Why Attend the Southern Baptist Convention?

1985.

Dallas, Texas.

45,000 Messengers.

Focus: A resurgence of conviction regarding the Word of God.

I picked an interesting year to attend my first SBC annual meeting. I was a 26-year-old pastor with little practical knowledge of the inner workings of the convention. As a student in seminary at the time I loved class, but I had a disdain for meetings.

It took a lot to get me there. “Just let me be and let me lead a church” was my attitude. But I had enough sense to know that the issues at hand mattered, and had seen enough of the need to speak clearly about my conviction concerning the inerrancy of Scripture to let my vote count. I have never regretted becoming far more integrally involved in SBC life. I am glad to be able to say to my children and one day to my grandchildren that when it came time to stand for my convictions I was ready.

2010.

Orlando, FL.

??? Messengers.

Focus: A resurgence of conviction regarding the gospel of God.

Now a quarter of a century later, the SBC meeting in Orlando this June marks another historically significant year. The vote on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report will have a marked impact on the future of the convention. Perhaps you have thought about the issues but have decided not to be there for the vote. I want to try to answer a simple question.

Why attend the SBC?

1. Movement. Movements change the world. A single Muslim extremist named bin Laden led a movement that has tragically changed the world. A far better movement is happening in the US: a church planting, a gospel-centric, missional, globally focused movement. Men like David Platt preach a message of great sacrifice and gospel focus many see as prophetic for our time. Many believe the GCRTF report helps to galvanize core values in a growing movement.

2. Trajectory. We are currently on a trajectory that will lead us to the ecclesiastical equivalent of a raisin. Once we were plump and robust like a healthy grape, and things were rolling along. But we are beginning to shrivel in our influence and in our conviction (particularly in our practice) regarding the Great Commission. The trajectory leads us not headlong into oblivion, but neither is it good. If I had a dollar for every pastor with whom I have spoken whose church is marked more by apathy over gospel clarity I could fund a lot of missionaries. The trajectory of the SBC must change.

3. Proactivity. The GCRTF offers us a proactive approach to bring change. If we do not seize the day and call for change, we will nevertheless change. But it will be reactionary. What if it does not pass? The movement will not stop. It will simply lead to further factionalism, and delay the inevitable. Let’s be clear: we are not voting on a structural change primarily. We are not voting on the Cooperative Program-I have not met anyone who wants to abandon it. We re voting on what we believe should be the soul of our convention, and accountability and consistency in what we say and how we live. We are stepping back from the how of cooperation to talk about the why.

4. Solution. The GCRTF seeks to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem. As D.A. Carson pointed out in his book on the emerging church, more radical leaders in that movement like Bryan McLaren (whose book Generous Orthodoxy is far more generous than orthodox) are great at whining about the church, but not great at solving issues. You can be a part of the solution. The GCRTF offers solutions.

5. Opportunity. If you are a leader in a local church and have ever attempted to lead change in that congregation you know something of the challenges involved. A congregation happy with the status quo, satisfied with things as they are, is very hard to change. But sometimes you have an opportunity to lead people ready to change-an unusual conversion, a new hunger among the people, sometimes even a calamity to bring people together. Those windows of opportunity should be seized. Johnny Hunt found a group of people ready to change when he came to FBC Woodstock. Everywhere I go around our convention I see people ready to change. I never hear the question “should we change” to be more effective in fulfilling the great commission. I constantly hear “how can we bring about change?” We have before us a great opportunity to be seized.

6. Gospel. We as a people have loved the gospel. But when you look at the practice of many (most?) of our churches, and look at the raw data, we have pushed the gospel to the periphery. Just look up the statistics on reaching youth in a day when more youth live in the U.S. than ever in history. Too many are more energized about political matters than the lost around them. Too many have in effect minimized the gospel to the bottom of the computer screens of their lives. Many churches have done the same. The gospel should be the center of our lives, not at the periphery. We should be raising our children to focus on the gospel more than career. We should be thinking about how we can be involved in fulfilling the great commission more than retirement. We should be more about winning the lost to Jesus than winning an election in DC.

7. Revival. Many have prayed for and talked about revival in our land for some time. Earlier revival movements were birthed out of a return to the gospel, not a call for moral or ethical change. Historically, when the gospel was recovered and preached with passion, revival came. Study the sermons of those we consider leaders in revival and see that their focus was on the good news. The GCRTF is calling the convention back to the gospel, which is a sign of revival.

8. Future. As I stated, we have the largest number of teenagers in the history of the United States, and the largest number of unreached teens and young adults. We will not reach the younger with big buildings, cool technology, or our events. They hunger for relationships, want something real, and yearn for a vision for life bigger than themselves. They flock to Starbucks because of the little glimpse of community they experience there. They will not be impressed by our institutions or our heritage, as wonderful as they may be. We must show them here and now how to live a life large for something that matters. We have the message. We have the truth. We must invest in the coming generation.

