Having attended at least 25 annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention, this year’s SBC in St. Louis was my favorite ever. Growing up in a minister’s home our summer family trip was often in the region of the country where the SBC was taking place. Serving as a pastor myself for 15 years now, my family continued this wonderful tradition. I’m so glad my family was with me in tow – this year especially. The spiritual foundations which my incredible wife and I have been pouring into our 3 growing young sons were accentuated by the following 6 observations they couldn’t help but experience:
The sacrificial spirit of our own wonderful church, Mobberly. Through the generous giving and fervent prayers, our church was able to sponsor this year’s Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference, scholarship 5 local East Texas pastors and their wives, and 140 volunteers drove up 8 hours one day to serve thousands of pastors tirelessly for 2 days. While many were serving, many more back home were praying that pastors would be encouraged, inspired, and equipped to lead their churches to win their communities to Christ. In a day when many churches are solely focused on their own growth, Mobberly demonstrates a healthy Kingdom focus.
The excitement of a new young church plant. Since partnering with church plants is engrained into our DNA, our folks and my family relished the chance to serve with Alive Church in Eureka, MO as a part of Crossover 2016 (a city-wide evangelistic initiative the Saturday before the SBC). Why not? We drove all this way, might as well spend the day with a great new church doing a park party. Free snacks and fun inflatables yielded hundreds of conversations. As a result, 13 people committed their lives to Jesus Christ! It is true that new church plants reach people faster than established churches! (On a side note, this SBC trip gave us the opportunity to worship with, fellowship with, and pray with 8 different church plants from Mobberly).
Southern Baptists keep the main thing, the main thing. From the opening song of the Pastors’ Conference Sunday afternoon to the final prayer of the convention on Wednesday afternoon, the priority was evangelism. Pastors’ Conference President John Meador stuck with the theme God gave him from 2 Timothy 4:5 “…be sober, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Every session, each speaker, and elements like the Cross service and the breakout sessions funneled into a power-packed call to “Live This.” (Click here for complete downloads of the SBC Pastor’s Conference)
In his second and final year as SBC President, Ronnie Floyd continued his focus on Awakening as our nation’s greatest need. Each report, item of business, and even the exhibits were used to rally Southern Baptist pastors and leaders to practice humility in unity and urgency in our evangelism.
My boys always enjoy walking around the exhibits – and who doesn’t? If you picked up 1 free pen at each booth, you’d have all your school supplies for the next year. Petting “Buster” the Union University Mascot was cool, eating chocolates in the shape of the St Louis arch was tasty, but even the freebies at New Orleans Theological Seminary were used to focus on souls. Who else can give out mini bottles of Tabasco to talk about the heat of Hell?
Pastors are real people too. Not that my boys don’t already know this truth, living with me, but getting to hang out with well-known, or barely known pastors and planters reinforced the esteem my family already gives to these men throughout the year. It’s not the size of the church that impresses my kids but the sincerity of the person. Size doesn’t impress God either. I’m not saying that size doesn’t matter, however, my sons did notice the “guns” on Robby Gallaty as he bent down to give them a high five. Pastors are real people and even cool!
Unity of Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists are not often described as unified. Passing resolutions or signing petitions can attempt a unified front, but nothing can model unity like the actions of J.D. Greear of Summit Church, North Carolina and Steve Gaines of Bellevue Church in Memphis, TN. Both men were facing a 2nd run-off election for President of the SBC. Not since I was a boy did the Presidential election of the SBC yield so much attention. Young and old messengers showed up in force. Reformed and non-Reformed messengers filled the convention hall. Ballots were ready to cast. But in this moment where literally half the messengers were for Greear and half were for Gaines, President Floyd allowed both to speak. I wish every Southern Baptist could have witnessed this unprecedented act. The humility with which J.D. Greear chose to step aside revealed a deeper commitment to the unity within our denomination that I pray everyone will emulate. The gracious spirit with which Steve Gaines accepted has been written of but never so fully realized as what I saw that Wednesday afternoon. Surely the mighty prayer service the night before produced such a divine moment of unity. No wonder that God had also been leading in Ted Traylor’s heart for months on the theme of “brothers dwelling together in unity” from Psalm 133 for the annual convention message, which immediately followed this historic election.
Landmark resolutions. While Southern Baptists carry many of the idioms linked to being “southern,” in an overwhelming majority vote, we as Southern Baptists clearly showed our love for souls over a love for the south, as we distanced ourselves from racism and symbols that propagate such. (Watch James Merritt’s appeal to this motion). I’m so thankful to be a part of a denomination that believes that a flag is not more important than a soul.
I was just a boy when I saw my own father vote FOR the Bible at the historic beginning of the Conservative resurgence for Southern Baptists. As that memory has framed my own theological journey, I pray that this year’s demonstrated actions and attitudes will lay the groundwork for my sons’ personal commitments to fulfilling the Great Commission!