‘I’ve never been more encouraged or excited’
Todd Kaunitz, lead pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview, will conclude two terms as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at the convention’s Annual Meeting in November. Kaunitz recently spoke with Texan Editor Jayson Larson about how he has seen God move not only in the convention, but in himself, through a laser focus on prayer and a continued commitment to the Great Commission.
Prayer has been a focal point during your time as president. What do you know about prayer today that maybe you would say you didn’t know about it even a year ago?
TK: On a personal level, I feel like in many ways I’m learning how to pray for the first time. Even though I’m three years into this new prayer journey, I feel like the Lord is just showing me more and more about what it looks like to be a person whose posture of life is in submission to Him in prayer. From the pastoral side, I’ve learned so much. I’ve been humbled by the number of pastors I’ve been able to cross paths with, to be able to watch their prayer lives, and hear them talk about prayer. It’s been amazing to network with and learn from like-minded pastors who prioritize leading corporate prayer in their churches. I had no idea before this journey what I was missing personally and what our church was missing. I never want to go back to doing life and church without prayer being the highest priority.
During your service as president, you, Nathan Lino (senior pastor at First Baptist Church Forney), Jason Paredes (lead pastor at Fielder Church in Arlington) and Nathan Lorick (SBTC executive director) began working together to host prayer retreats for pastors. How have you seen God use those retreats in the lives of those pastors and their churches?
TK: What we’ve seen is a hunger in the hearts of our SBTC pastors to allow prayer to be more incorporated into their daily lives and into the body life of their church. What I’ve witnessed through these prayer retreats is how God has knitted our hearts together with these pastors.
I mean, the stories we are hearing through these retreats are so similar—stories of brokenness, of getting to the end of ourselves, of finding that what we’ve been missing all along is intimacy with Jesus and more of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and churches. We’re learning that what was lacking in our ministries wasn’t programs or strategies, but the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have heard story after story from pastors who have experienced personal spiritual renewal and who are implementing prayer as the ministry of first importance at their local church. They are leading their churches to become churches that are built upon prayer.
The 2023 Annual Meeting is fast approaching. What are some of the victories we are going to be able to celebrate, and what are some of the challenges that lay ahead?
TK: One of the things we are looking forward to at this year’s Annual Meeting is that it’s our 25th anniversary, so we get to celebrate the great work God has done. We get to honor 25 years of fruitful ministry, fruitful partnership. But what I’m most excited about is, we’re going to get a chance to dream about the future. Dr. Lorick, the SBTC staff, and a group of pastors and leaders from all over the state have been working on a fresh mission statement and strategy that we get to run toward over the next 25 years. I think it’s going to be a great balance of celebrating God’s work in the past and anticipating His work in the future. There are so many great things happening.
As far as challenges, we’ve got to make sure we’re keeping the main thing, the main thing. We’re a big family, and just like any other family, there’s different expressions of how we walk in the shared values we have. As we gather and make business decisions and mission decisions, it’s critical that we make sure we’re holding tight to the commonalities we share as a family and not get distracted by some of the differences that are more peripheral or non-essential to the gospel movement we have been called to together. I think keeping that central is going to be key for us moving forward.
There’s been so much controversy and uncertainty at the national SBC level that has created a lot of discouragement in pastors—and I am one of those pastors. But the closer I get to our state convention, the more encouraged I am. I’ve seen key leaders in our convention who have different positions on various topics that could be divisive, but these leaders are talking through some of these tough issues with humility and grace and in a way that brings us closer together rather than driving us apart—it just encourages me so much. I’ve never been more encouraged and more excited about what’s happening at the state level. To see the partnership we share with theologically conservative churches that are passionately committed to the Great Commission, that’s a very special gift God has given us and we shouldn’t take it for granted. We should count it a privilege to be a part of such a great state convention that is so unified and so missionally focused.
What will your prayers for the SBTC look like over the next 25 years?
TK: There are three key things I’m praying for our state convention. Number one is that we would become a praying convention. I know that historically, God has had given us leadership that believes in prayer and that believes prayer should be primary for us. I pray that in the future, we will see a prayer movement that would usher in revival and spiritual awakening and that the power of God would be unleashed. Number two, I pray the Holy Spirit would unify us, that we would stand together in our core doctrines and in the missional calling we have—that we would do that without wavering regardless of what culture says or does.
Thirdly, as we pray together and stand unified, I am praying we will see a movement of the gospel that advances the Great Commission across our state and around the world and that we would see the greatest gospel movement in the history of the church. That’s what I’ve been praying for these past two years, and that’s what I’ll continue to pray for in the days ahead.