Editor’s note: Ed Litton is pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Ala., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
ANAHEIM, Calif.—This week the Southern Baptist Convention will gather for our 164th annual meeting. It is always a special time when our convention comes together each June for this two-day family meeting. This is our first annual gathering in California in more than 40 years, and I am deeply grateful for the hard work and hospitality of so many of our fellow Baptists out here on the West Coast to make this meeting possible.
Many things have transpired within our convention and in our world since we gathered in Nashville one year ago. Shortly after I was elected at last year’s annual meeting, God began to impress a theme upon my heart for this convention. I believe, more strongly now than ever, our aim as Southern Baptists must be to make Jesus the center of it all.
I had walked with God for many years before I learned what it means to place Jesus at the center of it all. As a young pastor and church planter, I experienced God’s abundant blessings on my life and ministry. He had blessed me with a wonderful wife and a growing family. I was privileged to shepherd a thriving church. And I was being given many opportunities to use the gifts God had given me in ways I had dreamed about since I was preparing for ministry at Southwestern Seminary.
But success was not the greatest teacher in my life. Like a lot of other people, I learned more from pain and trauma than I did from joy and triumph. In 2007, my life was changed forever when my wife, Tammy, was tragically killed in an automobile accident. Losing Tammy brought the most devastating pain I’ve ever experienced. Each day was an immense struggle, not only to care for myself but also to care for my children and shepherd my church family.
It was in those dark days that I learned to place Jesus at the center. Every day was difficult. It felt at times like I would not survive the pain. But each morning when I opened my eyes, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I would retreat to my study to get alone with God and seek His face. I had long since developed the habit of a daily quiet time to start my day. But something changed in that season for me. Even in the middle of the deepest pain and darkest season, my heart was warmed by the love of Jesus. He met me there in my grief and sorrow, drew me close to Him and ministered to me in a way that changed my life forever. And from that time forward, I resolved to keep Jesus at the center of my life and ministry.
Placing Jesus at the center of it all is more than a tagline or a conference theme. It is the call of God upon each of our lives. Colossians 1:15-20 testifies about the preeminence of Jesus. It tells us He is before all things, and that He is the center of God’s plan of redemption. And because of this, He is to be at the center of all that we are and all that we do. For many months now, I’ve prayed that this reality would mark next week’s gathering of our Great Commission Baptist family in Anaheim. It is my hope that we – individuals, churches and our entire convention – will strive like never before to place Jesus at the center of it all.
We will address many important issues in our time together. None of those issues is more important than continuing to take positive steps forward to address the scourge of sexual abuse within our churches and entities. As we do so, I pray that our posture will reflect the heart of Christ. His love was perfect. His compassion was full. And as we discuss, deliberate and cast our votes, I pray that every messenger will seek to speak, act and vote in ways that honor Him. We can only do this with Jesus at the center.
As a convention, everything we do is about Him. We exist to get the Gospel to every person. And I am convinced we cannot share the Gospel if the Gospel cannot first be seen within us. Placing Jesus at the center will allow us to show His compassion for survivors, His righteous anger toward abuse, His desire for racial unity, and His heart for the nations.
This annual meeting will certainly be distinct from many others. But our greatest need is Jesus. We need His heart and His compassion. We need His mercy and grace. And we need the perfect wisdom that comes from above. As we gather together, please join me in praying for Jesus to be at the center of it all.