Saturday, July 29, 2017

One Layperson's Journey
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director

As this incredible part of my journey, as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, comes to a close, I want to share with friends and TBC supporters a little about the faith journey that has led me to this point – or, more accurately, the faith journey on which God has led me to this point.

But this isn’t simply MY journey. It’s the journey of a layperson who God has led, who numerous people (too many to count) have encouraged along the way, who has stayed the course, and who God has blessed with opportunities to serve.

In other words, while it’s the story of one layperson, it represents the story of many laypersons, some of whom I’ve met through the years, at conferences, luncheons, dinners, through email, and so forth. Each story is unique, yet our stories are also held in common.

If I start trying to tell this in simple narrative fashion, I’m going to ramble, and it’s probably going to be unreadable, so I’m instead going to tell it, as succinctly as possible, in timeline fashion, hitting a few highlights along the way. (If I ramble anyway, please forgive me. Also, it's pretty much stream-of-consciousness . . . please forgive any inconsistencies in punctuation, tense, etc.)

Spring 1967
- As a 16-year-old boy, I make the front page of The Kansas City Star, as part of a Lenten series, “Youths Talk About Faith.” (photo to the right) My simplistic faith ultimately causes me confusion (see November 1970, below). In an ironic twist, in light of my fighting the Fundamentalism that he one day embraces, Jimmy Draper – then pastor of our church’s mission in Kansas City – sends me a copy of my article, congratulating me.

September 1969
- I entered Oklahoma Baptist University on a Church Music degree. Ever since I was around 15 or 16, I had known that I wanted to be a minister of music. Throughout my teen years, my life had revolved around Youth Choir at Bethany Baptist Church in Kansas City, MO, where I grew up.

March 1970
- At a friend’s suggestion, I join what – in hindsight – is the leading Fundamentalist church of its day, First Southern Baptist Church of Del City, OK, which, under the pastorate of John Bisagno, had led the SBC in baptisms four years in a row. I joined on the day that Jimmy Draper became pastor. In introducing me to the congregation, Jimmy praised my Daddy, Jase Jones, his good friend who was on the staff of the Kansas City Baptist Association. In the coming months, whenever I would run into Jimmy in the hallways, he would always graciously ask about my parents and ask me to give them his regards. To my Daddy’s dying day, he said, “Jimmy Draper’s too nice a guy to get mixed up with those guys” (meaning Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler, and other Fundamentalist leaders).

November 1970
- Sitting in Western Civilization class one day, I had an epiphany that would change my life dramatically from that day forward. Questions about God, eternity, etc., that I had completely suppressed through the years – absolutely refused to deal with them – came crashing down upon me, from a single comment by my Western Civ professor. In teaching Dante’s Inferno, he said, “there are no absolutes.” Quite apart from the context of his teaching, in that moment, it hit me – I couldn’t absolutely prove any of this stuff I believed about God, Jesus, etc. I had entered that class having all the answers. I left it having nothing but questions and doubts.

That afternoon, in Brotherhood Dorm, I told my friend, Ron Russey, that I no longer believed in God, certainly didn’t believe in Jesus as God’s son. Ron suggested I go see Jerry Barnes, pastor of University Baptist Church across the street. Ron had grown up in Jerry’s church in Hobart, OK.

February 1971
- I finally went to see Jerry Barnes and told him I no longer believed in God but that I was searching for a truth in which I could believe. Jerry’s response? “Come join our church.” He knew I needed to be in church. So I joined University Baptist Church, where Jerry’s preaching challenged me, as no preaching ever had, to dig deep for scriptural understanding. Once a semester, Jerry would meet with me in his office, where I would bring him up-to-date on my “search” or “struggle,” and then help me with the next steps. Today I consider Jerry Barnes second only to my Daddy in helping me find my way back to Christ. This past January (2017), I drove to Miami, OK, for Jerry's memorial service.

- I’m not sure exactly when I finally told Mother and Daddy that I had lost my faith, but it was sometime in 1971. They were understanding and patient with me. Daddy honestly told me that he had undergone a similar faith struggle when he was young, so he understood what I was going through. He also acknowledged that I would have to work this out on my own, so that whatever I found would truly be my own, but I always knew that he was available if I had any questions or anything I wanted to discuss with him.

