The 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, AZ is in the books. I spent most of my Lyft drives in Phoenix either trying to share the gospel or explain how the SBC works. The former was easier than the latter in most cases! Three years ago, I responded to the call of our then president, Ronnie Floyd, for younger pastors to be engaged in the life of the convention. I truly believe we can do more together for the sake of fulfilling the Great Commission than we can ever do apart.
Over the last two years, I have had the privilege of serving on the Teller’s Committee. This committee is appointed by the President in conjunction with the Registration Secretary and tasked with counting any ballots cast with integrity and accuracy. It is not a glamorous role, but it is a necessary one for the business of the convention. It has also given me a deeper appreciation for so many who serve behind the scenes to make the annual meeting possible, whether it be on one of the many committees or some other role. I count it a privilege to cooperate within the Southern Baptist Convention and would call upon all Southern Baptists to renew their commitment to engaging in the life of the SBC, especially within our state conventions and annual meeting.
SBC 2017 Overview
President Steve Gaines set the tone for this year’s annual meeting by calling Southern Baptists to prayer and personal evangelism. Prayer is foundational to the life of every believer and every local church. It is the most basic expression our dependence upon God and desire to see His name made great among the nations. Personal evangelism is the means by which the gospel advances. President Gaines and other leaders called upon Southern Baptist pastors to lead the way in sharing the gospel and equipping the church to do the same. In a year where we saw the increase of churches and continue decreased of baptisms, we must recommit ourselves to prayer and personal evangelism. The key will be for this not to be a duty but an overflow of our delight in our great God and Savior. I am grateful for President Gaines leadership in this direction and would encourage you to listen to his President’s Address.
I am continually impressed by the quality of reports offered by our SBC entities. These reports are not only informative, but also encouraging and challenging to the messengers. Our seminaries are training future pastors, missionaries, church planters, and faithful church members to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (clearly I am a Southeastern graduate!). Of particular note, I am impressed with the efforts of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary under the leadership of Jason Allen and the focus on Kingdom Diversity by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under the leadership of Danny Akin. The North American Mission Board has seen the continued growth of the SEND Network and SEND Relief and is leading the way in calling on believers to share the gospel in the everyday rhythms of life. The International Mission Board is operating on a balanced budget and increasing the number of workers it is sending with the gospel to the ends of the earth. Lifeway continues to develop quality resources to aid the church in making disciples. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission continues to engage in the public square on behalf of Southern Baptists and leads the way in applying the gospel to social and religious liberty issues we face within our nation.
Many thought this year would be uneventful in comparison to last year’s annual meeting. However, this year proved to be far from uneventful. Not only were the significant nominations for the candidacies of first and second vice-presidents, but there were also important resolutions to be heard by the messengers—on prayer, university ministry, penal substitutionary atonement, defunding planned parenthood, and the importance of moral leadership.
The most significant resolution—On the Condemnation of the Alt-Right and Roots of White Supremacy—was not initially brought before the messengers. This situation was rectified by late Tuesday evening when the Resolutions Committee requested time to present an updated resolution before the convention on Wednesday afternoon. After extending a public apology for their failure to initially present this resolution, the Resolutions Committee presented Resolution #10: On the Anti-Gospel Alt-Right White Supremacy. As a teller, I rejoiced that this vote did not need to be counted by hand as the messengers nearly unanimously voted in favor to condemn every form of racism, white supremacy, and the “alt-right” political movement.
While there are many highlights and much to rejoice in after this year’s annual meeting, there is significant work to be done.
1. We must continue working towards greater diversity in our leadership
Resolution 10 was an important statement for Southern Baptists to make, even if we stumbled getting in getting it before the messengers. It called upon Southern Baptist to continue to “make progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst.” One of the most direct ways we can demonstrate this desire is by electing people of color to positions of leadership and influence within the convention and its entities. By God’s grace, we are seeing this begin to take place throughout the SBC. Of particular note, I rejoiced in the humility and demonstration of this desire by Brad Graves, Senior Pastor of FBC of Ada, Oklahoma. Graves withdrew his nomination for President of the Pastor’s Conference, making way for H. B. Charles Jr. to be the first African-American to hold this position. Graves stated, “I think it’s time to show the culture that there is something that unites [Southern Baptists] more than just a Cooperative Program or a mission statement, but that we really do care for one another. We really are brothers in a fraternity.” This is the kind of commitment and sacrifice Southern Baptists must make to put into action the resolutions we have made over the last few years regarding racism and racial reconciliation.
