Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Houston and UBA Overview -- for BGCT Messengers

Houston is the host city for the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Messengers from many of the 5,700 churches that comprise BGCT will meet for two days in November, and we want to say welcome.

For our guests, let me tell you a bit about our city. Houston is the largest city in the state of Texas and the fourth largest city in the US. More than 4.5 million people currently call Houston home. Believe it or not, the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) covers an area slightly smaller than Maryland but larger than Massachusetts. At 634 square miles, the City of Houston could contain the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami. The Houston MSA contains more people than Minnesota, which ranks 21st among the states in population. Houston is as diverse a city as there is in the US. We’ve identified over 300 different ethnolinguistic people groups living in Harris County. One out of four folks that live here was born overseas. One in three will not speak English when they go home tonight.

The 600 churches of Union Baptist Association minister to the folks who live in our highly diverse, rapidly growing city. One-third of all UBA churches are Anglo, one-third are African American and one-third are congregations that speak a language other than English.

Houston is our primary mission field. People from all over the world move to Houston daily. When they do they bring with them their ethnic identity and rich cultural history including their religious heritage. Consequently, every major religion in the world is actively practiced in Houston. Still, with all that religious plurality, half of the population of Houston claim no religious identity.

A couple of years ago I wondered what would it be like if Pentecost were to happen in Houston today like it did in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. I called together church leaders from across our city to help me ask and answer that question and to begin to build a strategy which could set the stage for Pentecost Houston. About the same time Dr. Randel Everett returned to Texas as the Executive Director for BGCT and shared his dream of “prayer, care and share.” As we talked, it became apparent that Pentecost Houston and Prayer, Care and Share (now called Texas Hope 2010) were parallel initiatives that could easily be merged. Consequently, Pentecost Houston/Texas Hope 2010 are a major part of the strategy for reaching our city in the immediate future and for years to come.

We are working to see that everyone in our city has a chance to hear the gospel in their heart language just like they did at Pentecost, and to be able to attend a church where they can identify with folks ethnically, culturally, linguistically and spiritually.

We are bringing together secular and sacred care agencies to help eradicate hunger in Houston, much like the early church shared with others so that no one was in need of food.

Fervent, focused intercessory prayer undergirds and provides the foundation for all our work, just as with Pentecost.

We long to see our city transformed by the power of God. We know we cannot orchestrate it. God is not our's to command and control. Still, we want to do our part so that God can do His.

So to all our guests, we say welcome. We hope you enjoy your time among us. As you walk the streets of our city, pray for the churches of UBA and the body of Christ in our city as we fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime in our city.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

UBA Welcomes Texas Baptists to Houston

This month Houston will host the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. UBA is an association of churches that partners with both the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Convention of Texas to promote and extend the cause of Christ in Texas and beyond.

Prior to 1886 there were as many as five state conventions in Texas. Over time the leaders of the various conventions realized it would be better to consolidate the conventions and agencies and work together rather than compete with one another. They consolidated under the name “Baptist General Convention of Texas.” From then until November 1998, BGCT was the only state Baptist convention in Texas.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas encourages, facilitates and connects churches in their work to fulfill God’s mission of reconciling the world to himself. Approximately 5,700 churches affiliate with BGCT as do 23 different institutions and human care agencies including Buckner International (the largest Baptist human care agency in the world — founded by a transplanted Tennessee pastor like myself I must add) and ten educational ministries including Baylor University (largest Baptist University in the world).

Sadly, many, if not most, Baptists have lost a sense of their own history and distinctiveness in the body of Christ. When I was a child, denominational distinctives were emphasized, so much that I sometimes wondered if anyone would get to heaven other than Baptists. Today the emphasis is more on recognizing that we are all part of the larger body of Christ with all its plurality and diversity. That doesn’t mean, though, that Baptists should not know and celebrate their uniqueness. 2009 is special because it marks the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Baptists with John Smyth. (For more on the history of Baptists, cf. www.baptisthistory.org) If you want to know more about our Baptist distinctives, I’d encourage you to check out www.baptistdistinctives.org.

Of course, I’m partial to the special role Union Baptist Association plays in the history of Texas Baptists. UBA was the first association formed in Texas (1840). At the second meeting of the association, two actions were taken that even today impact the priorities of our Texas Baptist witness and ministry. The first action was the creation of a “Missionary Society.” Today, missions and evangelism remain the heartbeat of Texas Baptists. The second significant action was the creation of an Education Society. From these efforts, Baylor University was chartered by the Republic of Texas in 1845.

So to the messengers to the 2009 meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we say “Howdy, partners. Welcome to Houston.”