Can you believe it? It is that time of year again when thousands of Southern Baptists will make their way to the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. This year the destination is Phoenix, and as always, this gathering of Southern Baptists is sure to make for some exciting memories. Will there be a “mic drop” moment during the Resolutions Committee report like the one offered by Dr. James Merritt last year in St. Louis? Will Dr. Moore have to remind us again what it means to be Baptists? Will we have a Wiley Drake sighting? These questions (and more) loom large.
But more than anything, Southern Baptists who make their way to Phoenix in just a few days will want to know the answer to one crucial question: “Are we really united?”
In 2016, large numbers of young and seasoned Southern Baptists alike made their way to St. Louis, Missouri, and many did so because of the exciting presidential election that would boast three well-known leaders within the Convention. After the first ballot, the nominees were narrowed down to two, Dr. Steve Gaines and Dr. J. D. Greear. These men both serve large, influential Southern Baptist churches. These men both love Jesus and have a passion to reach the nations for Him. These men both serve as examples to thousands of pastors around the world. These men both cooperate on various levels within the Southern Baptist Convention. These men both received multiple degrees from Southern Baptist institutions. But, by and large, the similarities end there. Steve Gaines, in many respects, represents more seasoned, even maybe more traditional Southern Baptists, whereas J. D. Greear represents younger, less traditional Southern Baptists. Again, neither man seems to make it his life goal to speak for one demographic or another, but both men seem to attract different sub-groups within the Covention.
After a close runoff election, a clear winner could not be determined between Gaines and Greear, so a third election was announced. The tension in the room before that historic vote could be felt like a humid blanket of heat (which I’m told should not be an issue in the “dry heat” of Arizona). Young and seasoned Southern Baptists made their way into the room to cast their ballot for the third time in a matter of hours for their presidential preference. But then something unusual happened, something that still seems to be talked about over cups of coffee and text message exchanges across the SBC: J. D. Greear pulled out of the race, and he placed his full support into the presidency of Steve Gaines. The room of messengers burst into applause over the humility of Greear and Gaines, and, then, President Ronnie Floyd led those in the Convention Hall in prayer.
The crazy scene and turn of events at last year’s Annual Meeting took days, if not weeks, for most Southern Baptists to process. But the cry of Southern Baptists, both young and seasoned, as they left St. Louis was “unity!”
Now, as we approach yet another year of reports, resolutions, and elections, most Southern Baptists making their way to Phoenix (and many of those remaining at home) want to know if the talk about unity was real or just a facade. Are Southern Baptists really unified? Even with disagreements over dress codes, styles of worship music, and the finer points of theology, are Southern Baptists really unified around a common gospel and common mission?
Before making your way to Phoenix for the Annual Meeting, or before live tweeting during the various historic moments surely to come, I encourage you to join me in praying through the following five prayers for unity:
- Pray that the Lord creates genuine community and fellowship among Southern Baptists of all ages.
- Pray that the Lord brings excitement about the common gospel and mission we believe and commit to follow.
- Pray that the Lord reminds us of our great history, and then that He gives us greater vision for our future together.
- Pray that the Lord grants such unity at our Annual Meeting that those who do not even participate will hear about it.
- Pray that the Lord will provide you at least one new friend at the Annual Meeting from outside your normal mini tribe within the SBC, and pray that you learn from him or her.