9. Orlando. Okay not the best reason, but Orlando is a pretty cool place to be.

10. Replacement. This is the least of all reasons. But one reason I want to challenge you to go, at least one who reads this, is to take my place and cast your vote. Lest I be a hypocrite, I want you to know I will not be at the SBC. Why, when it is arguably the most important one in our history? I am a Southern Baptist. I am honored to serve my convention in the role of training future leaders. But I am first a Christian. I am next a husband and a father. And then I am a churchman, in a Southern Baptist church. The only thing on earth that would keep me from being at this year’s convention is my family (nuclear and church). I will be overseas with my daughter and our student ministry serving with our IMB to reach people and plant churches. I would miss for no other reason. If you are in the US, and not on a mission trip, I challenge you, find a way to get to Orlando.

The SBC in Dallas 1985 was arguably the most significant convention in history. I did not want to say to my grandchildren one day I had an opportunity to be a part of biblical change in my tradition and did not show up. Now, 25 years later, I teach at SEBTS, an amazing reality given where things were in 85! Change can happen. I see its reality every day. Do not look back in a few years with regret. Make an effort, make an impact.

Let me close with a reminder. God does not have to have the SBC. I heard recently that there are at least three house church movements in a nation in Asia, all of which are larger in number than the Southern Baptist Convention. We are not, as someone wrote years ago, “God’s last and only hope.” He is our only hope. The gospel remains the singular answer. Let us stand on the gospel, and join together for that great cause.Angry Racer

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

  12Comments

  1. thanks alvin. I also will be overseas this year (have not attended since 1999 in atlanta) but will be thinking of everyone from over here.

  2. Jason   •  

    Alvin,

    Struggling with this…i’ve been in a church revitilization project for the past 3 years just outside of Orlando. In that time, we’ve seen God do some incredible things…reached more with the Gospel and baptized more in 3 years than the previous 10 combined. At the same time, struggled mightily with money and budget concerns. But here’s my struggle…it seems that what “little” churches do within the convention is of little consequence until a side needs votes. Plus, it seems that the convention is completely out of touch with the small, local church. The convention appears to love our big, mega churches who give a lot and baptize thousands every weekend…but when it comes to guys who are just plodding along, quietly winning souls to Jesus and truly making an impact in their community, they are inconsequential until the convention has to deal with an issue.

    I am a Southern Baptist and have been since i was in my grandfather’s church as a child and your reasons are somewhat compelling…But why should my “little voice” be important now? I guess this is a bigger issue than simply attending the convention…

    Sorry to rant…but looking for answers…

    Jason

  3. Alvin Reid   •  

    Jason:
    First of all let me commend you for the work you are a part of in your local church. That is what matters more than the rest! In fact, the GCR is very much about the local church.

    As to your question, I remember as a young evangelism leader in a new work state (Indiana) feeling exactly like you did. I think for most of our history the SBC annual meeting has been underrepresented by smaller churches. I only served smaller churches in my many years as a pastor or staff member.

    This is part of the genius of the SBC. You can still be very involved in the association locally and the state convention. And, in a flattened world, you can blog and utilize the internet to have influence much greater than in your one church. So, while it is true that larger churches have the resources smaller churches do not, you have a greater opportunity to be an influence today with networking and social media than I did as a young pastor. Get online, tell your story, make some noise. There may be others who will follow you.

    More than anything, please be encouraged by the fact that what you are doing in your church REALLY matters. I have preached in over 1700 SBC churches. Most of them are small. Small does not mean insignificant. What you do is known by God, and that matters most.

    I am sitting here typing this with my parents in a hotel room. Yes, I am about to preach to 500 youth at FBC Woodstock. But I come from very common stock–my brother and I are the only ppl in our family to earn a doctorate. My parents were blue collar before retirement. I was a nobody with no one to help me. I just walked with Jesus, and honestly tried to make the most of what I could where I could. And God has given me a little influence. It is His doing.

    I would say your post here is a way you can step into becoming more influential. I am just one man, but if I were at Orlando I would love to meet you! Your question is bigger than simply attending the convention, but it is a good one.

  4. Louis   •  

    Alvin:

    Dallas 1985 was my first convention, too. I had Press credentials that I obtained by volunteering to be a correspondent from a Christian radio station in Chattanooga, TN.

    It was a great experience, even though it was tense. It was worth it.

    I was 24 at the time. None of my other 24 year old friends who were very involved in ministry etc. were interested in the SBC fights. Now most of them are grateful for what happened. But some of them still don’t have any desire to participate in large denominational meetings. It is a sign of our times.

    I am going to Orlando this year. I am going to vote for the GCR. I am not believing, however, that the GCR proposals will make a significant effect on the SBC.

    People in the SBC should attend the annual meeting because it’s good stewardship. And the SBC is great because it is theologically orthodox, recognizes church autonomy, and provides a great mechanism for working together to fulfill the Great Commission.

    People not in the SBC but who are convictional Baptists should get their churches to join the SBC for all of the reasons set forth above.

    I agree that the SBC has problems, like any large organization. The grass is always greener somewhere else, but wherever one goes, there are problems.

    I believe that the challenges for the SBC are:

    To continue to emphasize big issues (like the GCR) and not small matters.

    To avoid factions over small things.

    To ignore people who are constantly trying to use this or that scandal to promote their own personalities.