1974 or thereabouts
- I read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, a great help in better understanding the nature of faith.

January 1976
- I shared with Daddy that I had come back to a place where I could intellectually accept God and Christ. A real faith and heart commitment, however, took more time . . . it was gradual, a real journey.

April 1979
- In Denver and married by this time, I joined University Hills Baptist Church, my first church home since University in Shawnee. Joanna, though she had professed faith at University in 1975 or 1976, still had not been baptized and was still struggling with the concept of faith herself.

August 1981
- Joanna professes faith at University Hills and is baptized while carrying our first child, Alison. Our pastor, Davis Cooper, jokes that it is his first infant baptism.

Through the 1980s and 1990s
- My faith grows, as does my church involvement. As the SBC Controversy grows, I read and learn about what’s going on, following it closely, and begin to fight the “Baptist battles” on my own in Sunday School classes, as the subject lends itself to such discussion. I find myself fighting a pretty lonely battle most of the time.

March 2000
- At our church in Plano, where we had been members since 1987, our pastor sent a letter to the congregation that smacked – to me – of politics, as he said he wanted to “reevaluate” the church’s relationship with the BGCT. This was the catalyst for me to do something I should have done years before – collect my thoughts on Baptist principles and my position on the “SBC Controversy” and put them in writing. The result was a five-page statement of my position, accompanied by a two-page letter to my pastor. I prayed over it and mailed it to him with fear and trembling, not sure how he would accept it. He called me the next day and invited me to meet with him. He named me to the seven-person task force considering the church’s relationship with the BGCT.

June 2000
- At a meeting of the task force (the pastor was there as an ex-officio member), I said that I no longer considered myself a Southern Baptist, because the SBC had thrown out the bedrock Baptist principles of soul competency and priesthood of the believer. The pastor said he didn’t believe that was true, and I stood my ground, saying it didn’t matter whether he believed it; it was true! The next day, at the SBC annual meeting, SBC leaders attempted to take those two principles out of the Baptist Faith & Message; only a behind-the-scenes effort by Charles Wade and others dissuaded them from doing so. The pastor, of course, never came to me and admitted he had been wrong.

September 2000
- I sent a copy of my letter & statement to David Currie, thinking Texas Baptists Committed should know what was going on at my church.

January 2001
- David contacted me, and his associate, Charlie McLaughlin, called to ask to excerpt part of my statement for the (print) TBC Newsletter. David and I start talking regularly; his friendship and encouragement become key to my involvement in Baptist life.

February 2002
- The phone in my study rings. It’s Ray Vickrey, pastor of Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas.
RAY: “Would you be interested in serving on the Executive Board?”
ME (displaying my ignorance): “What Executive Board?”
RAY: “The Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board.”
ME: “Where in the world did you get MY name?”
RAY: “David Currie.”

I served a three-year term on the 225-member BGCT Executive Board, getting my feet just a little damp in the waters of Texas Baptist life. In 2004, I vote myself off the Board by voting to downsize it from 225 to 90.

During this time, attending BGCT annual meetings, I began stopping by the Christian Life Commission (CLC) booth every year and talking to Phil Strickland and Suzii Paynter about my concerns over what was going on in my church. They were sympathetic and encouraging to me.

May 2003
- I had lunch with Foy Valentine at Chuck’s, his favorite hamburger joint near his house in Dallas. I shared with him my concerns about my church and my pastor. Foy, blunt as usual, said, “You’ll never convert that pastor!” I guess I knew Foy was right – after all, he was right about just about everything. In 1963, at the SBC annual meeting in Kansas City (by the way, I was there as a 12-year-old whose Daddy was on the KC Baptist Association staff), he was the only person to vote against approval of the Baptist Faith and Message, warning that some would ultimately use it as a creed. Only Foy was prescient enough to see the morass into which the SBC that we then knew would ultimately sink.

