DALLAS—Executive Director David Hardage told the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board he is considering recommending major changes in the BGCT—for the sake of Texas.
As Hardage travels across the state, he listens to pastors and other Baptists, and many agree the convention must adapt in order to be effective, he reported.
For example, he noted a young pastor at a strong church said of the state convention: “I don’t think you’re obsolete. I’m not sure you’re relevant.”
At the other end of the generational spectrum, Hardage described a conversation with an “elder statesman”: “He told me, ‘We’re still doing convention as we have for 100 years.’ That was not a positive statement.”
“I really am giving some long and serious thought to our future. What will we—what should we—look like?” Hardage asked.
He is not interested in serving as executive director, “just so we can have a convention,” but rather “so we can impact Texas with the gospel,” he stressed. “I don’t want to make decisions to keep people happy, but to reach Texas with the gospel.”
That’s an increasingly challenging chore, he added.
Texas adds 550,000 residents each year, he said, noting the mix of new Texans makes the state increasingly diverse, with 171 languages “officially spoken.” The population’s demographic composition continues to shift, with Hispanics comprising a plurality of residents and soon will become the majority.
“The state into which I was born is not the state I live in today,” Hardage said.
Consequently, the BGCT needs to change to meet the challenge, he added. He plans to present a proposal for reconfiguring the convention, “and it may be pretty radical,” he said.
Wherever he goes, pastors tell him, “Let’s do something,” he reported, noting they increasingly express a desire for change necessary to help people and lead them to faith in Jesus.
“The future—not just of the Texas Baptist convention, but of Texas and of what we need to do for (God’s) kingdom—weighs in the balance,” he said. “We must adjust our mindset and our hearts to do whatever it takes to impact Texas for the gospel. … I do mean that.”
Developing a new vision
Hardage invited the Executive Board to join him in developing a new vision for Texas Baptists.
“Send me your thoughts. Send me your ideas. Think. Pray. Dream,” he urged. “Let’s put something out there that will be exciting for the future of Texas Baptists.
“I will come to you with a way big idea,” he promised. “It will be different.”
BGCT President Jeff Johnson later illustrated that theme by describing the difference between good snakes, bad snakes and good snakes that become bad snakes. He recalled his grandmother telling him good snakes eat rodents and serve a useful purpose. Bad snakes hurt poultry, livestock and people.
“But the worst thing is when good snakes become bad snakes,” said Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Commerce.
He recalled how God healed the Israelites from deadly snakebites in the wilderness when Moses lifted up a bronze serpent as God commanded. But later, the people of Israel worshipped that bronze snake as an idol.
“Like it or not, there comes a point when things that might have been good in the past might not be right in the present,” he said.
Avoid ‘idolizing the past’
Texas Baptists must avoid idolizing the past and becoming paralyzed by fear, Johnson insisted.
“The older I get, the more I fear change,” he confessed. “But fear is what keeps me from going where I know I must go. Fear keeps me from doing what I know must be done.
“Imagine what Texas Baptists would be like if we were unafraid.”
With additional reporting by Managing Editor Ken Camp