Thursday, January 3, 2013

A (not so) new executive director for TBC

On Tuesday, New Year's Day, after serving 2 years as associate executive director of Texas Baptists Committed (TBC), I transitioned to executive director. Our Board voted last month to name me to this post, and I want to express my appreciation to them for their trust and affirmation. They are my partners in this work (besides being my bosses), a group of gifted and gracious Baptist leaders, and it is my privilege to work alongside them in carrying out TBC's mission.

During the past 2 years, some of you have asked, "so if you're associate executive director, then who's the executive director?" Good question. The short explanation is that 2 years ago, the Board and I agreed that it was premature to name an executive director to succeed David Currie. Now it's 2 years later, and things have changed.

Let's back up for just a moment and look at the events and decisions that have led TBC to this point.

Changes in Baptist life - and TBC - bring reassessment
In the year or so following David Currie’s retirement in the fall of 2009, our Board of Directors (of which I was a member) met face-to-face almost monthly to discuss the question, where do we go from here?

Our Baptist environment - in Texas and elsewhere - had changed since the dramatic conflicts of past years. In the 1980s, we had witnessed the battle over the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); followed by the 1990s tussle over the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). But by 2010, the battleground in Texas had long since shifted from convention gavels to church pulpits.

Change can be painful, but it can also provide an opportunity for a much-needed reassessment. Following David Currie's retirement, we on the TBC Board began taking a hard look at changes in Texas Baptist life and seriously discussing whether the mission of Texas Baptists Committed was still needed & relevant and, if so, how we needed to adapt our focus to carry out that mission effectively in the years to come.

Answering our questions
After much discussion, we agreed that TBC is needed more than ever - especially in light of reports from members of Texas Baptist churches regarding the aggressiveness of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) in spreading misinformation about the Baptist General Convention of Texas to BGCT churches for the purpose of enticing those churches to align with the SBTC; and in maneuvering SBTC-friendly preachers into interviews with pastor search committees as well as search committees for associational directors of missions (DOMs). As with their SBC allies at the national level, the SBTC's goal is power and control, whereas the BGCT focuses on voluntary partnership and cooperation. 

So our Board agreed that TBC needs to focus on the local church above all else. We still encourage strong, effective, and diverse leadership for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but the center of Baptist life is the local church. We agreed that our top priority must be to assist pastor search committees. Because TBC respects the autonomy of the local church, we never insert ourselves into local church situations, but we make our resources available upon request from church members, committees, and clergy.

We also agreed that TBC must educate members of Texas Baptist churches on our Baptist heritage and distinctives; and reach out to young people and show them why Baptist principles are important to the living out of their faith.

What to do about the executive staff?
As we began to form a consensus around these priorities in the spring and summer of 2010, we arrived at the question of executive leadership for Texas Baptists Committed. Should we immediately initiate a search process for an executive director to succeed David Currie? We kicked that question around the table but ultimately decided that it just wasn't the right time to do that. As a Board, we were in the early phases of refocusing our mission, and there was a general consensus that we needed more time before we could clearly tell a prospective executive director just what we expected of his/her leadership.

In the fall of 2010, the Board - led by Michael Bell as chair - asked me to become associate executive director, effective January 2011. Our understanding was that I would be responsible for moving TBC forward in accordance with the focus and priorities that the Board had identified. But the question remained of whether we would eventually initiate a search for David Currie's successor, and I was fully in agreement that we needed to take time to assess this question.

David Currie is a preacher; I'm a layperson. But one of the many important initiatives that David undertook in leading Texas Baptists Committed for 20 years was to recognize the value of laypersons and involve them in Baptist life at every level. In early 2002, David Currie recommended me for membership on the (then) 225-member BGCT Executive Board, and I took my first steps into Texas Baptist leadership. In January 2006, I was elected to the TBC Board, soon became David's editor, and was eventually asked by David & the Board to take responsibility for all of TBC's communications.

Our Baptist heritage is a key part of who I am, and I've counted it a blessing to be given the opportunity to have a part in promoting and preserving that heritage.

Two years - many steps
For 2 years, I've served as associate executive director, and we've made progress. Last month, the Board affirmed the work we've done together by naming me executive director.

During these 2 years, among other things, we have:
  • Produced 71 Baptist Briefs videos on Baptist history and principles
    • Used in Baptist identity classes in churches & some of our Texas Baptist universities
    • Cited by the Baptist History & Heritage Society, which has linked to them from its Web site
  • Produced a weekly e-newsletter, TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup, since May 2011, which is read by over 550 people every week
  • Held a breakfast and provided a booth at the BGCT annual meetings in Amarillo (2011) and Corpus Christi (2012)
  • Formed the TBC Advisory Network, a group of clergy and laity across Texas, to help keep us - and each other - informed of pastorless churches needing assistance, good pastoral candidates, and reliable information on pastoral candidates
  • Responded to numerous requests from pastor search committees for reliable information about pastoral candidates
  • Produced brochure, What Every Texas Baptist Church Should Know: Critical differences between the BGCT & the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
Importance of partnership
But what is critical to understand is the importance of partnership in this work. David Currie left us the legacy of lay involvement, but his larger legacy is the model of partnership - that carrying out TBC's mission requires a lot of people, both laity and clergy, caring and working together. That's not just David Currie's model. It's the Baptist model.

