In a few weeks we will convene the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. The year 2017 marks the first time in my life when I have spent far more time thinking about the Pastors’ Conference than the Annual Meeting itself. Without bothering to do actual numeric research, I’ll offer my impression that the same has been true of this blog: Much more has been written here about the Pastors’ Conference than the Annual Meeting, for obvious and understandable reasons.
The storyline of the Pastors’ Conference this year is one of innovation. Dave Miller and the boys had an amazing, impossible goal, and against all odds, they took the Pastors’ Conference somewhere it has never been in our lifetimes. Change is good.
The Annual Meeting, however, will transpire much as it has in the past. That’s not because no one has imagined innovations. Indeed, in earlier days of blogging some of us who have been involved in the Pastors’ Conference have imagined ways to innovate the Annual Meeting—regional meetings, online voting, etc. None of those innovations have taken place. Southern Baptists are slow to change the Annual Meeting.
I’m happy about that.
Consider the idea of Internet voting. Back when we were discussing that in earnest, as I recall, the major hurdle we discussed was security. How could we make sure that the system could not be hacked? That is probably a valid concern, especially when one considers the social controversies surrounding some SBC resolutions and the motivation that a hacker on the political left might feel to engineer an SBC endorsement of same-sex marriage or that a hacker on the political right might feel to engineer an SBC endorsement of mass deportations.
But after all of these years, security is not my only concern. We now live in the world of Boaty McBoatface and the COLBERT treadmill. Anti-democratic as it may seem, I grow increasingly comfortable with the idea that there are barriers that one must surmount in order to have a voice in directing the Great Commission efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention. Do those barriers screen out 3,000 people whose votes we ought to hear? Probably. But they also screen out 30,000 people whose unconsidered or potentially frivolous votes could render inoperable our decision-making structure.
Maybe it’s not a bad thing that the SBC is difficult to change. Maybe we’re better off that the ship we inhabit together takes 2 miles to turn. Perhaps it protects missionaries and ministries from our ill-considered whims while keeping the door open for us, when over a long course of time we remain fully convinced that we are doing something right and important, to make changes that need to be made.
So, come to the Pastors’ Conference this year, yes. But come to the Annual Meeting, too. Come knowing that your vote matters. But come knowing that the SBC will probably be operating on July 1 much the way that it operated June 1. Come with a healthy understanding both of what (little) you can accomplish by participating for one year and of what (much) you can accomplish by participating for a lifetime.