I have been attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, off and on (mostly on), since 2007, even before I was a State Convention staffer. I confess that I love these meetings, both seeing the people and hearing about the work God is doing around the world through the people called Southern Baptist.
The 2015 SBC meeting on June 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio, looked different from other years in various ways. I offer these three observations.
1. No time for ‘well-fed normalcy’
With shrinking membership rolls comes the prospect of a much smaller denomination in future years. Gone are the days of assuming Southern Baptists will be the first choice among people looking for a church. We clearly recognize that now is not the time to exude a “well-fed normalcy,” to borrow a World War II-era phrase. The 2015 SBC meeting is a reminder to stay committed to our shared mission and cooperation, and to promote the Gospel and each other, not tear down.
2. Well, this is different
I am not old enough to remember the SBC meetings of decades past. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have been a Southern Baptist in the heyday of the 70s and 80s. What it would have been like to hear Dr. Adrian Rogers preach and the messengers sing old-fashioned hymns, while dressed in their Sunday best. To be sure, today’s meetings are more casual and don’t command the attendance numbers of yesteryear. Yet we can rejoice that the SBC looks much more diverse ethnically and geographically, and we have made technological advances too that show we are ready to meet people where they are at. I love, admire and revere our forefathers, and I would caution our Convention from ever taking a “Rehoboam” attitude, favoring to a fault the new ways. At the same time, we can embrace the fresh ideas and enthusiasm for sharing the Gospel that we heard about in Ohio.
3. Pray more, stand on the Word
From the Tuesday evening prayer to the themes on which the pastors preached, it was evident the SBC is not shrinking back in fear of a changing culture. It is evident we are committed to our biblical convictions, but we want to be more prayerfully dependent on God for the end result. Probably my favorite sermon from the Pastors Conference came from Ethics & Religious Liberty President Russell Moore. “There were days when we would gather for this meeting and the signs all up and down the city streets would say ‘Welcome Southern Baptists,’” said Moore. “Now in this city, the signs up and down the streets talk about the Stonewall Gay Pride Festival. The culture around us is changing. We are moving into a new time, and the temptation we are going to have is to move into that changing culture with a lack of confidence and a spirit of fear. But Jesus shows us the antidote to fear, and antidote to fear is the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.”