Southern Baptists take care of business

Our Southern Baptist annual convention continues to represent Southern Baptists as we are. The recent pattern of 7,000-10,000-messenger conventions leads some to think that our 16-million member denomination is wracked with apathy and disengagement. I don’t believe so. We have several thousand people show up each time, with a higher than average representation from the local area, and no matter our setting, we pretty much stay on message.

Our week actually began the week before when hundreds showed up to witness in the Indianapolis area. You’ve probably read of the flooding across Indiana, and the Saturday of the Crossover effort was a day when it rained eight inches in the southern suburbs. I was in that area with a group of Criswell College students and we literally waded into neighborhoods to invite people into the local Baptist church that was converting into a shelter. Several responded when water rose into their homes. For those folks, Southern Baptists were on the scene with just what they needed. The students also saw several people come to Christ through their preaching, witnessing, and relief work that week.

As the convention started on Tuesday, the presidential race was the most notable business item to many. It was actually a pretty short story. No one I know expected any candidate of the six to win a first-ballot victory. Johnny Hunt of Woodstock, Ga., did just that. Our presidential election took no more time than if only two candidates had arisen.

Pastor Hunt will be a good president for us. He is a genuine person and an evangelistic pastor respected by the thousands of people who know him. I’d love to see him begin to model cooperative
giving to a greater degree during his presidency. He could be an example to many of our megachurches if he would.

One headline snorted that Johnny Hunt was the “establishment candidate.” That’s right; and messengers are the establishment. Should our leaders be selected by some smaller group?

Resolutions always attract the attention of the media because they deal with such a broad array of issues. The biggest debate in this year’s resolution process (though it was actually a small and friendly debate) had to do with how strong the language should be in our resolution urging churches to examine their membership more carefully. We strengthened the language of the committee’s report by amending it from the floor. Now, churches should consider God’s leadership in the areas of new member orientation, discipleship, and the discipline and restoration of AWOL church members.

Al Mohler, standing up to make his report for Southern Seminary, made a pertinent observation on the preceding resolutions discussion. He noted that he was happy to be part of a denomination that discusses how best to reach lost church members while other denominations are discussing whether or not to ordain practicing homosexuals.

Ironically, some who hold us in deepest contempt and consider us irrelevant in today’s culture love to glom on to our notoriety. The evil Fred Phelps cult from Topeka (those folks that insult families at the funerals of U.S. servicemen) stood on one side of the street in front of the convention center; animal rights people (“What would Jesus eat?”) stood on the other. Neither group knew anything about us except that they could get their pictures in the paper by hanging out with us. It’s a regular part of the show at the SBC.

Our most foundational items of business went without remark from the visiting press. First, we approved a budget larger than any previous budget. Budget growth is small but it is growth during a time when other denominations are curtailing ministries. We also elected trustees for our SBC agencies. This is the place where the convention exercises supervision of our institutions. Every state convention is represented on the boards. Men and women, young and old, people of all races, and even people of varied theological opinions govern the diverse ministries of our convention. These boards change several members every year.

Billy Kim, former Baptist World Alliance president, was also honored by the convention as a “distinguished Baptist statesman.” Dr. Kim was president of the BWA during the days when the Southern Baptist Convention pulled out of the international body. Although he did not agree with the SBC decision, President Kim understood our concerns and remained friendly with Southern Baptist conservatives. Billy Kim has been a true friend to Southern Baptists during his 50-year ministry. The Korean pastor also had some gracious words for our missionary work and support for persecuted Christians around the world.

Texans, as usual, figured prominently in the proceedings. Our own Jim Richards, in his capacity as first vice president, presided over a portion of two convention sessions. Bruce Schmidt of Lamar Baptist Church in Arlington was elected vice president of the Pastors’ Conference. Four Texans preached during the Pastors’ Conference. Michael Lewis of Great Hills in Austin was reelected vice chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. Domingo Ozuna of Primera Iglesia, Grand Prairie, served on the Committee on Order of Business, one of the busiest committees of the week. Other Texans contributed to the discussion of business from the floor, made reports and contributed behind the scenes.

A touching and unusual highlight for me was the singing debut of President Frank Page. In tribute to his friend Forrest Pollack, who recently died in a plane crash, Dr. Page sang the first verse of “In Christ Alone” solo before his own church choir and orchestra picked up the remainder of the song. It was an unexpectedly personal moment.

The Southern Baptist Convention has no lock on the blessings of God. No one thinks that or even talks that way. Those of us who still support the convention believe that God can use us as we seek to obey him, though. Some of the problems we face puzzle convention leaders just as much now as they did before we met, but we committed together to seek and follow God’s will for the challenges of the future. I suspect next year will have its own good news as well as its own ongoing challenges. I’m pretty sure that several thousand of us will show up, consider the whole thing and commit again to work together until Jesus comes.

Maybe he will find us more useful as we continue to work together in Great Commission ministries. The people who met in Indianapolis (by far, my favorite convention city) still believe that. Amidst the struggles and a certain amount of hyperbole on the part of our critics, Southern Baptists are still doing the main things.

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