Month: May 2019

REVIEW: “A Dog”s Journey” is a pet flick wrapped in a reincarnation plot

Bailey is a dog who wouldn’t change a thing about his life. He lives on a huge farm. He rides to town in a big pickup truck. His owners, Ethan and Hannah, treat him like their own child.

“I feel like the luckiest dog in the world.”

But not everything is rosy in Bailey’s world.

A few months ago, Ethan’s adult son died in a tragic car accident, leaving behind a widow named Gloria to raise a baby daughter, C.J.

She and C.J. moved in with Ethan and Hannah, her in-laws. And after a misunderstanding and argument, she moved out, promising never to return.

“She’s my baby — not yours,” Gloria said before leaving. 

Then Bailey became terminally ill. Then he died. Then Gloria started drinking, leaving C.J. to fend for herself.

It may sound like the lyrics to a honky-tonk tune, but this story has a happy ending.

Bailey was reincarnated as another dog, Big Dog, and then another dog, Molly, and then another dog, Max. Each time, he was sent to care for C.J., who found his companionship priceless through her childhood and young adult years.

The movie A Dog’s Journey(PG) opens this weekend, starring Dennis Quaid (The Rookie) as Ethan, Marg Helgenberger (Erin Brockovich) as Hannah, Betty Gilpin (GLOW) as Gloria and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast) as the voice of Bailey.

The film is based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron and a sequel to the 2017 film, A Dog’s Purpose(2017), which also was based on a Cameron novel.

It is aimed at children and families and — apart from the worldview — has few other non-family-friendly elements for Christian parents. For lovers of pets, it’s a fun flick.

Yet the movie’s strong focus on reincarnation isn’t a small problem.

Let’s examine the details.    

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Minimal. We see C.J., as a toddler, walk into a fenced-in area with an out-of-control horse. (She is rescued.) As a teenager, C.J. dates a boy who grabs her arm when she tries to leave. He doesn’t hit her, but part of her clothes tear. The same boy later chases her in his truck, resulting in her crashing her car. (She survives, but the dog dies.) C.J. dates another boy who grabs her arm when she tries to leave. (She has a tendency to date irresponsible men.)   


Minimal. It’s implied that Gloria lives with one or two men, although we never see them kiss. (The movie has no bedroom scenes.) When C.J. asks her if one of her boyfriends is nice, Gloria responds, “They always start off nice.” Gloria wears one or two outfits showing too much skin. C.J. kisses a boyfriend passionately in the backseat; the scene cuts away. She moves to the city, where she moves in with a boyfriend. When that doesn’t work out, a platonic male friend lets her stay with him. She kisses a man at the end of the film.

Coarse Language

None/minimal. One possible OMG. One other misuse of “God.” At least three to four instances of Bailey referencing his or another person’s “butt.” 

Other Positive Elements

The love that Ethan and Hannah show for Gloria and C.J. is touching.

When Gloria moves out, Ethan and Hannah display patience and never lose hope that the relationship will be restored.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Gloria is a young widow whose husband died. After he passed away, she becomes an alcoholic and an irresponsible mother who often leaves C.J. home alone at night while dating. Gloria often drinks glasses of wine.

C.J. impersonates her mom during a phone conversation and lies in order to get Bailey. A few minutes later, she lies again. (Eventually, she is caught in her lies, but her mother lets her keep the dog.) 

C.J. goes to a party where beer is served. (She asks her boyfriend to take her home.) Two teenagers exchange a package that looks like drugs. C.J. is arrested but released.

We see several arguments. Gloria argues intensely with Ethan and Hannah.

Life Lessons

We learn about the power of words — both positively and negatively (Gloria moves out after she is offended by something Hannah says.)

We learn that bad choices lead to bad consequences (C.J. opts to date an irresponsible man.) 

We also learn about unforgiveness and bitterness (Gloria moves out of Ethan and Hannah’s home. Later, C.J. moves out of Gloria’s home and pledges never to return.) Yet we also learn about redemption. (The movie has a happy ending.)


What is the purpose of dogs? Of pets? Bailey has an idea.

“Loving people is my ultimate purpose,” Bailey says.

Perhaps he’s onto something. 

When you watch a joy-filled child chase a dog or an elderly person pet one, it’s easy to agree with Bailey.

Pets, after all, are one of God’s great gifts to mankind. Why else would He have created certain animals that are so easily domesticated and that treat you like a king? They provide companionship. They remind you of the simple pleasures of life. They make you … happy.

It’s just too bad that the story is wrapped in a pro-reincarnation plot.

The Bible teaches that we die once, and only once (Hebrews 9:27, Matthew 25:46). The concept of reincarnation is unbiblical, for both humans and animals.

And while a good case can be made that animals will be in heaven (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25), the Bible is silent on whether specific pets will be there.

What Works

Bailey’s interaction with people. It’s a joy to watch.

