My first SBC annual meeting was in Atlanta in 1999. I was a young church planter and like many young ministers, we had very little money. I wanted to go and participate in our denomination’s annual meeting and attend my first Convention. I made the decision to go late, actually 1 week before the meeting. But I also had the problem of funds. I asked my wife if I could go and she reluctantly gave me her blessing… if I could do it for $100 because that’s all we had available at the time. I accepted the challenge and attended my first Convention.
I made a quick plan. I made a reservation at the International Youth Hostel – $15 a night w/tax, I’d have to sleep in a bunk bed with 6 other guys in Birkenstock sandals eating granola, but, hey, I’m traveling on the cheap. That left me $55. My little Pontiac got great gas mileage and gas was only $1.30 a gallon so I calculated I could get there and back with about $6 left for public transportation from the hostel to the Convention Center. I’d wing it for the meals and fast if I had to. I was on my way!
The trip was quite eventful. I ran into a pastor buddy who took me to lunch (by now I realized I wasn’t going to starve) and along with the IMB luncheon and a “gift” ticket to the seminary luncheon from Rhetta Draper, I ate well. On that lunch with my buddy, we met Adrian Rogers who was very kind and gracious and asked questions about our ministries. Before I left, he grabbed the sleeve of my pink-oxford-shirt-wearing friend and said, “Tell your wife to use a little bleach and she’ll get that out for you.”
There were many other stories from that week that made it worth the effort. I learned more about the SBC in the exhibit hall, heard Wiley Drake make about a dozen motions and resolutions (before the rule change), heard Johnny Hunt preach for the first time, shared a cab with Dr. and Mrs. Jimmy Draper (she witnessed to the cab driver), was inspired by a phenomenal IMB presentation, shared Christ with some teenage protestors, led one of the hostel residents to Christ, and came home with two bags of free books, literature, pens, and other bling. More than that, I came home with a renewed passion to share my faith and God used me to lead several persons to Christ the following week.
It was quite eventful and well-worth the effort, even on the cheap, to go to the Convention. I have been coming ever since.
Several people have shared the importance of attending the annual meeting and even the importance of THIS annual meeting in Dallas. Maybe you’re like I was, pastoring a small church with little means. Can I encourage you to find a way and come? Maybe it’s just not possible, but then maybe where there’s a will there’s a way. Here’s a few Ideas that just make it possible for you to join us in Dallas:
- Look for alternative places to stay. I stayed at a hostel. There are lots of other ideas. What about calling an area pastor and asking about a home-stay with one of their members? Find a room in a house through AirBNB, a camp ground to stay in a tent, or sleep in your car at the truckstop if you have to. Maybe you could even find a pastor who would let you crash on their hotel room floor.
- Find free or inexpensive meals. Take advantage of the free/cheap meals: NAMB luncheon, B21, For the Church, etc. You’ll get a free or cheap meal and some books and bling. Fill up on candy in the exhibit hall. Hang out at your seminary’s booth and ask if anyone has an extra luncheon ticket they’d be willing to give. Find an older pastor and look hungry. Join the protesters until one of the messengers offers you a meal. Raid your pantry at home and fill it with Little Debbies before you leave.
- Find cheap or free transportation. Drive or carpool to your destination. If you’re anywhere in the south, you can drive to Texas. Call your association or state convention and find out who else is going – if you do a little legwork, you can probably find a ride. or take a greyhound. (Is hitchhiking an option?)
- Choose to make an investment. Even on a budget, my trip cost $100 that we could have used for something else. Ultimately, even if you are able to do it on the cheap, coming to the Convention will cost you something. You’ll need to decide it’s worth whatever cost you incur. For me, the relationships, experiences, and just stewardship of being part of our cooperative process is worth the time and expense to come year after year. I make that investment each year.
If you’ve never come to an annual meeting, I encourage you to make that investment this year. Find a way and come. You’ll be glad you did!