Month: November 2020

“Together for the Unfinished Task”—SBTC 2020 annual meeting highlights prayer and the Holy Spirit

AUSTIN—The 23rd annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was held Nov. 9-10 at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin with the theme “Together for the Unfinished Task,” and focused on prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit in tumultuous times. 

Kie Bowman, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention president and Hyde Park pastor, gaveled the meeting to order Monday evening.

Scripture reading, worship and prayer punctuated the socially-distanced event, which  featured mask-wearing, hand sanitizing stations,  limited seating and fewer side meetings. 

The Hyde Park Baptist choir and orchestra, led by Mickey Henderson, provided music, joined by special guest worship leader Julio Arriola, executive director of Hispanic relations and mobilization of the SBC Executive Committee.

Matt Carter, pastor of Sagemont Church in Houston and founder of the Austin Stone Community Church, delivered the meeting’s first biblical exposition Monday evening. Speaking on Matthew 28:19, Carter identified the Great Commission as the “unfinished task” facing the church. He described Austin Stone’s early recruitment of 100 members—some of whom were martyred—as missionaries to unreached people groups.

Vision 2021

Danny Forshee, pastor of Austin’s Great Hills Baptist Church and chair of the SBTC Executive Committee, introduced the business portion of the evening, including the Vision 2021 plan for restructuring convention staff, calling upon SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards to elaborate.

The “readjustment” of SBTC ministries in Vision 2021, prompted by the pandemic, occurred to better serve the convention’s churches, Richards said, explaining that the process involved input from staff and surveys of churches. Research revealed the need for increased support in such areas as church health and leadership, digital communications, engaging young pastors and providing resources.

“Everything was on the table,” Richards said, even the idea of leveraging the SBTC’s building and combining major events like the Equip and Empower conferences.

Not subject to change, however, was the convention’s commitment to biblical inerrancy as confirmed by confessional agreement among SBTC churches with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

“One constant was to keep the DNA of the SBTC the same,” Richards said.

President’s message

Closing Monday evening’s session, Bowman delivered the president’s message, citing research suggesting 75 percent of Americans believe life will never revert to “normal” following COVID-19.

Basing his message on Acts 11:19-26, Bowman said the scattering of the believers following Stephen’s death spread the gospel. Bowman likened this time of disruption to the upheaval caused by the current pandemic.

“In spite of all disruptions, God advances the destiny of the church,” Bowman said, describing his church’s response to the city of Austin’s order to shut down gatherings in March. The unexpected shift to livestreamed ministry expanded Hyde Park’s worship services to 16 other states and six foreign countries on the first broadcast, with online attendance higher than at the church’s English, Hispanic, Korean and Chinese in person services combined.

Tuesday at the meeting

Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, gave the opening sermon Tuesday morning, speaking from Luke 24 and the experience of the Emmaus disciples meeting the risen Lord.

“They stopped walking and looked discouraged,” Matte said. The disciples’ perspective changes as the Lord joins them and brings “clarity to the confusion,” leading them to rediscover purpose in sharing the gospel.

Executive Board report

Tuesday morning also saw the presentation of the Executive Board report.

Lance Crowell, quarantining at home, described on video the work of the SBTC’s COVID-19 task force which assisted churches by helping them establish online services and giving platforms, navigate the CARES Act, and access resources through 1,000 Zoom calls involving 11,000 participants.

After thanking Forshee for his two years of service as chair of the Executive Board, Richards ceded his time to Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, who described a work of the Holy Spirit through prayer that had revitalized his church.

Convention sermon

Forshee preached the convention sermon on Acts 4, relating his experiences in Iron Man competitions to the marathon of the Christian life, stressing the importance of telling others about Jesus as the uneducated apostles, who walked with the Savior, did. “When you linger long in the presence of Jesus, he fills you with power and anointing to do the miraculous,” Forshee said, extolling the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading.

Dual breakout sessions followed during lunch as Shane Pruitt moderated “Reaching the Next Generation of Christ in a Post-COVID World” and Kenneth Priest moderated “The Revitalized Church in a Post-COVID World.” Panels switched rooms so attendees could socially distance.

Tuesday afternoon highlights

Jose Arzate, pastor of Travis en Espanol at Travis Avenue Baptist in Fort Worth opened events Tuesday afternoon, speaking on Acts 16:25-34, identifying the “secret of evangelism” as a matter of reaction versus action: “doing the right thing with the right heart and the right intentions.” Paul and Silas chose to remain in jail rather than escape after the earthquake, showing compassion to the jailer who responded with faith. 

Joe Ogletree, pastor of Image Church in Cypress, delivered the final afternoon message, speaking on Matthew 28:18-20, reminding the audience of the importance of the “Great Commissioner” in our fulfillment of the Great Commission. Admitting the pandemic had made things hard on church planters, Ogletree called for “an awakening and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit” in a politically and racially tumultuous age featuring high voter turnout but declining church attendance. 

