I am in Orlando early. I decided I needed to get here early in case anyone called for another Disney boycott.
This is an important week in SBC life. We have some issues to face and some things to consider. And, by the time we are done next week, I hope we will unite and move forward together. Let me share a few hopes I have for Orlando.
First, I hope we will see younger pastors engaged at a higher level. Many also are aware of younger pastors outwardly wondering what is so great about the SBC. I hope that more will see the value of our convention partnership. Though the convention has struggled mightily in past years in knowing how to keep younger pastors and leaders involved, there has been an intentional effort recently. It is my hope that the younger generation will allow the convention to prove itself a worthwhile endeavor.
Second, I hope we will value our confessional identity. That’s one of the reasons that we have a convention–to cooperate around a set of shared beliefs. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is a sufficient doctrinal guide as our confessional statement. With a confessional statement in order, we no longer need to argue and harangue over the important issues of the faith; those are settled for us as a family of churches. I am hoping we will model that this convention.
Third, I hope we leave more focused on God’s global mission. The SBC is not simply about good theology. Part of what I love about being a Southern Baptist is that we cooperate for God’s global mission. I just returned from London and Paris with 24 pastors to help them connect with IMB and other leaders for church planting and evangelism. I’m excited about us joining God’s plan for the nations. If every church tried to do this on its own, each would have to reinvent an already-existing, effective method. We are involved in sharing the Gospel around the world, and arguably we do this better than anyone else.
I’ve had the privilege of consulting with members of other denominations regarding global missions strategy, and they often say they wish they had the system Southern Baptists have, that being the Cooperative Program. Five thousand members of our denomination are proclaiming the Gospel around the world, planting churches through the International Mission Board. Another few thousand, both full and part-time, are engaging people across North America with the gospel. That’s the SBC that gets me excited. We help gather God’s people around the globe for the proclamation of his name in every tongue, tribe and language.
Fourth, I hope that whatever happens in Orlando we will leave more committed to the Cooperative Program. Many of our leaders have indicated a recommitment, and I think that is a good thing. I have always thought I was a strong believer in the Cooperative Program. I’ve even said that at times. But, I recently looked back over some records and found out that I was not as big a supporter as I thought I was. I can now see that the commitment grew as I saw how much we actually did together. We can do more together than we can do apart–and whatever happens in Orlando the Cooperative Program should be a higher priority.
Fifth, I hope we will leave Orlando united. Over time I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly in the SBC. And, I think we have seen good, bad, and ugly coming up to this meeting. It is a shame that so many demonize those who disagree.
Too often, the SBC annual meeting is like a catfight, a dogfight or a gang fight. At other times it is reminiscent of a loving family reunion. A family of churches is much like a regular family: there are ins and outs, times you love the family and times you wish you could trade up for a better grade. In the end result, however, family stays family. Regardless of the votes, we need to leave united as brothers and sisters in Christ on a common mission.
So, I am in Orlando trusting God to do some good things next week. The problems we do have, whether related to structure, finances or personalities, can be overcome if we will seek God, listen to one another, and then choose to move forward together into the future. When I head home after what promises to be the biggest meeting in many years, I hope people are talking about God’s global mission and how we might engage it together.