Author Archive

Baptists from North America gathering for historic meeting

January 16, 2008

Let me continue to encourage you to be in Atlanta the end of the month for the New Baptist Covenant meeting.  There has never been a meeting like this one promises to be.  There will be people from every background, every part of North America, with many different experiences to share out of their own Baptist heritage. 

We will be blessed and encouraged by other Baptists and we will be blessing and affirmation to others.  When could there ever have been a time when this many different kinds of Baptist people: ministers, lay leaders, ordinary Baptist church members…could be gathered in one place for three days?

Some very generous people have provided special gifts so that we could take care of our staff”s expenses as they have been involved in preparation for this meeting and in attending.    There has been enough given so that I can offer to any of you who will work to get members of your church to attend a stipend to help with expenses.  I have $350 available, on a limited basis, first come first served, to help several pastors or lay leaders get some people together for the trip to Atlanta.

If you will let Myla McClinton, my executive assistant, or me know of your interest we can provide a form you can use to request this help in defraying your expenses.  Many of you could enlist another couple or two and drive to Atlanta and the $350 would pay for your meals or maybe most of the gasoline.  

I want you to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with other Baptists who care as you do that Jesus’ words come to life in Texas and throughout America.  Hear him again:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Luke 4:18-19  

I want to be part of this and I encourage you to be there, too.

Don Blackley is helping with the music.  Ellis Orozco, George Mason and Joel Gregory are three of our Texas pastors and preachers who will be speaking.  There are other Texans involved in a variety of venues.  Don’t miss it if you can.

Welcome to Jan Daehnert

January 12, 2008

I spent a full day with Jan Daehnert this week in preparation for his taking up the Interim role of Executive Director on February 1.  He will actually be in an office here at the Building beginning this Monday.  So we will have three weeks of overlap before the end of the month.          Dr. Daehnert will be an effective and enormously helpful interim for our convention.  He has had more varied experience with the work of our convention than anyone I know.  He was a BSM leader, Director of our Personnel (HR) department, led the early beginnings of our Bivocational/Smaller Membership Churches department, a key leader in developing our Intentional Interim ministry, worked to create our leadership development work with ministers, worked with providing counseling help for ministers and their families, and worked as a liaison with the Minister’s Wives Retreat.

Those who know Jan have been thrilled that he would accept the invitation of the Executive Board to serve in this interim role.  He met with the leadership team and me this last Tuesday so we could begin the process of transitioning this responsibility.  He will be very good for our staff, he will be an advocate for them, and he will be a trusted and respected leader the Executive Board and Texas Baptists churches can rely upon.

Not least, because of his spirit and abilities, I believe this will give the Search Committee for the new executive director all the freedom they may need to find just the right person God has in mind for us.  Please continue to pray for Ken Hugghins and the committee as they prayerfully and patiently do their work.  They may be very close to a decision and they may still be several weeks (or a few months) away from a recommendation.  This gives them time to do what they so much want to do…find God’s choice for this responsibility.  All of us want them to do that, too, so keep praying for them.

Doing this job on behalf of Texas Baptists has been a great joy to me.  There are several initiatives that have been started and only time will tell how valuable, effective, and helpful to the work of the Kingdom of God and Texas Baptists they will turn out to be.

We have a rich resource for mission outreach in our churches, in our institutions, and in the work of our mission staff at the BGCT.  The work of collaboration is well underway….but so much more can be achieved and I fully believe that will be a thing of cooperative and collaborative success and it will be exciting and beautiful to watch.

Someone asked me this week, “If you had it to do over, would you?”  There are two answers.  First, yes, there are parts of the job I wish I could have understood better when I started and I would like some “do-overs” in some areas. Second, yes, if I were eight years younger and they asked me to do this job as they did in 1999, I would do it again. 

I would encourage all of those who love the work of Texas Baptists and the BGCT to be praying now for the person we don’t know, but God does, who will take up this task.  And I would ask you to be sure to continue to pray for and encourage the new person and their family after they come in God’s time to take up this assignment.  

I’m still engaged; you need to be at ENGAGE

January 11, 2008

Someone asked me if I have a calendar in my office with each day from now to the 31st counted off and big X’s marking out each day that passes. No, I don’t.  I do have a list of people I am calling, staff members I am visiting with, projects I hope I can leave closer to completion, Executive Board matters I am trying to provide ideas and input that will be helpful.

One brother thought that with accrued vacation I might have already left the office.  I have tried to use my vacation every year because it is important not only for my family and me that I take vacation, but I have always thought it made me a  better pastor and executive director if I would use the vacation time provided.  I recommend it to all of you.

