NEW BRAUNFELS–Despite the challenging economy, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention continues to fund Texas missions and evangelism while sending 55 percent of Cooperative Program gifts from local churches toward Southern Baptist missions and ministry worldwide.
That was the message the SBTC Executive Board heard during reports at its meeting April 27-28 at T Bar M Retreat Center in New Braunfels.
Faithful giving, a record state missions offering from 2008, and careful spending priorities allowed the convention staff to report a positive financial picture for the first third of 2009.
“There’s a heightened interest in the Cooperative Program among SBTC churches,” reported SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, adding that loyalty to the missions giving plan is growing. “We had to rebuild confidence in the Cooperative Program over our first 10 years and now churches are beginning to once again see the validity and wisdom of CP.”
NEW MISSIONARY PLANTER
That cooperative effort of the 2,141 affiliated churches made it possible for the executive board to approve a new church planting missionary associate, Chuy Avila, for outreach through “Project Borderlands Reach.” Avila will serve the highly under-evangelized area of Laredo as a missionary church planter.
Avila has served as a church-planting strategist for Hispanic work at the Tennessee Baptist Convention for the last decade. He has prior experience with Midland Baptist Association and served on the Hispanic Task Force of the North American Mission Board. He will begin Aug. 1.
A native of Juarez, Mexico, Avila said he sensed a call to ministry as a child when he watched the transformation of his father’s life after a medical missionary led him to Christ.
“I’m a strong believer in the Cooperative Program. That was one of your missionaries who showed up in my home and changed my father and my family. He managed to buy a tent, Bibles and pay his expenses because people like you prayed and paid for missions.”
Convinced that he is called to equip church planters, Avila said God had burdened him with the spiritual needs in Laredo where over 95 percent of the quarter-million population is Hispanic.
Board member George Levant described the desperate need to plant churches in the region where he has lived for more than 25 years.
“If we reach 1 percent of the Hispanic population [in Laredo] that would be four times more than we’re reaching now,” he said, describing the conditions in which only a dozen Southern Baptist churches minister.
“Voting is not enough and giving is not enough. We need to pray for him,” Levant said in recommending Avila. “It’s a lot of work to do. I feel with all my heart this is the man for this hour.”
Missions Director Terry Coy said Avila would serve as a catalyst for church planting, developing a comprehensive three- to five-year strategy for starting new churches and training planters. The effort will be jointly funded by NAMB and the SBTC.
Responding to a question about the availability of Hispanic pastors and church planters, Coy said the supply is inadequate to meet the need.
“We’re trying to raise those up, sometimes from the harvest and sometimes from the churches,” Coy said.
Others are being cultivated through SBTC’s Hispanic Initiative coordinated with Criswell College, Jacksonville College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare Hispanic pastors and leaders for the next generation of Hispanic ministry in Texas. Seven students are taking advantage of the training through Criswell College.
58 NEW AFFILIATIONS
The board also approved the affiliation of 58 more churches and heard a report from the credentials committee that shows a pace of two or three additional churches per week. Seventeen churches were removed from convention affiliation, 14 of them having disbanded or merged with another church. Two voted to no longer relate to SBTC and one became a non-denominational congregation.
A request by board member Terry Turner of Mesquite seeking consideration of a supportive relationship with a local pregnancy resource center was referred to the Facilitating Ministries department.
The executive committee also reported they had followed through with a request to allocate from the previous year’s surplus a grant of $65,000 for the Dakotas Baptist Convention. As part of an ongoing partnership with DBC, the funds will assist with church planting leadership development and the Sturgis Bike Rally evangelistic outreach.
OPERATING AT SURPLUS
Messengers to last year’s convention approved a 2009 SBTC budget of $23.9 million, which reflected a 14 percent increase over the prior year. Giving through the cooperative Program by local churches had funded around 99 percent of that ambitious goal as of the board meeting.
At the end of April, two days after the board met, Cooperative Program giving was within a few thousand dollars of the 2009 budget for the first four months of the year. Prudent spending has allowed the convention to operate at a surplus for the year to date.
Vern Hargrave of the accounting firm of Pickens Snodgrass Koch reported a clean audit of SBTC financial statements.
You should be proud of the way business is conducted,” he told the board. “It is done in a very professional and efficient manner.”
Addressing the CP giving report after the meeting, Sookwan Lee, co-pastor of Seoul Baptist Church in Houston, told the TEXAN: “Other denominations have a top to bottom” approach for funding while some churches attempt to fund missions “acting by themselves.”
Recalling that the Southern Baptist Convention was formed to fund missions, Lee added, “The most important thing for a church is missions. If we do not contribute to the Cooperative Program, the convention doesn’t mean anything.”
Board member Terry Turner of Mesquite recalled that his church was planted through the use of CP funds.
“We saw the benefit of church planting and how the SBC poured into our ministry,” he said, explaining why Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church values the Cooperative Program.
In a final item of business, SBTC cousel Shelby Sharpe was honored by the executive board for his service since the convention’s founding with a framed copy of Proverbs 3:5.