What Doesn’t

The scenes showing men getting physical with C.J. They don’t belong in a film geared toward families.

Discussion Questions

1. What does the Bible say about reincarnation? 

2. C.J. initially did not want to forgive her mother. Have you ever harbored feelings of unforgiveness? What does Scripture say about forgiving others? Why is it hard sometimes?

3. Gloria and Hannah have an argument early in the movie. Who was right? Who was wrong? Why? 

4. Why is cohabitation (living together before marriage) wrong — both biblically and practically?

Entertainment rating:3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for thematic content, some peril and rude humor. 

SBTC DR crews serve San Augustine tornado victims, prepare for Houston and Southeast Texas deployments

SAN AUGUSTINE  Out-of-towners Mary and Jamie stopped by Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church to say thanks to Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers who had assisted Jamie’s mother, a San Augustine resident, in clearing downed trees from her yard following an April 24 tornado.

“If y’all hadn’t been there, we would have had to do it all. We couldn’t have done it all. We didn’t have chainsaws or the manpower to do it,” Mary said as volunteers circled up to pray, SBTC DR worker Debby Nichols told the TEXAN.

The couple’s response typified those of community members whose homes and yards were hit April 24 by an EF2 tornado which uprooted trees and damaged more than 50 structures, including the transmission tower of an electrical substation, before moving through the northern part of the town, uprooting and snapping trees.

Six of the eight tornadoes which blasted across East Texas and Louisiana came from a supercell that formed in San Augustine County and crossed the Toledo Bend area into Louisiana, the National Weather Service reported.

No injuries were reported in San Augustine, although a tornado claimed the lives of a mother and son in Ruston, La.

SBTC DR assessors arrived in San Augustine Sun., April 28, in advance of chainsaw and feeding teams who arrived during the week to begin work.

“The average yard had 15-20 tons of tree damage,” George Yarger, SBTC DR unit leader during the first week of the deployment, said. Yarger praised the people of San Augustine as both “patient and kind.” Volunteers prayed with many, finding the town filled with “pretty solid believers,” he added.

“If we cannot find lost people, we just find Christians and encourage them,” Yarger said.

SBTC DR’s base of operations at Greater Mount Olive Baptist, a central location, attracted victims.

“People came to us. They were interested in getting some help,” Yarger said.

While the DR feeding unit originally deployed to feed volunteers, its outreach quickly expanded to the entire community.

“Sunday night April 28 we fed the first meal, and began supplying 400 meals a day to the public,” DR volunteer Debra Britt said, adding that feeding team leader Irvin McWilliams would pick up food daily from Sam’s warehouse in Lufkin while commuting to and from the disaster site.

SBTC DR crews suspended operations in San Augustine on May 5 in advance of predicted thunderstorms, Britt confirmed. Teams, including a chainsaw team from the Louisiana Baptist Association, are expected to resume recovery efforts on May 12.

As of May 5, some 22 SBTC DR volunteers had completed 19 of 49 chainsaw and recovery jobs in the San Augustine area. Volunteers also shared the gospel and prayed with dozens of victims and prepared and served hundreds of meals.

Small teams of SBTC DR volunteers also recently served storm victims in Mexia, Texas, and began assisting the Salvation Army in feeding efforts related to the immigration crisis along the El Paso/Juarez border.

Meanwhile, when it rains, it pours in disaster relief.

SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice issued a call-out for teams to prepare to deploy to Houston and Southeast Texas to minister to flood victims in the wake of May 7 storms which swept across the area. Also, SBTC DR’s QRT quick response feeding trailer is scheduled to deploy to Longview with recovery volunteers and a shower unit to assist May 8 tornado victims.

REVIEW: “Tolkien” has few faith elements but it still can teach us a lot

Ronald is a young British man with a brilliant mind and a wild imagination.

He dreams about talking trees. He thinks about fire-breathing dragons. He makes up silly words that belong in an other-worldly language.

He would be a great novelist, but right now, he’s too busy chasing a girl named Edith and having fun with his friends Geoffrey, Christopher and Robert, who attend Oxford College with Ronald and are trying to find their way in the world. One man wants to be a painter and another, a poet. They’ve known each other since boyhood and desire to change the world “through the power of art.”  

“We should form a brotherhood,” one of them says.

Thus, this male foursome swears allegiance to one another with the goal of mutual support as they enter college and the real world.

But then Ronald gets in trouble and loses his scholarship. And then their country goes to war, forcing them onto the battlefield.

Will they survive bullets and bombs long enough to make an impact on the world?

The biopic Tolkien(PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of author J.R.R. Tolkien in his childhood, teenage and young adult years before he penned the classics The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings. It stars Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Apocalypse) as Tolkien and Lily Collins (Les Miserables, 2019) as Edith, and was directed by Dome Karukoski, a Finnish filmmaker.

