You’ll hear a lot at this year’s annual SBTC convention about our 10-year anniversary. In a fellowship of state conventions where several are over 100 years old, 10 years seems paltry by comparison. Even my Hoosier Baptist friends celebrated 50 years this past month in their new work context. I think 10 years for our convention is more significant than our later birthdays will be, though.
There have been times in human history where birthdays were very big occasions because they indicated another year of a person’s survival. That’s especially true of early birthdays?life is more fragile in its early days. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has moved in 10 years from being an iffy proposition to being as permanent as any mortal institution can be judged “permanent.” That’s big and notable.
Because we tend to think in round numbers, many of you who attended that first convention in 1998 doubtless wondered what the SBTC might be in 10 years. Happily, most of you got it wrong. The baby convention prospered in ways beyond your asking or imagination. God used any number of large and small events (and people) to build up a large fellowship of churches committed to Great Commission ministries. It’s really an amazing story even though it was not punctuated with war, famine, or scandal.
The numbers tell a story as our convention grew and prospered. A thorough selection of ministries and resources also stand to testify that God has built a new missionary channel for Texas Southern Baptists. The SBTC has become far more than it was on Nov. 10, 1998.
Let’s give honor to whom honor is due, though. The structure of the convention’s ministry is built on a foundation laid by our first leaders. Clearly, they laid that foundation on the rock. Earlier this year, the last of the SBTC’s original board members completed their tenures. It is natural and regrettable that when a leader “retires” from prominence, the next generation begins to forget his service. I hope we might delay that forgetting a little while. Remembering, as we continue along the way, is appropriate and beneficial to us all.
For the most part, the original SBTC Executive Board was drawn from the Southern Baptists of Texas Board of Directors that preceded the convention. These men and women planned the new convention and were elected to govern it in 1998. Before that, they worked hard to reform another state convention?some of them for well over a decade. Throughout the years preceding even the decision to form a new convention, these pioneers were regularly pilloried in the largest Baptist state paper in the Southern Baptist Convention. They also lost every vote.
The conventional wisdom, then and now, among those who have another view of state convention is that the SBT was just made up of cussed, fractious people. Many thought that the Southern Baptists of Texas wanted to start a new convention from the beginning. They were determined people but their goal was not to divide Texas Baptists, even as recently as 10 months before the new convention’s constituting. Instead, SBT leaders worked to reform the convention that already existed. They failed, though. And every failure put them further away from any effective influence over state convention business.
Either Southern Baptists in Texas would start something new or they would accept a worsening status quo in their only state missions partner. As courageous as their tenacity was in trying for years to reform their state convention, the decision to start over added discernment to that courage. Add to those virtues a flurry of hard work leading up to November 1998, and there we were.
There we were, but just barely. Our churches were small and few. The convention’s ministries depended on one full-time and one part-time employee. Many of the churches inclined to affiliate with the new convention were out of the habit of giving through the traditional Cooperative Program?they’d been giving around their state convention. We had no place, no equipment, and no track record. New work conventions begun since the 1950s often had an already-established convention that participated in founding and funding the newer convention. The SBTC had no such assistance. But the growth from that point was rapid, even dramatic. That’s the part of the story you’ve likely heard. Someone, several someones, had to invest themselves in the effort long before it grew and matured. In any worthwhile organization, such founders are worthy of honor.
I do not recommend devoting our convention to looking back. The SBTC has not been that kind of fellowship at any point in its life. In the early days, there was simply too much work to do. Today, we see farther and more broadly than we could have in 1998. Our mission is even larger; the time even shorter. We look forward but we do so with the heartening knowledge that those who preceded us in this work are still among us. They have set a good example and still do that. As future leaders accept the torch from their hands, they need to remember who carried it from the starting line.
Here is a list, drawn from the final Southern Baptists of Texas Board of Directors and the first Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board: Steven Bain, Dorothy Barker, Roy Baxley, John Brady, Alan Burkhalter, Steve Burns, Stan Coffey, Scott Copeland, Randy Davis, Ed Ethridge, David Fannin, Dwayne Finley, Ernest Gregory, Dan Grindstaff, George Harris, Rudy Hernandez, Al Kawamotto, Othell LaFerney, Randy McDonald, John Meador, Brant O’Hair, Casey Perry, Eulas Ready, Billy Ross, Miles Seaborn, Rick Scarborough, Dee Slocum, Gerald Smith, Danny Souder, Lou Ann Stallings, Bill Sutton, Eral Sutton, Ted Tedder, Rocky Weatherford, Don Workman, and Skeet Workman.
You’ll see many of these folks at our meeting this year. Tell them thanks for being with the SBTC from the start. Some of them are retired but many aren’t. These pioneers are part of our convention’s present and future, just as you are. But they’ve seen it all from the beginning. They cast their lot with a new and unproven endeavor during a time when most everyone else saw little hope. As we celebrate what God has done since 1998 and the future he seems to be opening before us, join me in honoring the SBTC leaders he used to start the whole thing.