Community prayer

Tuesday evening’s session featured Ronnie Floyd, president of the Executive Committee of the SBC, and a community-wide prayer event. 

Floyd spoke on prayer from the book of Joel, describing his own 40-day time of fasting and prayer in response to 2020’s pandemic and national turmoil. 

“Prayer always precedes great gospel advancement,” Floyd said. He lamented the disunity of evangelicals: “The rhetoric needs to cease. The repentance needs to occur,” and forecast a spiritual awakening.

“This world is spinning out of control. This world cannot keep going as it is going now. Either Jesus is about to come again or we are on the brink of a mighty global spiritual awakening that’s going to turn things around,” Floyd said, urging Christians to pray, fast together, worship together, come together and share the gospel in humility.

An extended time of prayer and praise involving all present followed. In closing, Floyd prayed over the pastors and church staff in attendance.

Noteworthy business

Some 415 messengers and 213 guests attended the annual meeting. 

Messengers passed resolutions expressing appreciation to Hyde Park Baptist, affirming life, confirming the importance of adherence to civil authority, affirming the biblical structure of the family, endorsing religious liberty and worship as essential, advocating civility in social media and encouraging racial harmony.

Messengers also approved a 2021 budget of $26,159,798, reflecting a 9.42 percent decrease from last year. The new budget continues the SBTC’s practice of forwarding 55 percent of undesignated Cooperative Program receipts to the national SBC while retaining 45 percent for ministry in Texas, the largest percentage giving of any Southern Baptist state convention. The SBTC ranks fourth among state conventions in total giving dollars, behind Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

Messengers elected, by acclamation, 2021 convention officers: Kie Bowman, president; Richard S. Lewis, Jr., pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Copperas Cove as vice-president; Frances Garcia of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Odessa as secretary. 

In other business, a motion made by Thomas McCarty of Tate Springs Baptist Church that the convention adopt the name Great Commission Baptists was referred to the SBTC Executive Board.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 8-9 at Flint Baptist Church, south of Tyler. 

Richards announces plans to step down in 2021

AUSTIN—Near the end of the Nov. 11 SBTC Executive Board meeting in Austin, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the board of his intention to transition from convention leadership, effective Dec. 31, 2021. Richards is the founding executive director of the 22-year-old state convention, which has grown from 120 affiliated churches when he was elected in November 1998, to nearly 2,700 churches today. Richards, who turns 68 in December, came to the convention after serving as a director of associational missions in Northwest Arkansas. 

At the board’s August meeting it passed a succession plan that described the membership of the convention’s transition/search team. The board’s chairman, vice chairman, secretary, committee chairmen and convention president—these being the members of the board executive committee—plus two at-large appointees, will make up the team. 

Richards told the board that he originally planned to begin his process earlier. “I had planned on April 2 of this year to begin a transition, but due to the pandemic, I chose to remain and serve the churches,” he said, adding, “I am convinced it is God’s will; it is time for new leadership.” 

Regarding his current role with the convention, Richards expressed only gratitude, “It has been a tremendously rewarding and undeserved pleasure to have done what I have done. And I’m very grateful for the kind and wonderful people that I have been able to work with, and for the churches I have been able to serve.” 

According to the transition plan, Richards would orient his successor for a duration set by the transition team and then serve for a time as assistant to the new executive director. 

During his last year with the convention, Richards will help with implementation of the Vision 2021 restructuring of the convention, approved in August and effective Jan. 1, 2021. “Hopefully,” he said of the coming year, “what we have done during the pandemic is, rather than hunker down, set a platform for the future and transition our convention to a place where it will be able to accomplish more than ever before in serving the churches.”

Quoting biblical expositor Matthew Henry, Richards said to the board, “’God will change hands to show that whatever instruments he uses, he is not tied to any.’” And then in his own words, “God will continue to maintain his cause upon earth and supply every need of his people.” 

SBTC President Kie Bowman of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin said of Richards, “Dr. Jim Richards is one the most effective leaders I’ve ever known. His consistent, convictional and compassionate approach has helped shape the SBTC into the best state convention in the SBC.”

As he spoke to the board, Richards warned against those who would with “smooth words” clamor for a merger with another Baptist convention saying, “The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was founded on a bedrock of biblical inerrancy. As a confessional fellowship of churches, we have a standard that will not allow compromise. Do not change who you are!”

Saying that he does not think of his announcement as a retirement, Richards said instead, “As a preacher of the gospel, I will never retire. I cannot retire from my calling to preach, or from work in the kingdom … retirement from the call comes when you see Jesus face to face.”   

