DALLAS (ABP) — Treading the ground between competing Baptist conventions is no walk in the park, but it's the path Texas Baptist Men has chosen, according to interim executive director Leo Smith.
Texas Baptist Men is a self-governing affiliate of the Baptist General Convention of Texas that depends on the BGCT for most of its operating budget. But last February, the TBM board of directors voted also to have a fraternal working relationship with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, a conservative group that broke away from the BGCT in 1998.
“The primary reason for the relationship with SBTC is to maintain a working relationship with people who have been integrally involved in the ministries of Texas Baptist Men since its beginning,” Smith explained.
East Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are regions where TBM has been strongest, and they are also areas of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention prominence. More to the point, many of TBM's key lay leaders — particularly in disaster-relief ministries — are members of churches now affiliated with SBTC, Smith noted.
TBM crafted the working agreement with SBTC out of a desire to be a place where members of BGCT and SBTC churches could work together, and to avoid the threat of having two competing Baptist men's organizations in the state, Smith said. “My hope is that Texas Baptist Men will be able to walk between the two conventions with integrity and a vision of bridging the gap for the laymen,” he said.
But moving from vision to reality isn't easy, he acknowledged. “It's a work in progress.”
Jim Richards, executive director of the conservative group, agreed. In the last nine months, there has been “significant progress” in developing a working relationship between his group and Texas Baptist Men, he said.
Yet questions remain unanswered and some issues have not yet been finally resolved, he said. “We may be a little over five years old, but we're still a work in progress ourselves.”
Richards said TBM and SBTC mutually benefit from having the chance to share information about each other with new audiences.
“It's an opportunity for more men to be involved in missions through Texas Baptist Men. There are churches affiliated with us who have never heard of TBM. We have over 200 churches that were not in existence in 1998 affiliated with our convention. As these churches grow up, it gives their men the opportunity to plug into the TBM organization,” he said.
However, at this point, the SBTC website has no link to Texas Baptist Men and does not include any TBM-related events on its calendar. By the same token, the TBM website does not provide any links to SBTC, but the TBM annual plan-book for leaders includes a page promoting the SBTC state missions offering, from which TBM derives no benefit.
TBM's long-time status as an affiliate of the BGCT has been beneficial both to the convention and the missions organization, according to BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade. “People of our state know Texas Baptists as caring Christian people in large part because of the sacrificial service of TBM disaster-relief volunteers and Retiree Builders,” he said. “The BGCT has benefited from the goodwill produced by these ministries, and TBM could not have performed these ministries without the significant financial support of BGCT-related churches. My prayer is that this important missions partnership will continue for years to come.”
As TBM seeks to develop a working relationship with SBTC, while trying not to alienate the BGCT, some of the key issues involve money, disaster relief and volunteer construction.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas provides budget money, office space and mission offering funds to TBM. The SBTC doesn't. If TBM were an “affiliated” organization of the conservative convention, like Criswell College, it might be included in the budget. But as a “fraternal” partner, TBM can expect “no guarantee” of financial support through the SBTC budget or its state missions offering, Richards said.
In the future, SBTC might grant funds to specific disaster-relief efforts or to a jointly sponsored men's rally, he added. But it won't become a line item in the SBTC budget as long as its relationship is strictly “fraternal.” However, SBTC channels some designated money to TBM from its churches — about $20,000 so far in 2003. In contrast, TBM received more than $1.2 million through the much larger BGCT last year.
For disaster relief, the American Red Cross relates directly with Texas Baptist Men for work within the state. SBTC has worked with its affiliated churches and sympathetic associations that have disaster-relief vehicles that could become a part of the TBM fleet, Richards noted. He said this ministry is a “leading area where coordinated efforts have worked to the advancement of both Texas Baptist Men and SBTC in accomplishing Kingdom work.” The volunteers operate with the understanding that “if called out, they work under the leadership of TBM and become a part of their team,” he added.
In volunteer construction, TBM has a 24-year-old ministry that includes church, camp and special projects builders. SBTC has developed its own volunteer builders program, Texas Baptist Builders. “It's an amicable relationship,” Richards said. “I don't see it as competition. It's complementary. There's plenty of work to go around.”
Other areas, like missions education, are even less clear. SBTC might eventually develop its own missions education program, Richards said.
TBM maintained exhibit booths at both the BGCT annual meeting recently in Lubbock and the SBTC meeting in Corpus Christi. But the annual TBM convention was held in conjunction with the BGCT meeting. A committee was recently appointed to study when and where TBM should hold its annual meeting and may consider a neutral site.
Smith of TBM is reluctant to guess what the future holds for his group's relationship with the two Texas conventions, but he knows what he hopes will happen. “My dream is that there will come a day when we know each other well enough that relationships just happen, and we don't have to go through the process of working out cooperative agreements,” Smith said.
He also knows what he hopes will never happen. He doesn't want to see TBM sever its longstanding ties to the BGCT, or lose the opportunity to work with valuable lay leaders in SBTC-related churches.
“I don't think that a parachurch Baptist men's organization in Texas is the answer. The answer is to walk between the two conventions,” he said.