Texas convention holds 'Family Gathering'
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP) -- "God loves diversity," Jeff Johnson, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said in addressing the three-day "Texas Baptists Family Gathering" this summer.
"God loves the nations. He loves across all geographical boundaries," said Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Commerce.
The BGCT family gathered like never before in sessions at San Antonio's Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
For the first time, the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, African American Fellowship of Texas, Chinese Baptist Fellowship of Texas, Vietnamese Baptist Fellowship of Texas and Lao Baptist Fellowship -- as well as the Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches -- held their respective annual meetings in conjunction with the BGCT annual meeting, setting the stage for the most diverse gathering in the convention's history.
Johnson began his message by reading "The Sneetches," a Dr. Seuss story where the sneetches learn a valuable lesson about peaceful coexistence regardless of their diverse appearance.
Jesus' love for all people is evident in the Gospel, Johnson said; He saves the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, the Jews and the Gentiles. Jesus also had a diverse approach in choosing his 12 apostles, Johnson said; their profession, from fisherman to tax collector, and societal status made no difference.
Johnson also highlighted the Acts 2 account of believers gathering for Pentecost, noting that the crowd represented 12 different countries that day in Jerusalem.
After the apostles performed miraculous signs and wonders, the believers met together and shared everything they had, Johnson said; they worshiped, prayed and fellowshipped together regardless of their differences and enjoyed the "goodwill of all people."
Earl Grant, pastor of Covenant Church in San Antonio, speaking in the BGCT opening session, said Christians should seek unity because of their desire for and delight in the Lord.
"[W]e come to a common ground at the cross of Christ on Calvary," Grant said; as part of the same ancestry dating back to Adam, Christians are called to work together to advance God's Kingdom.
Julio Guarneri, pastor for Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, drawing from Acts 1:8 and Revelation 7:9, preached that God's heart and vision for the church are inclusivity.
Acts 1:8 delivers Jesus' stated purpose for the church: to reach "the ends of the earth," Guarneri noted. This can -- and often does -- mean crossing geographic boundaries, he said, but it also means crossing cultural boundaries close to home. Samaria was not a far-flung international mission trip for Jews living in Jerusalem, Guarneri said, pointing out that Jesus called His followers to cross an ethnic line in order to share the Gospel and expand the Kingdom.
"Not only does Jesus give us a stated purpose of the church -- He also gives us a picture of what it will look like when it's all said and done," Guarneri said. "In Revelation 7:9, we have John's vision that was taking place at the end of the ages."
The passage describes "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language" standing before Christ, Guarneri said.
"This is the worship service of the ages," Guarneri said. "This is the worship service of worship services. This is the mother of all family gatherings. This is what every worship service on earth should aspire to look like. We get this vision of every people group, every language. You want to talk about diversity? It's there. You want to talk about inclusiveness? It's there.
"The more our worship services look like Revelation 7:9, the closer we are to heaven. The more our gatherings look like this, the more prepared we will be for an eternity where inclusiveness and diversity is the norm."
For all Texas Baptists are doing in cooperative ministry to advance the Gospel, BGCT Executive Director David Hardage voiced thanks during the July 14-16 sessions. Because congregations are generous with their resources in their communities and through the state convention, "You make a difference, Texas Baptists," Hardage said. "On behalf of the lives you touched and the lives you helped, let me just say 'Thank you.'"
This year, the BGCT Executive Board was given authority to pass the convention's budget, which it did in late September.
BGCT ministries next year will be funded essentially at 2013 levels following adoption of a $40.4 budget to fund state-level ministries. The state-level budget includes 79 percent of Southern Baptist Cooperative Program and Texas Baptist Cooperative Program receipts from the churches, $2.29 million in investment income and $1 million less to be raised by the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation.
As in previous years, the recommendation offers churches three pre-set giving tracks, all of which divide funds between BGCT ministries and national and international causes, and a fourth designated option. The giving tracks are 79 percent to BGCT and 21 percent going to one or more of the following church-selected options: Southern Baptist Convention, BGCT Worldwide or Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Of the anticipated total cooperative contributions of $48.95 million from BGCT-related churches, the budget proposal anticipates $11.3 million will be directed by churches to the Southern Baptist Convention, $1.8 million will be directed for BGCT Worldwide and $1.0 million will be directed to the CBF. The board also approved the allocation of the anticipated Texas Worldwide contributions.
"[Texas Baptist] Cooperative Program receipts for this year are about even from last year," BGCT treasurer Jill Larsen said. "At the same time, the special missions offerings are up -- Mary Hill Davis, the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering, Lottie and Annie. We are encouraged by that. We are grateful for the generosity of Texas Baptists."
Gifts to missions through the Texas Baptist Cooperative Program fund diverse ministries, including evangelism training initiatives, church starting efforts, Baptist Student Ministries and convention-affiliated institutions
Messengers at the mid-July sessions also granted the Executive Board and an ad hoc committee authority to consider the sale of the Baptist Building in Dallas in a motion stipulating "if it is determined that such sale is in the best interests" of the convention.
"Absolutely, positively, in no size, shape or fashion and without doubt, we are not voting to sell the Baptist Building," said Van Christian, outgoing Executive Board chairman and pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche. "No offer has been made," he added.
Messengers granted initial approval to a related constitutional amendment to remove the reference to a physical address for the convention, currently listed as 333 N. Washington Ave. in Dallas. As a constitutional amendment, it requires approval at two consecutive annual meetings.
Also approved: a change in bylaws to align with constitutional changes approved at the last two BGCT annual meetings to grant the presidents of recognized ethnic fellowships voting privileges on the BGCT Executive Board. Messengers also approved changing the bylaws to allow out-of-state Baptists to serve on groups, teams, councils and other Texas Baptist entities.
Johnson was reelected to a second term as BGCT president by acclamation. Also elected by acclamation were Kathy Hillman of Waco, first vice president; René Maciel of San Antonio, second vice president; Bernie Spooner of Coppell, secretary of the BGCT corporation; and Doug Powell of Garland, registration secretary.
Next year's BGCT annual meeting will be Nov. 16-19 in Waco.
Compiled from reports posted at the Baptist General Convention of Texas website, http://texasbaptists.org.