2023 Family Gathering celebrates Texas Baptists’ unity in diversity

by Texas Baptists Communications on July 19, 2023 in Annual Meeting

McALLEN – 1,900 messengers and visitors gathered in McAllen July 16-18 to take part in Texas Baptists’ Family Gathering, the 138th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). The theme, drawn from Ephesians 2:19, was coming together as the “Household of God.”

Included in the Family Gathering were meetings of the Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas, the African American Fellowship and ethnic and cultural partners. Messengers and guests participated in worship celebrations, business sessions and workshops. With final registrants totalling 680 messengers and 1,220 visitors, total attendance topped the 1,824 who attended the 2022 Annual Meeting in Waco.

President’s challenge

“We are now living in a Kairos moment,” said Julio Guarneri, Texas Baptists’ president, in a challenge to messengers at the 2023 Family Gathering. Beginning with Christ’s announcement of his ministry in Mark 1:15, he challenged messengers to understand who they are and what time it is.

Guarneri, the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in McAllen, who was elected for a second one-year term as Texas Baptists’ president, said he believes we are “at a crossroads of redemptive history.” Outlining rapidly shifting demographics and population numbers in Texas – 164 languages spoken in Texas alone, he said, with Texas Baptists churches ministering in around 80 languages – Guarneri called for a renewed commitment to sharing the gospel.

“The nations have come to us, and we are reminded today that Texas remains both a mission base and a mission field, more than ever,” he said. “We are called to the nations. The nations have come to us.

“That’s what time it is, y’all.”

To meet the moment, Guarneri said Texas Baptists must also remember who they are. Referencing the theme of the Family Gathering, he said it is important Texas Baptists “don’t get distracted or confused about our identity.”

He said Texas Baptists turn first to Scriptures, learning they are the family of God, united in diversity. They’re also the family of God united in mission – to accomplish the Great Commission, making disciples of all nations. And finally, they’re the family of God united for His kingdom.

“We are one big family of men and women, children, youth and adults,” he said. “Anglo, Black, Hispanic, Asian. From remote places and from large cities. From small churches and from megachurches. And what binds us together is Christ. That’s who we are, familial Texas Baptists. We are the family of God, unified in diversity.”

Worship celebrations and messages focus on unity in diversity

Speakers in the worship celebrations brought messages focused on the unity of Texas Baptists, despite their evident diversity. Craig Christina, Texas Baptists’ acting executive director, brought specificity: The BGCT has 2,750 Anglo churches, 1,024 Hispanic churches, 907 African American churches, 220 multi-ethnic, multi-cultural churches, 82 Korean, 57 African, 32 Chinese, 26 Burmese, 22, Vietnamese, 12 Filipino, 200 cowboy churches and other people groups for a total of 5,276. The roster of speakers reflected that diversity.

During the Sunday worship session, Ellis Orozco, recently announced theologian in residence at Stark College and Seminary in Corpus Christi and former senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Richardson, preached from the account of the early church in Acts 2:42-47, showing how the earliest church was both devoted and generous and was effective in reaching the lost because of its evident love for one another.

During the Monday morning worship session, Thong Lun, senior pastor of Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship, used examples of how God used Texas Baptists to directly impact his native people and encouraged attendees to follow Paul’s words from Galatians 6:9-10 to not grow weary in doing good, understanding the result of perseverance would be a harvest.

Monday evening, Dwight McKissic, Sr., senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Arlington, told messengers the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 shows that preaching the gospel should transcend all barriers.

“God used a Greek man to reach an African man and change a nation,” McKissic said. “That means God wants those that know Christ to share with those that don’t know Christ without respect to their color or background.”

As part of the acting executive director’s report, Christina challenged messengers to remember and remain unified by their first love: Jesus. Preaching from Christ’s letter to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2, he said the Texas Baptists family is united by the blood of Jesus Christ and “love for the Lord and one another and reaching the lost for Jesus.”

“In a world where people are fragmenting and dividing and drawing the circle smaller and smaller on what makes a good Baptist … let’s not become like Ephesus,” he said. “Let’s work hard. Let’s persevere. Let’s call sin sin. But let’s keep our first love for Jesus until all people come to know Him.”

Closing out the Family Gathering in Tuesday morning’s final worship session, Greg Ammons, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Garland, preached from 1 Samuel 15:22-23, when Samuel chastised King Saul for his partial obedience. If Texas Baptists are to remain people of influence in a changing culture, they must listen to God and practice total obedience, Ammons said.

