REVISED 9:51 a.m. October 31, 2007.
AMARILLO, Texas (BP)–Joy Fenner, a retired missionary and Texas Woman’s Missionary Union executive, was elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas over David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon, Oct. 29. In one of the BGCT’s closest presidential votes, 900-840, Fenner became the first woman elected as BGCT president.
Fenner and her husband Charlie were missionaries with the International Mission Board in Japan for 14 years in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, she served 21 years as the executive director-treasurer of the Texas Woman’s Missionary Union and is now executive director emeritus.
David Currie, executive director of the Texas Baptists Committed advocacy group, issued a statement on the organization’s website endorsing Fenner’s nomination. Fenner is a member of the TBC’s board of directors.
“Joy is trusted by our Texas Baptist leaders,” Currie wrote. “They know that she will work to include all Texas Baptists in convention life but also be wise in protecting our institutions and ministries from any outside control.”
In nominating her, Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, lauded Fenner’s leadership of the Texas WMU, which he noted was an “auxiliary” organization that “isn’t owned by anybody but chooses to work with everybody.”
Wells also commended Fenner’s sensitivity to multiculturalism. “She led our state to develop multi-lingual mission literature because, long before the rest of us knew that Texas was multicultural, Joy knew and understood what it is to be in a multicultural state,” Wells said.
Fenner, a layperson from Gaston Oaks Baptist Church in Garland, will preside over a state convention whose staff is in transition and budget is tightening. BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade will retire in January, Chief Operating Officer Ron Gunter’s resignation takes effect at the end of November and last month the BGCT terminated the employment of 29 convention staff members due to budget cuts.
Another topic of concern this year is the ongoing law enforcement investigation into reports of the misuse of more than $1 million BGCT mission dollars by church planters who allegedly started hundreds of phantom churches in the Rio Grande Valley.
In the Oct. 30 business session, a motion calling for a no-confidence vote on the BGCT executive board was defeated via a vote using Robert’s Rules of Order.
BGCT President Steve Vernon of Levelland ruled that a subsequent motion in opposition to the no confidence action could be voted on and, if passed by a two-thirds majority, would eliminate the original motion from further consideration. Messengers easily tallied the necessary margin.
As the incumbent BGCT first vice president, Fenner had said the previous day she is well aware of the challenges ahead.
“I think one of our biggest challenges is communications,” Fenner said when asked what her role would be in light of the BGCT’s transitions. “It is so difficult to communicate with 5,700 churches that are as diverse as you can imagine…. I think if we can engage more churches in missions and evangelism, they would get so excited that they would just give abundantly.”
Fenner also said she wanted to reach out to people in the BGCT who are leaders but might currently be sitting on the sidelines of leadership. “We have a myriad of gifted people in our churches,” she said.
Mike Masser, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Tyler, was elected first vice president by a vote of 967-257 over blogger Lee Saunders. Jeff Raines, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Amarillo, was elected second vice president without opposition. Masser and Raines also were endorsed by Texas Baptists Committed.
BGCT messengers adopted a 2008 total budget of $50.1 million, down from $50.6 million in 2007.
Wade, delivering his final address as executive director, introduced his family and expressed appreciation to the convention, its officers and staff.
That time and historical perspective, he suggested, would vindicate his leadership.
“There is no activity I know that offers more opportunity for second-guessing, for hindsight, than engaging in change,” Wade said, acknowledging making “some mistakes” and recognizing that criticism has been leveled against him. He referred generally to the Rio Grande Valley crisis and specifically to BGCT budget and staff reductions and administrative reorganizations.
“I want to encourage all of us to consider all that our convention has been through, the achievement of governance goals … the challenges we have faced from those who do not wish us well, the challenge of helping churches and pastors see the vision of the BGCT as part of their desired future in a time when there are many critics of denominations and shared mission strategies … and take a deep breath,” Wade said. “Let us say, ‘Thanks,’ for all God has done through this convention.”
Among those on hand to salute Wade was David Coffey, president of the Baptist World Alliance. “One thing that will be said about Charles Wade is that he kept Texas Baptists in the world family, and that is where you belong,” Coffey said. Coffey brought a report on his recent tour of the Middle East during which he met with Israeli President Shimon Perez, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan.
Pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., delivered the keynote message. He reported on how Saddleback Valley and the area around Lake Forest were stricken by wildfires over the past week and the many ways the church has responded to evacuees and emergency workers.
Speaking on the account of Moses encountering God at the burning bush, Warren said it was there that God posed the second most important question He asks believers: “What is in your hand?”
“The two most important questions God is asking are, ‘What did you do with my son, Jesus Christ?’ … and ‘What did you do with what you were given?'” Warren said, sharing for more than an hour the principles of his PEACE plan, his wife’s AIDS ministry, and his vision for mobilizing the resources of Christ-followers around the world to address the world’s greatest threats. “I dare you to pray the most dangerous prayer: ‘God, use me,'” Warren exhorted the attendees.