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Texas convention commends vision of property sale

FRISCO, Texas (BP) — For the second consecutive year, Texas Baptists messengers have a diverse officer panel, with René Maciel, president of the Baptist University of the Americás, elected as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Also elected during the convention’s 130th annual meeting were Bedilu Yirga, pastor of Ethiopian Evangelical Baptist Church of Dallas, as first vice president after previously serving as second vice president, and Danny Reeves, pastor of First Baptist Church in Corsicana, as second vice president.

Maciel was elected as first vice president in 2014 and second vice president the previous year.

He has led the Baptist University of the Americás since 2007 after previously serving as assistant dean for administration and academic services at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco. During more than 25 years in higher education and administration with Baptist institutions, he also has worked at Hardin-Simmons University, Baylor University and New Mexico Baptist Children’s Home.

The sale of BGCT’s Baptist Building in Dallas to Baylor for its Louise Herrington School of Nursing occasioned a resolution of appreciation by messengers to the convention’s leaders “for vision and judgment” in a step “to increase effectiveness in Kingdom ministry and to use the highest principles of Christian stewardship.”

Leaders of the BGCT and Baylor “were able to negotiate a purchase agreement that serves the interests of both entities and will facilitate the ministry of both in the years ahead,” the resolution stated.

Most office functions of the BGCT staff had moved from the former 333 N. Washington Ave. site to 7557 Rambler Road in North Dallas as of August 2015; the Christian Life Commission moved to Austin; and other convention office functions have moved to San Antonio and Waco in addition to existing offices in Houston and elsewhere. WMU of Texas, meanwhile, relocated to 10325 Brockwood Road in Dallas.

According to details of the sale announced in May 2014, the BGCT’s 100,000-square-foot facility would be purchased for $16 million through a combination of monetary funds and in-kind gifts, including the relocation of the Texas Baptist Historical Collection to Baylor’s Waco campus and the digitization of important materials, valued at $2 million. The Baptist Standard newsjournal reported at the time that Baylor would make a cash payment of $8 million and an additional payment of $5 million over 10 years with an annual interest rate of 5 percent. Baylor also would underwrite the cost of four BGCT annual meetings in Waco, not counting next year’s meeting in the city.

In a resolution “on Integrity and Honesty,” Texas Baptists messengers set forth calls for Christians to “remember others are watching their behavior and that what we do reflects upon our Savior and may either make it easier or more difficult for our friends and family to desire a relationship with Christ; to “improve our efforts to educate our children about the importance of honesty in their school work”; for ministers to “hold themselves to the highest standards in regard to church financial administration, sermon preparation, holy relationships, and church and personal marketing”; for churches to grant pastors “adequate time to permit the Holy Spirit to lead in the preparation of messages our Lord has for their congregation”; and to “encourage one another in the pursuit of integrity and honesty in the midst of a culture that, while valuing these things, often tolerates lower standards than those required by our Lord.”

During their meeting at the Dallas-area Dr Pepper Arena in Frisco, messengers approved a $35.42 million budget base for 2016, compared to $35.1 million for 2015, a 0.92 percent increase.

As in previous years, the convention enables each church to designate what percentage of its gifts will be used for BGCT missions and ministries and what percentage will be forwarded to one of three worldwide partners: the Southern Baptist Convention, BGCT Worldwide and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. 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.

Larsen stated the 2016 budget of $35.42 million is expected to have slightly less support from cooperative giving by churches and more investment income support due to the sale of the Baptist Building and investment of a significant portion of the proceeds. Texas Baptists church support of the SBC is expected to increase slightly to approximately $11.3 million in 2016.

“Deep Roots: Living Legacy” was the theme for the annual meeting, attended by 936 messengers and 445 visitors, representing 383 churches.

In the annual convention sermon, Taylor Sandlin, pastor of Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, drew from the Mark 12:28-34 account of Jesus’ discussion with a teacher of the law about the greatest commandments — to love God and to love one’s neighbors.

“[A]s Baptists, we have debates about spiritual matters because we believe the spiritual life matters,” Sandlin said, listing various historical figures who stand as heroes because they stood for what they believed in, such as William Carey, Lottie Moon and Martin Luther King Jr.

“In a world as complex as ours, Baptists must continue to cherish and even encourage dissenting voices as we seek to obey Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Sandlin said. “Dissenting voices are those voices that often press us into new ways of living out the Kingdom of God.”

The world is “changing beneath our feet,” Sandlin said. “It still remains in desperate need of the Gospel, but we have to be open to all of God’s people, to all of the various places where the Spirit of God might pop up.”

BGCT Executive Director David Hardage, in his report to the convention, noted various advances by the convention, including church starting, with 433 new churches in the past five years at a 97 percent success rate, and Baptist Student Ministries on 115 campuses across the state.

BGCT President Kathy Hillman, a member of Waco’s Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, noted as part of a missions update that Texas Baptists have helped start nearly 200 Western Heritage congregations, drawing people in to hear the Gospel through rodeos, cowboy competitions and worship music. One church alone, Lone Star Cowboy Church near Lubbock, has baptized 145 people.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 13-15 at the Waco Convention Center.