Christina: Let’s not forget our first love

by George Schroeder on July 18, 2023 in Annual Meeting

In the associate executive director’s report, Dr. Craig Christina exhorted messengers to remember and remain unified by their first love: Jesus. Christina has served as acting executive director since the retirement of Dr. David Hardage at the end of 2022.

“My message for us tonight is simply this,” Christina said. “Do not forsake our first love.”

Drawing from Revelation 2, Christina exhorted Texas Baptists – as Christ praised the church at Ephesus – to continue their hard work, their perseverance and their desire for holiness. But as Christ warned the church, not to forsake their first love.

Christina asked: “Is it possible we can become so focused on doctrinal purity and correctness and agreeing 100% with every jot and tittle of interpretation that we forget about our love relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we forget about our love relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ; we forget about our passion for reaching the lost? It’s possible.”

Christina said Texas Baptists is in “such a good place right now as a Convention because we have kept first things first. We’re not perfect. We have our challenges, but let me brag on you for a moment.”

He highlighted the BGCT’s diversity: 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 and 200 cowboy churches “for a total of 5,276 churches.”

Christina said the Center for Cultural Engagement has ministry offices to help each of those affinity groups. The Center for Ministerial Health has liaisons to aid bivocational churches – approximately 60% of Texas Baptists churches have bivocational pastors.

He said Texas Baptists are passionate about starting churches, with 200 in the church starting process – and noted that since 2016, Texas Baptists have planted 37 churches outside Texas. Jonathan Smith, director of Church Health Strategy, has led consultations with 630 churches and trained more than 100 with the PAVE church revitalization strategy.

Christina highlighted Texas Baptist’ missions involvement, as well, including the River Ministry along the border with Mexico and the Missionary Adoption Program (MAP). He pointed to Texas Baptists’ presence on 137 college campuses around the state through the Center for Collegiate Ministry, which results in about 1,000 college students coming to Christ each year. Robert Rueda, who leads the Baptist Student Ministries at UT Rio Grande Valley and Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen, started cafes on both campuses to battle food insecurity. BSM students volunteer to serve.

“They’re not just feeding people sandwiches,” Christina said. “They’re feeding them the bread of life.”

Despite those and other highlights, Christina cautioned that Baptists are historically “easily distracted from the main thing.”

“The question we have to ask ourselves is this,” he said. “Can we hold to the fundamentals of the faith, agree to keep the main things the main things, but agree to disagree on secondary and tertiary issues and still be one? Can we? We can if we keep our first love.”

Christina noted the diversity in his physical family, which recently got together for a weekend at Port Aransas, and said two things keep the family together: blood and love.

“Texas Baptists, we are the family of God,” Christina said. “What keeps us together? Two things: blood and love. The blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross, and our love for the Lord and one another and reaching the lost for Jesus. God is doing amazing things through Texas Baptists, but there’s still so much more to be done.

“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. 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.”

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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