(Photo attributed to Baptist Press)
The SBC in St. Louis offered many pivotal moments in the life of our convention that will not soon be forgotten. (If you haven’t already, see James Merritt’s amendment concerning the resolution on the Confederate flag and Dr. Moore’s defense of the religious liberty of Muslims and all faith groups) In the coming days we at B21 will be running a series of posts featuring the reflections of key leaders from this memorable convention.
This is the first of such posts.
Stay tuned for other leaders’ reflections.
The St. Louis city streets are a little thinner this morning as the 7000+ messengers head to the airport and hit the interstates to head home. As I drove downtown past the Convention Center on my way to my last meeting surrounding this year’s convention, I sighed AND smiled. Months of planning and preparation had given way to two weeks jam-packed with activity. I slept very little, took in and processed a tremendous amount of information and conversations and was on my feet for hours and hours every day (but hey, I did great on Fitbit).
I sighed because it was over.
But I smiled because it happened.
There are three words that I will use to describe SBC16, which took place in my hometown of St. Louis, for years to come: Friends, Function and Future.
When it comes to SBC life, I’m relatively new. When I planted a church in 2009, I joined the SBC for two reasons: doctrine and cooperation. But although the SBC has always felt like home because we are people of the Book, I struggled for it to truly be home because I felt like I knew no one. That all changed when, in 2011, I joined the NAMB team as the Send City Missionary for St. Louis. Since that time I’ve met more and more people from all over the continent that are a part of SBC. And each year the annual meeting is a highlight of my year because I make more and more friends.
But this year was special. We were in my city. And maybe because of that, and the fact that I was given the opportunity to speak at the Pastor’s Conference, I had the chance to meet more than a few people. And for me, this is incredibly important. As I look as the changing landscape of our culture and watch denominations both nationally and globally shift on matters of Gospel-centrality I am filled with hope as I meet more and more pastors from all over the continent that are committed to the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most likely, things will get more and more difficult as both the culture and the government apply different types of pressure upon the biblically faithful church, but knowing that I have a network of men, that I actually know, scattered throughout the continent fills me with courage to stay the course and contend for the faith.
This year put the fun back into the function of the business meeting for me. It was the first year that I engaged from beginning to end. In years past I would come and go as I pleased or when I thought issues were important. But this year was different. Yes, I was pulled into the business proceedings because of the Presidential Election and resolutions that have deep significance for my ministry in the urban context of St. Louis (Confederate Flag, Orlando, Marriage). And while the “fireworks” helps, I stayed because I was hit with the reality of the weight of what was being discussed as an entire package and the responsibility that I had to fully engage.
This was also the first year that my church was able to be involved in a very real way. Millennials, in large part, aren’t going to take their vacation time to travel across the country to sit in a denominational business meeting. So in our 6 years of existence as a church, we’ve never had the opportunity to introduce our mostly non-SBC background church to Baptist life. But this year we registered every messenger we were allowed, filled a section at the Pastor’s Conference, saw people take off work to participate in the week full of events and some that couldn’t even kept the live feed open at home or work. And the response has been overwhelming.
The greatest joys for me were 2: First, watching social media explode after certain resolutions were passed and to realize that many of the members of my church finally understood what I already knew to be true: that being a Southern Baptist is something to be proud of, not something to hide. Second, watching our 8 messengers vote and give standing ovations when we as a denomination got the Gospel right.
Ever since I joined the SBC I’ve heard and read the dooms-day stats about needing to reach and attract a younger (my) generation. But I hadn’t felt that it was truly being addressed across the board until this year. One of the highlights for me from SBC16 was meeting and feeling welcomed into SBC life by men older than myself. At one point it dawned on me that what I was feeling was exactly what I wanted first-time guests to experience when they walk into my church: pursuit, welcome, relationship. I’m thankful for those who went out of their way to meet me and those from my church. Whether they were pastors of churches with 50 or 5,000, extending the right hand in fellowship did a lot for my soul.
Its my first half-day back in the office and everyone wants to know, “How did it go?” Here’s what I’ve told them, “I’m excited about where we’re headed.” We, as a denomination, made a huge statement to the world this week. We told them we will love people no matter our differences on gender and sexuality, we are willing to tear down any wall that stands in the way of the gospel, our arms are open to the vulnerable and above all else, we will hold onto the unchanging truth of the gospel, no matter how the culture shifts. We have a bright future indeed.
I want to express my gratitude to the thousands who came to St. Louis not just to be a part of the convention, but to love my city. From college and seminary students to senior adults who prayed and participated in Crossover, to the millennials who loved and shared the gospel with servers at hipster restaurants all over the city…thank you. Thank you for helping the work that we’re doing here in our beloved city. We’ll see you next year!