Shawn Peebles of San Angelo has always meant to attend the annual meeting of Southern Baptists. Between the reports he had read in newsmagazines and historical accounts recounted in seminary classrooms, he could see the value. And yet there was always something that made the trip out of reach for the Texas pastor.
But this year he made the 400-mile trek.
In fact, he had nothing but praise for the program and leaders who put it together. With children’s activities available throughout the four days he spent in Houston, he and his wife signed the kids up early. Each child was greeted by name and met new friends they will remember.
Peebles said he was impressed by SBC employees and elected leaders who shared their hearts for local church ministry and sending missionaries throughout North America and the world. “It makes me smile to be part of such a wonderful convention of churches,” he remarked.
This year SBC President Fred Luter bucked a trend to compress the agenda by scheduling what he called a revival service on Tuesday night. Several years earlier Bryant Wright led program planners to eliminate evening sessions in favor of giving participants more time for fellowship with family and friends. Mission reports were shifted to daytime sessions and time allotted for business was curtailed.
The attentive crowd at the Tuesday revival service often responded with handclaps, amens and other affirmations, praising God and encouraging Luter during the 40-minute sermon, according to Baptist Press reporter Diana Chandler. Peebles called that service “amazing” and pledged to do everything possible in his church and town to seize the moments for effective ministry.
How Southern Baptists spent their discretionary time may say more about the priorities of this year’s annual meeting in Houston than the business conducted on the floor. Attendance at side meetings before and during the annual meetings drew robust crowds.
For example, the two-day pre-convention Pastors’ Conference drew crowds ranging from 2,000 to 4,500, incorporating discussions on leadership, preaching and balancing ministry with family life. Ministers’ wives found encouragement in a separate morning session attracting 650 women and an annual luncheon with more than 1,300 in attendance.
And over 3,500 people listened to a SEND North America presentation challenging Southern Baptists to help plant churches while the International Mission Board hosted two meals relating to overseas mission strategies that attracted 1,400 participants.
Heavy-hitting theological discussions and practical application of biblical truth drew crowds to events like the Baptist 21 panel discussion on engaging the culture and the Ethics & Religious Liberty focus on family issues. The crowd standing throughout a Q&A with the Calvinism Advisory Group grew over the course of an hour from 200 to nearly 500 in the exhibit area.
Dozens of other side meetings brought together affinity groups based on shared ministry interests, ethnic and racial identity and reunions of college and seminary alumni.
The annual meeting serves as a personal reminder of our doctrinal convictions and missionary priorities.
“This was my first convention but it certainly will not be my last,” Peebles shared. “My kids told me on the trip home that this was the best week ever. We are establishing this as a trip for our entire family every year from this point on. I challenge each pastor with children at home to do the same.”
So as budgets are drawn up for 2014, earmark funds now to send your pastor to the annual meeting in Baltimore June 10-12 next year. As more pastors gain a first-hand view of the SBC’s priorities, appreciation for the denomination rises and vision for what could be gains focus. The end result should be more missionaries overseas, more church planters reaching the unreached areas of North America, more focus on how Southern Baptists can optimize resources toward reaching the world with the Good News.
The old adage, “We can do more together than we can separately” still holds true amid a changing landscape. Denominational missions and ministries are no longer the only parachurch groups to which churches connect—there are multiple ministries vying for local church attention—but the SBC remains the only mission organization that can send 5,000 international missionaries to focus on the task in far-off places without raising their own funds. It still works and the Great Commission still matters.
So does your voice, as does Pastor Peebles’. He found that out firsthand. You can do the same.