ARLINGTON, Texas (BP) — A celebration of unity and diversity took place as 2,054 messengers and visitors gathered at the 2018 Texas Baptists Family Gathering and Annual Meeting. Several ethnic fellowships and conventions were represented in the three-day event at the Arlington Convention Center.
Messengers also elected a new slate of officers, and newly elected leaders set a course for the next year of cooperative missions and ministry work.
The family table
The Family Gathering began with an observance of the Lord’s Supper. Baptist General Convention of Texas President Danny Reeves, pastor of First Baptist Church in Corsicana, noted the diversity represented by the more than 5,300 congregations which cooperate with the convention joining together as one family. “There is no more common element of family life than to gather around a table for a shared meal,” Reeves said.
Ethnic fellowship and convention leaders shared their thoughts on the significance of the ordinance in their own language and context, and read passages of Scripture that outlined what Jesus said and did leading up to His crucifixion. BGCT Executive Director David Hardage shared his personal salvation experience leading to his first Lord’s Supper and said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a Lord’s Supper like tonight.”
Pass the baton of leadership to the upcoming generations, Reeves counseled during his presidential address. “Choose today, Texas Baptists, to pass everything on for the glory of God until you see your Savior face to face,” he said.
Hardage also gave a report highlighting BGCT mission work and the disciple-making call. “Disciple-making is who we are. That’s our call. That’s our DNA. We are in the disciple-making business,” Hardage said. “We want to see people know about Jesus all across Texas and beyond.”
Chris Liebrum, director of BGCT Cooperative Program ministries, led a recognition for eight churches which were leaders in Cooperative Program giving for the convention: The Fort Bend Church, Sugar Land; Chinese Baptist Church, Houston; Northside Community Church, San Antonio; Christ the King Vietnamese Baptist Church, Hewitt; First Baptist Church, Pecos; Central Baptist Church, Carthage; Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, Abilene; and Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler.
New officers elected
“This year will be all about unity and sharing the Gospel,” said newly-elected President Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield. “We do that from our different platforms, different places and different faces, but the bottom line is Jesus. He binds us together.”
Jason Burden, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nederland, was elected as first vice president and Jason Atchley, pastor of Bacon Heights Baptist Church in Lubbock, as second vice president. The three officers represent diverse segments of the Texas population in size, scope and ethnicity.
African American Fellowship & Convención
In conjunction with the July 29-31 annual meeting, the African American Fellowship and Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas met for a time of fellowship, election of officers and business. The gathering took place a week after the death of influential leader James W. Culp, the BGCT’s first director of African American ministries. Culp devoted his life to training and empowering ministers for service. A special tribute was paid to him during the 25th Anniversary Culp Banquet with more than 400 in attendance.
“Dr. Culp began this ministry from nothing,” said Roy Cotton, director of African American Ministries for the convention. “Many in this room know what the struggle was, but here we are today, many years later, celebrating 25 years.”
Members of Culp’s family were in attendance, including his daughter Michelle and son John. “If we’re going to be unified, I submit we need to do three things: pray, love and build,” Michelle Culp said as she encouraged those in attendance to carry on her father’s legacy. “Relationships are the framework of the church,” she said, “and we are stronger together building relationships.”
With 233 messengers in attendance at the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, a new slate of officers was elected including reelected President Rolando Aguirre, First Vice President Carlos Valencia, Second Vice President Tony Miranda and Secretary Abiel Aké.
“The church continues to be the light in darkness, the light of the earth, ambassadors of the Gospel,” pastor Roberto Arrubla of Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor of Fort Worth said. “We will continue to the end and the gates of hell will not prevail. Family, we are conquerors and we have the best message for a world that’s lost hope.”
Pastors highlight unity & oneness
Four pastors of BGCT churches preached during the worship services, affirming, encouraging and challenging those in attendance.
“Unity is valuable because it is so rare,” said David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, during his Monday night sermon. Referencing 1 Corinthians 10:10, Dykes took a look back in Texas Baptist history to some instances of division and strife to encourage Texas Baptists to embrace unity.
“We are partners in evangelism, committed to reaching people for Christ. We are not going to give up until everyone in Texas has had the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel. We are united in missions. We are united in education, training the next generation to serve. We are united in ministry, a passion for compassion,” Dykes said. “We need to keep the unity and recapture the passion of some of our early Texas Baptists.”
