Friday, June 26, 2009

Convention Reflection

The Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention wrapped up on Wednesday evening with a total of just over 8,700 registered messengers (representing over 43,000 local churches) heading home toward all points of the compass. I would rate it as one of the best conventions I have attended in the past 10 years. From the opening of the Pastor's Conference on Sunday evening, to the closing gavel Wednesday night, we were challenged by some powerful messages, from a variety of speakers.

I will not even attempt to give a complete wrap up of all the convention activities. You can get that from But I do want to reflect for a moment on what I found most intriguing about this Annual Meeting.

Granted, there were the usual underlying factions. A number of motions were presented by some messengers, riding their annual legalistic, "hobby horse" issues. Resolutions were presented, debated, and ratified. The exhibit area and LifeWay bookstore, was busy at all times, as friends greeted old friends there, and in the broad lobby and hallway of the Kentucky Fair and Exhibition Center. However, none of these factors were as striking to me as were two particular items of note.

First, was the number of younger pastors who attended this convention. There have been great concerns raised in the past few years about the seeming loss of younger leaders in the SBC. Some young men have been impatient to be allowed to have "a seat at the table", and have been critical of SBC leadership and direction. Some (but not all) of our convention leaders have also expressed the view that these younger guys should bide their time and earn their leadership chops. I believe that this year we have turned the corner regarding inclusion of these younger leaders. The number of convention speakers in their 30's was one example, as well as a number of younger leaders who were appointed to various convention committees. Young men like J.D. Greear and David Platt advanced the youth movement by light years, as they powerfully gave exposition of God's Word. We'll hear much more from them (and others) over the next few years.

The most important thing I came away with was more subtle, yet amazing, upon examination. Convention President (and Georgia Pastor) Johnny Hunt (pictured above) challenged us all regarding a Great Commission Resurgence among Southern Baptists. Hunt and Southeastern Seminary President, Danny Akin, began laying the groundwork for this concept several months ago. A somewhat controversial 10 point, Great Commission Resurgence Document was offered, criticized by some, tweaked a couple of times, and signed via the Internet by more than 4,000 pastors (including this writer) and leaders from all over SBC life. Motives of signers, and non signers have been quite the topic of conversation. Some of the document's more notable signers are current seminary presidents, other SBC entity heads, state convention presidents, and a number of former SBC presidents. Some well known leaders signatures were noticeably absent, as were those of all but two, of the various State Convention Executive Directors. At least two of our "Big Guns" signed the document "with caveats".

Johnny Hunt had made it known some time ago that he would like to have the Convention give him the authority to appoint a Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. This committee would be tasked with the responsibility to examine the structure, programs, and activities of the SBC as to how we may better fulfill the commission our Lord has given us. They would bring their observations and recommendations to the Convention when it meets again next year in Orlando. Going into this annual meeting, there had been quite a bit of discussion and posturing on this issue. Executive Committee President, Morris Chapman had publicly spoken against the appointing of such a commission, and many expected some fireworks when the issue came up.

And come up it did, when Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, (pictured at left) presented the motion at the very beginning of the first opportunity to present new motions. The debate was scheduled for 7:40 PM on Tuesday, and the convention hall was packed for it. You can get a full rundown of the debate at Baptist Press, and the motion passed by an overwhelming majority. What I want to call attention to is the interesting juxtaposition of differing personalities and theological view points that came together to make this commission a reality.

Two of the three personalities who helped bring this about were Hunt and Mohler. No two leaders could be more different in their style, background, personality, and theological perspective.

Hunt is a local (megachurch) pastor from the Atlanta area. He is a populist by nature. His huge smile is ever present. He would prefer to be called "Pastor Johnny" to "Dr. Hunt" any day. He speaks in a vernacular that is easily understood by everyone in his audience, and he is more Arminian in his theology.

Al Mohler, on the other hand, is an academician. He is President of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, located in Louisville. I personally think that Mohler is the most brilliant theologian, and the most eloquent and articulate person in the SBC today. His calm demeanor, and excellence of thought and expression would make him a formidable opponent in any debate. Mohler has been criticized by some as a "Five Point Calvinist", yet under his leadership, SBTS created the "Billy Graham School of Evangelism".

My point is this. These guys couldn't be more different, yet they have come together (along with some other diverse individuals) to help steer this Convention in the direction of examining what we are doing to fulfill the task that was left to us by our Lord. In the divisive political and religious culture of 2009, this is nothing short of amazing, and absolutely refreshing.

The SBC is a conservative Convention. The "Battle for the Bible" was won 30 years ago through the conservative resurgence. Yet, over the past few years, there has developed a schism between what some call "crusading conservatives" and "cooperating conservatives". While there are many wonderful, godly servants in each camp, if one must be categorized as being in one camp or the other - I'll stand with those who will cooperate with other believers for the propagation of the Gospel.

Is it possible that we may be coming to the place in our Convention that The Great Commission will take it's rightful place as the center of all we do? With 16 million members in the SBC there will be many differences among us on secondary and tertiary issues. That is only natural. But the time has come that we MUST lay those differences aside while we focus on making the main thing - the main thing.

Perhaps we turned that corner in Louisville this week. Only God knows, and time will tell...

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