Live from the SBC!
For those of you who don’t know, I am a Southern Baptist. And unless you are a Southern Baptist, you probably don’t realize that this week is our annual convention. This year’s convention is in San Antonio, TX – so I write to you from there.
Once a year the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) occurs for two days (typically on Tuesday and Wednesday). “SBC” refers to both the annual meeting and the denomination itself. It is at this meeting that many resolutions and motions are presented and voted upon for the next year’s worth of business. And with over 16 million members and 42,000 churches, the SBC definitely has a lot of ground to cover in two days. This year close to 8,000 messengers (those who vote and represent churches) registered for the convention. A live feed to the convention can be found here.
While the convention is of crucial importance, it is not the heart of the SBC. The heart of the SBC is the local church. One of the great aspects of the Southern Baptist Convention as a denomination is the local autonomy of churches. Each church, with its own polity, style, and congregation, join together with other churches to cooperate for the sake of missions and evangelism.
As much as I love my denomination, we no doubt have our problems. While much good has occurred in my lifetime with the SBC, many of our churches have perhaps lost sight of the main task of cooperating for the sake of the gospel. Dr. Frank Page, the president of the SBC, emphasized the lack of growth in our baptisms over the past 30 years. Dr. Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay and my father, pointed out that we are not reaching a new generation for Christ. Dr. Bobby Welch, former SBC president, said that we are in the jaws of death. The nation’s population is expanding rapidly while our baptisms flat line, producing an ever-growing spread between the two. Plot it on a chart and it looks like the jaws of death.
In his address, Dr. Page offered a path forward. He said the divine strategy was clear. We must confess our own sin and get right with God. Revival will not occur by hoping someone else will get it started. Revival starts in our own hearts. Passion is restored in the individual first, and then it catches fire in the churches and ultimately in the entire denomination. The world senses our lack of rightness and it leads to a lack of relevance. We’ve got to pull the logs out of our eyes. Quoting Psalm 51, Dr. Page revealed that our salvation is secure, but we can lose the joy of salvation. Satan can steal our passion, humility, and unity.
We’ve fought many theological battles over the years. I’m proud of where my denomination stands theologically, but theology without a passion for the lost results in empty churches and empty hearts. In our own arrogance, we’ve been fighting the wrong battles. While we banter over tertiary theological issues, a world cries out for the saving grace of Jesus Christ. With a generation being lost, now is the time to stand unified as Southern Baptists for the sake of the gospel.
Meandering through the San Antonio Riverwalk with my wife, I bumped into one of my professors at the seminary. We talked about the convention and a number of other things. He then asked me about my church, and I couldn’t help but get excited as I told him what God was doing there and in my own life as a pastor. I told him we’ve got a long way to go to get healthy, but we’re on the right track. As always, I got a bit animated as I spoke of my church.
He laughed at my gesticulations. And then he encouraged me, “Sam, that’s what it’s all about. As a professor, this is what I want to hear. Keep the excitement at your church and simply win people for Christ.”
Before revival blankets the land it begins in the heart of one pastor or lay leader. It can then spread to a church. From there, throughout a denomination. And from that point, into other denominations. And then ultimately the world. Will you stand firm and ask God to start a revival in your life so that the gospel wildfire will spread to an entire world waiting to hear the gospel?