Once more, we as Southern Baptists have had our convention. Yes, the actual Southern Baptist Convention only exists for two days each year. For the rest of the time, the SBC exists, but denominational details are covered by our Executive Committee. But, most people don't care about that.
We have just completed our two-day convention in Dallas, Texas. You may have noticed it trending on social media or things said about it on television or radio. Even in years when we think there will be no controversial aspect...there always tends to be one that pops up.
For those of us who live in Florida and other coastal states, we understand how a forming hurricane in the Atlantic affects us. We get notified on the local news or Weather Channel days before any storm makes landfall. We watch the swirling graphics online for days as anxiety builds up, wondering if the storm will hit near home and if so, how much damage it will bring. In the literal sense, we have experienced these storms in our state (Florida) and in neighboring areas all too often.
In a way, this year's SBC meeting felt like a hurricane. We knew there would be divisive issues. We knew going in with the situation at our Executive Committee with Dr. Frank Page having to resign and the most recent issues leading to Dr. Paige Patterson's dismissal at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that once the microphones were turned on, varying views would be expressed and those on stage would be put on the spot to answer well.
Other things were brewing as well, especially issues regarding racial unity and abuse.
So, like a hurricane, we have been waiting and watching for weeks, until this week. We prayed that the storm that seemed inevitable would dissipate and our meeting would be healthy, peaceful, and lead us forward.
God answered that prayer. There were great moments at our gathering. There were significant moves forward regarding race relations, gender issues, abuse issues, etc. Of course, there was not enough done for everyone to be satisfied, but steps forward in these areas did take place.
Yet, the storm did hit. This Texas two-step allowed us to take a step forward, but in some ways, a couple backward as well.
The change in agenda that provided a venue for Vice-President Mike Pence seems to have done more to harm our convention than many realize. I believe we're resilient and will be okay in the days to come, but the fact remains, in my opinion, this was a bad idea. Damage was done and it prayerfully, will not be lasting.
In years past other sitting elected officials have spoken at SBC meetings. Those were divisive as well I am sure, but that was then. This is now. Just a short journey down a Twitter feed with #SBCAM18 and you will discover quickly that Southern Baptists were far from unified in viewing the appearance of the VP in a positive way. All the sudden a gathering for worship and denominational business turned into something most did not desire. Vice-President Pence is a brother in Christ. His message began with a word regarding his conversion and powerful words of personal surrender to Christ. For that, great applause for the greatness of our God. (I am not against Mr. Pence. So don't read what I'm not typing.)
Yet, despite a handful of comments that were worthy of applause and uniting as Christians, the sad reality is that his speech turned quickly into little more than a "look what we have done for you in Washington" focus. While totally appropriate as a stump-speech for any political party, this was not appropriate or healthy for the stage upon which he stood.
Personally, I do not believe a sitting elected official should speak at the Southern Baptist Convention (and probably not in your local church either.) The pulpit (whether you use one or a table or just walk around) is reserved for the preaching of the Word of God. To stray from that causes confusion and waters down the gospel. As has been said many times, "When you mix politics and religion, you get politics." I'm not anti-politics. I believe Christians should be civic-minded and active. I wish we'd be more active sharing Christ than sharing our info on donkeys and elephants. Some Christians are greatly evangelistic about their political views, yet seem strangely silent about the gospel.
I guess for some getting the "right" person in Washington is more important than getting the "lost" person in heaven. <Tweet This>
I was warned by one of my deacons earlier in the month to be very careful what I say, tweet, post regarding our denomination, ministry foci, and politics. His wisdom is clear. I must be careful. I'm trying to be careful. I understand why he said this. He is older and wiser than me and knows that a person with good intentions can be left standing without a chair when the music stops in this sinful world.
As I reflect on this week, as I stated earlier, there are many things worth celebrating. There are also some things that must be called what they are - sin. I'm on no high horse. I have not arrived. I know this. Yet, as a pastor of an SBC church and as a messenger representing our church, I know we must make some changes. I don't know all the changes that must be made, but prayerfully, as God leads, our leaders will have ears to hear and follow His lead.
Some Great News
We heard stories of new church plants, like Kesavan Balasingham in Toronto. He's a friend of ours and part of the Send Toronto initiative. It's an incredible story. You should watch this video below:
We saw numerous new missionaries commissioned for service through our International Mission Board. Some had to keep their identities hidden due to safety precautions in the field.
We heard how God has raised up a church from the ashes of tragedy as Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri shared what God is doing in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Let's just say, the reality of what this brother and sister have gone through, the loss of their friends, the devastation of their church, and the murder of their daughter in the shooting last year reminds all of us that much of what we get frustrated about in church doesn't matter at all. Pastor Pomeroy brings perspective.
College campus church plants are growing and we heard how planters are doing this work on the universities and colleges in our nation as true church plants for the nations, built to send, especially since the congregation is only there for four or five years (or more for that one guy working on the bachelors degree on the ten-year plan.)
We heard detailed information, that wasn't desired but needed, regarding our denominational statistics. This bores some people, but cannot be ignored. CP giving is down, baptisms are down, disciple-making is down. The good news is that more than a resolution or a vote, there seems to be a real, concerted effort for churches to first, get real numbers, and second, do the work of an evangelist and be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. No program will fix this, but to ignore the reality is to continue to pretend that everything is okay when it is not.
A nine-year old boy made a motion during the business portion. It was likely written up with help from his parents, but when this boy asked that the SBC put on the official emphasis calendar a focus on Children's Ministry, the place erupted. Why? Well, because the redhead boy did a great job reading that motion and we were all cheering him on. Also, we need to remember that kids aren't just the group that we put in the back room and show a Veggie Tales video. To be churches that equip families and lead parents to be their children's lead disciple-makers, this emphasis is needed. And...a child making the motion means he was an official messenger from his church. He was in the room (then at throughout the sessions) and was engaged. Yay mom and dad! What a message.
We elected J.D. Greear as our president and A.B. Vines and Felix Cabrera as vice-presidents. These are one-year terms. I believe these men were not just elected by SBC messengers, but called by God for such a time as this. They need our prayers. They need our support.
There's more, but then you can read those updates elsewhere.
So, Why Do I Want a Do Over?
I don't want a re-do on the good things, but the other things seem to be all that is reported and remembered. Negativity sells and negativity trends. The title of this blog may be negative as well. I hope not.
I perceive a sense of "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time" pervaded in some of the planning. Yet, when 40% of an almost 9,000 member crowd of Christian brothers and sisters say "NO," I would say it is worth revisiting the original plan. That's my congregationalism showing.
There were some hateful things said to others in the room. Some were said at microphones on the floor. Some were said in the room, but just loud enough for those around to hear. Word is a SWBTS trustee was verbally chastised by a messenger (which they have the right to do) in front of his son and it left the boy in tears.
Sometimes Christians just don't act Christ-like. And, all of us have been guilty of that.
What would I do differently? Oh, it's easy to say "don't do that" and "do this" but that's like Monday morning quarterbacking. I know we can't get a do-over, but we can move forward. We don't need to forget the missteps of this year's meeting. We need to remember and learn.
We also don't need to forget the good and great things either. Sometimes, I fear we don't celebrate well. These things need to be taken home to our local churches and shared. In spite of the very real negative, there are very real positives as well. The news and the tweets often don't share those, but we as pastors must.
Truly, many in our churches have no idea, and do not care really, about what happens at our annual meetings. Yet, we must remember that as a cooperating group of Baptists (even with our crazy uncles and cousins) God has placed us together for His glory and our good and the good of our communities.