“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. 

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