Executive Board approves new staff and proposes $28.5 million budget

GRAPEVINE  A church planter in Alaska with international missions experience in North Africa and a Balch Springs pastor with a track record as a field ministry strategist in North Texas were welcomed to the staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention during the July 31 Executive Board meeting.

In a state where less than 8 percent of the population can be found worshipping on a Sunday, Jason Lankford planted True North Church in Girdwood. He and his wife, Caroline, along with their three children, return to their native state of Texas where he will serve as a church planting associate.

“Jason will bring a great amount of experience and vision that we need to help us plant the churches God has called us to plant,” shared Doug Hixson, SBTC missions director.

Lankford earned his undergraduate degree from Ouachita Baptist University and will soon complete a master of arts in Christian studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to serving as a journeyman with the International Mission Board, he pastored students and families at First Baptist Church of Van Buren, Ark.

“I want to be a part of church planting in the state I as born into and push back the darkness that is here and work with churches,” Lankford said.

Alex Gonzales will move from a part-time field ministry strategist to a full-time position as an associate in Pastor Church Relations.

“Experienced pastors are longing to pour themselves out into younger pastors,” PCR Director Tony Wolfe told the board. In looking for someone who could guide pathways toward mentorships, Wolfe said Gonzales kept coming to mind. “He embodies our values very well, having been a field ministry strategist. He’s a friend to pastors.”

Gonzales has pastored Hickory Tree Baptist Church in Balch Springs since 2008 and previously served churches in McKinney and Mesquite. He is completing his undergraduate degree at Criswell College. Gonzales and his wife, Tabitha, live in McKinney with their two children.

“I’m excited to get young ministers plugged into some of our churches throughout the state. If we give them opportunities, if we give ministry away, we can really see what God can do,” Gonzales said.

In addition to approving the two new staff members, the Board accepted the Administrative Committee’s 2019 budget proposal of $28.8 million that requires approval of messengers at the Nov. 12-13 annual meeting in Houston. It represents an increase of just $938 over the current year.

While receipts in the second half of 2017 were significantly lower due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey and other factors, Cooperative Program giving through June of 2018 has been the highest first six months in the state convention’s history at $14,243,791.

“Even though this budget we have just adopted is a flat line budget, it is really a hallelujah budget given where we’ve been,” Board chairman Kie Bowman stated.

CFO Joe Davis reported total net operating income through June in the amount of $704,572. While CP receipts were $20,298 under budget through June, actual expenses were $614,135 under the prorated in-state budget.

Giving through Southern Baptist mission offerings by SBTC churches showed increases over the previous year. Nine months into the reporting year, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions received $9,111,725, a $520,267 increase for the same period last year. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, with nine months reporting, amounted to $2,771,201 million, an increase of $229,186 compared to last year.

Reach Texas State Missions Offering giving dipped slightly at $1,246,901 with 10 months of reporting, down $58,009 as compared to the previous year.

Sixteen churches were approved for affiliation with the SBTC while eight were removed—six having merged or disbanded and two requesting removal. The action brings the number of affiliated churches to 2,680.

Board member Chris Moody of Beaumont asked for more information on the affiliation of The Village Church in Flower Mound. Credentials Committee Chairman Jordan Rodgers shared that the missions pastor expressed an interest in working with SBTC to plant churches.

“Their full elder board is aware of this request and approved that,” Rodgers said, adding, “They are in full understanding of what it means to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and excited about planting churches with the SBTC.”

Board members also modified the policy for ministry relationships to use the term “cooperative” instead of “affiliated” in order to avoid implying an element of control.

Funds were allocated for the SBTC reception and exhibit space at next year’s meeting or the Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards offered ministry highlights from recent months and pledged that the SBTC staff “will continue to promote unity around the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 to accomplish missions through the Cooperative Program.”

Board members also heard a report from Buzzshift President and Co-founder Eddie Badrina who described his company’s work in developing a coherent brand for SBTC to increase the effectiveness of communicating with church lay leaders, pastors and church staff.

Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation Executive Director Bart McDonald reported over $72 million in assets being managed as compared to $28 million at the end of 2014. With over 80 planned giving seminars and 76 estate plans closed last year, McDonald said those efforts will yield “millions of dollars in kingdom resources in the years ahead.”

The Board heard reports from Criswell College President Barry Creamer, Jacksonville College President Mike Smith and Jason Curry, president of Texas Baptist Home for Children.

Creamer told the group, “We are one hundred percent committed to four core values—doctrinal integrity, practical ministry, academic rigor and cultural influence.”

He celebrated the $5 million lead gift from an anonymous donor that will allow the school to break ground In January on a much-needed residence hall. “This is transformative for us as our model of educating students is able to reach out to a brand-new group,” he said, anticipating higher success in recruiting traditional-aged students.

Creamer thanked SBTC for providing $391,440 from Cooperative Program receipts. “When you run things as tightly as we do, that 6 percent [of the school’s budget] makes a difference.”

Smith thanked the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation for helping the two-year college reorganize its accounting practices and expressed gratitude to the Board for financial support from SBTC. “Without it we really couldn’t have this ministry.”

With an enrollment of about 600 students last year, Jacksonville College attracted 36 students from 19 different countries. With other students taking courses online, Smith said, “We are reaching world wide as a small college in East Texas with a witness around the world.”

Smith added, “We’re giving back to the convention through our churches,” pointing to students who are serving in vocational ministry.

Curry shared that Texas Baptist Home for Children has served 280 clients during the past year as 32 children were placed for adoption.  “We saw 21 children find an eternal father in heaven even in the darkest circumstances of their lives,” he reported.

One of those children who accepted Christ was an eight-year-old boy orphaned by parents who committed suicide after receiving prison sentences for horrific crimes. “Our foster parents went above and beyond by taking him to synagogue on Saturday,” in keeping with the written request of the biological parents, “and a Christian church on Sunday,” Curry said. “They helped provide the healing he desperately needed. Now he is a renewed boy who has gone from hopeless to hopeful.”

Curry thanked the board for their support, including members of SBTC churches serving on the TBHC board and the assistance of the SBT Foundation in developing long-term donors.

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