On Wednesday, I arrived home around 12:30 am from our annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting. I fell into my bed both exhausted and exhilarated after a long two days of being in Birmingham, Alabama. My tiredness came due to spending hours sitting in chairs that brought nearly unbearable pain to my lumbar spine, and my joy came from knowing there remains a glimmer of hope for our SBC’s future. No matter what you have seen on social media over the last few months, this meeting was unlike any other I have ever attended.
Before I provide the reasons for my excitement, I want all my readers to know that we–Southern Baptists–are not perfect. We still have a plethora of issues to think through and strategies to develop in living out the gospel in our current cultural climate. We still have a problem with taming our tongues on social media. We have to overcome the lack of attendance by many younger pastors and some within our state leadership. Did I mention we aren’t perfect? Despite our imperfections and struggles as a convention, I would like to offer you four reasons you should stay in the SBC.
- Ceaseless Prayer: Our convention President, J. D. Greear, was kneeling on stage at the Pastors’ Conference praying for God’s wisdom as we prepared to go in session the following day. Even during the conference, moments of directed and intense prayer were orchestrated by leaders and messengers. From the outset, Greear stated, “The Southern Baptist Convention should be more like a prayer meeting with some business mixed into it.” The posture of prayer at this convention illustrates that we are seeking to move as like-minded believers not in our own power, but rather the power of God through his Holy Spirit. A ceaseless attitude of prayer by both leadership and messengers provides us much hope for the future of the SBC.
- Gospel Emphasis: The theme for this convention reads, “The Gospel Above All.” We had to address many issues facing Southern Baptist life, but we seemed to address them with the gospel as our guide. The most powerful part of the meeting was the report provided by our International Mission Board (IMB). The IMB, due to its gospel propulsion to the nations, is the heart beat of what we do together as Southern Baptists. And, the heart beat is strong! As a collective fellowship of churches, we are able to have a greater reach to the nations. A further reach than any one church could have on its own.
- Open Communication: Prior to our gathering, social media platforms were incredibly hostile to SBC brothers and sisters in Christ. Twitter alone was like watching friendly fire by artillery barrages off target. In other words, we as Southern Baptists have nearly perfected the art of “dog eat dog” on social media. However, the convention was not nearly has hostile as portrayed on Twitter. The discussion panels allowed moments of heartfelt dialogue about a variety of “hot button” issues. We listened to people discuss their views concerning race and the value of women for God’s mission. These panelists allowed us to listen and learn with a spirit of gentleness, humility, and openness. Open and honest conversations like these will provide a promising future for the SBC.
- Noticeable Joy: We had fun at the annual meeting. Were there some hot debates? Yes. Were there some red faces? A few times. However, we also had some moments of laughter. In the past, these business meetings have been just that: all business. This convention contained a few comical comments about the parliamentary process, and we heard playful banter between the President and presenters about college football teams. In other words, this year we weren’t a bunch of stuffy, “Bible Bashing Baptists.” We enjoyed the company of our brothers and sisters in Christ–even while conducting business. I think we owe this to our current leadership because humor has an indispensable way of breaking down barriers and enabling people to experience joy with each other.
Do we have a long way to go on issues within our convention? To this question, I give a resounding, “Yes!” Some people might contemplate making the decision to leave the SBC, but due to these four reasons, I think acting on these thoughts would be unwise. I want to encourage all churches and church leaders that we are in a new season as Southern Baptists. A season that might be unlike any season we have experienced before because the cultural climate of our convention has subtly shifted. The shift, I think, is in the right direction. We are a people of prayer. We are a people who hold the gospel “above all.” We are engaging in open and honest dialogue with each other in person. We are experiencing noticeable joy with each other at our annual business meeting.
As Southern Baptists, may God’s Spirit continue to enable us to be stronger together in order to reach more for Christ.