The film shows Tolkien and his brother growing up under the care of their mother, a widow. But then she dies, they are placed in the care of a Catholic priest, who puts them in a home for orphans. Tolkien becomes a standout student at a distinguished school for boys and then is accepted into Oxford.

The movie faced pushback in April from Tolkien’s family, who released a statement saying they did not “did not approve of, authorize or participate in the making of this film.”

“They do not endorse it or its content in any way,” the statement said.

But Karukoski told me leaving the family out of the production was intentional. Otherwise, he said, the film may stray away from the facts and deliver a plot too friendly to the subject.

The movie has little to no discussion about God and theology — a fact that will disappoint some Tolkien enthusiasts — but it nevertheless shows how he developed some of his basic ideas for The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings.

The film’s themes, Karukoski said, are love and friendship.

“There’s only so much time we have left [in life], and we have to choose what to do with it,” Karukoski told me. “I would hope that people would spend more time with their friends and inspire each other.”

The film has its enjoyable moments, yet it’s mostly slow and likely confusing for non-Tolkien fans. If you know nothing about Middle Earth, then this film likely isn’t for you. Still, it ends on a high note.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. The film shows Tolkien in a World War I trench and then on a battlefield. We see shots fired and men fall, presumably dead. We see bombs exploded. We see a pile a bodies and a large pool of blood. At school, Tolkien gets into a fight during a rugby match. Later, he hits a friend who was berating him.  


Minimal. Tolkien’s painter friend shows copies of paintings of nude women to his friends. “What I need is live models. Not much chance of that, of course.”

Tolkien and Edith kiss, twice.

The film implies that one member of the brotherhood is gay. (The word is never mentioned, and he never acts on his feelings.) 

Coarse Language

Minimal. A– (1) and a couple of “for G-d’s sake.”

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Tolkien and his friends drink several times. Once, he gets drunk and stumbles into an open area at night, shouting at everyone.

Life Lessons

Among the lessons in Tolkien: the impact of a mother (Tolkien’s mom), overcoming tragedy (Tolkien following her death), building up one another (Tolkien and the brotherhood) and the bond between friends (the brotherhood).  


Tolkien’s mother, Mabel (Laura Donnelly), is on screen only a few minutes, but her impact on Tolkien is significant. She introduces him to the love of reading. She sparks his imagination. We see her read books to Tolkien and his brother at night as a spinning lantern projects images on the walls. Tolkien’s imagination goes wild. In real life, she died at the age of 34, but her impact is still reverberating around the world through his works.

It’s true that the film has no “God talk,” but I suspect the human writers of the New Testament would applaud its portrayal of brotherly love— at least most of it. Ronald and his friends support one another, no matter the circumstances. They build up one another. They challenge one another. They inspire each other. Too often, men put up a facade. They rarely mirror the brotherly love commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:10, 2 Peter 1:7) and seen in Tolkien.

Still, it’s tragic that the film implies one of Tolkien’s friends was gay, without evidence. Can’t men have a close bond without the world imposing its twisted views of sexuality?

What Works

The focus on the bond between Tolkien and his friends. The ending. 

What Doesn’t

The lack of faith content.Yes, the movie’s focus on brotherhood was a wise choice, but somediscussion about his Catholic beliefs would have been nice. (And if you’re curious, C.S. Lewis isn’t mentioned in the film. He and Tolkien met after the events that are portrayed.) 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why are friendships important for Christian growth? For living life?
  2. How did Tolkien and his friends model biblical friendship? How did they influence one another?
  3. What impact did Tolkien’s mother have on him?
  4. What was your reaction to Tolkien’s friend being portrayed as gay?

Entertainment rating:2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence.

REVIEW: The problem with “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” isn”t magic

Tim Goodman is a young, determined man living in a world very different from anything you and I have seen.

In Tim’s world, creatures known as Pokémon roam the forests. They are a cross between a stuffed animal and a toy and sometimes as cute as a koala bear.

Tim, though, doesn’t have time to chase Pokémon for fun. He’s on board a train to Ryme City, the only place on the planet where humans and Pokémon co-exist. In Ryme City, every person has a Pokémon — it’s like a pet — and Pokémon even perform valuable tasks (like fighting fires).

Tim’s estranged father lived in Ryme City until recently but died in a tragic car accident. Tim is returning to claim his possessions and tie up loose ends.

But then his father’s Pokémon — a yellow fuzzball named Pikachu — latches on to Tim. Even crazier, Tim understands every word Pikachu says.

And then the story grows stranger. Pikachu tells Tim his father isn’t dead and that he may have been captured by an evil group that’s trying to destroy Ryme City and the Pokémon, too.

Can Pikachu and Tim find his father and perhaps also stop this deadly scheme?

