As our Southern Baptists of Texas Convention completes its fifth full year, it is a good time to note our progress and look at the principles that brought us to our current place. Many have noted the blessings of God, but he has provided some specific things that were used to build the mature convention we are today.
Our core values?theological agreement, missiological activity, and methodological approach?have been distinctive and foundational to our fellowship. Their straightforward simplicity allowed us to build ministries in harmony with our stated purpose. They have also provided a plain-spoken explanation of our convention. Within the SBTC, we are reminded of why we exist. Outside our convention, people know what we’re about. It’s made a big difference.
Part of the reason our core values have been so instrumental in our progress has to do with the time in which we were born. By 1998, most existing organizations had developed mission statements, core values, and the whole gamut of business-speak accoutrements. Most struggled to apply defining, guiding principles to already-existing organizations. It was painful, destructive, and more often than not, defeating. Our founders understood the value of defining statements and were able to start fresh with these in mind. It’s often easier to start something than change something.
Another blessing of our time was the mindset of our founding generation. Ours is a baby-boomer convention, at least at the beginning. By habit, this makes us think more carefully about institutions and traditional forms of ministry. By temperament we resist doing things because others do them or because we always have. This bias has made it easier to start something new and distinct.
Our birth coincided with an age when user-friendly technology is not only available and affordable but widely used in churches and ministry. For the first time in generations, many small churches and groups of churches are able to stay current in information technology. It allows a new convention to work smarter and more efficiently. We can deliberately build our staff without the difficult decisions of downsizing an outdated organization.
The Southern Baptist Resurgence was an important precursor to the foundation of the SBTC. Southern Baptists see the value of confessional fellowship today because of what we experienced during the past 20 years. There was no need for a new convention that would start well and then drift or struggle with essential issues formerly taken for granted. Our fellowship is based on principles designed to settle those issues up front in our relationship with one another.
A high level of agreement within our fellowship has followed commitment to our core values. Some scoff at the low level of dissent present in our business meetings. That should not be mistaken for apathy or herd thinking. Debate and discussion do get lively in our committees and on our board but those are not about the direction of our convention or the nature of our mission. That spares us from “divided house” issues many older conventions will face this year. Our confessional nature is a blessing in this way. We don’t have CBF churches hostile to the traditional vision of Southern Baptists. We don’t and won’t have affiliated churches experimenting with innovative theology because being a part of our body is defined by commitment to orthodox doctrine. It would be nearly impossible for an older convention to adopt a confessional approach because of the already-existing diversity of their churches. Even churches engaged in clearly unbiblical practices are not in violation of the constitutions of most state conventions. Again, God blessed us in the timing that birthed our convention.
Our ministry has grown at an accelerated rate because most of the churches affiliated with SBTC are themselves already mature and developed. New work state conventions face a much more gradual growth even after they reach our starting point of 120 churches. Their 120 churches, after 10 years or longer, are smaller and less well-grounded than our original group. The nature of our churches brought with it people, resources, and a variety of ministry most new conventions only dream about. In fact, new work conventions 10 times our age still look forward to the opportunities available to us after a half decade.
What challenges might face us in coming years? The changing nature of Texas is an opportunity and a challenge. The expanding Hispanic population of our state as well as the growth of other ethnic groups must affect our predominately Anglo convention. If our convention is to minister to Texas as it changes, a transition in the makeup of our leadership seems a natural step. Many churches and groups have not faced this reality in their own communities and have thus faded in relevance. Our current leaders are already thinking of how we might ensure a growing, vital ministry in our next generation.
A second challenge is to maintain the purity of our commitment to our core values once the new has worn off our fellowship. We have all been part of churches and other groups that have simply forgotten their founding principles. I was in a church once that used the New Hampshire Confession of Faith for its faith statement. Most members had no idea what that was. I, a new member, was the only one who owned a copy of that statement. It seems inconceivable that we would forget the principles upon which the convention