Note: I am deeply committed to being a good steward of the monies entrusted to our associational office by our MSBA churches for its work. It is a sacred duty to use these monies wisely. The churches have a right to ask if they are benefitting from my activities, travels, and efforts on their behalf. Therefore I am sharing this report in this format since I cannot travel to each church to give it. As always if there is any question or insight you need to share concerning the SBC or anything else, I am always willing to entertain and answer them.
The 2016 SBC was June 13-15 in St. Louis, MO, and generated much enthusiasm despite record temperatures in the high 90’s. Over 7,000 were in attendance at the Edward Jones Convention Center, one of the finer public facilities I’ve seen in many years. If others from MSBA were there in attendance I did not see, please let me know: I did see the Jim Drakes, Parkview; Dan Jividen, Kyle/Kristin Neal, Immanuel; and Earl/Gloria Miller, FBC Princeton. I also saw and spoke with M/M Arnold Moon, who looked tan, fit, and as energetic as ever. I also saw the Matt Shamblin family.
Pastors Conference: The day before the “business sessions” at each SBC is given to several outstanding preachers from across the country. There were several thousand in attendance for each session. Before the Pastors Conference is a weekend event called Crossover xxxxxx, for whatever city in which the convention is being held. This year was Crossover St. Louis, next year will be Crossover Phoenix. This has been held for several years before each convention and consists of evangelistic events, block parties, concerts, Backyard Bible Clubs, community ministry projects, Bible distributions, etc. This year 500+ decisions for Christ were registered. Next year in Phoenix they will attempt something never done before at the SBC, a mass evangelism event in a large Phoenix area stadium in conjunction with Greg Laurie and his host church in AZ. I intend to participate next year in this event and encourage others to join in.
Meals: Both the IMB and NAMB hosted free meals on Monday 6/15 where 2000+ were in attendance at each meal (see photo). I attended both to hear what was this year’s emphasis. The IMB highlighted refugees (in 2015, 65 million are displaced globally, the highest of any one year ever). NAMB highlighted their new emphasis called SEND Relief, broadening the old Disaster Relief ministries. In my opinion these two mission organizations are headed on a direct path toward merging into one global mission entity. The efficacy of that remains to be seen; if you would like to see very well produced glimpses of their total programs, a new email sent weekly called “On Mission Today” can be sent to your email box and you can pick and choose what you want to view. Today I watched with fascination about collegiate church planting movements. Go to www.namb.net, then scroll down to the bottom and sign up for “OnMissionToday.”
I also attended a meal sponsored by Midwestern seminary and listened to a panel discuss openly some of the difficult issues facing the SBC. I attended a luncheon sponsored by Connect316 and TrueLife.org about two different areas, one being outreach for our churches in this digital age and the other being a response to Reformed theology within the convention. It is evident that our seminaries are becoming more overt in their stances on divergent sides of this issue concerning the tenets of Calvinism. I also attended a luncheon for New Orleans Bapt. Theo. Seminary since I was elected at this convention to become a trustee for NOBTS. I wanted to glean a bit of the spirit and character of the seminary before beginning to serve this fall for five years (two trips per year to campus plus committee work online; I will fly there in Sept. for a two day orientation meeting for new trustees). The gentleman pictured with me in Figure 2, Dr. Ruben Raquel, is married to a dear friend. Ruben pastors a church north of Chicago and his fellow NOBTS grad and wife Sylvie is a NT professor at Trinity Intl. in Deerfield, IL. Ruben is Filipino, in the background of the photo is an Asian lady, and one of the distinguished alumni honored was an Af. Am. pastor in N.O., showing the diversity of the NOBTS student body. The Af. Am. pastor was Max Jones, a remarkable story: he lost both his family and his businesses he owned due to substance abuse. After three years of homelessness he found Christ through a homeless ministry of NOBTS, went through the bachelors level of study, and now pastors a local church. He has three separate ministries that are for homeless men (140 of them), homeless women (70) and has recently started one for homeless families (20 children and 10 mothers). It was truly inspiring to see what Christ had done in his life.