My father loved to tell the story about the pastor who finally was able to schedule a vacation only to have a dear member say to him, “I can’t understand how you can take a vacation with all that needs to be done around here.  You know, the Devil never takes a vacation.”   To which the pastor responded, “Yes, and that’s why he’s so mean!”

So we took the last two weeks of December for family and vacation time and had an amazing time with our children, brothers and sisters, and extended family:   36 at one party; 20 for our immediate family; and 56 at the last party!  We were grateful some friends had a New Year’s party and invited us to their house!

Texas Baptists are going to have a “gospel party” this Sunday evening through Tuesday.  It’s called ENGAGE: EVANGELIZING TEXAS CONFERENCE  and the party will be held at Lake Pointe in Rockwall. 

Some really good moments are in store for all of you who can be there.  Jon Randles has put together a remarkable program…it will inspire, encourage, and reignite in our hearts that we can be personally involved in doing intentional evangelism and we can help our churches reach more people than ever before. 

I have grown to love Jon.  He spoke to our staff at our monthly prayer meeting last week and I long for you to hear him.  This conference will bless you and those from your church who can be there.  And I predict it will have lasting impact on you because you will not only be inspired but you will gather some creative ideas that you can work with your people to implement as you reach out to your community and hug people up close to Jesus.  More information is on our website.

The church — a body not a bunch

December 5, 2007

Permit me a moment, as I promised earlier, to talk about the church as a body not a bunch, an organism not an organization. Have you heard people say, “I don’t see the point of being a member of the church. It doesn’t really matter if my name is on a church roll.”?

The idea of being a member is a beautiful and organic metaphor for the fellowship and belonging we have with one another in the body of Christ. Consider the difference in saying a Baptist church is a body of baptized believers and saying a Baptist church is a bunch of people who get together regularly after being baptized as believers.

If you remove an onion from a bunch of onions you buy at Kroger’s, the other onions feel no pain, experience no loss. But if you try to take the finger nail from my little finger, I will scream with pain. My whole body feels the trauma. Our bodies are linked by nerves and blood vessels, muscles and ligaments and tendons, and not one part can be wounded without the whole body feeling the pain.

You can buy “dismemberment” insurance to compensate you if you should lose a limb. Your arms, legs, hands and feet, e.g. are “members” of your body. So when we talk about being baptized into the body of Christ we are talking about that wonderful and mysterious unity we have in Christ. We are remembering Paul’s words in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 where we are told there must be no jealousy in the body with the hand having no use for the foot, or the eye not appreciating the importance of the ear.

This is not an easy thing to experience. It is a real thing, this unity in Christ, but it has to be treasured and protected. It can be marred and destroyed. But when the pastor and the people are all praying for the unity of the body in the Spirit of Christ and everyone is seeking to honor one another, carry one another’s burdens, and refuse to undermine by gossip and rumor the unity of the body… then a beautiful reality begins to show itself and people are drawn to Christ because of the way his people, “love one another.”

Evangelist Larry Walker, years ago shared a poem with my church and I remember this one line: In the church, when one of us cries, we all taste the salt.

When that is true, it is a powerful witness to the glory and grace of God, to the fellowship the Spirit can produce and the love which is shed abroad in our hearts because we have been loved enough that Jesus Christ would die for us.



Still answering questions

December 4, 2007

I am glad to use this space to answer questions and appreciate your ideas and concerns.

Samurai asked about non-disclosure statements.  Yes, there were non-disclosure statements before I came to be Executive Director.  Chris Liebrum was HR director at that time and he has written a full response to the question which will be posted by tomorrow, if not tonight.

 In re: to questions re: EB Brooks.  As I have said earlier, the full document detailing every conversation or observation made by the investigators is available for anyone to see. (One can read them either here in the Baptist Building or at the Baptist Standard offices.) If you have a copy of something you found in your study of the materials that you feel is relevant to ongoing discussion, please forward to me.  I will be glad to review and give my opinion as to the meaning and significance of the page you have in mind.

I am sure I have been, “fooled,” by many people across the years.  Most pastors and people who want to work with people have that experience.  Surely, I accept the responsibility that as the CEO of a great ministry like the BGCT, I need to be as careful as possible about protecting our work, our reputation, our resouces as best I can.  It is a great and 24/7 responsibility for which I must be fully accountable.

