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.
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.