Additionally, this year we celebrated greater diversity within our leadership with the election of Walter Strickland as 1st Vice-President and Jose Abella as 2nd Vice-President. In nominating Strickland, James Merritt stated, “As our nation and our convention become more diverse, it is imperative that our leadership reflect the diversity that marks the Kingdom of God and Heaven itself.” I could not agree more with Merritt on this point. To take this a step further, we need to increase the diversity on the committees and boards the make significant decisions on behalf of Southern Baptists. What took place regarding resolution 10 this year serves a greater reminder and call to action to go beyond affirming this need with our words. We must demonstrate our commitment to kingdom diversity within our local churches and across the leadership spectrum of denomination.
2. We must continue working towards involving the next generation of pastors in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention
Many younger Southern Baptists watched some of the annual meeting online or followed #SBC17 on social media. While I recognize not every Southern Baptist pastor or church member can attend each year’s annual meeting, we must acknowledge the more can attend than are attending. For this reason, I am excited about Jonathan Akin’s appointment to lead the Young Leader Initiative, which aims to better engage pastors between the ages of 25-45. As a younger Southern Baptist, I plead with others like me to be engaged in SBC life and to make it a commitment to participate in the annual meetings.
This year reminds us of that every annual meeting is important. The Southern Baptist Convention officially exists only two days out of the year. The business that takes place during those two days should be of great importance to every Southern Baptist pastor and leader. For example, the attendance at this year’s annual meeting was just over 5,000 and it took until Wednesday to reach that number. Only a small fraction of those in attendance were present in the hall to vote for some of the more important votes during this year’s annual meeting. We need Southern Baptists not only to come but to engage when it counts.
In addition to the annual meeting that takes place on Tuesday-Wednesday, there are incredible opportunities to connect, learn, and be equipped through additional events surrounding the annual meeting such as the Pastor’s Conference, NAMB luncheon, IMB dinner, 9Marks at 9, Pastor’s Wives Luncheon, Lifeway Breakfast, SEBTS Women’s Leadership Breakfast, For the Church Luncheon, and Baptist 21 Luncheon. Outside of these events, there are ample opportunities to connect with exhibitors from numerous organizations and SBC entities. Far from being a boring meeting, I think the SBC annual meeting provides an important place of connection, encouragement, and equipping for local church pastors and members. To make a difference, you need to be present and engage. To have a voice, you need to be present and engage. We must continue working towards involving the next generation of pastors in the life of the SBC.
3. We must continue working toward engaging our communities with the gospel and making disciples in the local church
The Southern Baptist Convention reported an increase of nearly 500 churches in 2016. This is good news! The bad news; however, is that we have the “lowest baptisms since 1946; lowest membership since 1990; and lowest worship attendance since 1996.”
Pastor Ted Traylor is right:
But to know we have more money, more churches and more of a population to reach while we baptize less should disturb us all.
Jesus gave us a great commission that must begin in our hometowns (Pensacola for me). May the Lord cause our hearts to burn with the Gospel!
While some may offer various reasons for these statistics and have various interpretations of how to resolve it, one this is sure: evangelism and discipleship must be the clear focus of the local church. This must begin with pastors. Who are you sharing the gospel with? Who are you discipling? At this year’s NAMB Luncheon, Greg Laurie, James Merritt, and Vance Pitman challenged pastors to lead the way in sharing the gospel and making disciples. Pitman said, “You cannot lead what you do not live.” Laurie said, “If you want to start a fire in the pews, it has to start in the pulpit. Evangelize or fossilize. New believers are the lifeblood of the church. If you show me a church that does not have a constant flow of new believers coming in, then I will show you a church that’s stagnate.” James Merritt said, “Unless you are a pastor in the Sahara Desert, by yourself, there is no excuse for baptizing nobody. The gospel is still a fire that can melt the coldest heart. It is still a rock that can break the hardest heart.”
If we are going to be committed to evangelism and discipleship, we must become intentional about relationships and about doing it right. We must build relationships with people in our communities and share the gospel in such a way that meets people where are. We must be committed to a discipleship that is not measured by classes attended, but by life transformation. We must not put faithfulness against fruitfulness but labor faithfully and pray for fruitfulness. There are no accidental or overnight disciples. Gospel intentionality, relationships, and time will produce healthy disciples who make disciples.
I commend President Steve Gaines appointment of a “Soul Winning Task Force”“Soul Winning Task Force” to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in personal evangelism and evangelistic preaching. My prayer is that this Task Force not only is able to report more effective resources on evangelism in 2018, but that it also finds a renewed commitment among pastors and local churches to sharing the gospel with their neighbors and making disciples who make disciples.
I am grateful to be a part of this family of churches known as the Southern Baptist Convention. We have much to celebrate and much to get done.
We can do more together than we can do apart. But we can do nothing apart from prayer.
Make sure to mark June 12-13, 2018 on our calendars. See you in Dallas!
Photo: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press