Guarneri calls Texas Baptists to remain ‘stubbornly focused’ on kingdom agenda

by Texas Baptists Communications on May 21, 2024 in News

Executive director Julio Guarneri outlined a rousing vision for the convention’s future during his Monday evening address at the May meeting of the Texas Baptists Executive Board. The session was broadcast from the campus of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.

In his sixth month as executive director, Guarneri spoke of God’s kingdom agenda, a new clarified calling process and team, Texas Baptists’ historical identity and commitments, denominational developments impacting the churches of the convention, the implications of these and other changes and five action items for the convention’s short-term future.

His kingdom agenda

Guarneri began by discussing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus declared his kingdom agenda, and it was clear, comprehensive and compelling. Guarneri expressed a desire for Texas Baptists’ agenda to be the same.

“We want our agenda to reflect that of Jesus…We want every Texas Baptists church, every institution we relate to, every partner and everyone who is considering joining our movement to have clarity about who we are, what we do and what God is doing through us,” he said.

Citing its constitution, Guarneri noted the comprehensive scope of the work and ministry of the convention which advances “all interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom.”

Guarneri also described the convention’s agenda as compelling.

“We want people who are on the outside to want to come in…and let those who want to be about the same thing be compelled to join us,” he said.

Clarified calling

Next, Guarneri spoke on the need for strategic planning to guide the convention’s ministry for the next few years.

He pointed to a February staff leadership retreat in which participants engaged in “a strategic praying and thinking process.”

Guarneri also introduced a “clarified calling” process and team comprised of convention staff, officers, pastors and advisory members.

Staff on the clarified calling team include Julio Guarneri, executive director; Craig Christina, associate executive director; Ward Hayes, CFO/treasurer; Joshua Minatrea, director of Communications; Katie Frugé, director of the Center for Cultural Engagement and CLC; and David Miranda, director of CPC and Pastor’s Common.

Convention officers include Ronnie Marriott, pastor of FBC Burleson and president of the BGCT; Debbie Potter, children’s minister at Trinity, San Antonio and first vice president of the BGCT; and Bobby Contreras, pastor of Alamo Heights Baptist Church and chairman of the Executive Board.

Pastors include Henry Batson III, pastor of Faith Fellowship and president of the African American Fellowship; Darin Wood, pastor of FBC Midland; Jeff Warren, pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas; and Joe Barber, pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church, San Antonio.

Advisory members include Sergio Ramos, president of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas and church engagement officer at Buckner; Steve Bezner, pastor of Northwest Baptist Church, Houston; and Michael Evans, Sr., pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Mansfield.

Guarneri described the process of clarifying the convention’s calling as “a six-month process of learning, listening and planning.”

The team hopes to have more to share at the September Executive Board meeting and the November Annual Meeting.

Identity and commitments

“While we work on our clarified calling strategy for the next few years, there are some things that we can be certain about now,” Guarneri said. He shared five core commitments of the convention that have not changed.

The convention is committed to Scripture as the authority for faith and practice.

It is committed to submission to the Lordship of Christ over each believer, each church and the convention of churches.

It is committed to its 138-year historical roots of doctrinal soundness, church autonomy, voluntary cooperation, common and not credal statements of faith and working to accomplish God’s mission together.

It is committed to focusing on what Guarneri called “the main thing,” the Great Commission and making disciples of all nations.

It is committed to taking a stand on biblical ethics including the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of biblical marriage, the image of God in every human and “many other important issues that flow from the law, the prophets and the gospels,” Guarneri said.

“While these things have not changed,” Guarneri said, “our approach to ministry in a changing world must adapt in order to remain effective.”

Denominational developments

Guarneri noted five denominational developments taking place within and beyond Texas.

He acknowledged that networks of churches and ministries have been growing across America, collaborating for God’s mission. Texas Baptists can either watch or “join in and lead,” he said.

Churches outside of Texas continue to seek affiliation with Texas Baptists through the GC2 network. While the first church outside of Texas to affiliate with the convention joined in the 1970s, about 70 churches outside the bounds of the state now cooperate with the convention.

Guarneri also shared that the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming “Law Amendment” vote could result in a significant number of churches “changing their titles, their stance or their affiliation.”

Further, Guarneri explained that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) will no longer work with BGCT churches to plant BGCT churches due to the convention having not adopted the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.

He also noted entities like the Baptist World Alliance are making plans to finish the Great Commission by its 2000th anniversary.

Implications of changes

Guarneri then spoke to the practical implications of denominational developments and other changes occurring within Baptist life.

He reiterated that Texas Baptists stands fast in its affirmation of local church autonomy.

“Each church has the freedom under Christ to decide what roles and titles it gives to her ministers including men and women,” he said.

“There are some who have questioned if I have an agenda for promoting a particular view of women across the convention…My only agenda is the Great Commission,” Guarneri said.

“There is a danger of mission drift when the convention gives excessive focus to matters that should be left for the local church to decide,” he said.

As the Law Amendment comes to a vote, many churches and women in ministry may feel displaced or hurt, but “we will be their family…we will walk with them,” he said.

The BGCT must be ready to welcome those who want to be a part of what the Lord is doing through Texas Baptists. Guarneri reviewed the seven points any congregation desiring affiliation with Texas Baptists must affirm.

“Consistent with our current practice,” he said, “we would like to welcome churches who affirm these points, whether they are in Texas or in another state in the U.S.”

Action items

Finally, Guarneri presented five action items needed in the near future.

He asked that the Executive Board endorse the formal development of the GC2 network by endorsing the clarified calling team to serve as a task force to discuss GC2 network development and return recommendations to the Board, and to affirm the staffing of a GC2 network position to again bring recommendations to the Board at a future meeting.

Other action items included increasing WorldWide giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program to grow strategic missions partnerships, conducting a survey of Texas Baptists churches' missions involvement to better resource and connect churches where God is already at work, reviewing and considering revision to the Cooperative Program giving form and strengthening theological education and Hispanic education specifically to communicate better the story of how Texas Baptists schools are stewarding their Cooperative Program investments.

Guarneri also announced the convention is in the process of hiring a full-time Hispanic Education Initiative (HEI) director who will work in the office on theological education and relate to the Board’s existing HEI Council.

“We have much work to do in the days ahead. With this help, together we can do more for the sake of the kingdom,” Guarneri said. “We want to be about Jesus’ kingdom agenda.”

In closing, Guarneri encouraged those in attendance to stay strong and resist the temptation to take shortcuts or drift away from what they are being called to accomplish.

“May we not give in to the temptation of getting off course the agenda and the mission our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has given us,” he said. “May we stay stubbornly focused on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. May we be about His kingdom agenda.”

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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