I had an idea last night that I want to share. Was it a good idea? Well, I guess you good folks will be the judge of that. You may tell met that it is a hare-brained idea. But, I’m going to put it out there anyway.
Here it is: let’s run a regular guy, a pastor of a normal Baptist church, as the president of the Pastor’s Conference for 2012.
I have to admit, I’m looking forward to “Aspire,” the 2011 SBC Pastor’s Conference. There are some speakers I am excited about hearing. I don’t share the concerns of some of the regulars here at SBC Voices, but am of the opinion that it will be inspirational and informative. And, I love the idea of an offering that will support mission work to an unreached people group. So, I’m not among the voices that are unhappy about Vance Pitman’s work as Pastor’s Conference president.
But, a lot of our regulars here, both contributors and commenters, do not share my view. Several have expressed some strong disagreements with what is going on. There was even some talk a while back about having an alternate Pastor’s Conference in Phoenix. I think that may have died down, but it is safe to say that there is some growing dissatisfaction with the general trajectory of the SBC Pastor’s Conference. Different people have different complaints. Such as:
- That the podium will be dominated by the younger, hipper wing of the SBC.
- That more traditional, cooperative, denominationally supportive pastors are almost wholly absent from the podium.
- That most of the pastors who are speaking lead churches that give nothing or almost nothing to the SBC missions through the Cooperative Program. (If I was going to complain about something, that would be it.)
- That almost all the speakers are from megachurch ministries.
- That the podium is disproportionately Calvinist.
- Add your complaint here.
Of course, no one agrees with all of these complaints. These are just the ones I have been hearing.
Actually, I think the ennui and angst began last year. I went to Orlando determined to vote for the GCR (don’t tell Howell Scott). But we did not have a Pastor’s Conference last year, we had a two day pep rally for the GCR. Some sermons (like David Platt’s) were excellent, but others were little more than high-pressure salesmanship preparing for the vote that was to come on Tuesday. It was crass. Frankly, it made me want to vote against the GCR even though I supported the concept. I hate high-pressure salesmanship and I believe that last year’s conference has left a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouths.
So, is there anything that we can do about it? Of course, we can complain about who is selected. We can complain about the choices they make. I guess that is what we bloggers do best (and I think there is some value in bloggers raising dissent). But is there something more, something productive that we can do? I believe there is and I actually think it is doable! All we have to do is decide on a regular guy, a pastor from an average Southern Baptist church, and run him for the SBC Pastor’s Conference presidency.
Here’s how we might do it. It’s not rocket surgery or brain science.
1) We choose a candidate for the presidency of the 2012 Pastor’s Conference.
The key here is choosing a good candidate. He must be a man of high character, who has demonstrated a commitment to the SBC and to cooperative ministry within it, someone whose SBC bona fides are action, not talk. He would need to be the pastor of an average SBC church (oh, say, averaging 500 per Sunday or less). He must have a strong track record of Cooperative Program giving. He must not be a partisan in any of the key debates that go on in SBC life. Whether he is a Calvinist or non-Calvinist, he must be someone who is not a partisan in that debate – neither a cage-stage Calvinist nor a rabid anti-Calvinist. He could be young or old, contemporary or traditional, but he must be someone who is respectful and inclusive on these issues. You get the picture? None of these details are set in stone. The key would be finding the right man and not simply following a set of rules. Like the Pirates’ Code, these are more like guidelines than actual rules.
Before anyone asks (if anyone would) I am not going to seek to be nominated. I’m a lousy administrator and putting something like this together would cause me ulcers and aneurysms. Plus, since I am making this suggestion, it would look like self-promotion if I were the candidate. Someone else will have to bear this standard.
I have a couple of ideas for candidates, but the issue is not the name, it’s the concept. If there is support for the idea, we can talk through a candidate later.
2) We announce a platform for the 2012 Pastor’s Conference.
I would make the following suggestions, though if there is a positive response to this idea, then we would hammer the parameters of the platform more carefully.
- A simple theme, like “How regular pastors can lead regular churches to reach regular people in regular cities.” I know, it’s corny, but I’m an Iowan. But it would be a simple conference to encourage pastors in the work we have to do.
- All speakers for the Pastor’s Conference will be from churches below the megachurch threshhold. I’d go lower than that personally. I’ll bet there are some good preachers who haven’t hit the ecclesiological big-time yet. Just because the normal stars would not shine would not mean that the preaching couldn’t be powerful and inspirational. But frankly, some of the megachurch pastors have larger staffs than the membership of a lot of churches. They live in a different world than we do. I think it would be good to hear from pastors who are in churches like the ones we serve!
- All speakers would be from churches that give at least 6% to SBC causes through the Cooperative Program. If I remember correctly, that is the national average. So all the speakers would be above average in CP terms. For years, the above average CP churches have been preached to by below average CP churches. Some might argue for a higher standard (or lower), but I just chose 6% because it is the average.
- We commit to a lineup of speakers which is diverse: geographically diverse, racially diverse, and methodologically diverse. Some would wear ties and coats and others would wear Hawaiian shirts and sit on stools! We would make sure to demonstrate our commitment to racial diversity. Let’s live out that which we discussed. And yes, I understand the irony of recommending diversity while excluding the large church pastors and SBC stars who have dominated the podium at other conferences. But as Rush would say, “We ARE equal time!”
- Nothing that is going to happen on Tuesday will affect what we do on Sunday and Monday. We won’t promote any candidates or movements at the conference. We will simply have preachers preach to preachers about preaching, and pastors speak to pastors about pastoring. The Pastor’s conference should be about encouraging and inspiring pastors, not about mobilizing them for some agenda. The goal would be simple, to have a conference in which the only agenda is to encourage and motivate SBC pastors.
- We announce that a special offering will be taken up. It will go to the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.
3) Then, we promote the idea.
We can make use of blogs and other electronic media to put this idea forward. You young whippersnappers can tweet your tweets, or twitter your twitters, or tweet your twitters, or whatever you call it. We can talk to people in our associations and state conventions. We get out the word. Grassroots. And, when we get to Phoenix, we talk up the idea. I don’t know if you can hand out fliers at the Pastor’s Conference – I’m guessing you can’t. But we have a lot of means available to us to get the word out.
We all talk about the SBC being a grassroots convention. Well, folks, we are those grassroots. There are no luminaries that blog here. We are the average joes of Southern Baptist blogging. Let’s use the electronic media, our personal networks and every other available means to promote this idea.
Is It Workable?
Yes, it CAN work. Will it work? I don’t know. I could see a lot of people getting behind it. I’m not even among those who are upset about this year’s lineup. I think Vance Pitman did a pretty good job of choosing speakers. But I think it would be fun to have a grassroots Pastor’s Conference.
So, tell me what you think. Is this just a dumb idea? Those sometimes come to me late at night after I had Mexican food for supper. Maybe those enchiladas were backing up on me last night when this idea hit me. But if you don’t like the podium trend in recent SBC conventions and conferences, why not change it? I think the time is right for something like this. We have the means available to make a real effort here.
So, tell me what you think. Be kind. I’m emotionally fragile.