I just got back home last night from Phoenix and the 2011 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was really a great experience and I wanted to put down some things I was thinking about today while reflecting on the week. The following are six takeaways from this week’s SBC in no particular order.
1. Phoenix is a great convention city.
Having never been west of Laredo, I didn’t know what to expect of the city of Phoenix. I certainly didn’t expect the most hospitable city to Southern Baptists in recent memory (I’ve attended seven of the last ten Conventions and the last five in a row. I didn’t attend when the Convention was last in Phoenix in 2003.). The venue was terrific. They have a great Convention Center with several hotels within walking distance, great access to food, and the Convention Center was only two blocks from Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks). But more than all of these features, the people were the kindest and most welcoming of any of the large cities that I’ve ever visited. I can’t wait to go back the next time the Convention is in Phoenix.
2. Kevin Ezell is a great leader.
Although Ezell was a pastor in Louisville until recently becoming president of the North American Mission Board, I do not know him very well. I have only observed him from afar and heard many of my friends comment on what a great leader he is. I was not convinced. I am now. His honesty and courage during his report at this year’s annual meeting convinced me within 10 minutes of his presentation that he was the right man at the right time for the job. I thankful that he has been placed at this strategic post in this urgent day.
3. The center of gravity is shifting back toward the SBC in terms of church planting and reaching unreached people groups.
We must realize that God can and will do His work with or without Southern Baptists. Recent years have seen a rise in organizations who are targeting key missiological needs in North America and around the word. We should be thankful for such works of God as long as they are committed to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, it is encouraging to see that the emphases of the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board are now zeroed in on the two most important areas of need in our world today: church planting in urban and under-reached areas in North American and targeting unreached people groups around the world for the gospel. These are the areas that must be focused upon if we are to fulfill the Great Commission in our generation.
4. Being a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention is a great privilege.
I am thankful to serve in a church that sees the importance of sending messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention. Being a part of the SBC is a tremendous stewardship. I believe that is important to participate in the process. Although like many others I was frustrated with some of the foolishness spouted from the microphones on the convention floor, I will nevertheless fight to defend the right of anyone duly elected messenger to speak on the convention floor. No entity head is above being asked a question and no messenger is too unimportant to be barred from making a motion from the floor. There is a beauty in the ugliness of the debates that occur at the convention. Namely, common men and women elected by their local churches are allowed to participate in holding accountable and shaping the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. A great illustration of the power of the messengers was seen this year as a resolution passed over by the committee was nevertheless adopted from the floor. This is not a top-down denomination.
5. Being a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention is a serious responsibility.
Not only is being a messenger to the SBC a great privilege, it is also a serious responsibility. Although everyone has a right to participate, messengers should seek to be informed and edifying. Take the time to learn the basics of the parliamentary procedure. Know the difference between a motion and a resolution. The basics are printed each year in the Convention program. This year, one individual who has attended (and made motions) for decades made two motions which could (I won’t say should) have been submitted as resolutions. He should have known better. Another individual questioned an entity head in an attempt to embarrass him or another named individual. If the messenger had simply taken the time to Google search the issue and this entity head’s name, he would have gotten his answer and saved himself from looking foolish. Both of these individuals had the right to speak from the floor, but they should not have without being better informed.
6. A spirit of unity is pervading the Southern Baptist Convention.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this year’s Convention was the general sense of unity that pervaded the entire meeting. On Monday before the Convention officially began, the Executive Committee adopted a statement called an “Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation.” This statement was affirmed by the Convention on Tuesday. I believe that this statement reflects the heart of all of our Southern Baptist entity heads. There were no pot shots at others during the Convention, at least that I heard or recognized. Perhaps no one exemplifies this new spirit more than the new president of the Executive Committee, Frank Page. His report was both passionate and compassionate. The five core pledges of the statement will hopefully serve as a touchstone in the years to come.