During Tuesday morning’s worship service, Ralph Douglas West, pastor and founder of The Church Without Walls in Houston, preached on oneness from Ephesians 2:11-18. “All of us know that we have tried to bring humanity into oneness through our own efforts,” West said. “This morning, Paul reminds us that oneness can only be achieved through one person, and that is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Attendees at the Family Gathering, he said, are called to be a people of oneness, a people that makes peace.
Jason Paredes, pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, preached from John 14, discussing the final days in Jesus’ life. Contrasting the characters of Judas and Peter, he noted believers often struggle with two opposite, yet both sinful, responses to difficulty: fear and anxiety on one hand and taking absolute control over their lives on the other hand.
Paredes encouraged attendees to allow God to take control over all circumstances. “You have to come to the end of yourself to look beyond yourself for help, which is exactly what Peter does,” Paredes said. “We have to choose to be the ‘not I am’ for God to be the Great I Am. You have to choose to let God do for you what you cannot do for yourself.”
Nebiye Kelile, pastor of Pathway Church in Dallas, challenged Texas Baptists to pursue unity by focusing on a Gospel-centered mission. With a background as a church planter, Kelile suggested that churches should look less like luxury cruise ships, loaded with amenities for passengers, and more like a battle cruiser, filled with soldiers.
“Although God designed us to carry soldiers into battle, we have become more interested in our own comforts during the journey,” Kelile said, drawing upon Philippians 1:27-30 to challenge Texas Baptists to unite and focus on equipping and sending individuals to spread the Gospel.
Hunger needs & missions work
Elijah Brown, general secretary of Baptist World Alliance, reminded attendees at the annual Hunger Offering luncheon that hunger is a powerful force in Texas and around the world. Only one of Jesus’ miracles, he said, is recounted in all four Gospels: the feeding of 5,000.
In the oft-cited story, Brown said, Jesus provided for the needs of His people in a way that only a king could. “The people of the king,” he said, “work to feed the people of the world.” Brown charged attendees to be like Jesus and, as individuals, churches and a denomination, live lives of hospitality with an open table.
Gus Reyes, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, recognized the top 10 churches in giving to the Hunger Offering, and awarded Tom Howe, former pastor of Birdville Baptist Church, a hand-crafted African basket in appreciation for that church’s giving to provide a water tower in the town of Brewerville, Liberia.
During the Missions Banquet, Brazilian missionaries Andre and Germana Matheus shared about their medical mission work through dentistry in the Amazon region. Detailing their journey of leaving a successful dental practice to engage in ministry with unreached people groups, the Matheuses shared how they plant churches through the tools God has given them: love and care.
Texas Baptists have adopted 50 indigenous missionaries in the Amazon through the new Missionary Adoption Program (MAP). Mission leaders also highlighted ongoing ministry to refugees along the Texas and Mexico border through River Ministry, and a new effort replanting churches through Urban Missions.
Awards were presented in recognition of outstanding mission work at the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation Luncheon to Suzanne Griffin, executive director of Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, an outreach ministry supporting vulnerable families in West Dallas; Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield; and First Baptist Church in Tyler.
Messengers approved the appointment of new trustees, committee members and directors for the Executive Board.
Jill Larsen, BGCT treasurer/CFO, presented the treasurer’s report. The assets of the BGCT as of 2017 were $179 million, an increase of $11.5 million from 2016. Giving classified by the BGCT as Cooperative Program decreased by $1.3 million to $40.6 million in 2017.
In 2017, the convention enabled each church to designate the percentage of its gifts that will be used for BGCT missions and ministries and the percentage for one of three worldwide partners: the Southern Baptist Convention, BGCT Worldwide or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Earlier this year, the CBF was removed  as a giving option. The convention recommends that congregations designate 79 percent of their cooperative gifts for BGCT ministries and 21 percent for a worldwide partner, but the 79-21 split is not mandatory.
Giving to Texas Baptists CP in 2017 was $28.6 million. Gifts to Special Mission Offerings in 2017 totaled $16.5 million, a decrease from $17.9 million in 2016.
Due to the nature of a summer meeting, the 2019 BGCT budget will be approved by the Executive Board during its September meeting. No motions or resolutions were presented during the business sessions.