My only defense in regard to Brother Brooks is that he answered every question I raised with him (and there were many)  and as best I could tell he told me the truth.  There were many people on our staff and in the churches and associations who had great confidence in him.  He and I were both passionate about trying to develop effective ways to help start Hispanic churches.  By the time I became aware that there were discrepencies between what I understood and the reality of the matter, he had retired.  Others who had worked closely with him in the arena of church starting in the Valley resigned within a few days after the report was released to me and to the Executive Board committee working with me to discover the nature of the problem.

The summary report, as I have pointed out before, was available to anyone…even posted on our website…and that report said that there was no suggestion found in their investigation that anyone on our staff, which included EB Brooks, although he had already retired, had profited financially from all the financial transactions.

Could I have done a better job of realizing that the process was being exploited?  Yes.  If I could have known eight years ago what I now have learned, I could have done a better job in many areas of our work.  But I have only been able to know what I know and can learn.  I have prayed for both wisdom and courage all along the way.  I still pray for those great gifts from God….James 1:5 and Joshua 1:9.  

My failures belong to me.  My successes belong to God.

You suggest that perhaps I could offer some insight to a new Executive Director so that he would not make the mistake of trusting someone too long.  I believe the new Director will be a person of such great gifts that he will need very little help from me.  I will pray for him every day, though.  And if asked to advise or reflect with him, I will do my best…but mainly, I will pray.  I hope we all will.


It’s been a busy week

December 2, 2007

Frankly, I had hoped that after the annual meeting and as I approached retirement at the end of January, things would slow down a bit.  And they have to some extent…I’m not spending any time thinking about what the BGCT needs to do in the next five years…but there are still important issues we are addressing in hopes that we can prepare as smooth a platform for the next Executive Director to operate from as possible.

I will meet with the Operations Team tomorrow morning as we launch our third of three Staff Weeks we have each year.

 We would all appreciate the prayers of those of you who read this blog that God will give guidance to our reflection, discussion and planning as we evaluate 2007 and continue planning for 2008 and the arrival of a new Executive Director.


 Paul Armes, president of Wayland Baptist University, graciously invited Rosemary and me to be their guests for a retirement reception on Tuesday evening, speak in Chapel on Wednesday morning and visit with the ministerial students over lunch.  He and Dwayna and Michael Summers were absolutely magnificent hosts.

It was a joy to meet some very outstanding young women and men who are leaders at Wayland.  I spoke on the importance of cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude to the chapel gathering.

As I stood before them, I began, as I always do when I go to Wayland, by reminding them that Wayland was the first university in the Old South, public or private, to admit to its student body African Americans.  It was 1951 and the trustees, at the urging of the President, voted to accept an African American woman from the Panhandle who was a teacher so she could finish her degree.  And they also welcomed George May from the San Andres Island of the Caribbean who was a ministerial student. 

George May attended College Heights Baptist church while at Wayland and pastored South Park Baptist Church in Houston for twenty years and then returned to his home to pastor and establish the Christian University of San Andres and Providence.

His daughter, Fanny, would later marry Dennis Young, who is now the pastor of Missouri City Baptist Church, Texas and is a former Vice President of our convention.

I am grateful that one of our BGCT schools was the first to break the color barrier in the South.  It took other Texas schools a while to catch up.  The folks at Wayland can be proud that they were pioneers to the Glory of God.

The basic points I wanted to leave with the students was that gratitude: 

I. Pleases God   II Corinthians 9:12-15.  (note: Luke 17:11-19)

             A thankful heart is always a welcome gift.

II. Helps us Live Right   Ephesians 5:3-4

             We live more faithfully from gratitude than from obligation; from love than law.  Ethical living for Christians is the result of what he has already done for us not a bargain to get him to do something more for us.

III.  Helps us Follow His Will Courageously  Ephesians 5:15-20

             A grateful heart is eager to express obedience and love to God and is determined to live in such a way that others begin to know the generous and saving heart of God.

Aren’t you thankful that when you stand to preach or teach you have the blessed, inspired word of God to guide all you say?  Frankly, I would hate to stand before college students or any congregation without the Truth of God in my hand and in my heart. 

Those of us who stand beside those who are grieving at an open grave, give thanks to God for the Book.  We are not reduced to poetry or to man’s finest thoughts, we stand with the Word of God in our hand and when we read it aloud it gives comfort and assurance like nothing else.


As I fielded questions from the bright students who are preparing for ministry, a professor noted what I had already observed: there are almost as many women studying for ministry as men.  How can we help them find places to serve?