    To deal with scandals (but only the ones that can be addressed by the SBC), regardless of who may bring them to the SBC’s attention. But do it with little fanfare and quickly.

    To stop talking about how we are declining. There is a fine line between realism (which is appreciated) and self loathing (which is a downer and is really a form of idolatry).

    To value publicly all churches, regardless of size.

    I believe that the new generation of younger pastors simply needs to grow up, attend the annual meeting as a matter of stewardship, and proclaim the value of working together as churches, rather than being loan rangers.

    I could go on.

    Hope I see you in Orlando.

  5. Jason   •  

    Alvin,

    Thank you for your insight. Influence is something we are striving for in our community in order to share Jesus with them. I guess my issue is that being in Orlando, I’ve just felt disenfranchised with the SBC. I worked at Walt Disney World in my undergraduate work during the “boycott” and got to hear first-hand what people believed about “Southern Baptists.”

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have received incredible equipping and encouragement from our local association in the Greater Orlando area and feel that they are the best use of any funds we designate to the CP. The cultural and social context in Orlando is so much different than anything anywhere else in the “South” and the local association is best positioned to help churches reach their respective communities. I further realize that the local associations benefit from Convention funding and resourcing as well.

    I plan on attending the Convention and will be bringing at least 3 of my current leaders (non-paid staff). Our community is also doing VBS that week so my evenings are taken. But I just wanted your thoughts.

    And a side note for Louis…great insight…especially the issue of the talk of decline. However, let me throw out a word of caution in generalizing the “new generation of younger pastors.” I am in that boat. I don’t believe that the sweeping generalization of younger SBC pastors is that they are immature, lazy, or against the working together of churches. In fact, what I’ve experienced is just the opposite. There are networks of churches all over Orlando that are working together to reach their communities led by “younger pastors.” The American Church is in the condition she’s in today due to where she has been and how she has been led in the past. Today, we all have a responsibility to look realistically in the mirror and pick up the mantle of leadership and storm the darkness once again.

    Alvin, thanks for making this conversation available.

    Jason

  6. Louis   •  

    Jason:

    Thanks for the follow up.

    I don’t think that the younger generations are lazy or against working together.

    I think that many, not all (good word on generalizations) do not have the fortitude to work in a group as large as the SBC, especially if they or their friends have been “offended” in some way in some quarter of SBC life. I only say that because so many of my generation (I am 49) bolted in the late 70s through the late 80s to be totally autonomous.

    I hope that does not repeat itself with this younger crop of leaders.

  7. Tom Wilson   •  

    I’m a very involved, bi-vocational missionary to the local county jail in a very small northern New York town. I work at the local school district and wouldn’t be able to come to Orlando even if I had the money to do that. I can relate to Jason’s comments above. My pastor and I have discussed the GCR many times. Both of us remain unconvinced how this is going to change ANYTHING for our church.

    My pastor was considering going and then changed his mind, because we agreed that the truth of the matter was that we wanted to “go and watch the big dogs fight” over the direction of the SBC. He has decided to use his time to go to a conference that will give him some tools to help with our church.

    The more I read about the GCR, the less I care. I just wonder how many thousands of dollars of God’s money was spent on the Task Force meetings? The multiplication of acronyms reminds me of my time in the military. The SBC is the closest thing to a government bureaucracy I have ever encountered.

    I remain a Southern Baptist,

    Tom

  8. Bruce Ashford   •  

    Tom,

    Howdy. My father is a very-involved bivocational missionary who works with the local county jail in a small town in NC. Great ministry. Two thoughts in response to your comments: (1) You mention that GCR might not change anything for your church. I wouldn’t argue with that. Much of the GCR is about our churches can do together that we cannot do alone. From that angle, it amplifies what your church’s offerings can do for international or north american missions, for example; (2) Everybody agrees that SBC bureaucracy is bad. That’s further motivation for the GCRTF’s recommendations; most SBC churches would love to cut down the bureaucracy; (3) GCRTF meetings cost precious little to the hundreds of millions of dollars that can be maximized when they are directed most efficiently and appropriately; (4) you mention that you are in NY; GCR proponents want money to leave the deep south and be directed toward helping with mission efforts in the Northeast, West, etc. That would directly affect the areas that you and your pastor long to see reached with the gospel; (5) There will be some “big dogs” at the SBC, but more importantly there will be thousands of pastors and messengers whose vote counts just as much, and whose voice may be heard from the microphone.

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  9. Pingback: The Main Reason behind the GCRTF Report :: SBC Today

  10. Jo   •  

    I am in an association that I have seen my husband as pastor struggle in for years. You talk like you know about small churches, but it’s hard to believe that. We can’t even begin to afford to GO to the convention. The Church has no extra funds for that, our association is filled with individual Churches that care about themselves and the “big” ones that work together and forget the little ones on the outskirts. Our voice does not matter in our association, to go to the meetings is senseless, the “yes men” of the DOM have already voted. I could go on and on, but I won’t. Only to say, the mega churches, and even semi-mega have no clue what us under 75 member congregations go through.

  11. Jo   •  

    And in light of the vote that just took place, what does that mean for us?

  12. Pingback: The Main Reason behind the GCRTF Report | sbctoday

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *