The movie isn’t as fast-paced as most children’s films – which is both good and bad, depending on your perspective. If you go, be patient.

Discussion Questions

1. Why did Christopher Robin fail to understand the feelings of his wife and daughter? Do you think he felt trapped by his work? How could he have handled the situation better?

2. For parents: Do you ever feel like Christopher Robin did? If so, how?

3. For families: How does Disney’s Christopher Robin differ from other animated films?

4. For children: What did you learn from Pooh and his friends about treating others? What are some ways you can encourage your friends?    

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some action.

To my granddaughters

Grammy and I have been praying for you since before you were born. We are grateful that God brought you safely into our family and that you have flourished in the homes he gave you. These days we pray that God will bring you into his household and make you mighty in his kingdom. I also think a lot about what it will be like to grow up and become a woman in our nation. It appears to have some challenges that, while not new, have intensified in my lifetime. 

Our culture struggles to understand femininity. That struggle has gone on since the first woman become of the mother of us all. Today, the same society that acknowledges the equality of women as citizens, employees and leaders will also objectify and demean women in popular culture. Women even do this to themselves as they confuse the liberty to do anything at all with true freedom. A discussion today involves overturning laws and customs regarding modesty in public, and even calls for the exaltation of self-destructive behaviors and humiliating vocations. It is true that “absolute” freedom includes the right to destroy yourself, but a culture that blesses such behavior is no friend to anyone. Follow the examples of your mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers. They are dignified and accomplished ladies who have negotiated their own times wisely. They learned before you met them that liberty is submitting to the right things and people and God rather than doing any wicked thing you imagine.

Part of femininity is that you will be physically smaller than most men you meet. They can loom over you, even pick you up when they are young and strong. That leads some men you meet to treat you as someone less—less smart, less important, less worthy of courtesy—than themselves. Men will sometimes make their physical advantages too much a part of your relationship, even as they may find your physical beauty more interesting than anything else you are. Enjoy being a girl, and being pretty, but avoid such loutish men. Be no one’s “arm candy” and trust no one who separates your humanity from your femininity. 

Love is also a complicated thing in our world. You are blessed to witness daily a model of unselfish love in your parents. While they talk about “loving” a certain food or article of clothing, you already know that it means something different, lesser, than their love for you. You also see their love for one another—giving, respectful, affectionate, joyful. Much that we call love across our culture is none of those things. It is better described as desire or even greed. Whether in a friendship, a marriage or a relationship between a dad and a daughter, love is not the commerce between a giver and a taker. It is the happy connection between two givers. Settle for nothing less. Knowing your moms and dads will prepare you to understand the perfect gift of love between your heavenly father and you, his beloved daughters. Others will say “love” to you or use love as an inducement to change your convictions to suit their agendas. You are equipped already to recognize the counterfeit because you have experienced the real thing. Be brave enough to walk away. Walk away from people, a career, marketing, entertainment, churches—anything really—that would divert you from true love and the true Word behind it. 

I pray that God will call each of you to follow him. When he does, he will call you to serve him first above all. That means you have a mission from the God who has revealed himself through Scripture. Nothing else your family or culture can call out for you to do can overrule this primary calling from God. Wherever you go, you have a message and a source of authority more sure than what you feel or want, or what anyone else wants. You may need to say no to opportunities and people you find very appealing, and which in other circumstances are just fine, if they conflict with your call from God. 

At the same time, God will not mystically call you to do something that is contrary to his revelation in Scripture. You are not going to be called by God to pastor a church, for example. When God has said “this” or “not this” the deliberation is over. I’m only saying that you have a higher calling on your life than the unrepentant can understand. Don’t compromise it for things that won’t last. 

In 2 Timothy 1:5, Paul tells the young pastor to remember the faith, the examples of his mother and grandmother. That’s what I’m saying to you—stick to the things you’ve already come to know as true, as modeled by those who have loved you. We’re here to remind you and hopefully to model continued obedience to the Lord who made us a family. When we fail in that, you mostly know enough to tell that we are wrong. There’s a lesson in that as well. 

We love you and very much look forward to watching you grow and learn for the years the Lord grants us together. The work is the Lord’s and we are so happy to be part of it. 

Editor’s note: We are blessed with four granddaughters, 9 (and a half!), 3, and 16 months (X2). 

First Baptist Dallas turns 150

DALLAS  First Baptist Church of Dallas (FBCD) celebrated its 150th birthday on Sunday, July 29—one day early—with decorations, cake, gifts, guests, songs and praise.

Festive balloon archways and banners decked hallways. Churchgoers sang “Happy Birthday” and balloons floated from worship center rafters at the conclusion of the 10:50 a.m. service and sermon by Robert Jeffress, the church’s fifth pastor since the legendary George W. Truett.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott read a congratulatory proclamation from the State of Texas at the start of the service. Abbott called FBCD “a pillar of faith in Dallas” and “an example to all Texans of God’s faithfulness,” before praying.

Dallas was a frontier town in 1868 with a population of a few thousand and a reputation for lawlessness when eight women and three men gathered to form the first Baptist church to survive in the city.

“One of Jesse James’ sisters-in-law used to be a member of our church,” Jeffress remarked in his sermon.

Identifying “commitment” as one of three FBCD foundations, Jeffress referenced Isaiah 51:1-2, explaining that God told Israel to “look back” at milestones in her history, reminding congregants that First Dallas was the product of “faithful men and women who went before,” some famous, many unknown.

Jeffress described the 1867 arrival in Dallas of Col. W.L. Williams, a 32-year-old lawyer, with his wife, Lucinda, 23, and their infant daughter, “devout Christians” and Baptists seeking a church.

In July 1868, evangelist W.W. “Spurgeon” Harris rode into town on horseback, renewed a friendship with Williams and preached a two-week revival held in the Masonic lodge at the corner of Lamar and Ross. The revival culminated in FBCD’s founding, with Harris serving bi-weekly, a “half-time” pastor.

In 1872, Lucinda Williams mobilized churchwomen to encourage the hiring of a long-term pastor and construction of a facility. By summer’s end, FBCD women had raised $500 to pay for the foundation of a building, Jeffress said.

Newly-called pastor Abram Weaver proclaimed at the fall 1872 dedication of the foundation, “It is a day when we tell the people of Dallas that the Baptists are here to stay,” adding that the “women of our church must be reckoned with.”

In 1890, the church’s historic sanctuary at Ervay and Patterson was built. Now home to FBCD’s contemporary Day One service, the sanctuary was expanded during Truett’s tenure, 1897-1944, as membership soared from 700 to 7,000.

Calling the gospel a second foundation of FBCD, Jeffress presented the plan of salvation from Scripture, recommending “urgency” in evangelism with 152,000 dying each day, most facing a “Christ-less eternity.”

Such “urgency” prompted Lucinda Williams to go door-to-door seeking support for the fledgling church, led Truett to preach the gospel to World War I troops overseas and inspired W.A. Criswell to expand outreaches for five decades.

Jeffress announced a campaign beginning this fall to enlarge the Horner Family Center education complex.

Calling the Bible the “most important” FBCD foundation, Jeffress urged continued reliance on inerrant Scripture rather than the “shifting sands of culture” or “denomination.”

For 150 years, FBCD has prioritized not just the Word of God, but also community outreach.

Truett helped found Texas Baptist Memorial Hospital, now Baylor Scott & White. Criswell, pastor from 1944-1990 and a leader of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, pioneered over 20 missions, including the Dallas Life homeless shelter, First Baptist Academy (FBA) and Criswell College.

Today, FBCD ministry partners include FBA, radio station KCBI, broadcast ministry Pathway to Victory, and anti-abortion initiative Involved for Life, with pregnancy centers in downtown and uptown Dallas. Members volunteer with numerous ministries, including the now-autonomous Dallas Life. Long before the horrific shooting of Dallas police officers in 2016, the church established strong ties with Dallas PD.

Current membership is 13,000: racially and economically diverse, multigenerational and evangelical.

Since no party is complete without cake and presents, families attending services July 29 received a commemorative Bible, a book about the church’s history by Rose-Mary Rumbley and a kid-friendly book on the church for every child. Cupcakes were served in the Criswell Center.

Pam Merryman, FBA graduate and Prestonwood Christian Academy English department chair, described the celebration as light on “nostalgia” and focused on the future, with a noteworthy emphasis on the importance of women in the church’s history.

Merryman, whose parents were married by Criswell in 1957, said she remembers the church’s centennial when she was six. Her family history is bound to First Dallas. Her grandfather was Truett’s paperboy. Her husband’s maternal grandfather mentored Criswell in Oklahoma. Her husband and father are deacons.

Merryman’s dad, Dallas realtor Charles Hollingsworth, joined the church as a high school senior in 1954.

“We owe so much to our church staff and other workers who helped us make [our two daughters] the godly women they are today,” Hollingsworth told the TEXAN. “We could never repay First Baptist for what it has meant to our family.”

Dallas native Mark Smith, now of El Dorado, Ark., grew up at FBCD. Upon hearing of the celebration, Smith and his wife shifted the itinerary of their thirtieth wedding anniversary trip so they could attend.

“It was absolutely the right thing for us to do,” Smith said. “When you grow up in a church, it always feels like home. I made a commitment to Christ at age six while Dr. Criswell was preaching. He baptized me at 12. He married us.”

Near the end of his sermon, Jeffress reminded the congregation of Criswell’s favorite verse, Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our Lord shall stand forever,” a fitting coda for a celebration of 150 years of ministry.