 I suggested to the professors, as I have at other times, that we need to be advocates for the women as well as the men students to the churches.  Some professors are committed to encouraging their students by not only teaching and mentoring them but also looking for ways to introduce them to opportunities.  I pray that our Baptist people will pay attention to what God is doing as he calls out our finest young men and women and places in their hearts a deep yearning to serve him and his church.

 Baptist people need to get on their knees every day and thank God that he is still calling out our young people to serve him.  There are denominations who are having a hard time finding called and qualified ministers.  We must not take for granted that in our nine Texas Baptist schools there are over 3,000 undergraduate students preparing for ministry.  (That is something like 46% of all ministerial students in the 50 colleges/universities that relate to our state conventions)  The camp managers tell me that almost 2,000 young people expressed their willingness to be obedient to the call of God in their lives for special service this past summer.

 I pray that our Texas Baptist churches will not waste this great resource God is trusting to us.  Some of our churches might be open to a called and gifted woman being their pastor.  Most are not.  But there are many other ministry positions that women can fill without controversy and I urge us all to watch for those opportunities and advocate for all those God is calling to serve him and us.

 My experience with Tilly Burgin, Minister of Missions for FBC, Arlington for over 20 years now, led me to see that the world is too lost and too broken for us to tell people whom God has called and gifted what they can’t do.

Pray for our professors in the seminaries and colleges who work with these incredible men and women, and pray with me that God will open appropriate doors of service for their students. 


If preparing the next generation of ministers were the only ministry the BGCT had it would be worth all the Cooperative Program dollars that almost any of churches give. 

 But in addition to that ministry, there are the ministries to orphan children and their families, to widows and the elderly, to the sick and dying, to strengthening churches through Bible study curriculum and training, through help with strategic and facility planning, through help with worship and music, through help with stewardship, financial planning and funding church loans.  

Plus missions involvement including community ministries, evangelism, WorldconneX, mission partnership relationships in Texas and around the world, LifeCall volunteer missions, and starting churches.

You read the story of Brushy Creek Cowboy church in an earlier posting.  Let me tell you about Pastor Sammy Garcia who is on the BGCT Executive Board.  He came by to see me recently and told me this story about the church he founded:

            Camino Real Iglesia Bautista in Denison, Tx. was founded by Brother Garcia.  The King’s Highway Baptist Church was started in 1991 and became a self-supporting church in 1997.  The BGCT church starting program was a significant partner to them in helping them get started and into their first building.

Since then they have started four churches in Mexico.  Two by men he reached for Christ, discipled and mentored. They returned to Mexico to become the founding pastors of two Baptist churches in their home communities.  They have also started a Hispanic church in Gunter, Tx. and in Bonham.  The Bonham congregation is less than a year old and they baptized six in the last two months.  The church has sponsored all these new starts without any financial help from the BGCT. 

I know you join with me in praising God for his abundant grace and the faithful discipleship and stewardship of Brother Garcia and his wonderful church.


This is more than I meant to write when I started a little while ago…but I have been out of pocket for a while.  I will try to be responding several times this week since I will be in all week for our Staff time.

 Chris Liebrum has prepared a response to the question about how we have put together and used our retirement and severance contracts.  It will be posted tomorrow.

I have read some wonderful reports from our Congregational Strategists and I have asked for some of them to be posted this week, as well.

Don’t forget to pray for one another.  In a family as large as our Texas Baptist family, there will always be some church or institution which is going through a tough time.  When I grieve for the difficulties some may be having, I am grateful that God knows their need or needs and I can pray.  And I take great comfort in knowing how wonderfully effective most of our churches and institutions are at any given time.  In fact, almost all of us go through down and difficult times, but look how God takes every challenge and, when we are faithful and cooperative, works through them to bring great victory and glory to His name.

 God bless and keep you all and give you great victories this week.  We are loved.


Back from Vacation

November 20, 2007

I have spent the past two hours reading the blog.  I had tried to keep up with the posts that were coming to my email site on my cell phone and thought I was getting all the messages,  but I find here that much dialogue has taken place that, mercifully, was not on my email site. 

We have had a good time on a week of vacation…45th reunion of my ’62 class at Oklahoma Baptist University; visiting with friends at our former church, FBC, Enid, Oklahoma, enjoying greatly the worship and preaching; admiring the recent remodeling of the 80 year old church buildings; relaxing at the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, visiting the tribal headquarters of the Osage in Pawhuska and finding out why they held up statehood for Oklahoma until they could get satisfaction regarding the treaty they had with the government…we were there on November 16th which was the centennial holiday for the whole state…the Osage Nation wasn’t celebrating…watched my nephew in an exciting 8 man football game at Pond Creek; and sat by my sister in her church on Sunday morning.  So it was a good time for us.

