Family Gathering a celebration of unity, diversity for Texas Baptists


ARLINGTON–A celebration of unity and diversity took place in Arlington July 29-31 as 2,054 messengers and visitors filled their seats at the table to worship, fellowship and conduct business at the 2018 Texas Baptists Family Gathering and Annual Meeting. Seven fellowships and conventions were represented in the three-day gathering at the Arlington Convention Center. Messengers elected a new slate of officers, and newly elected leaders set a course for the next year of cooperative missions and ministry work.

Gathering around the family table

The Family Gathering began with a moving observance of the Lord’s Supper. President Danny Reeves, pastor of First Baptist Church of Corsicana, noted the beautiful diversity represented by the more than 5,300 congregations of 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.

Seven 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 to his crucifixion. Executive Director David Hardage shared his own personal salvation experience that led to his first Lord’s Supper, and said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a Lord’s Supper like tonight.”

During his Presidential Address, Danny Reeves encouraged Texas Baptists to pass the baton of leadership on to the upcoming generations. “Choose today, Texas Baptists, to pass everything on for the glory of God until you see your Savior face to face,” he said. Click here to read a summary of his address.

Executive Director David Hardage also gave a report highlighting exciting missions work and the disciple-making call of Texas Baptists. “Disciple-making is who we are, that’s our call. That’s our DNA. We are in the disciple-making business,” Hardage shared. “We want to see people know about Jesus all across Texas and beyond.” Click here to read more.  

Chris Liebrum, director of Cooperative Program Ministries, led a recognition for eight churches which were leaders in Cooperative Program giving. The churches included 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 slate of 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.”

Evans was elected president during Monday morning’s Business Session, along with First Vice President Jason Burden, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nederland, and Second Vice President Jason Atchley, pastor of Bacon Heights Baptist Church in Lubbock. The three officers represent diverse segments of the Texas population in size, scope and ethnicity.

African American Fellowship and Convención celebrate legacy and family

In conjunction with the Texas Baptists 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 passing of influential leader Dr. James W. Culp, the first director of African American Ministries for Texas Baptists. Dr. Culp paved the way for countless ministers and mentees who he devoted his life to training and empowering 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 Dr. Roy Cotton, director of Texas Baptists African American Ministries. “Many in this room know what the struggle was, but here we are today, many years later, celebrating 25 years!”

Members of Dr. 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 said as she encouraged those in attendance to carry on her father’s legacy. “Relationships are the framework of the Church, 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 re-elected President Rolando Aguirre, First Vice President Dr. Carlos Valencia, Second Vice President Dr. Tony Miranda and Secretary Abiel Aké.

“The church continues to be the light in darkness, the light of the earth, ambassadors of the Gospel,” said Pastor Roberto Arrubla, from Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor of Fort Worth. “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 and oneness

Four dynamic pastors of Texas Baptists 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 the audience of Texas Baptists to embrace unity across the denomination.

“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 a powerful message on oneness. West began by speaking on the unity of believers after reading from Ephesians 2:11-18. “All of us know that we have tried to bring humanity into oneness through our own efforts,” he said. “This morning, Paul reminds us that oneness can only be achieved through one person, and that is the person is the Lord Jesus Christ.” He continued, saying that as Texas Baptists at this Family Gathering, we 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 the dichotomy of fear and anxiety, or taking absolute control over their lives. 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 Baptist churches 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,” shared Kelile. He drew upon Philippians 1:27-30 to challenge Texas Baptists to unite and focus on equipping and sending individuals to spread the Gospel.

Workshops equip church leaders

More than 25 workshops were offered to attendees throughout the three-day gathering, with an emphasis on practical tools and resources to equip local church leaders in ministry.

In a workshop focused on developing lasting faith formation in teenagers, Texas Baptists Youth Discipleship Specialist Jane Wilson discussed tools to help youth leaders curb the post-high school graduation fad of dropping faith. According to Wilson, “One of the most important things we need to do, and the small church does it best, is integrating generations.”

While church leaders have had some success helping parents to disciple their children, what happens inside the home is largely outside of the church’s control. “If instead, you look at church as family, we can do something about that. I think that is why integration of generations is the silver bullet,” she said.

Don Simmons, a member of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Lewisville and owner of Acacia Security Management Services of Carrollton, presented a workshop on how churches can protect their people and property. “We need to accomplish providing security without making our places of worship appear like a fortress. Churches should be welcoming, and you don’t want to distract the people from the message,” said Simmons, who leads the security ministry at New Beginnings. “The challenge is bringing two things together that are diametrically opposed: more security leads to less convenience, and more convenience means things cannot be more secure.”

Hunger needs and missions work emphasized during meals

As a leader of international Baptist work, Dr. Elijah Brown, general secretary of Baptist World Alliance, reminded attendees of the annual Hunger Offering luncheon that hunger is a powerful force in Texas and around the world. While it is mentioned in the New Testament 23 times, only one of Jesus’ miracles is recounted in all four gospels: the feeding of 5,000.

In the oft-cited story, Dr. Brown said we see Jesus providing for the real needs of his people in a way that only a king could. “The people of the king,” Brown 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.

Dr. Gus Reyes, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, recognized the top ten giving churches to the Hunger Offering, and awarded Tom Howe, former pastor of Birdville Baptist Church in Birdville, a hand-crafted African basket in appreciation for that church’s generous 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 Matheus 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 on-going 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; Dr. Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield; and First Baptist Church in Tyler.

Other business

The messengers of the convention approved the appointment of new trustees, committee members and directors for the Executive Board. Click here to see a full list of appointees. Jill Larsen, Texas Baptists 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. Total giving to the Cooperative Program decreased by $1.3 million to $40.6 million in 2017. 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.  

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