I know, we don’t have a pope and I don’t want to be one. I’ll bet Steve Gaines aged 7 years just trying to run this thing the last couple of years and having papal powers over this bunch would be like trying to herd autonomous cats with soul competency. I have no authority but I do what I can. I “type a lot.” (A guy at the convention saw my name tag and said, “Are you the guy who types a lot?” I said I was. He looked at me and said, “I’ve been praying for you to get saved!”) Let me type-type-type out some of my thoughts about SBC 2018.
I came into the SBC Annual Meeting with much fear and trembling – the pre-convention hostility had me thinking this thing might look more like Wrestlemania than a gathering of Baptists. It didn’t turn out that way. We had lively debates and some pointed discussions but in the end, our votes gave evidence that we are not as divided as we might have thought. I am not sure anyone thought the presidential election would turn out with the kind of landslide majority that it did. Other votes that were expected to be contentious ended in 90% or greater majorities.
Obviously, if you were on the losing side of those votes your perspective might be a little different – that’s majority rule and the democratic process for you, I suppose.
But there were a few things that I would change if I were king, pope, or could get hold of Harry Potter’s wand and knew some of those spells. I remember “Avada Kedavra” but I really don’t want to use that on anyone in the SBC. Really. I don’t! Not even the guy who is praying for me to get saved.
Steve Gaines was a fair and able president. I would think that even those whose positions lost did not go away believing they’d been treated unfairly. I never voted for Gaines for president. I supported David Crosby then JD Greear in 2016 and in 2017 I was too tired to make an appearance and hoist a ballot after the PC. But Gaines handled himself well. The criticisms and suggestions I am about to make are not meant to be pointed at him, because in general, they are multi-year trends that came to a head this year.
1. If I were the Baptist Pope, I would remind people of exactly what the SBC Annual Meeting is.
It is a 2-day business meeting – let’s not try to whitewash that. The business that we are there to do matters.
We have the Pastors’ Conference (great job, HB Charles) and SEND Conferences and ERLC conferences and all kinds of other get-togethers for Southern Baptists. The annual meeting is a business meeting. We are there to do the business of the SBC.
I suspect that falling numbers in recent years caused us to try to create interest in the Annual Meeting by putting other things into the schedule. Those other items we insert are interesting but they are extraneous to our purpose. I realize that what I am suggesting may not increase attendance but if someone wants to be entertained then the SBC Annual Meeting is likely not their cup o’ tea. You are there to work, not to be entertained.
If the idea of listening to entity reports, voting on the budget of the SBC, working through the EC recommendations, and dealing with resolutions is boring and unpalatable for you, then being a messenger to the Annual Meeting may not be your best choice.
Having said that, I say the following.
2. If I were the Baptist Pope, I’d do away with (or severely cut back on) panels, extra speakers, and other program fillers that distract from our business.
I agree in principle with the work of Dave Ramsey, but we devoted a LOT of floor time to enlisting people for his programs. A half-hour speech (or more) one day and a panel the next. There was a lot of time devoted to patriotism and to politics, with both the governor of Texas and the Vice President of the United States. These things took up a lot of our valuable time. Every minute we devote to other stuff is time we don’t have for the stuff we came to do.
3. If I were the Baptist Pope, there would be MORE time for messenger input, motions, resolutions, and all of the stuff that makes our convention messy.
Augie Boto said that we are the largest unscripted business meeting in the world. (I think I got that right.) And what we do can be awful messy. During the Patterson debate, there was one speech that people are still trying to figure out. Was this person for or against? Just killing time? Confused? People get up and say ugly things. Embarrassing things. Confusing things. They introduce motions we will never vote on and resolutions that will never see the light of day.
But that is what we are here for.
We are there to do business. Give messengers more time to speak. More time to debate. More time to challenge nominations. More time to ask questions. More time to offer amendments. I am not talking about unlimited time, but 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there would give people the sense that their voices had been heard.
4. If I were the Baptist Pope, there would be MORE time for the questioning of entity leaders.
I was just unfriended and blocked by every entity leader with whom I am friends on Facebook or Twitter. They now officially hate me.
I was sitting just behind that Rager fellow (aptly named?) when he attacked Karen Swallow Prior and the ERLC in the dying moments of the last session on Wednesday. Dr. Moore gave a brilliant response. I wasn’t in the room, because my wife and I didn’t feel up to standing in line to go through security for the VP address, when the seminary reports were given. But I am told Dr. Bingham, the interim at SWBTS, answered some tough questions very well.
I understand that the Q&A is not the favorite moment of the year for entity heads, but it is a unique feature in Southern Baptist life. Our entity leaders stand and take questions from any messenger who goes to the mike.
And as much as they may hate me for even suggesting this, I think this benefits the entities and their leaders. They are generally brilliant at answering questions. Combative questioners often slink away with shoulders slumped after the answers they receive from the stage.
5. If I were Baptist Pope, the IMB commissioning service would be given the highest priority slot in the convention.
If this seems to contradict everything I have said, then I have not spoken clearly. The business of the SBC is missions. I love NAMB and Kevin Ezell, but in my mind, the work of the IMB is our highest priority as a denomination. The fact that we give 51% (approximately) of our national CP receipts to the IMB would indicate that the SBC agrees with that.
Is the Tuesday night slot considered a primetime slot? I don’t know. When the afternoon session runs as long as this year’s did and we have to wait an hour or more for a restaurant and the wait staff is overwhelmed, it is hard to get back to convention hall for all of the evening’s activities.
I don’t know exactly what slot to give it. Maybe we move the IMB commissioning to Tuesday, just after lunch and just before the elections. Spread out rest of the business. What a reminder that would be before we vote for president! This is why we are here. But the IMB commissioning service should be primetime, front and center!
6. If I were Baptist Pope, the entity reports would be highlighted.
Okay, let’s admit it. They are often boring. Oh, I remember a few that were riveting, but entity reports can be snoozefests. But remember why we are here. We vote the budget and we elect the trustees and they are telling us how they are doing. Perhaps we need to give the entity leaders some parameters so that they don’t just put a good face on things but tell us exactly how things are going.
The best entity report I’ve sat through in recent years was David Platt’s when he told us what a financial mess the IMB was in. He was both honest and forward-looking. That is the kind of report we should be getting. That is the kind of report we should be demanding. We should be asking penetrating questions to keep entity heads accountable. These should be more than just pep rallies, but real reports about what is happening at our entities.
7. If I were the Baptist Pope, the exhibitor’s hall and convention hall would have some new rules.
Let’s get to the important stuff here.
- If you are giving away t-shirts, for the love of all that is holy, realize that 3xl and 4xl are not rare requests in the SBC. People! I went to booth after booth on Monday and was told, “We are out of everything larger than a large.” It is anti-Baptist discrimination. We have potlucks and potlucks produce 3xl and up preachers. Ask Guidestone.
- If you are giving away candy, at least 1/2 of your candy by weight and volume MUST be dark chocolate. I am tired of combing through all the Kit-Kats and Mr. Goodbars to find a few cherished dark chocolates.
- Coffee is not meant to be served on ice. Whoever served coffee on ice should be sent a letter of reprimand and if it happens again, be banished.
- This one is for the convention hall. The thermostat must be set above 27 degrees Fahrenheit. People, if I am cold, it is cold. If you can see icicles forming on people, adjust the thermostat.
Okay, numbers 1-6 may have been of slightly higher importance.
Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good convention. But I think we’d do better to give more time to business – that’s why we are there. Again, if you hate business meetings, you can hang out in the Exhibitors’ hall or tour the city. But when we gather, let’s not be ashamed of what we are – the largest Baptist business meeting on earth. It can be unsightly, unseemly, and ungainly, but in the end, we often get things right.
Let the SBC be the SBC.