Many people have pointed out the different dynamics of the SEND North America conference going on right now in Nashville and the annual meetings of the SBC which occur annually in cities around the USA.
- SEND had to close registration at somewhere in the neighborhood of 13,500 (I’ve not heard an actual number) for the two day conference. The SBC struggles to get to the 5000 mark each year.
- SEND charges a fairly substantial fee for attending the conference, in additon to the costs of travel and hotel. There is no charge for the Annual Meeting – you just have to get elected a messenger from your local church. If you attend the pastors conference or other events then travel expenses are going to add up pretty quick. I’m guessing the “free” SBC meeting probably costs more per person than SEND does, even with its fee.
- SEND is predominantly peopled by those who are younger than I am. Of the 5000+ messengers to the SBC I would hazard a guess that I was probably younger than at least half of them – close to it anyway.
What is going on? Why does this meeting have to turn so many away when we have to beg peope to come to the annual meeting? I came here yesterday asking myself that question. I spent yesterday observing and critiquing. Frankly, my initial reaction was pretty negative. Skits, loud music. Scripted banter. But as the day wore on I think I began to understand what was going on. I’m no expert – not by a longshot. But I formed some opinions that I’d like to share with you about what Kevin Ezell, David Platt, NAMB and IMB are doing here.
Observations on the SEND Phenomenon
1. This is pretty exciting.
No, it’s not for guys like me. I’m an old, fat (less than I used to be, but still!), fogey who is on the wrong side of the hill. I hope to have 15 or 20 years of very active ministry left, Lord willing, but I am not the future of the SBC.
The people who are here in Nashville are. High school students. College students. Young whippersnappers. Those who predict the demise of the SBC need to be here to see young people worshiping and engaging.
2. These are two different meetings.
The knee-jerk reaction is, “let’s just replace the SBC meeting with the SEND meeting.” That is naive and impossible. The SBC needs a business meeting in which we gather, vote a budget, decide our policies, deal with issues and even argue over those issues.
The Annual meetings can’t be SEND and SEND can’t replace the Annual Meeting. I’m guessing there are many who decide to attend one or the other probably a lot of younger folks chose SEND over Columbus, if they even knew that Columbus was happening. That’s okay. Choices are part of life. You can’t do everything.
But we have to understand that the SBC Annual Meeting is not meant to be a revival service or a Bible conference. It is a business session. Hopefully, the work we do is eternal and can be done in a spirit of unity and God-honoring integrity. But we are there to receive reports, elect trustees, act on motions and deal with other business.
We have come to the point where we are ashamed of our purpose at the SBC. Obviously, it’s not nearly as fun or exciting to hear the Executive Committee report as this conference is.
You can’t script the SBC like they do SEND.
3. There are some lessons we can learn from SEND.
The SBC annual meeting cannot mimic SEND, because we meet for different reasons. But there are things we can learn from SEND that could help us.
a. Send is focused on mobilizing future generations.
A lot of SBC folks are ardent traditionalists. “If we just did things today the way we did back then, we see the results today that we saw back then.” We seem to be driving down the highway looking in the rearview mirror.
The SBC prospered in the “good old days” because it meshed well in the culture in which it was planted (post-war Deep South culture) – and sometimes it was TOO well enmeshed in culture! But too often today we are hiding our heads in the sand refusing to realize the world has changed and the way we used to do things wasn’t biblically mandated, but just a cultural tradition.
The music here is just too dang loud! All of the guys my age say so. But guess what? The younger folks are LOVING IT. The skits and videos that I thought were corny seemed to communicate to them.
This is going to be tricky at the SBC level, because we still have a lot of us old folks involved who love hymns and like some of the old traditions. They do not have to be abandoned or rejected (most don’t).
But the world has changed. It’s not the 50s anymore. And if we try to preserve the culture of that church instead of mobilizing for the future, we will regret it! I think that SEND is targeting the future better than we are at the annual meeting. It’s easier for SEND, of course.
Can I get direct for a minute? If the church so was wonderful “back in our day” would the country have gone so haywire in the 60s? Would we have abandoned morality so completely in last 50 years? Let’s not take the easy way out and blame all the problems on those who seek to change. Let’s admit that the traditionalist church wasn’t perfect!
b. SEND is ONE Conference – free of the splintering of the SBC
This struck me yesterday. The SBC is an amalgamation of contituencies. Us vs. them. Political parties. Calvinist and anti-Calvinist groups. Traditionalists and contemporary/hipsters.
But there was no such splintering in this group. After the meeting last night, the lights went out and suddenly David Crowder came out on stage (a concert I enjoyed WAY more than I thought I would). There were not B21 forums, 9Marks conference or any other special events with narrow focus.
There is nothing wrong with those groups and the political nature of the SBC means that smaller constituencies may gather to focus, but it was a noticeable difference here. One group. One conference. One.
c. SEND is gospel/mission/Great Commission focused.
SEND has a laser-focus. It is about motivating people, primarily young people, to engage in the mission of evangelism, church-planting, and discipleship in the world. We are not discussing or fighting over secondary or tertiary theological issues. None of that has ever been an issue here. Nothing.
Again, some of that has to do with the nature of the meetings. SEND doesn’t have to make the kind of decisions that the SBC does. But if the SBC continues to be destracted with internecene warfare over issues that do not have the significance we give to them.
We turn secondary issues into blood feuds and younger Christians (and frankly anyone with proper Christian priorities) are turned off. Some people are motivated by the battle – they love to divide the church into “us” and “them.” They enjoy demonizing the “them” so that they can manipulate the “us” into supporting their agenda. “We have to win the war against “them” or the SBC will be destroyed.
There has been none of that here at SEND. It has been a two-day call to mission and ministry. No us vs. them.
d. SEND has been about reaching the lost not saving the SBC.
Again, I understand this has some root in the nature of the meetings. But there is a deeper truth here. Jesus taught a principle we need to remember. He who keeps his life loses it, he who loses his life for Christ’s sake gains it.
I wonder if we stopped worrying about “preserving the SBC” or turning around our decline or those things, and just adopted the spirit of SEND that calls us to give ourselves to the mission of Christ and the Kingdom, if that might not do more for the SBC than all the task forces could ever do.
I should edit and rewrite this – but I’m at the conference and the politicians are about to appear, so I’m just going to present this as my stream of consciousness.
Of course, the SBC cannot be exactly what SEND is. But I think we can look at what is happening here and learn from it.
We are fools if we don’t.
But please, keep the light shows to a minimum, and let someone over 40 control the volume knob!