In my pre-Convention post, I laid out my personal plan for this year’s Convention. I wrote my post before because I wanted to move past a non-specific, general call for unity and offer some practical, event-specific application for the average messenger like me. Well, no one in Baltimore asked me how I was doing on my plan, but one person did remark that they were glad to see I was actually doing what I suggested rather than merely writing about it. For the most part, I count my experiment as a success. Here is my self-evaluation of my Baltimore experiment.
1. Be a good listener. This convention was relatively free from controversy on the floor due to some great leadership on the platform, but I did find myself engaging on several issues in the course of my conversations. Over the few days, I found myself discussing such things as the multi-ethnic ministry, preaching in the African-American church, the merits of the particular presidential candidates, the influence of Louisville in the Convention, football vs. fútbol, social media in the SBC and, yes, even Calvinism. While I love a good debate, I found myself intentionally listening to the case being made by others and, in many cases, their legitimate concerns. In more than one conversation, my perceptions were expanded and I gained a greater understanding of the heart and intentions of the other person. I think I will keep this “listening” thing in my repertoire.
2. Don’t judge others’ motives. It’s funny that when you focus on listening, that giving people the benefit of the doubt is easier. I did pretty good job with this one throughout the week. The only temptation I had was during one particular presentation where I was tempted to question the motives of the speaker. I had to make a conscious decision at that point to take the words at face value and trust God to sort out motives. I’m glad I did. I left the Convention feeling good about the people who lead us and the direction we are going. As for that particular issue, I have definite opinions but am happy to entrust the trustees to sort it out.
3. Abstain from conversations that criticize. The encouraging thing about this year’s convention was that I did not find myself in any such conversations. Sure we discussed issues, but I did not hear anyone making personal attacks against their brothers. I left encouraged by this change in tone from years past.
4. Listen to a sermon from someone else’s camp. I will admit that the only sermon I made it to during the pastor’s Conference was Johnny Hunt’s. The rest of the time I spent in the Exhibit Hall and in fellowship with others. (Let me know if there are specific sermons you think I should go back and listen to online.)
5. Join in Praise and Worship. I did make a point to arrive early for two of the sessions and enjoyed the preparatory time of singing and prayer. I thought the spirit of the Convention this year was quite positive. I appreciated the extra time devoted to prayer when we ran out of business. I am definitely looking forward to next year’s Convention, Dr. Floyd’ emphasis on prayer for spiritual awakening and the prospect of a multi-ethnic worship experience.
6. Stay for a report you are tempted to skip (put away your smartphone and listen). Ok, so I tweeted a lot this year so the whole “put away your smartphone” thing was pretty much shot. But I did stay in for some reports I normally skip and was especially encouraged by the seminary reports and what God is doing at each of our institutions. The commitment to partnership for Great Commission work was evident throughout the presentations. I was greatly encouraged.
7. Visit the booth of a rival seminary. As a Southern grad, I always make frequent visits to the SBTS booth. This year, however, I visited the booths of each of our sister seminaries and spent considerable time at a few of them. In the process, I had lengthy conversations with several professors and students. In each case, I asked about what God was doing in their ministry and at their school. The entire exercise was uplifting and I left encouraged by what God was doing at each of our seminaries. I was even more encouraged by the spirit of the students and professors I spoke with. Each person I met, without exception, expressed a deep love for the Lord and for His work, compelled by the love of Christ to be used of Him in the capacities in which God called them.
8. Meet a blogger face-to-face. Our fearless leader at sbcvoices put together a bloggers fellowship and a large group of us met at the Cheesecake Factory on Monday night. What a delight to meet face-to-face with men like Dwight McKissic, Joel Rainey, Robin Foster, David Worley, Dave Miller and many others. Even Tarheel was there and revealed his true identity. We had some lively discussion, sweet fellowship, and a great meal. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and felt like these men are true friends and brothers in Christ. I know that the next time we spar with one another on the comment streams, I will be reminded that that these are men who love Jesus, love our Convention, and love me as a brother. I am truly thankful for their friendship.
9. Meet a missionary. As usual, the IMB and NAMB both had excellent exhibits and helpful resources to help pastors lead their churches to greater involvement. Both reports were likewise encouraging. This year, I had the privilege of reconnecting with a missionary I already knew and hearing what God was doing through their work in Asia. He spoke with me about partnership possibilities and we are making plans for future collaboration. In my opinion, our missionaries are heroes and it was great to spend time with one of them and rejoice with him about what God is doing.
10. Bonus challenge: Pray for every person you meet. Of all my suggestions, this is the one I took the most to heart and which had the greatest impact on my week in Baltimore. In about 80% of the interactions I had, I ended our conversation with the words “How can I pray for you?” Many were taken back by the question. All seemed encouraged. They shared specific things about their ministry and often personal issues for which they needed prayer. Every person I asked allowed me to pray for them, with them. Each time I prayed with a person, I felt a special bond with these brothers and sisters in Christ. I was privileged to pray with pastors, professors, executive directors of state conventions, staff members, seminary students, Lifeway editors, missionaries and laymen. The highlight of the Convention, for me, was the opportunity to meet and pray with so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ and have many of them pray for me. We are indeed one people of God united by our love for Jesus and desire to serve Him.
All in all, the entire exercise was an opportunity for personal growth for me. It changed my focus, my purpose, my perspective and my motivation for even being in Baltimore. The Convention became more than the family reunion/trade show/business meeting that I have always described it to be. It was more than an annual networking opportunity, a chance to vote for my pet issue, or a time to reconnect with old friends. This year’s Convention became an opportunity to experience true fellowship – the partnership in the gospel that we share as Southern Baptists. I’m thankful I tried some of my own suggestions and I think I’ll hang on to some of them for next year.
See you in Columbus!