I really enjoyed my time in Columbus this year at the SBC Annual Meeting. Here are six factors that made this the best convention I’ve attended.
Ronnie Floyd’s Leadership
Last year (2014), I voted for Dennis Kim for SBC president. That wasn’t necessarily anything against Ronnie Floyd—I wanted to see us continue to celebrate our non-white Southern Baptists after electing Fred Luter the two conventions previous. All that to say I didn’t have much of an opinion of Ronnie Floyd one way or the other, positive or negative, before this year’s convention.
Alan Cross’ article a few weeks ago alerted me to the fact that Floyd has been working hard toward racially diverse representation on the committee he was responsible for appointing, and possibly also keeping the issue in front of other committees and boards to ensure the issue was made a priority.
There was also a constant emphasis on prayer and unity as I heard Ronnie speak in his interview in the SBC This Week podcast about two weeks before the convention. So for me there were positive indications before the annual meeting.
Those good signs proved to be only the beginning. Floyd gave a very good convention sermon and conducted the business of the convention well (even when he told me to stop speaking, another post soon on that incident). This convention was probably the most encouraging and enjoyable I’ve been to from a programming/schedule standpoint, and I think that was in large part due to the rearranged schedule Ronnie Floyd worked to put in place. The prayer time on Tuesday night was amazing. More on that below.
This year we consolidated similar types of reports and business together in the same session. I was skeptical this would make much of a difference in the actual convention experience. I was wrong about that. The activities of the day seemed to flow and make sense. The continuity was a welcome adjustment. The previously prevalent random “let’s stand up and sing a song now to kill a few minutes” wasn’t missed at all. Judging by the number of people still in the convention hall even at the end of some of the sessions, I’d say the change was a huge success with those attending.
I think my only complaint with the schedule was that the seminary report time (all 6 back-to-back) seemed to drag on longer than my attention span was able to stay focused. But then the rather uncomfortable convention center chairs might have been to blame as much as the actual duration. Maybe a 3+3 format with something in the middle to break up the length of the report section, or something similar, could be considered next year.
The highlight of the convention schedule was the call to prayer segment on Tuesday night. I’ve heard good messages preached at the convention before, but this was the most powerful, extended worship element I’ve ever seen in the 5 conventions I’ve been to personally (and watched several online in that same time). And I mean by far. No competition. Dave Miller said he remembered a pretty powerful time back in the mid 80’s (about the time I was in kindergarten 🙂 sorry Dave) when Bellevue organized some banners to march in during a worship time, but that had only lasted a couple minutes. This was an extended time of worship and calling out to God. The time of prayer for racial reconciliation was amazing, as well as powerful times of prayer for the persecuted church and several other areas.
Send NA Lunch
Another highlight of the convention, for me, was the Send North America/IMB lunch on Monday. Kevin Ezell and David Platt shared the stage and talked for something like 30-45 minutes. There was good information presented. The contrast between the two, with Ezell’s tendency to crack a joke about every other word, then Platt’s intensity (which he left only briefly to give a courtesy laugh to Kevin’s jokes) was classic. I think more than half the convention showed up for this lunch and I’m glad I wasn’t one of the few who missed it.
What would a SBC Annual Meeting be without getting to catch up with friends and meet new ones? I talked to so many people with such obvious love and joy in their lives because of Christ. I sat down at the Southern Lunch with a table full of people, most of whom I had never met, and within minutes we were talking like we had known each other for years and rejoicing in the work God is doing in each others’ lives and ministries.
I met some people whose names you’d know from the stage. Each one impressed me (as much as you can tell in a 5 minute conversation or so) as being real and authentic, not walking around with an inflated sense of importance like some might expect. I got to have conversations with Steve Gaines, Clint Pressley, Ronnie Floyd (briefly), and Kevin Smith (if I could name drop a little bit) and thoroughly enjoyed meeting each of them. In the exhibit hall, Steve Gaines called us over to pray with him for a young man who’s going with his family to Alaska to plant a church. It’s little stuff like that where I’m reminded that the pastors whose faces we see on stage and whose voices we’ve heard mpreach are real men who love God, people, and the work of ministry. They can be easy objects for criticism because of prominent roles (no one’s saying they’re perfect) but I believe each of them, as well as many others I didn’t meet are striving to serve Christ and I want to rejoice that God has blessed their ministries so tremendously.
But it’s not mainly the stage personalities that encourage me about our convention. It’s the people I know from blogging & twitter, people I’ve met at previous conventions, people I’ve gone to church with in the past. Hanging out with the SBC Voices guys was awesome. I got to spend a lot of time with Gentry Hill, one of my former youth who’s now graduated from seminary and is now looking for a church to pastor, and who was an absolute lifesaver several times this week. (What a joy to see a former student ready to take on a full time ministry role?! Wow.) I want to go on but this section’s too long already. Too many great people to list and God greatly encouraged me this week through them.
Encouraging Work of Entities
The reason we all get together every year is because of the cooperative work we do through our mission boards, seminaries, LifeWay, ERLC, and others. I said it on twitter during the week and I’ll say it again here, we have tremendous leadership in each of these entities and they are doing amazing work— work that deserves to be supported with prayer, CP giving, and our encouragement for these organizations. NAMB and LifeWay are doing the best work they’ve done in years. Our IMB has always done excellent work and Platt is leading them to even greater effectiveness and focus on partnering with local churches. I can’t think of a better spokesman for us on public policy and ethics issues today than Russell Moore and his team at the ERLC. The seminaries continue to do well. And hey, GuideStone has good insurance & retirement too.
My first annual meeting was in 2005. Back then there were some bright spots but there were also some things that frustrated me with the state of the SBC. Since that time, my support of the CP has moved from feeling almost obligatory to enthusiastic as I see the direction we’re going and the unity with which we’re traveling there. Attendance has ticked up the past two years, and recent reports showed a slight increase in current year CP giving. Both indicators could mean nothing, but they could also show a slightly renewed interest in our cooperative work as a convention. I pray that’s what we’re seeing because I think it would reward well the hard work that’s been put in to get our convention moving in its current, encouraging direction.
Great meeting, Columbus 2015. Maybe St. Louis can be even better.