November 2003
- After more than 16 years of fighting the Baptist battles at our church in Plano, hoping to make a difference, I encounter the last straw, the one that broke the camel’s back. Knowing that I was at that time a technical writer and editor, the pastor had asked me to help edit some re-writing of the church’s by-laws. One morning, I met with him and a committee chair to discuss this project. The pastor knew that I was trying to get a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship presence at the church. He told me that he had recently met with New Orleans seminary administrators to discuss partnering with them in starting a seminary in Russia. “Of course,” he said, “ you realize that if we go through with this, we’ll never be able to partner with CBF.” “Why?” “Because it’s in their charter; anyone who partners with them is not permitted to partner with CBF.”

I was incredulous. Despite my concerns about some of his actions violating Baptist principles, I had never imagined that he would compromise local church autonomy. So I looked at him and asked, “And you’re okay with that?” “Sure,” he casually replied. I still couldn’t believe it, so I asked, “As a Baptist, you’re okay with that?” Again came the casual reply, “Sure.”

May 2004
- Joanna and I had decided we would leave the church in June, as soon as my choral ensemble (which I directed) gave its last performance before our summer break. The first week of May, I drove down to San Antonio for Phil Strickland’s CLC conference at Trinity Baptist Church. One of his speakers was George Mason, his good friend, as well as his pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. It was the first time I had heard George speak. I leaned over to my good friend, Dan Williams, and asked him, “Is he always this good?” Dan just smiled and nodded. I met George that day and told him we lived in Plano and would soon be looking for a church. George replied, “Well, we’re just down the road from you.”

We first visited Wilshire on July 4 and joined at the end of August, as Wilshire was celebrating George’s 15th anniversary as pastor. Phil Strickland was on the chancel that morning, preparing to make a presentation to George. Phil smiled as he saw Joanna and me walk down that aisle to join Wilshire. Wilshire Baptist Church and George Mason – and our wonderful Epiphany Sunday School class – have been a blessing to us ever since. Thanks be to God!

June 2004
- I met with our music minister (my closest friend at that church) to tell him that Joanna and I would be leaving and that he would need to find a new director for the ensemble. I also told him that, after a lifetime of involvement with music, God was leading me to new priorities. I believed that God wanted me to do some writing – not sure exactly what venue, etc., but I felt a strong tugging in that direction. I also knew that, after years of singing in choirs on Sunday morning, I wanted to finally be able to sit in the pew and share a hymnal with my wife, so I would not be joining the choir at our new church.

Of course, I had no idea what God’s call to “do some writing” would entail – “doing some writing” has turned out to have a much broader application than I ever imagined.

January 2006
- I was in the foyer of Park Cities Baptist Church, talking to Joe Trull, as we – and many others – waited to be called into the sanctuary for Foy Valentine’s funeral to begin. As Joe and I talked, I saw David Currie walk over to one corner of the foyer and motion to me. So I excused myself and walked over to David. He said, “If you’ll take it, the TBC Board has elected you as a member.” Here was another opportunity to serve – which I neither sought nor knew was available to me – that David Currie had provided for me. I took it, having no inkling of the challenges and opportunities that awaited me.

While still working full-time as a technical editor & writer in the corporate world, I began editing for David, who ultimately asked me to take over all of the communications for TBC, including editing the print newsletter and maintaining the TBC Web site. In 2008, the Board voted to hire me as communications editor and pay me a nominal amount. David and I had begun his Ranchers Rumblings column in 2007. In 2008, I began soliciting op-Eds from various Baptist leaders, publishing them on the Web site as Baptist Reflections.

- In the fall of 2009, David had left TBC, and our Board – under the chairmanship of first Steve Wells and then Michael Bell – began meeting almost every month to discuss whether TBC should continue (funds were already very low) and, if so, in what form . . . what would be our focus, etc. In March 2010, Bank of America laid me off, making me available. That fall, Michael Bell asked if I would be open to taking over the executive leadership of the organization. That was a surprise to me – I had never considered or imagined it. I was dubious, told Michael I didn’t think the Board would go for that, considering my lack of experience, not being a preacher, etc. Michael asked me to stay open to the possibility. A few weeks later, the Board voted unanimously to elect me to lead TBC from an executive position, effective January 1, 2011. I accepted.

January 2011
- The first thing I did was begin producing, in my study at home, a series of videos on Baptist history and principles, which I called Baptist Briefs, because they were only two to three minutes each. I meticulously researched materials for these videos, and wrote scripts, which I rehearsed while pacing up-and-down the hallway outside my study, so that I would be able to look at the cameral throughout, without looking down at a script.

