AUSTIN, Texas (BP)–A new constitution and bylaws were approved by messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Nov. 14-15 annual meeting in Austin.
Wesley Shotwell, pastor of Ash Creek Baptist Church in Azle and chairman of the BGCT executive board’s governance committee, called the changes the most “radical and sweeping” since 1959.
Shotwell said that under the old governing documents, convention officers doing the day-to-day decision-making for the convention were structurally disconnected from the executive board members who were “legally responsible” for those decisions.
“Finally, we have one set of bylaws to guide both convention and executive board directors,” Shotwell said during his remarks in support of the motion to adopt the new bylaws.
The BGCT’s new constitution reduces the number of elected directors of the executive board from 239 to 90. Shotwell said the constitution now calls for the composition of the executive board to be “intentionally inclusive.”
Accordingly, Shotwell pointed out that the new bylaws mandate that at least 30 percent of directors of the executive board be “non-Anglo persons.”
Also, the new constitution states that “there shall be a minimum of forty (40%) of the persons elected each year who are church/denominational employees and a minimum of forty (40%) who are non-church/denominational employees.”
The expansion of the powers of the BGCT president and vice presidents was noted by BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade. He drew particular attention to the fact that, for the first time, the BGCT president and vice presidents would be ex officio voting members of the new executive board, in addition to the 90 directors drawn from around the state.
“This is a noteworthy day. In the past, convention officers were not voting members of the executive board and did not sit on the [board’s] executive committee,” Wade said.
The new constitution also provides that if any vacancies occur on the executive board, the president and vice presidents jointly have the power to appoint replacements.
Newly elected BGCT President Michael A. Bell of Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, with First Vice President Steve Vernon and Second Vice President Dan Wooldridge will be the first elected officers to operate under the new governing structure.
Because Texas nonprofit laws prevent the BGCT from terminating or asking board directors to resign, apart from some narrow, inapplicable exceptions, Shotwell said the new governing instruments call for the transition to 90 directors to take place over the next couple years.
The new bylaws divide the state into 30 sectors, and then allocate three directors per sector to come up with the 90 directors of the new executive board. Sector boundaries are based on weighted criteria by county. Shotwell explained that the sector criteria went through an evolution to arrive at what was eventually adopted by messengers Nov. 14.
“This is an intentional strategy of inclusiveness,” Shotwell said as he explained a map showing the new sectors. “Initially, we drafted a new sector map that used only resident church membership as a basis…. That map shifted representation east-ward.”
Shotwell said many people, especially those in West Texas, objected to that formula. A new formula was created, weighted not only by resident church membership but also the number of affiliated churches in each county and the amount of BGCT Cooperative Program money such churches give “to Texas Baptist causes.”
“That resulted in a west-ward shift,” Shotwell said. This weighted formula was adopted by the messengers when they approved the new bylaws.
The new governing documents reorganize the executive structure of the BGCT in some of the following ways:
— The constitution states that “basic committees [of the executive board] may include” the executive committee, the church missions & ministries committee, the institutional relations committee, the administrative support committee and the audit committee.
— The three elected convention officers jointly exercise appointment power for membership on the committee on committees, which in turn makes nominations to the committee on nominations for board of affiliated ministries; the committee to nominate executive board directors; and to the six ministry boards (educational ministries, human care ministries, church loan corporation, Baptist foundation, Baptist Standard and WorldConnex).
— The institutional relations committee of the new executive board takes on the duties formerly given to the dissolved Christian education coordinating board and the human welfare coordinating board.
— The convention staff is reorganized into four teams: the leadership team; the missions, evangelism & ministry team; the service center; and the congregational Strategists. Wade said that congregational strategists are assigned to “get to know our churches’ leaders and live in the region they serve” in order to help and connect churches with BGCT resources.
In other business, BGCT messengers:
— adopted a 2006 budget of $49,437,000, a 4.1 percent increase over the 2005 budget of $47,380,959. Most of the increase was accounted for in an overall $2,056,041 (21.65 percent) increase in budgets for BGCT operations (35 percent increase), the office of executive director, financial management, other missions & ministries (e.g. Ministers Protection Plan and worldwide causes), and Texas Baptist Men, and a $227,859 (2.14 percent) overall decrease in funding for educational ministries which include Baylor University, Dallas Baptist University, Hardin-Simmons University, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Wayland Baptist University.
— resolved to “warmly affirm and congratulate the Baptist World Alliance during its 100th anniversary year.”
— resolved to “become knowledgeable about and supportive of persons living with mental illness and their families in their church communities and beyond.”
— resolved to recognize “behaviors such as homosexuality, adultery, incest, and pornographic activities [as] distortions of this [biblical sexual] ethic and therefore wrong,” and to “promote biblical sexual values through involvement in the community, participation in the political process, and other effective methods such as letter writing.” Messengers amended this resolution to eliminate “sponsoring boycotts” as an “effective method” for promoting biblical sexual values.
A total of 2,440 messengers and 844 visitors were tallied for the two-day meeting in Austin.