I made a quick trip to Dallas last week for our annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting. I had a responsibility on Tuesday morning to host the annual Large Church Roundtable breakfast. I always love this time with these men and hate when I’ve had to miss it. These are all pastors of churches averaging 1,000-2,000 in attendance. We have similar needs, opportunities, and challenges. Most of them I don’t get to see except the two times a year when we meet. What I love about our meetings is that I’ve never seen a hint of arrogance or posturing. We are all trying to learn how to be better at our calling, more effective in our evangelism and discipleship, and, most importantly, supportive of one another.
I got to see my youngest daughter, Hayley, at work. She has worked with NAMB for almost five years now and is in charge of their social media and is photo editor for “On Mission” magazine. I’m so proud of her and seeing how God has used her. We got to have a dinner together, just the two of us, for about two hours. To be able to do that was worth the price of the trip for me.
One highlight of the convention in more recent years has been the opportunity to see some of the church planters we support. These men and their wives are a joy to my heart. They are young enough to be my kids, yet they challenge me to keep thinking young and stay in the battle. I love their energy, zeal, and passion for our cities. I also enjoy watching the comradery when planters get together. They seem to have avoided “the need to impress” that my generation often falls prey to. They are more vulnerable, honest, and aware of their need for networking.
It brings me great joy to see our emphasis on church planting, evangelism, and missions. The reason Southern Baptists exist is for others. The church exists for those not yet her members. The only way to reverse the downward decline for any denomination is to remember the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Without these two pillars, the church will not be the church as God intended.
However, I am concerned that social media often dictates what we talk about at our meetings. At times, it drives the agenda. My fear is the fruit of the Spirit and the controlled tongue is often missing in our desire to post something, whether we have all the facts or not. I’m guilty. We’re all guilty. It’s easier to send a tweet than to stop and pray. The current climate has exposed some sin, arrogance, poor judgment, and tragic failings. At the same time, it has created an arrogance that we might think we are above our own fall. Paul warned of this danger (1 Corinthians 10:12). Judging is easy, grace is hard. Wanting justice now is easy, waiting for God’s justice is hard. We’ve reached the day where the trial of public opinion, likes, and retweets can overrule truth and facts. This should concern all of us.
When Ronnie Floyd was president, he led us to clear the calendar and have a concert of prayer. The business of the church is prayer. It is out of prayer that we find the power to do what God has commanded us to do. There were many calls this year for a prayer meeting, a time to repent and cry out to God for revival. Our president, Steve Gaines, is a man of prayer and models prayer in his daily life. He asked for a significant commitment to prayer and fasting prior to the convention. Many honored that request. At the end of the day, I’d like us to be known as a praying people. It has to be as much (or more) a part of our agenda as reports from boards, agencies, and entities.
The backroom social media build-up to the Convention’s presidential election got ugly. The politics of some made me think we need to drain the swamp. Having websites, meetings, emails, and attacks on a brother in Christ because you don’t agree with every way he dots the “i” or crosses the “t” should be beneath the believer. If we aren’t careful, we will create a toxic climate that will turn off the next generation. Hey, I don’t always agree with myself, but I don’t have to slap myself in the face every time I look in the mirror. We are a diverse Convention ethnically and even theologically. Is that all bad? Can we agree to disagree but still come together on the essentials?
We have opportunities ahead of us. We can’t squander those. Most of all, if we want to take back the ground the enemy has stolen, I have several suggestions.
1) Let’s repent of any agenda that lacks a kingdom vision.
2) Let’s believe the best about one another until proven otherwise.
3) Let’s return to prayer as a priority.
4) Let’s ask God to adjust us, prune us, rebuke us, and cleanse us so that we can have the perceived presence of God in our meetings and in our churches.
5) Let’s be intentional in understanding what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Diversity is a reality. Don’t resist it, embrace it.
6) Make the next generation a priority. It’s not about guys my age. It’s about those who are coming behind us and the generation behind them. Be their cheerleaders. Encourage them. Invest in them. Get to know them.
7) Let’s get back to first love. Can we admit that God is sickened by a lukewarm church and that He’s wanting His church to be on fire with the power of the Holy Spirit?
I’m a non-factor in our Convention. I’ve served in a few positions over the years, but for the most part I have no part in the politics or inner workings of the denomination. I just want to serve in ways that advance the kingdom. I also want to maintain a prophetic voice so that when I see a skunk in the woodpile, I’m not afraid to point it out.
The best way I can do that is what I’m doing today. I’m seeking to speak what’s on my heart with as much grace as I can. I also came home from the Convention a day early to lead a Wednesday night prayer meeting and walk among our people. The key to the SBC is the pastor and the local church. If the local church is healthy, the convention will be healthy.
In the end, the only way our broken system will be fixed is by a move of the Holy Spirit that reveals who is truly qualified to lead in an environment hot with the presence of God. If that happens, the dross will be burned up, the agendas will be shredded, Jesus will be Lord, and the church will please the Bridegroom.