I put the first one up on the Web site on Monday, January 3, and began putting up a new one daily, Monday-Friday. Within the first week, Bruce Gourley, executive director of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, called to let me know how much he was enjoying them. Great affirmation!

A few weeks later, Michael Dain, professor at Wayland Baptist University, told me he was using some of them with his classes. When I went out to Howard Payne for the Currie-Strickland Lectures, Art Allen a Howard Payne professor, said I looked familiar and then realized he recognized me from Baptist Briefs, some of which he had shared with his students.

February-March 2011
- There were two evenings at the end of February 2011 that have been pivotal in my relationship with the Lord and in everything I’ve done since. As I prepared to produce a series of Baptist Briefs on the Youth Revival Movement that started at Baylor in 1944, I read – over two evenings – Bruce McIver’s Riding the Wind of God: A Personal History of the Youth Revival Movement. I found myself in tears both evenings.

- The first evening, it was because I was overwhelmed by the faith of those young people at Baylor, whose hearts God had touched with the need for revival in Waco. Early-on, they recognized that they were inadequate for this task, so they prayed together, night after night, in their dorms ‘til 2 or 3 in the morning. I could relate, because I, too, had been given a task for which I felt inadequate. So I had to go to God daily (and still do), saying, “Lord, you know that I’m not up to this, but you are. Please do your work through me.”

- The second night, I was in tears again, as I read the names of people – involved in that movement in the 1940s – with whom I was working on the Maston Foundation Board in 2011. Louis Cobbs was one; Jimmy Allen, who got involved when the movement spread to Howard Payne in 1947, was another. So I walked around my living room, late at night, crying, saying, “Lord, are you sure you know what you’re doing, having me working with people like this? I’ll never be able to accomplish for you what they have.” And the still small voice of God – not audible, but just as real – said to me, “That’s not your concern. All you need to do is be faithful to what I’ve called you to do.”

My testimony today is that God has faithfully granted my prayer to “do your work through me.” God has accomplished things through me that I could have never imagined, much less accomplished, on my own. That book on the Youth Revival Movement moved me more than any book ever has; God used it powerfully in my life.

A wonderful postscript to that experience: In August 2011, I got to meet Lawanna McIver Fields, widow of Bruce McIver, who had been George Mason’s predecessor as Wilshire’s pastor. Lawanna and her husband, legendary Baptist journalist W. C. Fields, attended Wilshire’s 60th anniversary celebration. I shared with her then about my videos and later emailed the link to her. Soon after that, she told me that she loved the videos so much that she had sent the link to her grandchildren and urged them to watch them. That was the best affirmation that I could get that I had been faithful to Bruce’s book – that his widow would share my videos with their grandchildren.

March 2012
- The T. B. Maston Foundation Board of Trustees elected me as chair, a role I filled for the next four years. T. B. Maston has been an influence in my life from the moment I was born. Daddy was studying under Dr. Maston at that time and earned his Th.D. in Christian Ethics under Dr. Maston in 1956, when I was 5. Daddy played a key role in starting the Maston Foundation and chaired it for the first decade-plus of its existence. Here was another labor of love for me. Thanks be to God!

April 2013
- Our son, Travis, suffers a massive stroke, and we almost lose him. He was taken to the hospital around 10:30 p.m. on April 1; around midnight, the doctors come out and tell us that he has a 50-50 chance to survive this stroke. I begin texting everyone for whom I have a cell phone number and ask them to pray. Responses begin pouring in immediately. At 6 a.m., George Mason is there to pray with us. At 8 a.m., as they begin surgery, the hospital chaplain introduces himself to us, prays with us, sits with us through the entire operation, and explains – in English – what the doctors tell us following surgery. By the grace of God, Travis is still with us today. Through Travis’s stroke, and Joanna’s kidney disease, I’ve learned a lot about prayer and gotten to know God a lot better.

Well, I need to bring this to a close. So I’ll cut it “short” here. But you get the gist.

Again, this is one layperson’s journey – how God has some remarkable surprises for us along the way. God has blessed my family and me. Thank you for reading. If nothing else, this has been cathartic for me. I hope it’s an encouragement to others.

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