I regret that I have not been able to respond more quickly and helpfully during this time.  Your comments and interactions have been interesting to read.  I am going to try to answer the questions that I have listed from a review of the blogs…if I overlook one, I am counting on you to ask it again and remind me.

I realize that several of you have copied your blogs to my email site.  I am going to try to answer them here rather than a personal response to each blog.  But if there is a question that you want to ask of me that you don’t want on the blog, please indicate that when you email me so I can respond there.  The last thing I want to do is ignore someone or fail to be responsive…so if this blog does not cover everything, please press me again on the matter.

Let me express appreciation to my staff for trying to keep up with this during my time away.  I have read Paul Atkinson’s comments and appreciate what he has brought to our church starting efforts.  I also want to say, “thank you,” to Ron Gunter, our COO for the past two years, for leading the effort to review our church starting policies and procedures and getting them to the place they are now.  We have elevated to policy status the bulk of our church starting procedures and they have been approved by the Executive Board and cannot be changed without Board approval. 

I noticed that Paul Atkinson invited everyone to consider starting a new church and I want to echo that call.  There are 10-11 million people in Texas who do not claim any church relationship.  The need is vast…24 states, the last I checked, do not have as many people living in them as we have unchurched people in Texas!

Working the process with our church starters will do more to alleviate your concerns about the integrity of the process than anything anyone can say, I suspect.  They are all very aware of the challenge we have to rebuild confidence and trust in our procedures.  Many people in Texas live in areas where it may seem the last thing needed is another Baptist church, although new churches are needed for pockets of people in places that are often overlooked.  But in other places in Texas the population is exploding and it is diverse and the need for new churches seems overwhelming. 

Pray for our church starters, for pastors who have a vision for new churches, for our Mission Funding Group as they help us be both effective and accountable.

Now to the questions:

Did I offer money to Jon Becker to get him to move FBC, McAllen back to the BGCT?    No, absolutely not.  While I obviously would be glad to have the support and involvement of any of the churches which left the BGCT for the other convention, I, nor any of our staff, would ever offer funds or funding to anyone to “bring a church back.” 

Regarding the character of FBC, Weslaco:    I appreciate Manuel’s comments regarding his great appreciation for his church.  I have celebrated across the last few years the growth and vitality of the church.  Though, I do not know the people or leaders in the church, it is my impression that they felt they were adding another service, a third worship service, to accomodate the growing congregation.  Jon explained to our church starter, and he had a well written document outlining the philosophy of “starting a church within a healthy church” in which he cited the success of this model in some other places, that he would like to start the new church as “The Family Fellowship,” and it would meet in the church building at the 9:30 a.m. time.  As best I can tell, the church starter thought that this was a strategy adopted by the church or, at least, the missions committee. 

What was not understood was that the church body, and apparently not the deacons or the missions committee, ever discussed that strategy of “starting a new church within a healthy church.” 

Furthermore, it was never the plan for the monies allocated to the church to be used to pay Jon Becker.  It was assumed by our church starting people that Jon was being paid by the church in the manner customary to Baptist churches.  The reports turned into our offices never showed that the mission support dollars were being used to pay a salary to Jon.

Jon Becker came to my office in September of 2005 and asked for a one time gift to help the three church starts by FBC, Weslaco make the transition through his anticipated departure to FBC, McAllen.  He indicated that the situation was critical.  I had no idea that he was talking about money that would be paid to him. 

I took him to our church starting office and asked them to talk to him and evaluate the need.  I left him there to talk with the church starting leader (who no longer works for the convention, but was and is a faithful and sincere Christian) and the decision was made to give FBC, Weslaco another $5,000 to help make that transition.  I don’t believe that our church starting leader knew that 2800 of the 5,000 dollars would go to pay a salary to Jon.  I believe he thought that it was a good and wise investment to help the new church starts continue.  At that time there was no reason not to believe the pastor’s word about the matter.  In case you are wondering…my door is open to pastors, mission organizations, associations, institutions and many other people have come to me to see what the convention could do to assist them in worthy endeavors.  I have taken those requests to others on our staff to see what their counsel would be and where we could help, many times we could and many times not, we have tried to do our best to pray for and where possible and appropriate offer financial assistance.

The two Hispanic congregations are still in operation and we trust will both grow into full orbed churches.  The Family Fellowship was discontinued a few months after Jon left Weslaco to go to McAllen.