Pastor conducts daily prayer with congregation since 1996

DALLAS—By design, only New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving interrupt the daily 6 a.m. prayer meetings Pastor David Galvan has held since Feb. 5, 1996, at Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida (New Life Church) in Dallas. The COVID-19 pandemic simply changed the venue.

When COVID-19 restrictions briefly limited gatherings to 10 people months ago, Galvan transitioned the daily prayer hour from the church’s 190-seat chapel to a conference call. Attendance has more than quadrupled.

“All these years up to the pandemic, it attracted from 5 to … 12 people per day, Monday through Friday, and then Saturday, it went up to about 70 that came and prayed,” he said. “We’re averaging 35 to 50 (daily).”

The current concerns of the pandemic, national division and a contentious election cycle have added to the prayer requests during the hour-long meeting, Galvan said. But the current strife has not kept the group from lifting up intentional petitions for national and international missionaries, pregnant mothers, special needs children and adults, prisoners, the president and others in authority, the spiritually lost, workers for the spiritual harvest, the peace of Jerusalem, salvation of Jewish people, and a host of daily personal concerns of participants.

“We’re aware of people that are hurting,” Galvan said. “[W]e’ll just have to pray and let God be sovereign,” Galvan said.

Galvan developed a passion for corporate prayer after attending a series of prayer meetings and fasts hosted by the late evangelist William Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, now Cru, in 1995. After launching the daily prayer meetings at New Life, Galvan instituted a format for the meetings that follows the leading of The Lord’s Prayer.

“I began to see the importance of the model prayer, which is the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the book of Matthew,” he said. “First, I taught that to the church, and the importance of breaking it down, and then, I use that model prayer every day. The first few components of the prayer become, in my mind, the most crucial.”

He begins the prayer meeting with praise, based on “Hallowed be Your Name,” and moves to “Your Kingdom Come,” which encompasses praying for the salvation of the lost, and flows to “Your Will Be Done” and the remaining petitions. Within the hour, he daily incorporates Southern Baptist concerns including the North American Mission Board, the International Mission Board, the Who’s Your One evangelism initiative and individual missionaries the church supports. On Sundays, Galvan focuses prayers on the psalms.

“There are two days out of the year, that we don’t have our morning prayer,” Galvan said. On Thanksgiving, the church holds an annual baptism in an area lake, incorporating prayer into the meeting. On New Year’s Day, the church is in worship and fellowship that begins at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and extends into the early hours of the New Year, including prayer. Other holidays, including Christmas, are included in the daily schedule.

Galvan encourages other pastors to embrace corporate prayer more frequently than on Sundays and Wednesdays.

“It’s not the power of prayer. It’s the power of God through corporate prayer,” Galvan said, citing experiences including the salvation of church members who began to realize they were still lost. “I would encourage them to start and to find the best time when they can bring the church together one way or another in corporate prayer.

“If you can do it in person, do it. If you have to do it by conference call, do it,” he said. “Just do it. And it doesn’t have to be every day, and it doesn’t have to be at 6 o’clock in the morning, but … it’s got to be, number one, extraordinary prayer” that sometimes includes fasting and requires an interruption of the ordinary schedule.

“I would say to every pastor, ‘Do it, even if it starts with just you and your leaders,’” Galvan said. “Or just make an open invitation and say I’m going to start praying at this hour. Just tell them where, and see who comes.

“And by the way, you’re going to be surprised too, at who comes.”

Some churches return to online-only worship as COVID-19 surges in U.S.

MESQUITE—A surge in new COVID-19 cases has at least a few churches returning to online-only worship as many churches continue meeting onsite.

“This Sunday we will be online. We’ll be totally online,” Terry Turner, senior pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, said Thursday (Nov. 5). “We’ve actually had a few weeks of indoor service, where we actually come together and we social distance. … Now that we’re back in the red zone (of COVID-19 case numbers) here in Texas, we have suspended our services and we’re doing strictly online.”

A one-day rise of 121,890 new COVID-19 cases nationwide Friday (Nov. 6) is the highest to date in the U.S. since the pandemic began, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported. At 969,605 cases, Texas has surpassed California as the state with the highest number of cumulative cases. Texas’ cumulative COVID-19 death toll of 18,909 is second only to New York’s 33,657, Johns Hopkins reported.

In the COVID-19 hotspot of El Paso, Immanuel Church has closed its school for a couple of weeks but continues onsite worship, pastor J.C. Rico said.

“I would say here in the city, it’s about 50/50,” Rico said of the El Paso Baptist Association’s 100 or so churches. “There are some that just have continued online. There are some that did go back to live, and a small percentage have just gone online again. … I would say about 40 percent of the churches here in El Paso are going live (in person).”

El Paso reported 1,049 COVID-19 patients hospitalized Friday, with 311 in Intensive Care units and 177 on ventilators, the City of El Paso reported.

Cielo Vista Baptist Church in El Paso returned to online-only worship Oct. 25, Lead Pastor Larry Lamb said in a video posted to Facebook.

“[I]f you live in El Paso you know the COVID cases have gone extremely high, a lot of COVID cases, so out of protection for our community, our church community, we’re going to suspend our live weekend services until further notice,” he said in an Oct. 25 video. “But we will be on Cielo Vista Church online every week. … We just pray for the pandemic to stop, we pray for healing, and we pray for the lives of people to be nourished also by truth but also in great health. So that’s why we want to protect our church family as much as we can. Stay safe, and do all the things we’re required to do.”

Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church is a member of the Dallas Baptist Association of about 500 churches. Dallas County lists today’s COVID-19 risk level in the red zone, advising people to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” The county has a cumulative total of at least 99,761 cases and 1,127 cumulative deaths, with 868 new cases reported Nov. 5.

Turner said Sunday’s services would mark the third consecutive week since returning to online-only worship. He said the church has had deaths among its membership and among its extended church family including relatives and friends, but declined to provide a specific number.

“Among African Americans, the COVID-19 has had its highest impact, and we’ve seen a lot of that within our membership and their families,” Turner said. “We’ve had members who have passed from it, and then we’ve had members who have had family members that have passed from it.”

He referenced the church’s first member to die of the virus, a participant in the church’s healthcare ministry who died after contracting the virus in her professional work as a nurse.

“She was very, very committed to our ministry and our church,” he said, “and yet at the same time she was a nurse and contracted it as a nurse.

“Our sensitivity to what COVID is doing is really at a high alert within our church and within our ministry, because we’ve seen so much of it. … Our members are as committed to supporting the church and to the ministry as they were before COVID-19 hit us,” both financially and spiritually.

Turner said he is monitoring the virus to determine when to resume onsite worship, but has no definite plans at this point.

Dallas Baptist Association Associate Director Scott Coleman said much of what he knows of churches’ current worship plans is anecdotal. An online survey conducted three weeks ago, Coleman said, drew responses from 50 churches, about 10 percent of the congregations in the association. One church was meeting in a parking lot.

“Exactly two-thirds were meeting in person, observing social distancing rules,” Coleman said. “We had … right at a quarter that were meeting virtually. … Only a few, about 7 percent, were still not meeting at all.”

Texas quartet wins Gospel Music Association award

The Erwins, a family quartet from East Texas, were in a Nashville studio recording songs for their new album to be released later this month when they tuned into a Facebook Live videocast on the Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Awards page and learned they had been nominated for not just one, but two awards.

“The night before, we were singing in a 3,000-seat auditorium in Branson at The Mansion Theatre, and the next day we received a virtual GMA Live Dove Award announcement on our Facebook page,” said Keith, the oldest son of Tiffany and Dennis Erwin.

This year’s 51st Annual Dove Awards took place on Oct. 30, like most events this year, on a virtual stage. “We were all in our own homes, and I was listening to Apple TV while I was putting together a baby’s dresser.” Keith and wife Lindsey are expecting their first child later this year. 

Kris, sitting on the couch with sister Katie, said, “I don’t know why I feel somewhat nervous. We’re not going to win! It’s not that it’s not a great song; it’s just that we were nominated alongside all these other great ministries.” Other groups nominated for Southern Gospel Song of the Year were Gaither Vocal Band, Karen Peck and New River, Legacy Five, and The Sound. Moments later the announcement came. 

The Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year was, “The Power of an Empty Tomb” by The Erwins. Keith said, “We were so astounded that we were winning the award on this song!”

The other nomination was for their Christmas album, “What Christmas Really Means,” which is what Keith, the quartets’ PR manager, thought might be the winner of the two nominated works. 

The gospel quartet is comprised of Keith, Kody, Kristopher and Katie Erwin, who grew up singing as kids at revivals and events around the country wherever their dad, and evangelist for 47 years, Dennis Erwin, preached. 

Dennis explained, “I’m amazed at God’s blessings that the kids have reached this level in ministry. They have such a heart for the gospel and a deep love for Jesus. God has opened the door for them with many opportunities. Tiffany (mother of the four) and I are so proud of them.” 

Their “Favorites on Repeat” album, set to come out later this month, features well-known songs that the Erwin’s grew up on. It will include covers by Phillips, Craig & Dean, Sandi Patty, Gaither Vocal Band, Steven Curtis Chapman, that may feel like pressing the repeat button from years ago, but with The Erwin’s spin. It will also include a current well-known Casting Crowns song, “Nobody.”

They have an all-original material album coming out in April 2021.

“The focus of our ministry is that we want to be bridge-builders—not only in our generation and the generation before us, but the generation coming behind us. We are honored to take our ministry to local churches and events—wherever the Lord takes us,” Keith said.

Booking information for The Erwins can be found at