I grew up in an “independent, fundamental, Bible-believing” church. Personally, it was very good for me and, though that phrase has a legalistic, controlling ring to it when it rolls off the tongue, I benefitted greatly from the church and school where I was raised. (That was more due to the terrifically balanced father and mother God graciously gave me as parents!) Of course, in that religious and scholastic environment, the SBC was considered off-limits, though not an enemy. My point? I was not brought up in Southern Baptist life.
Furthermore, my first 15+ years of ministry were in an “independent, fundamental, Bible-believing” setting. Admittedly, I had developed friendships with many SBC youth pastors, even attended a few SBC youth events; but knowing the ropes and lingo of the convention were foreign to me.
So when we planted First Family Church through the SBC in 2004 via the Baptist Convention of Iowa (which was a great experience incidentally), I was not even a SBC rookie yet. I had, and still have, much to learn about life “in association” with other churches and pastors. That’s primarily why, 13 years after planting, I finally attended my first Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting held this past week in Phoenix, AZ.
What did I learn? How was I affected? What are my rear-view mirror observations now that it’s over?
- There’s something to be said for history. Call it denominationalism, orthodoxy, or doctrinal legacy, but when you realize you’re part of a long-standing group that has for over a century-and-a-half been meeting together formally to hold each other accountable for truth and to truth, it can be quite reassuring. Cults typically start in precisely the opposite kind of environment—one where there is no history, no legacy, no accountability, no “once for all delivered to the saints” beliefs that must be guarded and given to the next generation in tact. At the annual meeting you humbly recognize you’re just one in a long line of faithful men and women, and you’d better hold your link in the chain.
- There’s something to be said for leverage. When you have thousands of churches pooling their resources, a lot of good can come from that. A lot! As I walked the exhibit hall and heard the reports in the general sessions, I couldn’t get away from the fact that much of the reason there is so much available to us is because there is so much invested by us. I’m not saying we deserve credit, just that the dollars we invest in the Cooperative Program have a beautiful and bountiful effect. From the IMB to NAMB to the seminaries to the ELRC all the way to the many other ministries that are known by three or four initials, the whole is truly greater than sum of the parts.
- There’s little to be said about Robert’s rules. While I’m being a little facetious, I do think there should be some work done in developing new ways to “let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). Much of the misinterpretation and misinformation regarding this year’s convention and the alt-right resolution came from issues surrounding the presentation of the resolution, not the proposal itself. (Ed Stetzer explained this well in this article on Wednesday.) I personally think a simpler format in regards to meeting formality, as well as voting, would help in this area.
- There’s something to be said for support. At the annual meeting you realize quickly you’re not alone. And frankly, you realize you’re in the majority—that the celebrity pastor with the 5,000 member church isn’t typical in the SBC. Most are like us, small to medium-sized congregations who are partnering together for the gospel in towns and cities all over America. Not that we don’t need and appreciate the large churches and the pastors God equips to shepherd there. But the goal isn’t imitation of them, but faithfulness to Him. I think the annual meeting, and especially the Pastor’s Conference prior to the convention, does a nice job of balancing the kinds of churches who are part of the SBC as we all come together once a year. Throw in the tons of freebies from the exhibitors and hosts and a pastor can walk away knowing there’s an army of help all around him.
So I may not have a lot of deep SBC roots yet, but they’re growing, and I’m thankful my first annual meeting brought nourishment to them and not an axe to them.
I motion we make plans for Dallas in 2018. Do I have a second?