As I type this, my wife is driving and we’re headed to Alabama from our home in Northern Indiana. It’s an annual ritual that I explained to some of my church friends is a combination of a business meeting, worship gathering, family reunion, and trade show. I’ve been attending the SBC Annual Meeting since 1999 and make it a point to actively participate as a messenger each year. A couple thoughts have been running through my mind over the last couple weeks that I wanted to share as we come together in Alabama this week.
1. What we are doing is important. As we convene our annual meeting, we do so as representatives of our various churches to steward what God has given us in our partnership in the gospel. The business we do matters as we select leaders, make decisions, hear reports about how God is working through our mission boards, seminaries, and other entities.
Each year that I’ve gone to the convention, there has been a key issue that rises to the surface and it’s important how we handle that issue and the decisions and official statements we make about it. This year is no exception as we tackle the weighty matter of sexual abuse and how we will protect people and minister to those who have suffered the violence and trauma of abuse. As in past years, the world will be watching to see how we’ll respond. Reporters will report, commentators will comment, and bloggers will blog. How we do or do not act in this meeting will reflect on Southern Baptists, on our individual churches, and on the Christian faith. What we are doing is important this year will be especially important to those who have suffered sexual abuse.
It’s important to be reminded that we have a Commission from our savior. Most messengers, myself included, will leave Birmingham with a renewed commitment to make Christ known in our communities and among the nations. It’s important to hear how God is using our cooperative resources to spread the gospel, plant new churches, and to take the Good News to unreached peoples. It’s important that we rejoice at what God is doing even as we take stock of our declining baptisms and seek to reverse the downward trend of our denominational statistics. We should leave challenged to take the Great Commission seriously.
And, it’s important to connect with others. The annual meeting gives us an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I enjoy meeting new people in the exhibit hall, putting faces to names I have only engaged with online, and talking with missionaries, professors, and ministers representing the various ministries of our Baptist family. Even more, I look forward to reunion with brothers I see only at meetings like this one. Beyond anything published on our site, our little band of bloggers is a bit of a family, and I look forward to the fellowship as we reunite each June. It’s important to have relationships where we can pray for one another, encourage one another, and just enjoy friendship. Relationships are important and the annual reunion is valuable to me.
2. What we are doing is just a small part of God’s kingdom work in the world. As much as I love being a Southern Baptist, it’s important to remind myself that God’s kingdom work is much larger than the SBC and the Cooperative Program. Declining numbers notwithstanding, Southern Baptists remain a powerful mission force. The Convention reminds me about how significant our cooperative effort is and at the same time, in relation to the whole, we are such a small part. Southern Baptist mission dollars account for about 0.58% of monies spent on global missions to the non-Christian world and our missionaries make up less than 1% of the full-time expat missionaries serving around the world (and only 0.16% of all full-time workers). I remind myself of this because I trend toward pride and I personally need to keep our work as Southern Baptists in proper perspective. I love being Southern Baptist and I want to approach our efforts in world evangelization humbly, with gratitude, and a sense of awe in our great God.
A few weeks ago, I did a backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. Right before my trip, a Tanzanian pastor friend asked me about my experience and what I thought when I saw the canyon for the first time. I told him “It’s so big, and I’m so small” and I was reminded of Psalm 8 and the wonders of God’s works — especially, v. 4, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” That’s the same perspective I have when I think about pastoring a church and being part of the Southern Baptist Convention. God’s work is so big and I am (we are) so small. What an awesome thing that God allows us to be part of what He is doing in the world!
Even as we are reminded of another statistical decrease, and we work to correct it, I’m reminded that though we may be declining, God’s kingdom is growing. God is removing my Baptist triumphalism, and that’s OK. Southern Baptists are not the last best hope for the world, but God is and He is working and we get to be a part of it. Hallelujah! God is working through Southern Baptists, AND God is moving in significant ways through other denominations, through people who disagree with me on secondary issues, and through competent people who are not Western, who do not speak English, who are not “white,” and who don’t care about American conservative politics. And, I must remind myself, the growth of God’s kingdom in the world is happening outside the blogosphere and twitterverse.
I’m coming now to Alabama with thousands of like-minded Baptist messengers committed to working together to do kingdom work. The perspective I want to have as we gather is not how great WE are but how great HE is. Pastoring and being part of God’s mission effort is a privilege. I want to be diligent to be faithful to his Great Commission personally and want us to be faithful collectively to fulfill the mission God has given us as Southern Baptists.
I’m thankful for the stewardship we have been given. I am thankful for the resources we have and the opportunities God has given us as a denomination. I am thankful for the Southern Baptist Convention. I trust that God will continue to provide for His work and will use us. And I rejoice that we get to be a part of what God is doing in the world.
See you in Alabama!
 To doublecheck my math, see IBMR 39:1, p.29 , “Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact” http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2015-01/2015-01-028-johnson.html; https://www.imb.org/2018/10/05/lmco-nears-159-million/; https://www.imb.org/fast-facts/.