NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Charles Wade, who has led the Baptist General Convention of Texas since 2000, announced his intention April 11 to retire as executive director Jan. 31, 2008.
Wade’s legacy likely will be split, with supporters pointing to his management of an extensive reorganization of the BGCT staff and detractors countering with an emphasis on his role in distancing the state convention from the Southern Baptist Convention and moving the BGCT to align with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF is a breakaway group of self-described moderates that formed in 1991 after SBC messengers, in 12 consecutive years, elected conservatives to replace liberal and moderate leaders, resulting in conservatives leading SBC entities.
In his remarks to the BGCT staff in announcing his retirement, Wade outlined various accomplishments that he intends “to work diligently to imbed in our organizational culture” in the coming months.
According to his comments released through the BGCT’s Baptist Standard website, Wade highlighted the ongoing movement of staff into the field for better communication with BGCT churches; breaking down private agendas and narrowly focused goals in the BGCT; connecting BGCT churches and associations to a kingdom-size vision; and working to ensure excellence in the new roles formed by the new governance structures of the BGCT.
In the same release, Bob Fowler, chairman of the BGCT executive board, praised Wade’s management of the BGCT staff and his service to BGCT churches.
“Dr. Wade has provided strong and thoughtful leadership as executive director, both to his staff and to the many volunteers who have had the privilege of working with him,” Fowler said. “In these times that have often been challenging in Texas Baptist life, Dr. Wade has been a tremendous asset to us, and I am certain that he will continue to be so. Texas Baptists have been fortunate to have had both the mind and the heart of Charles Wade for these years of his service to the kingdom through the BGCT.”
Wade’s retirement announcement follows an embezzlement scandal acknowledged last October. Three BGCT church-starting pastors allegedly took $1.3 million from the BGCT over six years, claiming to have planted 258 of the BGCT’s 357 church starts in the Rio Grande Valley region from 1999-2005. Only five of those 258 “churches,” which in actuality were home Bible studies, small groups and children’s groups, are still in existence today.
During his tenure, the BGCT also experienced losses, both financial and fellowship, because of his move to align the BGCT with the CBF at the expense of relations with the SBC.
Under Wade, in 2000, the BGCT moved to defund SBC seminaries; in 2001, BGCT messengers adopted a decreased budget for 2002 (nearly 9 percent less than the previous year) and rejected the SBC’s statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000; in 2002, the BGCT lifted the restriction of funds to SBC seminaries but approved the Texas Adopted Giving Plan, which retains 79 percent of a church’s Cooperative Program funds for the BGCT with the remaining 21 percent going to worldwide causes — the traditional allocation forwards 33 percent to the SBC and retains 67 percent for the BGCT (messengers approved a 7.1 percent budget increase, but during the year, receipts lagged by about 14 percent); in 2003, the BGCT approved another reduced budget (10 percent from the previous year) and launched a new missions network, approved in 2002, that some in the BGCT questioned as duplicating the SBC’s International Mission Board; in 2004, 2005 and 2006, the BGCT adopted budget increases of about 3.3 percent, 4.2 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.
During the same timeframe, combined contributions to SBC national causes from all SBC churches in Texas, including many aligned with the BGCT, grew 8.1 percent (according to information from SBC Annuals), and the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention grew from 400 to 1,820 churches, mostly through churches’ departures from the BGCT.
As president of the SBC Executive Committee, Morris H. Chapman is charged with promoting cooperation within the SBC and with increasing awareness about and support through the SBC’s Cooperative Program, both tasks made more challenging in Texas by Wade’s opposition to the SBC.
Chapman shared with Baptist Press his thoughts on Wade’s retirement announcement.
“Although Charles Wade and I have known each other since our seminary days, we have differed on a number of issues in Southern Baptist life due to our contrasting philosophical and theological convictions,” Chapman said. “I regret that under his leadership the Baptist General Convention of Texas grew more distant in its relationship to the Southern Baptist Convention than at any time in the history of the SBC.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “I appreciate his dedication to the task to which he felt called through the years, first as a pastor, and then as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“As Charles and Rosemary transition to a new phase in their lives, I pray for them God’s abundant blessings.”
BGCT President Steve Vernon released a statement with Fowler’s, praising Wade’s service to the BGCT.
“Dr. Wade’s leadership has been exemplary in leading this convention to continue to be Baptists, to continue to be missional and to be a strong witness for the kingdom of God,” Vernon said. “Charles has truly been a pastor of all BGCT churches in Texas — a pastor to the churches, to the ministers and to the people.”
Wade graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University and earned master’s and doctorate degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. In addition to serving as BGCT president from 1995-97, his denominational roles included membership on the first CBF Coordinating Council, 1991-94, and co-chair of the CBF General Assembly Steering Committee in 1992.
He and his wife, Rosemary, have four adult children — Mark, Roshelle, Karee and Mary Robin.
“It has been an honor to serve Texas Baptists these past seven years. I felt the calling of God in the invitation by the Executive Board in 1999 to serve our convention in this role, and across the years of my service I have had the deep and abiding sense that God and his people have walked alongside me in this journey of leadership and faith,” Wade said. “Now, I have that same gracious sense from God that this is the time for me to begin the next phase of my obedience to his call issued 55 years ago.”
Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press and vice president of news services with the SBC Executive Committee.