Guest post by Dean Inserra pastor of City Church in Tallahassee
I recently had the privilege of being in Dallas for the Send North America conference hosted by the North American Mission Board. There were somewhere in the ballpark of 4,000 people who gathered at Prestonwood Baptist Church for this empowering event. When I heard the report of the attendance numbers for the event, I couldn’t help but think about the most recent annual meeting of our denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. While in Houston for the SBC, the number of messengers registered was around 5,000. Therefore, the annual convention that calls representatives from the entire denomination (with 46,034 affiliated churches in 2012 according to Baptist Press), meeting less than two months apart, and in the same state drew only a slightly larger crowd than Send North America. The comparison of those numbers is staggering to me. In the grand scheme of things, this is a little too close for comfort.
As a young pastor who has only missed one annual meeting since 2003, I believe there are some things to be learned from Send North America’s Dallas gathering that could greatly benefit our denomination and make our annual meeting more appealing to attend.
1. Clarity and Focus.
All of us in Dallas knew exactly why we were there. 4,000 people from the Southern Baptist Convention gathered to discuss how we can “penetrate lostness” in the United States and Canada through church planting. When I returned from the conference, I could quickly and easily answer any questions that came my way about exactly what we were doing and why it mattered. When I became a Southern Baptist I was told that the denomination was formed and assembled together to do business concerning missions, starting churches, and seminary education. The overall focus of Send North America matches exactly what was first described to me concerning the Southern Baptist Convention. This type of focus makes me want to be part of the SBC for years to come.
There were different ages and regions represented, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more unity in one room. Factions certainly were nowhere to be found. We were Southern Baptists with an urgent Gospel mission, and we came together for that purpose. I hardly heard the word, “Calvinism.” Our denomination often gets recognized as one whose members fight against each other. One would have never thought that for a moment by spending two days in Dallas with these Southern Baptists. Rather than “task forces,” there were forces being mobilized to achieve the greatest task we are called to on this side of heaven, penetrating lostness. There was no mention of politics, no debating if books should be taken out of Lifeway stores, or statements about the Boy Scouts. There is a mission field called North America, and just like those who first gathered in Augusta in 1845, it was time to organize and get to work…together.
My generation is especially sensitive towards disunity. We are tired of seeing Christians fight each other. When they see us as equally divisive, our lost friends wonder what makes us any different from the rest of the world. Suggesting, “At least we’re not debating the inerrancy of the Bible,” sounds great when preaching to the choir, but my generation isn’t buying it.
3. A Current Experience.
This is the year 2013 and at Send North America there was no doubt about it. The music and technology were as modern as can be, social media was utilized, and the younger generation wasn’t one that was merely hoped to attend—they were clearly targeted. It is one thing to honor the past. It is another to feel like one is stepping back into it. Send North America was not behind the cultural curve; they were right on top of it. Those of us in attendance heard from hip-hop artists, urban ministry leaders, and other new voices. I believe that what Dr. Adrian Rogers was elected to lead in 1979 as our Convention President was playing out right in front of us — a multi-age gathering of conservative theological, local missionaries, willing to do whatever it took to advance the Gospel to the next generation. The North American Mission Board is moving with culture, while remaining unwavering on the truth of the Scriptures.
“Out of touch,” is a regular accusation against conservative Christians. We can maintain our distinctiveness without this being said of us.
The conference was done very well. One could tell that thought and planning went into every detail. The quality of the event was evident. Transitions were not awkward or “hokey,” the facility was excellent, and the presentation superb. In our current culture, these types of things matter. The approach was intentional, and the overall mindset was one that gave me great hope.
When I was a student at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell would say, “If it’s Christian, it should be better.” I agree and believe that the North American Mission Board did as well.
The Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention needs a makeover. In a time when budgets are tight, simply expecting people to attend cannot be the answer anymore. There must be a compelling, appealing reason to cause our churches to look forward to the middle of June, each year. While there is certainly business that must be tended to at a convention, it should be the very thing that makes us more passionate towards the task that is at hand. The future of the SBC gathered in Dallas during the last week of July; it is time to embrace it today.
A clear, focused, unifying, current, excellent meeting, based on our love for the Gospel, is a great place to start.