The film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (PG) opens this weekend, starring Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) as Tim, Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Pikachu, and Kathryn Newton (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Lucy, a young woman who works at a television station and helps Tim break the case.

The film is a mixture of live action and CGI and based on the video game and trading card series popular among children. Both have sparked controversy among Christian families for their inclusion of magic and Eastern spirituality.   

In Pokémon Detective Pikachu, though, we get a worldview not much different than what’s found in Marvel and Star Wars film. There’s no occult-like magic. Instead, it’s a few animals with superhero-like powers.

But even if we give Detective Pikachua pass on the worldview question, it has content that pushes the boundaries for a PG film aimed at small children. It has more violence and disturbing content than is seen in PG flicks like the Lego Movieor Despicable Meseries. It has more language than is found in most children’s films, too. It left me wondering: What is the target audience? 

The plot, though, is interesting, and the story has enough twists and turns to keep moviegoers interested. I — surprisingly — enjoyed it.

But is it OK for children? Let’s take a look.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

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


Moderate. The film opens with a scene showing a freakish alien-like creature escaping a laboratory. Seconds later, a car crashes, apparently killing the occupant. Several friendly Pokémon inhale a gas that causes them to turn evil and mean. They chase Tim at night in a scene reminiscent of Gremlins. Tim, in his investigation, corners a mime and pretends to torture him by pouring gas on him and lighting a match. We see a Pokémon MMA-type battle between a fire-breathing dragon and Pikachu. We experience several Jurassic Park-type jump scenes when Tim and Lucy break into a laboratory. Tim and Lucy are nearly killed when the mountains and land fold in half in a science fiction-type scene. A Ryme City parade goes haywire when the Pokémon breathe a purple gas and turn evil. (The gas causes the souls of the humans to enter the Pokémon.)


Minimal. Pikachu makes several jokes with double meaning. He tells Tim as they enter the apartment: “I never do this. I’m not that type of Pokémon.” He tells Tim to “grow some berries.” Tim says he’s attracted to Lucy. 

Coarse Language

Minimal. But still too much for a children’s film. OMG (3), h-ll (2), d–n (1). We also hear an unfinished “holy sh–,” “nipples,” “geez” and “shove it.”

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Moviegoers will either love Pikachu’s sarcasm or hate it.

We also hear about “Pokémon evolution.”

Life Lessons

Detective Pikachu delivers lessons on regret (Tim and his father), parental love (Tim’s father), and second chances (Tim). We also learn that looks can be deceiving (several characters who aren’t what they seem). 


We never learn how the Pokémon get their powers. Apparently, they’re born that way.

Yet the best message from Detective Pikachu is about family. Tim’s mother died when he was younger, forcing him to make a choice between living with his grandmother or father. He chose the former. But when he arrives in Ryme City, he has regret. He finds an unmailed card from his father with a loving note (“I can do better if you give me a chance”). The more he learns about his dad, the more he wishes he could go back in time and make a different decision. And when he learns that his father may still be alive, he sets out find his dad — and perhaps get that second chance in life.


Burger King. Pillsbury. 7-Eleven. Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. Delta.

What Works

The fatherhood angle. The chemistry between Tim and Pikachu.

What Doesn’t

The adult-centric double-meaning jokes. The language. It’s a kid’s movie. Keep it that way.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever wanted a second chance at something?
  2. Why did Tim have regret?
  3. What unique qualities can a father provide that a mother or grandmother cannot?
  4. What do you think about the debate about Pokémon?

Entertainment rating:3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for action/peril, some rude and suggestive humor, and thematic elements.

Three down, two to go

The election of Ronnie Floyd to lead the SBC Executive Committee marks the third chief executive hire of a pretty remarkable era of transition for the SBC. Only Lifeway and New Orleans Seminary are still looking for presidents. In some ways, the men elected to lead the International Mission Board, Southwestern Seminary and the Executive Committee don’t fit some of the predictions I’ve seen among those who follow our business closely. Here are things that surprise me a little.

This is not exactly a generational turnover. Ronnie Floyd is nearly my age (!), Paul Chitwood is about nine years older than his predecessor and only Adam Greenway is significantly younger than his predecessor. This variety tells us that the search committees were not predetermined to consider only candidates under (or over) a certain age. The 20-year spread between the three men’s ages actually argues that the committees discerned God’s leadership rather than only looking for specific traits. 

There is some interesting variety in the men’s backgrounds. Ronnie Floyd was a megachurch pastor, Paul Chitwood came to the IMB from a state executive director’s role and Adam Greenway was a seminary dean. Chitwood has never been a career missionary and Floyd has never been a denominational employee. Greater diversity is imaginable for sure but again, the committees, operating independently of each other, settled on three men whose ministry resumes are distinctive. 

None of these men are denominational outsiders. This observation seems important. The committees each went with proven leaders who were very experienced within the denomination. They are former board chairmen, committee leaders, strategists and current Cooperative Program champions. I don’t believe the modern “throw the bums out” spirit in our society has found any unifying cause in our denomination. We, it seems, are not anarchists. 

