When Southern Baptists held their annual Convention in Houston last week, Southeastern Seminary students were well-represented. My Southern Baptist Convention course, a church history elective, had over thirty students enrolled in it. Several others students were present at the Annual Meeting, most of whom are either pastors or other church staff or employees at SEBTS who were working at our booth in the exhibit hall.
One of those students was Chris Hlavacek. Chris is a recent M.Div. graduate of SEBTS who is beginning a Ph.D. in Old Testament this fall. He also works on campus as our Chapel and Events Coordinator. As with most of our students in Houston, this was the first Convention Chris has attended. He agreed to let me interview him for Between the Times. What follows is a student’s perspective on the Houston Convention.
Nathan Finn (NAF): I know you pay attention to what’s happening in Southern Baptist life, but this is the first Convention you’ve attended. How would you summarize your first real-life Convention experience?
(Chris Hlavacek) CH: Hopeful and thankful. I walked away with the feeling that our denomination has a passion to take the gospel to the nations. Every leader that spoke contributed to that narrative. Danny Akin’s Convention sermon was the embodiment of that passion. I also really enjoyed the conversation between Matt Chandler and Kevin Ezell at the “9Marks @ 9” meeting on the evangelization of America. What those two men (and their organizations) are doing for church planting is inspiring and hopefully contagious. So I was hopeful about what the Convention ministries are doing for the great commission, and I was thankful for the leadership of those ministries who are taking us in that direction.
NAF: In your opinion, what were some highlights of the Houston Convention?
CH: There were two events that stick out. The first included a conversation between Jonathan Akin, Trevin Wax, Eric Hankins, and Ed Stetzer on Christ-Centered preaching and teaching from the Old Testament. I found this to be an incredibly helpful discussion that had immediate application for pastors. If we are going to preach the intended message of the Bible, then we need to know how to interpret the Old Testament accurately. This conversation highlighted the need for more dialogue on this issue.
The second highlight was hearing Russ Moore speak. Every time I hear him speak I learn how to better connect theology and culture. So a highlight for me was simply listening to him throughout the Convention as he sought to teach Southern Baptists how to think about these issues well.
NAF: I know I’m frequently surprised by what happens at the Southern Baptist Convention. Were you surprised by anything this year? Or, was it pretty much what you expected?
CH: I was surprised there was only one robot. Why haven’t more exhibitors caught onto this? Thank you LifeWay for raising the bar. On a serious note, I was pleasantly surprised at the tone of the Convention. I walked away sensing people were passionate about taking the gospel to the nations, and were less concerned with trivial or divisive issues. I am sure that hasn’t always been the case, but it was nice this year to experience a unifying goal.
NAF: As you know, the number of messengers has declined steadily over the past decade or so. Do you think attending the Convention should be a priority for pastors and other leaders?
CH: Yes. I think every church in the Convention should make a commitment to send someone from their congregation. Put it in the annual budget. Plan on doing it every year. Pray for those people as you send them down and have them report back to the congregation when they return. Ideally, pastors would attend regularly, but at the very least they should be sending leaders and lay people from the church to be involved in the Convention. Fred Luter’s Tuesday evening service was powerful. The panel discussions put on by Baptist21, 9Marks, The Gospel Project and others genuinely bear fruit and are a profitable investment for those who attend. I am not surprised that it was poorly attended, but I think it’s worth discussing how to infuse excitement back into the Convention so that more churches will want to send messengers.