My personal journey with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention began in September 1998. At that time the SBTC did not even officially exist. I had pastored in Louisiana for over 20 years prior to going to the Northwest Baptist Association in Bentonville, Arkansas, as a director of missions. Although I had heard scattered reports of what was happening in Texas, I had no direct connection with any of the people involved.
In the early 1990s, conservative Southern Baptists in Texas were becoming concerned about the leftward drift of their state convention. For several years, candidates were nominated for president with hopes of being able influence the direction of the state convention. Each year the loss was greater than the year before. It became apparent that the conservatives would not be able to bring the necessary change. In February 1998, five conservative leaders met with five leaders of the state convention. They came away from the dialogue convinced that they had irreconcilable differences with the convention. Biblical inerrancy was the main issue. What we believe about the nature of Scripture impacts other beliefs such as women serving as pastors, abortion and the nature of a family.
An organization known as the Southern Baptists of Texas, Inc. had been formed by a merger of two groups, Baptists With A Mission (laypersons) and the Conservative Baptist Fellowship (pastors). A decision was made to start a new convention. The board of directors assigned various committees to prepare for a fall constituting meeting of the new convention. A search committee was formed to call an executive director.
While in my office in Bentonville, I received a call from John Yeats, then a pastor in Texas. He asked me to consider placing my name in consideration. I told him I had no interest and went to lunch. When I returned from lunch, another Texas pastor, Danny Souder, asked if he could put my name before the committee. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I was living the dream. I had a house on the side of a mountain in the Ozarks. I had a great group of pastors of churches with whom to work. I had no desire to get into a squabble in Texas. However, God began to work on me that day.
Within a week, the chair of the search committee, E.L. Pennington, asked if I would come for an interview. I told him I had to fast and pray. He said it was just an interview but I could not go without a clear word from God. After a weekend of struggle, God gave me the green light. I met with the committee at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church. We started at 9:00am and broke for lunch at noon. I did not know it at the time but several people on the board or their friends had a strong desire for the ministry position. One of the potential candidates was standing at the door as the committee broke for lunch. He followed us to the restaurant and at the meal told me he would do everything he could do to stop me from coming to Texas.
After we reconvened that afternoon, I shared with them the core values the SBTC has today. I told them I was not angry with anyone in the existing convention. I would not be a part of a reactionary group. We had to be visionary and missionary or I would not come. The committee dismissed me and began their deliberations. As I waited to get my ride back to the airport, the committee asked if I could come back in the room. They were unanimous in saying that they believed it was God’s will for me to come as executive director. They had not interviewed anyone else but were positive I was their man. This really upset my world.
After returning to Arkansas, I received several communications from Texas. A person sent a mass mailing warning that I should not be allowed to come as executive director. Another person who had applied for the positions said he would do everything he could to see I did not get called. All of this was a relief to me. I was happy where I was.
The search committee remained stalwart in their conviction that I should be presented to the board of directors. God gave me direction to ask for all of the officers who would be leading the new convention to affirm by letter their support for me should I be elected. The chair of the board assured me this would happen. A board meeting was scheduled for late October. When I arrived in Texas I found one of the officers had refused to give the affirmation. He had applied for the position. I refused to go into the meeting. At the end of the day I flew back to Arkansas. I had lost twenty pounds through fasting and struggle. Finally I could get back to my ministry in Northwest Arkansas.
Stan Coffey was the proposed president for the new convention. The week before the convention he, along with another pastor, arranged for the resistant officer to talk with me by phone. When we concluded our hours long conversation, the convention officer agreed to a statement of affirmation. It was heavily nuanced, satisfying the letter of law, if not the spirit. I agreed to come on November 9, 1998, for a vote of the board of directors.
There were a handful who voted against me in the board meeting, but they made it unanimous on a second vote. On November 10, 1998, the convention concurred with the board vote by a standing ovation. Within 48 hours I went from not coming to the formation of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to being the executive director.
Many godly men and women prayed and worked to bring this convention into being. Anything involving fallen humanity will have flaws, but God raised up an organization to give Texas churches a place of partnership in ministry and fellowship. The convention went from a desire in the hearts of many to a reality for the glory of God!
My next column will be the last in a three-part series about the early days of the SBTC. As you read the history, I ask that you be a part of history by participating in convention life. One of the best places to be in Texas February 26 and 27 is at the Empower Conference in Irving. Pray and be present. God is moving!