Change is inevitable; revolution, maybe not. I do expect these three men, as well as the two yet to be named, to lead their institutions in new ways. But I don’t think this is the revolution that a few hoped for. Revolution is more fun to watch from a disinterested distance, by the way. I’d like to unpack this prediction about change. 

Those who hoped this would be a reboot for the SBC should not be disappointed that the changes will be less systemic than they hoped. Each of the five institutions has its own history and needs, and each of them will experience a new vision and energy from their new presidents. There really is no justification to start from scratch in any of these cases. Granted, most of the more extreme voices among those wanting something more extreme are no longer Southern Baptists or never have been. 

Some among us are nervous with the degree of change that will come to a beloved institution, or about disrespect for a beloved former leader’s legacy. I understand the sentiment, but I also think changes to each of these five are inevitable and will be beneficial. First, the three new leaders we’ve now met are competent, well-intentioned and godly. Second, trustee boards are never more focused and useful than during the first or last days of the institution’s leader. The board that prayed over this leader and became convinced that he is the man for the job is going to be more vigorous in their oversight of his new administration than at any other time, barring a crisis. Our confidence in new leadership is not only in the men who are leading, but also in the scores of our brother and sister Baptists who care very much about the institutions they hold in trust. 

Though it’s as flawed as the people involved in any decision, I believe in our trustee system. I know a few of the people working in these five search processes, and they are earnest in their intent to seek God’s will and to do it. No one has suggested a better system than to trust representatives from our churches to watch over our institutions. They get it wrong sometimes but I’m convinced their errors are well-intended and less severe than the errors likely spawned by another governance plan. I trust the outcome overall even when I might quarrel with this or that detail. 

I deeply regret the details of some of the transitions Southern Baptists have faced in the past couple of years. That does not mean that nothing good can come of the transition—far from it. New faces, new skill sets and new generations in the top slot will be alternately annoying and delightful as our institutions implement new visions. Since new vision is necessary, we can shrug off some of the annoyances. A new slate of leaders committed to innovation and well-versed in the reasons for the things we’re already doing sounds like progress for our Great Commission work.  

Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation grows, expands offerings under new leadership

ARLINGTON—When Bart McDonald was approached about a job with the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation, he wasn’t interested. McDonald viewed his career in the financial world as a thing of the past. By then he was serving as a full-time pastor and was hesitant to leave the pulpit. He did, however, commit to pray about it. 

It was 2014, and the job was the executive director of the nine-year-old entity of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention that at the time mostly dealt with individual estate gifts.

“But I prayed about it, and that’s what I felt the Lord leading me to do,” McDonald said.

“My reputation to some degree in the work of the church was with plateaued and declining congregations facing financial challenges in need of stabilization. Getting churches revitalized and back into a growth mode is one of the imperatives we face in our current environment,” McDonald said. It was that background that he brought with him when he took the job.  

When McDonald arrived, the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation had its offices in Grapevine and the only salaried position was the one he had just taken. Up until then, the SBTC had been funding the fledgling Foundation with operational surpluses. 

“We set a multi-year plan to build a ministry service organization that could grow to a point of financial and operational independence—one that could completely absorb its cost and produce a surplus,” he said. Through expanding staff and increasing services, that goal was reached in the third quarter of 2018. 

As of 2019, the Foundation is completely self-sustaining, no longer receiving any kind of financial subsidy from the SBTC. Funds under management have more than doubled and total revenue generated through the Foundation’s services has increased more than 1,700 percent.  

Perhaps more impressive than the numbers are the ways in which the Foundation has expanded its assistance to SBTC churches.

As he began to diversify the Foundation’s offerings beyond estate planning, McDonald says he knew the first addition needed was to provide financing options for churches seeking loans. 

“Our churches need money, and many commercial banks have a diminishing appetite for church credit,” he said. “To meet that need, we began a direct lending program in 2015 which to date has generated over $35 million in loans, the earnings on which are re-invested back into kingdom causes.    

“We also began to aggressively market church expansion term (CET) investments, which are CD-like instruments offering above-market rates to churches, allowing them to maximize their earnings on excess cash liquidity and designated fund balances,” McDonald explained.   

The Foundation’s current rates on CET investments range from 2.05 to 3.35 percent and have attracted more than $45 million of deposits from across the state. Last year alone, the Foundation paid out some $670,000 of interest earnings to Texas churches and institutions.    

“It’s a win-win proposition,” McDonald said. “Churches making more interest on their excess cash and the Foundation using those deposits to fund a portfolio of loans to Texas churches at competitive rates—all of this benefits the kingdom.”  