It is my clear understanding that FBC, Weslaco wants to put all this behind them, help the two Hispanic congregations continue to develop, and return the $26,500 that our records show was given to the church to fund the Family Fellowship “start up.”  It is my understanding that Jon Becker has returned $30,000 to the church with an apology for his actions.  It is also my understanding that the deacons and the church are seeking to act as redemptively as they know how to do in restoring Jon to a place of wholeness in their congregation.  We should all pray for them in that process.

Someone asked if Jon ever offered to apologize to the BGCT for his actions.  He has been repentant in his conversations with our representatives.  He offered to come to the annual meeting in Amarillo and address the convention.  We did not feel that was the right thing to do, since we were still working on details with the church and trying to make sure all the facts and details were in place.

Obviously, the tone of some of the blogs has been to suggest that as the Executive Director I allowed all this to take place.  In the sense that the buck always stops at the CEO’s desk, I take that responsibility.  Some suggested that I resign last year when the information from the Valley investigation was released.  I did not do so for these reasons:

First, the investigation by the independent legal team did not point blame at my office and indicated that our church starters, although not following procedures, did not steal or misappropriate funds.  There was no indication that anyone on the BGCT staff profited financially from any of the matters involved.

Second, it was and remains clear to me that I had the responsibility to make sure the problems were addressed and resolved, that a new process be developed, and trust restored.  I believe the actions of our staff and Executive Board have affirmed that that decision was right.  Not one thing has been “swept under any rug.”  I don’t know of any denominational entity that has ever produced as thorough a report and been more open in discussing it in a public forum, including open Executive Board meetings, than the BGCT has been in this matter.

Even though we (the Executive Board and I)  have been accused of not taking prosecution of those who apparently took money under false pretenses seriously, we have gone to the Valley and spoken with the three pastors, had prayer with them and asked for the restoration of funds.  We have spoken with the leaders of all three churches where these men are or were pastors, and I admire and appreciate each of the churches and their people.  They have been hurt by all this, but they have continued to serve God and to grow and I applaud them.

We turned over all the investigative materials to the proper authorities in Brownsville, Tx. in December of 2005.  We have followed legal counsel since that time in our actions with them.  They know we want them to proceed with their investigation.  We have been ready to go and visit personally with them at any time.  We have given regular updates to the Executive Board, including our attorney from the Valley who spoke to the Executive Board in its last meeting and gave a full report which was reported in the Standard.

We have rebuilt good relationships with the Association…in fact, we will be going to McAllen for our annual meeting in 2010…we have done what we can to encourage the churches affected by all this.

Hopefully, this has  been of some help.  I will try to stay involved on a regular basis through the holidays and December.  I have a lot of other things I want to talk about, but I am willing to try to respond as long as is needed in these matters.

This week in the Standard, I will share a word about the great gift gratitude is to the human heart.  I am grateful for you and for our work together.  Let’s keep talking and keep praying for one another.


Blogging troubles and some answers

November 14, 2007

Let me explain that I thought I would be able to keep up with the blog while on vacation, but I have not been able to make my laptop work where I am so that I could get directly to the website. I’m making this post, but I will not be able to respond until I return home. I will catch up then.

I have tried to answer questions and respond to concerns faithfully through the eight years I have served you as executive director for the BGCT, but I would not claim that I have always done that as quickly or as effectively as I should have. There are times that things may have been misplaced or information fallen out of my sight or memory.

I will say what I sometimes would write to my church members when I was a pastor, “If I have not returned a call, failed to respond to a need in your life, not written in response to a letter, please give me another chance. Let me know, and I will try to make it right.”

Of course, one of the challenges I have to reckon with is that when it comes to dealing with personnel issues, I have some restrictions that I have to be mindful of. Every pastor knows that there are things sometimes said about you, speculation as to your motives, accusations made by some folks that you cannot respond to because you have to protect confidentiality, your pastoral role and the church.

But for now let me simply respond to these matters:

Why did I take Jon Becker to our church starting people to see if there was more help that could be given to his church? I explained this to our executive board and I believe it was referenced in the Baptist Standard, although I do not have the article before me.

First, I had no idea that when he asked for help, it was to help pay a portion of his salary. It was my understanding that the church needed the extra help in order to finish getting the church starts ready to be supported by themselves and the church. I was particularly concerned about the two Hispanic pastors who were pastoring the two Hispanic church starts.

In the eight years I have served Texas Baptists, I have been willing to talk to every Baptist, and almost everyone else, who has asked to see me. I have been asked to help some of our institutions as they have gone through challenging times, churches as they have faced needs, and mission needs in Texas and the world. When I could find a way to help, I have. Sometimes, I have not been able to find a way to provide financial help but we have always prayed for one another.

