The first annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention I attended was 1985 in Dallas. You know, the one with 45k in attendance, where the bathroom lines had more congestion than Manhattan at rush hour. Like this year, the meeting was near one of our seminaries, this time the one I attended. So, Michelle and I drove over Monday morning to the Pastor’s Conference, taking with us a young believer who was as thrilled to be there as we were. The messages that day inspired us, and the crowds amazed us. We were part of something big, something special, and something that mattered.
We still are. Yes, sometimes the annual meeting is about as exciting as sitting through a root canal. But this year I think the SBC annual meeting matters. A lot. So I changed my schedule to be there. I had to ask a youth camp where I am speaking to allow me to send someone in my place the first two days, and they agreed. Then, a month later I was asked to speak at the Pastors Conference–a most humbling surprise! I was coming anyway. And I think that if you are a Southern Baptist, you should consider coming as well. Why?
First, here are NOT reasons you should attend. I always start my evangelism class citing things that are not evangelism (just living a good life without telling the message, just adding to the church roll, etc). Do not attend just because you are “supposed to,” or to show off your newest suit and strut around like a TV game show host. Do not attend to pump hands with the right people who can help you get somewhere in the SBC. People really do that. Sad. And, do not go just to see the exhibits. They are not that great, really. Well, except for the SEBTS booth which is off the chain .
Here are some reasons I think you SHOULD attend:
1. Stewardship. One cannot complain about changes needed in the SBC while at the same time being uninvolved. I was educated in SBC schools, commissioned as a Home Missionary, and have served SBC churches and institutions my whole life. I am a debtor. Younger men, I understand your apathy. I have heard much your readiness to chunk it all. But why not be a part of change? I note younger men simply because studies have shown the overwhelming majority of messengers are older not younger. Ed Stetzer has well said that even in his 40s he goes to the SBC so he can feel younger and thinner (and he said that before losing 100 pounds!). If a couple thousand more people under 40 attended this year it would make international news.
Another word about younger men since there is so much talk about that today. I am around a lot of younger ministers as I travel all over the country. I do not meet any who want to be a leading voice in the SBC, and am surprised at how many assume that is what younger men want. I meet many, many more who are totally apathetic about being involved.
NOTE: those my senior wanted to change the world for the gospel and believed the way to do that was through convention involvement; those my junior believe such involvement in the convention actually hinders their ability to change the world for the gospel! But to those feeling such apathy I would submit that the key issues today are less generational and more great commissional, so as a steward of the gospel, I encourage you to come and be a part.
2. Johnny Hunt. Johnny Hunt has risen to be the leader for these times. He mentored, helped, and cared about younger preachers before it was cool (okay, it is still not cool among some). He has valued the wisdom of those who are older. He has been a model of how to build a Great Commission church that reaches its area, plants churches, and has a heart for the nations, and he has done it through faithful, expositional preaching. He has been diligent in leading in a way that would involve others, including young and old. He has put together a program for the SBC that will help us to see a renewed focus on the Great Commission. Pastor Johnny is indeed a hero for our times.
3. The Pastors Conference. I mentioned my first PC was at Dallas in 1985, a very critical year in the Conservative Resurgence. Speakers there helped to clarify for me as a young seminarian the critical issues facing us. This year’s is no less vital. Ed Litton has put together a remarkable lineup of speakers who love the Word of God and who preach it boldly. All groups, ages, in fact anyone passionate about the SBC and the Great Commission will be blessed by those they hear (well except maybe for a light weight like me):
-Effective pastors such as my longtime buddy Mike Landry, Tom Eliff, Michael Catt, and Mac Brunson;
-Inspirational speakers like Francis Chan (he is worth the trip!) and Fred Luter;
–Younger spokesmen who articulate well the issues of our day including David Platt, Ed Stetzer, and my former student and current hero J.D. Greear;
-Culture warriors like Chuck Colson and Mike Huckabee;
-Our leader in these times, SBC president Johnny Hunt.
4. The possibility of real, vital change exists. Momentum is gaining for fundamental change. Be a part of that reality. It will take much more than a two-day meeting to see a Great Commission Resurgence, which builds on the Conservative Resurgence, to become a reality, but these two days matter much. Movements begin small. But movements affect institutions, and it is time. I can tell my grandchildren that when it came time to stand for the Bible in the 1980s, I did so (even though at the time I was not sure how things would end up in the long run). You can tell your grandchildren that when it came time to stand for the gospel, you did not whiff.
5. Networking. The SBC remains a great place to network, see friends, and encourage one another. I confess: my favorite reason for going is to see my former students. I know you can do this through social networking and other means. But this one still matters, and still brings together the greatest network for global evangelism, for disaster relief, for ministry training, among other things, than any on earth. That is why more than a few younger men who could easily decide not to work in this network have decided to do so in recent days.
6. History. As I said my first SBC was Dallas in 85. I am glad I was part of that historic meeting, and attended almost every annual meeting for the next 15 years. Now, I see the need to be involved for the next 15. This meeting could be historic as well.
7. The future. Most in the SBC under age 30 are about as excited about the SBC as a Duke fan is to see Tyler Hansbrough (that is a North Carolina joke-Go Heels). More than a few of my close friends in their 50s are not excited at all about the future of the SBC as things stand today. So, meetings like this do matter. I hope you will come. I hope you will be a part.
Let me be clear: God does not have to have the SBC. We are not entitled to His blessing, and we have not earned a pass in our time based on even the very best of our past. We are not, as one miss-named book in the CR said, “God’s last and only hope.” He is OUR last and only hope. He has chosen to bless us. I pray that blessing will continue. But if we think that all we need to do is to keep doing what we are doing, just do it a little better, we are in my opinion living in a parallel universe.
I know it is fashionable to quote statistics when they are in our favor and to disrespect them when they are not, and stats today are certainly not in our favor. But statistics aside, do any of us really think we are the vibrant, vital, missional force we could be? We may differ on what changes must be made. We may differ on the extent of those changes. But I think we do not differ on the need for a renewed passion for the Great Commission, when it takes 47 of us to reach one person (oops, quoted a stat, sorry). Why not come to the SBC and be a part of a conversation that could take us to a new level of effectiveness while standing firmly on the unchanging Word?
I will be there.
I hope to see you as well.
NOTE: The Annual SBC meeting is June 23-24 in Louisville, KY. The Pastors Conference is June 21-22. See you there!