In addition to CET investments, the Foundation continues to offer a full range of fund management options, including fully diversified and actively managed funds designed to meet the diverse needs of churches with differing risk profiles and investment objectives. All fund options are socially screened to ensure investments are with companies operating in keeping with traditional, biblical values.  

The Foundation’s efforts in lending have not diminished a commitment to planned giving and legacy promotion. Those efforts, led by Jeff Steed, are critically important, given the largest transfer of wealth in America’s history occurring right now between generations.  

“Recent estimates are that 70 percent of Americans do not have a valid or current will,” McDonald said. “Since the majority of asset value in the average American estate is in capital appreciated assets that congregants have never had the opportunity to tithe on, there is significant potential in tapping into this reality by encouraging Christians to include their church in the estate planning process. 

“If the church doesn’t capitalize on planned gifts and legacy programs, we’re facing an epidemic funding crisis in our churches, because a significant percentage of the receipts in many of our churches are coming from our oldest two generations. If we do a good job with planned giving, we could help fund the work of the church into perpetuity, regardless of what people put in the plate.”

For this side of their work, the Foundation charges nothing—not even in an attempt to recover costs. For those congregants willing to include their church or kingdom causes in their estate planning, the Foundation will not only lead them through the process, but they also offer to reimburse a portion of the legal fees to finalize the documents.  

Another ministry service added under McDonald’s leadership is financial and stewardship consulting.  

“Many of our churches are facing financial and stewardship challenges that they are ill-equipped to address,” McDonald said. “In many cases, they don’t have someone on their staff with the expertise needed to meet those challenges.” The Foundation added Terry Jeffries to its staff to help in this arena.     

According to McDonald, he often asks pastors if they are able to articulate the stewardship metrics of their church or of the people they’re shepherding. Unsurprisingly, he rarely hears a yes. 

“It’s always been the case that a minority of the people are underwriting a majority of the receipts,” McDonald said. “And that’s what you’ve got to fix. There’s a positive way to do that, but you just have to do it.”

McDonald and Jeffries approach this task with a program they developed to help churches come to a more biblical understanding of stewardship development. By anonymously extracting raw data from the church’s giving records and analyzing it, McDonald can go to a church on a Sunday morning and preach specifically to the financial situation of those people.

At a recent church where McDonald preached on stewardship—armed with the objective and anonymous data regarding the church’s giving habits—they saw a 37 percent increase in giving in a single month.

Ultimately, all of what he has accomplished at the Foundation over the last five years, as well as what he hopes to see happen in the future, is aimed at seeing the churches of the convention empowered to do more and better kingdom work. 

And as the Foundation and its assets continue to grow, McDonald hopes to return to the convention not only the money that sustained it in subsidies for the first 12 years of its existence, but to become a funding stream to exponentially increase the SBTC’s ability to plant churches, host conferences and provide resources that will cause more people to know and follow Jesus.

As McDonald summed it up, “We just try to raise kingdom resources for kingdom work.”  

The business of the SBTC Executive Board is Convention business

GRAPEVINE Churches need charters. So do confessional fellowships of churches. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was chartered in November 1998, its constitution approved with a preamble affirming the primacy of God’s Word. 

The preamble states that the constitution’s purpose is to ensure the SBTC conducts its business “in an orderly and democratic manner under the Lordship of Christ.”

Part of this Christ-centered “orderly and democratic manner” impelled founders to create an executive board with officers. The executive board also includes the SBTC’s president, vice-president and secretary, who possess voting rights and serve with 44 elected members representing churches across the state. The SBTC’s executive director serves as an ex-officio member of the executive board without voting privileges.

The business of the executive board is to oversee the business of the convention.

“The executive board is designed to enable the convention to function on a regular basis throughout the year,” David Fannin, pastor of Nassau Bay Baptist Church, told the TEXAN, comparing the body to the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Fannin, who originally authored the bulk of the SBTC’s original constitution and bylaws, said that like its SBC counterpart, “the SBTC executive board cannot do things totally on their own.”

The executive board is the “the fiduciary, fiscal and executive agency of the Convention,” SBTC bylaws state, empowered to act for the convention between sessions but without the authority to act contrary to or to reverse convention actions, except under circumstances permitted in the bylaws.

The executive board makes a report on the work of the SBTC at the annual meeting and has authority to conclude agreements with third parties that advance the convention and are consistent with the directions of the messengers.

The board recommends the annual budget, employs the executive director who is accountable to it, and has the authority to terminate members. Members serve four-year terms and are eligible for a second consecutive term.

The board’s make-up is varied. A minimum of one quarter of the elected members of the board must be persons not employed in churches or by the denomination. 

To guarantee representation of small- and medium-sized congregations, at least one-fourth of those elected must belong to churches whose membership does not exceed 400.

Election to the executive board is based on geographical and numerical factors, with the state divided into four areas, each with at least five representatives on the board. 