Our new church starting procedures, which Paul Atkinson has addressed on this blog, would have helped make sure that the church was fully aware of our expectations, and our improved ability to track our funding in a timely fashion would have made our church starting people aware that we had already funded the church mission efforts at the level we had agreed to do so. Sometimes, in the past, our church starters had the flexibility to add some extra dollars to help a church get through a difficult time with the new church starts. Because of the problems we have had, that flexibility has had to be restricted and everything has to pass by the Mission Funding Group made up of non-staff people and directly responsible to the Executive Board.

I have tried to be thoughtful and balanced as I have addressed this with regard to the dear folks at First Baptist Church in Weslaco. The reason I have not used any accusations or absolute statements is because I have not tried to talk to them in detail. My staff has been in touch with them and they have been very concerned and cooperative in trying to bring all of this to a good conclusion.

As I see this, Jon Becker has tried to make it as right as he can with the church. He has apologized for not taking them into his confidence and explaining carefully to the church what his intentions were. He has returned the money to the church that he was paid as extra salary from the BGCT-provided church starting funds. Our church starter was not aware that some of the money sent to the church was being directed by the church financial office to pay part of Jon’s salary. The church and the convention are working out the details so those dollars can be returned to the convention. Those dollars will be used to help start other churches.

It would be good for everyone to pray for Jon and his family and for the FBC of Weslaco as they work through this and try to restore a brother and restore the mission funds. I dare to pray that God will be honored by the way this is handled by the church and all of us.

A Promised Update

November 9, 2007

Several Texas Baptists have asked me why an update on the misuse of church starting funds was not given during the Annual Meeting. All of the details on this situation have been reported in the Baptist Standard, so there was not anything new to report. Here is a summary of the situation: An Oversight Committee was appointed by Bob Fowler and chaired by Jim Nelson to help the Executive Board monitor the progress of our staff’s response to the investigative report.  They made two reports to the Executive Board and these were reported in the Baptist Standard. The Baptist Standard reported after the last Executive Board meeting that all of the information we have from our investigation has been turned over since December, 2006, to the federal authorities in Brownsville. Our legal counsel in Dallas and in Brownsville have reported to the Executive Board that we have done all we can do that is feasible. We have stated on several occasions since last December that we would like to sit down with the authorities and personally convey our sincere desire for them to pursue this matter to a conclusion and our willingness to answer any questions they might have. We have, through our attorney, made sure they know how anxious we are for this to be dealt with. Our legal counsel advises us that to do more, to make a public show about this, would be very counter-productive and they advise us that we are doing all that we can or should do.  Several of us went to the Valley in November last year to visit with the three pastors who are accused of misusing BGCT church starting funds. We asked them to restore the money, and we had prayer with them. In one case there was an indication of willingness to restore funds; that pastor seemed to feel that perhaps $10,000-$12,000 might be about right. Our preliminary investigation suggested it was considerably more. Our referral of the matter to the authorities and the large difference in our understandings of the amount of money involved prevented, at least for now, any restitution of funds. In another case, the pastor insisted he had used the money appropriately and that he had strong satellite congregations and ministries throughout his area. In the other case, there were anger and threats, denials and promises to fight this in the courts if the matter was pursued. After several months of looking into possible actions, we took a report last May to the Executive Board that indicated we would continue to encourage the authorities to complete the investigation and that we certainly would continue to monitor the situation. We also, on the advice of counsel, indicated we would not pursue the matter civilly. We would not because the possible recovery of funds from these pastors would not exceed the legal costs that the Convention would incur. And we would not because the publicity would damage the churches of the Valley and the association and the Baptist name in that part of the state. The attention to this in the media would far outweigh any possible financial recovery and would probably be interpreted as a large Convention with offices in Dallas picking on three pastors in the Valley.  Furthermore, our visit to the Valley led us to the conclusion that while $1.3 million seems to have been misused and that there were “churches on paper” funded by our church starting dollars, that a sizeable amount of the $1.3 million, though not used as it should have been to start new churches, was used by at least two of the pastors to reach people for Christ and has resulted in their base congregations being quite strong and effective in reaching and discipling people. We are still encouraging the authorities to look into this and get to the bottom of it so justice can be done. With regard to First Baptist Church in Weslaco: We brought a full explanation to the Executive Board in September, and it was reported in the Standard. We had hoped to bring an updated and full report to the Convention, but the agreement we have reached in principle, could not be publicly discussed because the church has asked to have a legal document put in place. Our attorneys and their attorneys are working on the agreement.  Simply put, Jon has returned the money to the church and the church has agreed to return the money to the BGCT.  We are in the process of receiving the money from the church. I had sent a letter thanking them for wanting to restore the funds to our church starting efforts There were three new church starts, two of which remain viable. The difficulty arose because of a third church start that Jon Becker began as “a church within a church.” He did not fully inform his church that was what was happening. The church, perhaps using information that was not accurate from the pastor, used $26,000 of Convention funds to add to their pastor’s salary because, as he represented to our church starter, he was “pastoring” what he called a new church start to be spun off into an autonomous congregation later. But in the minds of most of the church, they had simply started a third service for their growing congregation at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. This is terribly unfortunate and has caused Jon Becker to lose his pastorate at First Baptist Church of McAllen and to return the money he had taken in salary. I hope this information is helpful. Every dollar any one of our members gives through our churches is precious to God and to every pastor. Every dollar given by any one of our churches or missions is precious to God and to me. I am deeply sorry that these matters happened and that it caused a crisis of confidence. But I hope this gives you assurance that we are doing all that we can to be good stewards of the money entrusted to us by the churches. 

