Hilary and I recently attended the Southern Baptists of Texas Annual Convention in Dallas (well, Raleigh and Hilary spent most of their time with grandma). We attended as “messengers” from FBC Pineland which means we represented our church’s interests along with every other messenger present who was representing their church’s interests (kind of like congress and the senate). Why did we go? What does the SBTC do? Should a layperson even care or be informed? Let’s talk about that for a minute.
First of all, Southern Baptists (FBC Pineland’s denomination) believe strongly in what’s called the autonomy of the local church. That just means that each and every individual church is an authority to itself. No other church, mother church, or organization can tell a local church what to do or believe. The SBTC and the SBC (national convention) do not have any authority over any of its cooperating churches. Other denominations are not like this, but have a “top-down” authority structure where the “mother church” tells each local church what to do and believe.
Ok, so let’s start from the beginning. Back in the 1800s there were a bunch of baptist churches of all shapes and sizes who wanted to accomplish more regarding mission work around the globe. The problem was that international missions was expensive, and not every church had the means to support a missionary effort. So they decided to pool together their resources under one entity which would be fully accountable to all the churches who were contributing funds. So then they had to decide who could be apart of this new denomination and who couldn’t. There were two criteria: agreement about essential doctrines from the Bible, and financial contribution. So if your church agreed with what this denomination believed about God and the Christian life and if your church gave some amount of money, your church could be part of this denomination and send messengers each year to a convention where the business of the denomination would be conducted (very much like how we conduct our own business meetings). What I just described to you was the national Southern Baptist Convention. We attended that last summer in Phoenix, AZ. The SBC has grown over the years to operate several entities that fulfill the agendas of SBC churches. There is the International Mission Board (IMB), the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Lifeway Christian Book Stores, Guidestone Financial services, and six theological seminaries spread around the USA. Our church’s financial giving to the SBC helps to fund all of these wonderful entities which allows us to accomplish the Great Commission in a variety of ways as we cooperate with 45k+ other churches in the SBC.
So then what is the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC)? Are Baptists THAT hungry for more bureaucracy? Well, most states with a large SBC presence decided to start a state-wide convention where the SBC churches in that state could pool resources to tend to the needs of their specific state. It operates in a very similar way except the focus is on the needs of Texas churches. The SBTC helps to plant churches, train pastors and lay leaders, provide resources and encouragement, to provide networking between pastors and churches to better keep the churches of the state in the loop about what’s going on, and more! The churches of the SBTC meet annually with representatives from each church (messengers) voting on matters of business like: budget, officers, resolutions, etc.
But more than that, the annual meeting of the SBTC has taken on an additional, much needed role – that of encouraging, training, educating, and networking with pastors and pastor’s wives. This last group, the pastor’s wives, has been largely neglected for many years. Thankfully, that has changed. During the convention, mixed in with all the business, are sermons preached by seasoned, godly pastors intended to meet the spiritual needs of other pastors who need to be preached to as much as anybody. There are also several moments of praise and worship where all of the pastors present are able to worship the Lord without a sermon hanging over them, or without the pressures of observing their worship team, members, other staff, etc. It is truly a time of free, relaxing worship and exhortation. Every pastor needs this, and the annual meeting of the SBTC is a great place to get it.
You might have heard some negative stories about the annual meetings of the SBC or some state convention, and those stories are probably at least somewhat true. How do I know that? Because these are sinners we’re talking about after all. Are there areas of dysfunction in the SBC and SBTC? Well sure. But the real question is, are these dysfunctions worth abandoning them altogether? Let me ask you this: do you disown member of your own family whenever they act a fool? As Christians, we are united by the blood of Jesus and stand together under His banner. All Christians are citizens in the Kingdom of Jesus and if we have the opportunity to cooperate with other Christians of like faith and practice for the sake Gospel Ministry then we should; even though we have a squabble here and there. Come see for yourself by attending the 2018 annual meeting of the SBTC in Houston as a messenger of FBC Pineland (yes, any church member can be a messenger!)
*If you’d like to read more about the SBTC and the annual meeting, they put out a helpful little pamphlet this year to better education people about how it works and what it intends to accomplish. You can find it here.