Regarding the geographical segmentation of the body, Fannin said that the four state divisions were established intentionally in order to give all regions representation: “We wanted to draw people from every area, not just the big cities.”

The executive board also has officers: a chairman, vice-chairman and secretary. These officers, the convention president, and chairpersons of executive board subcommittees comprise the board’s governing executive committee. The SBTC’s executive director is an ex-officio, non-voting member as well.

The executive committee meets separately and in conjunction with the entire executive board. Convention employees and department heads may also attend these meetings.

Executive board meetings are held three times each year. Special meetings may be called by the executive committee with at least a week’s notice and may be conducted by teleconference or through other forms of electronic communication.

A quorum of one-half of the voting members of the executive board must be present for the transaction of business.

Danny Forshee, pastor of Austin’s Great Hills Baptist and the current chair of the executive board, described the meetings. “It’s a blessing when we come together because we all are very passionate about the things the convention stands for: the gospel, fidelity to Scripture.”

“We’ve jumped right in,” Forshee said of the work of the executive board in 2019, noting that the year’s first executive committee meeting occurred in late March at Great Hills to plan for the April 22-23 meeting of the entire board in Galveston.

“It’s a blessing to be able to serve our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, really an honor,” Forshee said. “I’m excited. There’s 2,700 plus churches rallying around the Great Commission.”

For more information on the executive board and the constitution of the SBTC, see  

LEAD Conference prepares Texas students for local church ministry

ARLINGTON  When high school student Payton Mixon arrived at last year’s LEAD Conference, she knew what to expect because it was her third consecutive year attending the conference sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. She hoped she’d get practical leadership skills to take back to her church, where she leads worship.

But it was even better than she thought.

“I ended up absolutely loving it,” said Mixon, 17, who attends First Baptist Church of Porter. “It was great.”

Mixon specifically learned about the power of prayer, along with honing vocal skills she has applied all year to her ministry at FBC Porter. 

This summer Mixon is joining students from all over Texas at the 2019 LEAD Conference, July 8-12 at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington. The conference is for high school students serving in leadership in their youth ministry or in their church. The conference has three tracks—worship, worship technology and leadership. All the tracks focus on practical leadership skills for students and are designed to help students grow regardless of their experience level.     

“I’ve been a part of this event for a long time,” said Curtis James, who serves as the family pastor at Tate Springs and as the conference director. “I’ve never seen an event have such a profound effect on the lives of students, in the sense that we equip students to go back and serve right now. We don’t just teach them about leadership in some vacuum somewhere, but we want to teach them to be leaders in their church under the authority that God has placed them under.”

The conference started as a tool to train youth worship leaders but has expanded to worship technology and general leadership in recent years. Students in the worship track learn how to plan and lead worship, along with improving their instrumental skills. During the week, students will learn about worship theology, worship planning and design, song evaluation, leading and rehearsing a band and instrumental technique. Specific instrumental breakout classes include piano/keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. Students get an opportunity to use what they’re learning by leading worship throughout the week. 

They also learn how to do sound, lighting, video projections and software systems within the worship-technology track. By the end of the week, students in this track will be equipped to serve in technology roles within their church.   

The leadership track employs Christian leadership principles, apologetics, evangelism and Christian worldview to prepare students to lead. Students apply these lessons by planning ministry activities throughout the week. Specific mini-tracks within leadership include youth ministry and missions.  

Although the conference has three distinct tracks, students have opportunities to take classes in other tracks. Throughout the week, students are mentored by practitioners with years of ministry leadership experience. 

“It’s a great opportunity,” Mixon said. “Even if someone doesn’t think they’re ready for it, it’s an amazing learning opportunity that will help you grow closer to Christ and challenge you in your ministry.”

James describes the week as intense. While there is free time built in, many of the students choose to take additional classes during that time. 

“It’s a lot of work. It requires a lot of the students who come so that we can equip them,” James said. “We’re more serious about what we are doing, and we want students who are serious about their faith and leading out. I think it’s one of our best-kept secrets because there are no other events in the country like what we do—providing students not just practical teaching but actual opportunities to put what they’re learning into action.”

James’ son, Mason, attended last year’s conference. He said he learned a lot about playing the guitar that has helped him in the youth worship band. He also participated in an apologetics class during his free time that helped him discover what other people believe so he can share his faith more effectively.

“When he came back from the LEAD Conference, due to his confidence, he’s been able to be on the stage at our main service, playing guitar and singing sometimes because our worship leader saw so much potential in him,” James said. 

James added that several students at his church who participated last year have played instruments or have sung in the main worship service, as well as the youth service.

There are a limited number of spots available for the LEAD Conference. Students can attend individually or as part of their youth group. To find out more about the conference or to register, visit  The general registration deadline is July 1. 