Let me add this word, as well. Our new policies and guidelines outlined in our New Church Starting Manual will minimize the risk of misuse of church starting funds. Our whole process has been changed and improved. And if someone does try to inappropriately use church starting funds of the BGCT, we will be able to know it quickly and respond appropriately.


Paul Atkinson is our new leader of the Church Starting Team. He will be glad to provide additional information if you would like. This is critical for our churches and for the future of Texas and the needs of people who need what Jesus can do in their lives. With a state that has 10-11 million unchurched people, we continue to be a mission field in Texas as well, thanks be to God, as a mission base.  The last I checked there are 25 or 26 states in our USA that don’t have that many people in their entire population.

Perhaps that could be a topic for another blog:  Eleven Critical Elements in Starting New Churches.  I will either write it or get Paul to comment on this next week.  In fact, Paul, when you read this you might share the story about your motorcycle being the best witnessing tool you have had recently.

We are loved.



Well, I’m finally jumping in!

November 8, 2007

I have resisted the thought of joining the blogging brigade.  The thought that anyone really wanted to know what was on my mind every day, seemed a little ridiculous to me.  I don’t always want to know what I’m thinking about every day, myself.  Furthermore, the idea that someone could have unlimited space to say whatever they think, without an editor, without the constraint of time or space, without having to meet any standard of accuracy in what is said, seemed vain and, potentially, very irresponsible.

I guess, however, I am changing my mind.  I have thought about the history of media in the 20th century.  When silent movies moved to “talkies” formerly great actors with box office appeal could not make the transition…their voices did not seem to match their “image,” or the expectations of their fans.   Politicians complained with the advent of TV that their campaigns had been reduced to sound bites and to the photogenic quality of their appearance.  Substance was being sacrifice for style.   So I have begun to think, although I only have three months left in this work with the BGCT, that maybe I shouldn’t complain about bloggers and simply recognize that this is the “democratization,” of information and opinion.   Any person can be heard from.  There are no editors to get in the way.  There is no space limitation which governs what newspapers and magazines can deliver, nor time limitations which controls TV and radio reports.

So, it is time, maybe way past time, for me to “jump in” to the blogosphere.

 Another thing happened to me.  I realized that although I have to be responsible to the EXBD of the BGCT, to the churches of our convention, and to my staff and there are some things I cannot talk about because of both honor and law, and that I have a responsibility to promote the unity of this family of faith, still there was much that could be said.  Then, last week a person from one of our churches in Midland, emailed me and asked me a question.  After I responded, he wrote back to tell me that it really helped him to get the updated information.  He had not been reading the reports in the Baptist Standard or they had left him somewhat confused and my response was appreciated and helpful.   Clearly, people who have heard falsehoods, really want to hear truths.  So I decided that perhaps blogging could be a great way to be in conversation with our Baptist people across Texas…and anyone else who wants to join in.

 I plan to be on vacation next week, but I am going to take my laptop with me.  If it gets to be too much…we’ll just have to catch up on the conversation after I get back…but I’m one of those people who doubts that anyone will want to read this, much less have much comment to make…but we’ll see.

 My plan is to post tomorrow the answers I sent to the brother in Midland.  Perhaps they will be interesting and helpful to you.

We will try to keep this in mind:  “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  Eph.  4:15-16

 We’ll talk another time about what it means to be a member of the church.

 We are loved.