I began attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1999 in Atlanta. That first year, I was a newly appointed church planter with virtually no money. My wife graciously said I could attend…if I could do it for $100. So, between the free luncheons, gracious older pastors who chose to feed me, and three nights in the International Youth Hostel, I made my way to Atlanta to my first Convention. Since that time, I have missed only two meetings due to a seminary deadline and the birth of my third child. I have found attendance at the annual meeting to be an important part of my year and a valuable investment of my time and resources.
This year was low in attendance, but just as valuable to me as years past. My experience is perhaps not much different from the average small church messenger. I make a point to attend for basically three reasons: Relationships, Representation and Recommitment.
Many have described the SBC annual meeting as a kind of “family reunion” and rightly so. Each year, I am able to rekindle old friendships and make new ones. That first year in Atlanta, I was able to reconnect with an old pastor and former seminary friends. I hung out at the NAMB booth and made many new friendships that remain until today. I got to meet Adrian Rogers who graciously encouraged me (and light-heartedly made fun of my friend’s pink shirt – “Ask your wife to use a little bleach and she’ll get that out for you”). I shared a cab with Jimmy Draper, who took great interest in my ministry and encouraged me while his wife shared Christ with the cab driver. A later Convention connection resulted in a friendship and mission partnership with an Oklahoma pastor that remains to this day. Shane and I get together every Convention to reconnect, tell our “miracle” missions story, and enjoy each other’s fellowship. This year was no exception and over breakfast we shared and discussed future missions partnerships. I could share many other stories, but you get the idea – and if you have been a messenger, you no doubt have many such stories of your own.
Of course, the “official” purpose of my participation is to be a messenger for my church so that they are represented in the business of the Convention. My second Convention was perhaps the most historic. I made it a point to be in Orlando in 2000 because I wanted my new church to understand that the doctrine that we affirmed was not merely handed down, but was one that I supported and for which I cast my vote. I was on the Convention floor to hear the room gasp when a moderate pastor stated that “the Bible is still just a book.” I was there to hear Dr. Mohler clarify “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what it all comes down to,” and a few minutes later cast my ballot for the 2000 BFM. Since that time, over the years, I have represented my church in many decisions both big and small.
This year, there was a lack of foreseen “my vote really matters” decisions. Yet, whether foreseen or not, every Convention has some decisions that come to a close ballot vote – this year was no exception. Also, despite our annual collective groan at those “crazy uncles” – we were reminded that any messenger can be a representative and go to the mic to ask a question, make a motion, or nominate someone (even themselves) for office. Further, one messenger can lead the Convention to overrule the chair and have the Convention consider and even pass any motions and resolutions that the messengers choose.
I was encouraged by some of the decisions of which I was able to vote as a representative of my church. Perhaps the most significant thing we did this year was to affirm the Executive Committee recommendation to “give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the Convention, and particularly ethnic diversity.” After numerous resolutions on the issue over the past several years, this vote takes a proactive step to broaden the ethnic diversity of our leadership and be more representative or both our constituency and our heart. I enthusiastically voted yes. Among other votes, we passed an important resolution on illegal immigration as it relates to gospel ministry, changed the mission statements of NAMB and the IMB, and elected Fred Luter as first VP. I go to the Convention as a representative and this year was no exception — whether or not there was anything “BIG” on the agenda. I count it a privilege to be a part of the decision making process of our denomination.
The third reason I attend the annual meeting is recommitment. I attend the Convention to remind myself why I am Southern Baptist – to be challenged to greater commitment to the Great Commission and to cooperative work. I love to hear conversion testimonies, rejoice in what God is doing, and be challenged to aspire to join God in His kingdom work. Whether any great decision is made or not, and regardless of statistics, I believe it is important for us to challenge one another to unity and even greater Great Commission focus and true sacrifice for kingdom work.
Unity and cooperation were certainly a theme of this year’s Convention. One important moment took place during the Executive Committee report. Last year, as part of the GCR report, we agreed to a new set of core values including Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, and trust. This year, in a significant if symbolic affirmation of those values, the presidents of our SBC agencies, seminaries, ethnic fellowships, and State Conventions took the stage together having signed an “Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation” pledge. We were collectively challenged by EC President Frank Page to recommit ourselves to “Christ-like selflessness.”
I was encouraged also by the inclusion in both the NAMB and IMB reports of a commissioning service as numerous missionaries were sent out to North America and the uttermost to take the gospel to the unreached. I found myself committing myself anew to support these missionaries through prayer and giving, and to continue seek out how God wants to use me in His kingdom work to reach my community as well as the unreached and unengaged peoples of the world.
Over and over during the meetings, I was encouraged to renew my commitment to partner together with fellow Baptists and Great Commission Christians to take the gospel to the lost. The pastor’s conference, entity reports (especially the big three — EC, IMB, and NAMB), the NAMB and B21 Luncheons, as well as the president’s address and Convention sermon all served to issue such a challenge. Throughout the Convention, we were reminded that the needed Great Commission Resurgence will not take place by votes on the Convention floor but in the hearts of pastors and churches as we renew our commitment to the gospel and taking it to our neighbors and the nations. This kind of spurring toward love and good works is what brings me back to the annual meeting each year whether or not there is anything “BIG” on the agenda.
So my take on SBC2011? I am glad I went and look forward to next year’s meeting. The meeting was gospel-focused, church-centered, and God-exalting. I am thankful for my Southern Baptist family. I am excited about what God is doing in and through Southern Baptists. I returned home renewed, refreshed, revived, and spurred on to be part of God’s kingdom work!