Music in the worship celebrations was led by El Trio de Hoy; the worship team from Calvary McAllen; Roy and Niya Cotton; Ray Sanchez, pastor of worship and administration at First Baptist Church of Weslaco; and the Singing Men of South Texas.

Officers elected, motion affirming women in ministry and other business approved

Messengers elected new officers to serve for the 2023-2024 term during the Monday morning business session. Guarneri was re-elected to a second one-year term. Ronny Marriott, pastor of First Baptist Church in Burleson, was elected first vice president. Debbie Potter, minister of children at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, was elected second vice president.

Guarneri and Marriott ran unopposed and were elected by the messengers in attendance at the McAllen Convention Center during the first business session. Potter was elected 173-133 over Glenn Lackey, a layman from Canyon Creek Baptist Church in Temple.

In the Tuesday morning business session, messengers adopted an amended motion to affirm women in ministry. The motion as approved requests “that the Executive Board resources BGCT staff to continue developing more strategies, resources, and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming, appointing, and employing women in ministerial and leadership roles.”

The original motion, submitted by Meredith Stone, a messenger for Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, would have “instructed” the BGCT Executive Board to “have staff create programs, resources and initiatives in affirming, appointing and employing women in ministerial and pastoral roles.” Dustin Slaton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Round Rock, offered the amendment, which was approved, and then the amended motion was adopted.

Craig Christina, Texas Baptists’ acting executive director, said the adopted motion “preserved our unity under a big tent by voting to affirm women and affirm the autonomy of the local church in calling out the called.”

“We are committed to assisting Texas Baptists churches as they commission, and Texas Baptist universities and seminaries as they equip, women and men for ministry,” he said. “BGCT staff are excited to follow the guidance of messengers to the convention to provide more resources and initiatives to support churches interested in calling men or women to the gospel ministry.”

Monday evening, Pete Pawelek, pastor of Cowboy Fellowship of Atascosa County in Pleasanton and a member of the Executive Director Search Committee, gave an update on the committee’s progress. He thanked messengers for praying for the committee, which he noted is a diverse group, and said through regular meetings, the search committee has narrowed its focus to “a small handful of candidates.” He added that the committee’s hope is to present a single candidate to the Executive Board soon.

Bobby Contreras, chair of the Executive Board, provided an update on business conducted by the Executive Board in 2023.

Contreras shared the Executive Board had unanimously deemed two churches – Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio and Second Baptist Church in Lubbock – to be out of harmonious cooperation due to their public affirmation of same-sex sexuality. He said concerns about the churches were brought to BGCT staff, who followed up and found both churches to “hold views that were inconsistent with the Convention’s long-held view on biblical sexuality.” Staff presented information to the Executive Board, which was unanimous in its decision.

Contreras said the churches were provided the opportunity to further clarify their views and to be considered for reinstatement, “but no clarification was received.”

Contreras reminded messengers that in years when the Texas Baptists Annual Meeting is conducted at the Family Gathering, the Executive Board is given the responsibility for approving the next year’s budget, so no 2024 budget recommendation was made.

Ward Hayes, treasurer and CFO for Texas Baptists, provided a financial report, noting that it “is simply a testimony in numbers. … It is certainly giving testimony to the goodness of God.” He noted that Cooperative Program giving was up in 2022, “praise be to God. We certainly celebrate that,” and said overall, giving was “fairly stable” and Texas Baptists “remain in a positive, strong financial position.”

Read the full recap of the Monday business session here.

In other business, messengers approved a recommendation from the Committee on Annual Meeting to hold the 2026 Texas Baptists Annual Meeting in Waco. The 2024 Annual Meeting will also be in Waco; the 2025 Annual Meeting is set for Abilene.

Workshops, meal functions and other gatherings

In conjunction with the Family Gathering, the Convención Bautista Hispana de Texas conducted its annual meeting. The African American Fellowship and other ethnic and cultural partners also met.

Including those focused on the same topic conducted in both English and Spanish, more than 30 workshops were held. Messengers and guests also participated in several banquets and dinners, including the Missions Banquet and the Center for Cultural Engagement Family Dinner.

The annual Missions Banquet celebrated 55 years of River Ministry along the border, which lies only a few miles south of the McAllen Convention Center. During the Center for Cultural Engagement Family Dinner, Michael Evans, Sr., senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, said Texas Baptists are called “to leverage our diverse gifts and resources to meet the challenges of our day.”

Messengers also heard reports from partnering organizations, including WMU of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.

The 2024 Texas Baptists Annual Meeting is scheduled for Nov. 10-12, 2024.

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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