There are a lot of things Baptist state conventions can do. The SBTC’s sister conventions are, with one exception, 50 to 200 years older. That age, growing up through the years of dynamic expansion by Southern Baptists, led to a broadening of ministry scope into a stable of fine institutions.
This growth made sense when a Baptist convention was providing a service that did not exist as the nation or state developed. The difficulty is unwinding those entanglements as the time comes when it’s not so crucial that Baptists turn from other priorities to do it.
It’s hard to stop doing something that has been around long enough to have a constituency.
It is also difficult to diligently oversee institutions, particularly colleges and universities, that tend to drift in the cultural wind. It can be done but it is difficult and a never-ending stewardship. For these reasons—the existence of effective institutions and the costs associated with keeping an institution—the SBTC determined early that it would not control institutions, seeking to instead lend strength to like-minded institutions already up and running.
A second challenge for parachurch ministries that follows with age and success is the increase of diverse ministries and the staff experts to run them. If you have the money, you’ll spend it on good things. But this hand-to-mouth growth is one reason some Baptist parachurch ministries are downsizing in our day.
When the SBTC was founded, a couple of Baptist state conventions had more than 200 fulltime staff members. The SBTC’s founders had watched their former state convention become the biggest, a top-down parachurch that had a staff member for nearly everything. For that reason, they determined that the new convention’s staff would be fewer, generalist in duties and always looking up to the churches. The SBTC’s high percentage of Cooperative Program allocation to the Southern Baptist Convention has also ensured that the state convention does not become an end rather than a means.
These lessons learned by the SBTC founding generation allowed the new convention to prioritize missions and evangelism, in Texas and beyond. This ministry remains the first in budgeting and staffing within the SBTC. That means there are some things we do to a lesser degree. We have a strict limit on the percentage of our budget used to fund institutions, for example. The other Texas convention had allocated around half of its instate budget to institutional support at the time of our founding. That limited their spending on church planting and worldwide missions. We love our cooperating institutions and support them in a variety of ways. But we don’t own them, and we don’t have an open-ended relationship with them. And we will not maintain a relationship with any institution anywhere that will not thoroughly operate within our statement of faith.
Our work in public policy is another place where we intentionally walk a different path than some other conventions. At one point our budget for this work was about 10 percent what the other Texas convention budgeted for this work. This was thoughtfully done to reflect our philosophy of helping the churches do what they set out to do, not do it all or tell them what to do. Our founders left us without the ability to become top down in this work. It’s important but it’s not the priority.
But beyond the priority placed on our missions and evangelism ministries is the fact that such work is high on the agenda for all SBTC ministries. Revitalization work, church health resources, even our interim and church transition assistance are designed to help churches pursue the lost in all places. Missions is baked into every plan we make. That priority came to us from the churches that founded our convention, and it has been reinforced by over 2,500 churches that have affiliated since 1998.
As we describe our core values, we say a commitment to biblical authority is why we do what we do, missions is what we do and our cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention is how we do what we do. Missions is our payload, and it is one place where we are unapologetically prophetic when we speak to our churches. Our series of church features in each issue of the
TEXAN is intended to show you ways that diverse churches fund and do missions within their horizons and beyond them. Our evangelism conference is two days of missionary exhortation. You also won’t likely hear a sermon at the annual meeting that is not focused on the priority of the Great Commission.
I am not saying that our sister state conventions do not share this priority; they do in intent and increasingly in their structure and methodology. This is a day in which state convention ministry is going through a bit of a renewal of focus in many places. Churches in all our states should encourage this where they see it happening and support it in all ways, especially when they have groused about the lack of Great Commission vitality in former days. These conventions are doing the hard work of rebuilding something well underway. The SBTC has been blessed to have started in this place and maintained this priority from the beginning. It’s made all the difference.
This is column three of four describing the denominational virtues of the SBTC.
Next month: Biblical Fidelity.