I meet with our Board, either by conference call or face-to-face, every month. I report on our latest progress and initiatives. We discuss, deliberate, and decide what we need to do next. Between those meetings, I have one-on-one conversations with our Board chair and other members.

But there are other partnerships as well. For example, we work closely with the BGCT leadership to help Texas Baptist churches as needed. Also, during the past 2 years, we've worked to foster partnerships with other independent organizations, including:
  • Associated Baptist Press
  • Baptist History & Heritage Society
  • Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
  • Baptist Standard
  • Baptist Women in Ministry
  • Center for Congregational Health
  • Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
  • Eula Mae and John Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership
  • Religious Herald
  • T. B. Maston Foundation for Christian Ethics (which I serve as chair)
  • Virginia Baptists Committed
  • Word&Way

TBC has also developed partnerships with several Texas Baptist universities and seminaries, and receives donations regularly from several Texas Baptist churches. We hope that, as we continue to work to assist churches, more of them will add TBC to their budget to enable us to help others.

All of these partnerships have come about because of our common commitment to Jesus Christ and the freedom that He gives. Some of our partnerships take the form of general and mutual support, some are more tangible, and some are still in the formative stages, but the point is that I don't do this work alone.

Again, this is the Baptist model: cooperation and partnership, God doing His work through strategic relationships forged among His people.

TBC supporters - without you, there is no Texas Baptists Committed
So I need the cooperation and partnership of other faithful Baptists to carry out TBC's mission. I've named a number of partners here, starting with our TBC Board and continuing with the BGCT leadership and others.

But I've saved our most important partner for last - YOU. In 2012, our number of donors more than doubled over 2011, and so did the amount of our donations. Your faithfulness in partnering with TBC attests to the importance of the work we do. Our mission is one that is needed in Texas Baptist life.

As executive director, I confess that it is you, not I, who will see to it that Texas Baptists Committed fulfills the mission that God has given us. Thank you for your support, and I ask you to continue to partner with us in 2013. If you have information that you believe would be useful to us, please call me at 214-986-7136 or email me at If your church is searching for a pastor, and you believe we could be of help to your pastor search committee, please call or email me. Or maybe you're like I was when I first contacted David Currie 13 years ago - frustrated and feeling alone in a church that seems to have abandoned Baptist principles - and you simply need someone to listen to you and maybe offer a little encouragement. I'm as close as the phone. We want to be available to you and your church.

Finally, if you agree with me that the mission of Texas Baptists Committed is critical to Texas Baptist life, then please give generously this year to further this mission. Consider yourself a partner with us in this work. That brings me to one more very important part of TBC - Jill Faragher. You can give your donation online by going to our Web site's home page and clicking the Join/Renew/Donate link. But if you mail your donation, you'll be mailing it to Jill.

Jill is the only other member of our staff. I'm located in Allen, just north of Dallas, and Jill is located at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, where she serves as finance manager, a role she also fills for TBC. I could not do this work without Jill; she is a CPA and handles all of our donations and other financial matters. She goes above and beyond in making sure all financial matters are handled thoroughly and effectively, and she is always gracious in doing so. I'm very thankful that Jill's a member of our staff.

So what's ahead for TBC?
My title changed on January 1, but my work is a continuation of what I've been doing for the past 2 years; it's just that there's a little more feeling of permanence (though I still serve at the pleasure of the Board), and I no longer have to answer the question, "so if you're the associate, then who's the executive director?"

Initiatives begun the past 2 years will continue. Many have found TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup a valuable central place to find Baptist news & opinion from a wide variety of sources. Every conference I attend these days, people come up to me and tell me how much they appreciate the Roundup. Our TBC Advisory Network is still in the formative stages, but it will gain traction in the coming months and make us even more effective in getting reliable information to pastorless churches and helping us to connect these churches with good and trustworthy pastoral candidates.

We are also working to strengthen our relationships with the various affinity groups among Texas Baptists. We want to continue to find ways to connect with young people. Finally, we are discussing ways of putting TBC on a secure financial footing well into the future, because we believe that its work will be needed for the foreseeable future in Texas Baptist life.

Of course, I say all of this while fully aware that change is a constant in all life, especially among Texas Baptists. Our Board and I are committed to staying informed and increasing our understanding of the dynamics and challenges of Texas Baptist life, and meeting all needs that are consistent with our mission.

It is my privilege to serve as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed. Thank you for your faithful support of TBC, and know that we welcome your full partnership with us in this work.