How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! Psalm 133:1
When it comes to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, “unity” may not be the first word that comes to mind. Especially if you spend a lot of time on the SBC blogosphere, you might think that unity is an unachievable goal. Yet, I believe it is not only achievable, but within our grasp. Most of us are not power-brokers in the convention. We will not attend the meeting with any kind of clout (though maybe a few of you might have some name recognition among the faithful blog readers). We come as messengers, pastors, and brothers and God calls us to unity for his kingdom and for His glory!
Unity is a choice. We can either strive for it, or work against it. Are there “fault lines” in the Convention? Sure there are. Are there differences in opinion, ministry, philosophy, and even theology? Of course. Are there ever any issues worth dividing over? Again, we agree that there are. But count me among those that believe that the issues facing our Convention right now do not need to divide us. That beyond expressing our opinion on a blog, or voting our conscience at the annual meeting, there are ways to build unity that are within our reach. Here are some practical and tangible things I am challenging myself to do this year in Baltimore. In doing so, I intend to strive for rather than against unity in the SBC. Consider joining me in these:
1. Be a good listener. At this Convention, resolve to be a good listener. If there is a debate on the Convention floor or a conversation in the exhibit hall, listen closely for the rationale and arguments of each side. Listen especially to those with whom you disagree. Try to come to an understanding of the kingdom reasons people hold the position they do. If you engage in debate or (don’t do it) go to the microphone, address real concerns and why you believe your position is the right one. Or better yet, be silent and keep listening.
2. Don’t judge others’ motives. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. The positions and actions with which you disagree are those of your brothers in Christ. Do brothers sometimes have sinful motives? Sure. But is it right to assume sinful motives on the part of your brother? Is it not better to assume the best unless you have certain knowledge to the contrary? At the Convention this year, when you hear something you don’t like, or see a leader who is on the opposite side of an issue you care about, check your assumptions. Make it a point to assume that the motives behind their actions are for the good of the SBC and the advance of the Kingdom and not sinister motives like power, money, or takeover of the Convention. Then, check your own motives and ask God to help you to do everything you do for His glory alone.
3. Abstain from conversations that criticize. If you walk very far in the convention hall, you are sure to come across a conversation where some leader, pastor, or church is being criticized and be invited to join in – don’t! Make a point to avoid such discussions and instead engage in conversations that build people up. Excuse yourself from any conversation that speaks ill of some other leader or subgroup in the SBC. Make an intentional effort to praise others both in and out of their presence.
4. Listen to a sermon from someone else’s camp. Planning to attend the pastor’s conference? Many pastors I know only go for part and pick and choose which speakers they want to hear. Did you make a point to show up for a particular speaker? Make a point to stay for the next sermon or come early for the one before. Is there a speaker you decided to skip? Change your mind and go listen to them anyway. Listen as one who is seeking to hear a message from the Lord through this servant rather than a fault-finder and critic looking for points of disagreement and offense. Listen for God to speak to you, then put into practice what you hear.
5. Join in Praise and Worship. For at least one session, show up early enough to join in the worship time. Worship sets our hearts on the right footing and is helpful in preparing for the preaching to come or the business ahead. It sets the focus on the Lord and not on our personal preferences and agenda. It gives us pause in a busy Convention schedule to focus on the Lord. It helps lead us to a unity of spirit and purpose. And, He is worthy of our praise!
6. Stay for a report you are tempted to skip (put away your smartphone and listen). Does anyone really attend and listen intently to the entire meeting? For this convention, make a point to stay for at least one report you had intended to skip. Listen to what the Lord is doing through this ministry. Listen for the heart of the speaker as he or she gives their report. Thank God for this ministry and for the fact that your CP giving supports it. Make a mental note that unity is worth it!
7. Visit the booth of a rival seminary. We all love our alma maters, and we should love our other schools too. See what God is doing at one of the other seminaries. Take the opportunity to meet a professor and engage in conversation. Do more listening than talking. Ask them about their work. What is God doing at the seminary? How is God using them? What are they passionate or excited about? What are they writing? What advice would they give to pastors? Allow them to minister to you through their sharing. Thank God for the great gift we have as Southern Baptists to have such fine schools and scholars leading them.
8. Meet a blogger face-to-face. The internet is impersonal and does not always foster unity in spirit and purpose. We all have nametags on so make a point to seek out a name you recognize and put a face with a name. Intentionally meet someone you haven’t met before – particularly a blogger on the other side of your pet issue. Talk about their ministry, family, interests, devotional life, prayer concerns – anything BUT the topic you argued about in the comment stream last week. Get to know them as a brother and not merely an online adversary. Unity begins with relationship. Let’s pursue relationship before and while we engage on the issues.
9. Meet a missionary. They won’t be hard to find. Look for the NAMB or IMB ribbon on their nametag or visit the Missions booths in the exhibit hall. Talk to them. Listen to what they are doing in ministry and how God is using them. Let them encourage you with how our cooperative giving makes their work possible. Remember that missions is what brings all of us together in the first place. Listen to what God is doing through their work. Discover how you can pray, give, and go for our cooperative work.
**10. Bonus challenge: Pray for every person you meet. As you meet these and others over the course of the Convention, do not leave a conversation without praying for and with the person. Pray God’s blessing on them. Pray for their specific need. Pray for God to work in and through them as the serve His Kingdom. Pray for greater unity in the SBC and the body of Christ.
See you in Baltimore!
(And when you see me, ask me how I’m doing on my list)