SBTC Executive Board approves grant for training SWBTS students

GALVESTON—Grants to support the training of future ministers, revitalization of churches and promotion of stewardship were among the priorities taken up by the Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention during their April 22-23 retreat meeting in Galveston.

At the recommendation of the administrative committee, the Board approved an undesignated reserves funding grant of $100,000 to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as “an expression of our appreciation to SWBTS for their work in training future ministers.”

SWBTS President Adam Greenway told members, “We are thankful for a confessional state convention in partnership with a confessional seminary here in the greatest state in the land.”

Calling the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention “our largest cumulative donor in seminary is history,” Greenway praised the SBTC for being the leader among state conventions by forwarding 55 percent of undesignated receipts to the SBC. “We could not do what we do without you.”

The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware was awarded a $75,000 reserves funding grant to support the revitalization efforts of their church services ministry. Another $5,000 will facilitate SBTC staff travel for training events in Maryland/Delaware.

The board also approved a $30,000 grant to the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation for more focused stewardship promotion in SBTC affiliated churches, including the development of materials and resources. In his report to the board, SBTF Executive Director Bart McDonald said the Foundation had transitioned from relying upon subsidies for all of its operations to being self-supporting.

A $250,000 grant authorized earlier in the year for online sexual abuse prevention training was expanded to include other live training events and initiatives.

The board also received a report from its executive committee on sexual abuse of children. Based on the convention’s doctrinal statement of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the board’s executive committee voted March 26 to specify that no church may be approved for affiliation or continuing affiliation if the church’s senior pastor has been convicted of the sexual abuse of a child or if the church is found by the credentials committee to be “indifferent” in their response to child sexual abuse.

The new policy states that “indifference can be evidenced by, among other things, (a) employing a convicted sex offender in positions other than that of senior pastor, (b) allowing a convicted sex offender to work as a volunteer in contact with minors, (c) continuing to employ a person who unlawfully concealed from law enforcement information regarding the sexual abuse of any person by an employee or volunteer of the church, or (d) willfully disregarding compliance with child abuse reporting laws.”

Article XV of the BF&M 2000 says in part that “Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality.” The executive committee of the SBTC board interprets this article to oppose child sexual abuse as “a form of sexual immorality that is clearly ungodly, morally corrupt and a sin against a holy God,” according to the newly crafted policy.

In response to a request approved by messengers at the 2018 annual meeting, the board asked the chairman to create a special needs task force to study the needs of special needs families and develop a strategy for equipping churches to minister to them and reach them for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Task force recommendations that are approved by the board in July will be presented for consideration by messengers at the annual meeting in 2019.

The board approved 40 churches for affiliation upon the recommendation of the convention’s credentials committee, bringing the total number of affiliated churches to 2,722. Among the 20 removed from affiliation, 11 had merged with other congregations and six had disbanded. Two no longer desired to be affiliated and one was recommended for removal.

Credentials committee representatives met with the New Spirit Baptist Church in San Antonio. The church chose to retain their pastor, who is listed on the National Sex Offender Registry. The board voted that due to the church’s position, it was in violation of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, the doctrinal statement of the convention. 

In other business, the board recommended amendments to SBTC’s constitution and bylaws for approval by messengers to the 2019 annual convention session. The changes take effect at the close of the 2020 annual meeting contingent upon ratification by messengers that year

Keith Sanders of Keller served as chairman of the committee that reviewed convention documents and called attention to two changes—expanding the credentials committee from six to nine members and empowering the executive board to temporarily fill vacancies in the unexpired terms of messenger-elected officers and committee members. He said the majority of the changes are clerical, reordering the location of existing language or bringing the document in line with actual practice.

Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis reported that the $27,276,068 received in 2018 represented the highest amount of Cooperative Program dollars given to SBTC in its 20-year history. Net operating income through March was reported at $484,664 with net worth listed at just over $17 million.

Contributions to the Reach Texas State Missions Offering by SBTC churches are $58,916 higher with $1,103,306 given in the first seven months of reporting. Giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions is $56,856 lower at $832,025 for the first six months of the reporting year, when compared to the previous year. Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is $78,524 lower at $6,652,845 for the comparable six-month period.

In his report to the board, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said the financial strength of the convention is good because the churches contribute through the Cooperative Program. “Without their confidence in this ministry that we do together there would not be a convention. As the churches choose to work together with a heart for missions and then give through the Cooperative Program we are able to accomplish things.”

He expressed gratitude for a fellowship based on a faith statement that is coupled with a gracious attitude toward one another. “We believe the same, but we’re also joined not just in our head with what we believe, but with our hearts as we serve the Lord together and love each other,” Richards added.

Once asked what the SBTC ought to be about in five or 10 years, Richards said, “It ought to be about the same thing it was when it started. Our methods have changed as opportunities have arisen, but basically, we are still about the mission of reaching Texas and touching the world. It is the mandate Jesus gave the church and we do it together as a convention of churches.”