Exhibits: I took the time to walk through each aisle to see what would benefit MSBA. After seeing the usual educational and ministry booths, I talked at length with Guidestone about their property and casualty program only to find out they outsource to Brotherhood Mutual in WV, and we are already with B.M. in terms of our buildings’ insurance. I took their wellness tests and came out with pretty good figures. Dan and I spoke at length with Dr. Randal Williams at the Seminary Extension booth about our upcoming launch of Kingdom Advance, and he was most encouraging about our approach. We had spoken often with him on the phone but never met him face to face.
Convention Business: I have all of the schedules, records of votes taken, items covered in my office and you are welcome to view them at any time. Below are several personal impressions:
1) President Ronnie Floyd of AR was in his second year of office and again made two strong emphases. One was his night of prayer and worship calling the convention to spiritual renewal; the highlight of that for me was hearing Keith and Kristyn Getty lead in song. The other was his repeated call for racial understanding and harmony.
2) The highlight of the call to racial harmony was having the president of the National Baptists (traditional Af. Am. churches, 30,000+ of them) and Dr. Floyd preach together and their mutual call for breaking down barriers between the races, esp. in light of Ferguson, MO being almost in sight of the convention center. The surprise to me was not the words spoken from the podium, it was the enthusiastic groundswell of acceptance from the convention floor that at times reached raucous proportions. As one who has advocated (sometimes quite a lonely position) over the decades that my Bible mandates we make disciples of ALL nations, I will freely admit tears of joy often washed over me to see our convention not merely accept this but openly embrace it and say the time for prejudice, ignoring of the problem, and avoidance of it was past. It was, in my opinion, way overdue but so glad to see it happen.
3) Resolutions are non-binding on SBC churches since they are all autonomous, but are nevertheless a bellwether of what is on the minds of church members, and often provide the liveliest discussion from the floor. This year was no exception as the most controversial one was about the display of the Confederate flag. Living in an area of WV where Civil War loyalties are still actively discussed and displayed made me uneasy, wondering why now, and what was the compelling reason for the timing of this resolution (obvious answers would be again, Ferguson’s proximity and also the recent movement by state officials such as Gov. Nikki Haley of SC in removing the flag from public display in light of the church killings in Charleston, SC last year). The remarkable thing was having the resolution’s language strengthened by amendment largely as a result of an impassioned speech from the floor by a past SBC president, Dr. James Merritt. As a descendant of a Confederate slave owner, he spoke forcefully and full of passion about the need to put this history of divisiveness behind us and unite under the banner of the Cross. Again, I was surprised by the power and energy that erupted from the floor in favor of strengthening the language, and of Russell Moore’s strong defense of the resolution (see the resolution at http://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/resolution-7-on-sensitivity-and-unity-regarding-the-confederate-battle-flag; for Moore’s comments, see http://www.russellmoore.com/2016/06/14/southern-baptists-confederate-flag/?utm_campaign=On+Mission+Today&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=30887888&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-96O7Fb8QMF5skg714wxV8yMrqoTjYandl91XBN6dsVRXTBcIr8UyFrGQKV0xmPmYHtZea8aSiLjED2i2r-h_lGFOh5Sw&_hsmi=30887888
4) The presidency of the SBC and the selection of a president are focal points of each convention. Three candidates were put forth and a ballot cast with JD Grear (Summit Church, Charlotte, NC) and Steve Gaines (Bellvue BC, Memphis, TN) getting the most votes. On Tuesday a second ballot was cast, and for the first time ever (for me, at least), I saw a two man runoff where neither received a majority. There were 108 ballots declared unusable or incorrect that had to be discarded, but they counted against the total cast, so Grear had ca. 49.4% and Gaines 49.6%. The vote was announced and a third ballot would be taken on Wed. morning. Depending on your viewpoint, it could be seen as either a generational divide with most of the younger set identifying with Grear, or it could be viewed as a theological divide with Grear identified as someone with definite Reformed tendencies. Either way, the divide was so evenly split there was a considerable groan when the totals were announced. Wednesday morning the two candidates addressed the convention before a third ballot with JD Grear graciously and emotionally withdrawing his name from consideration after a night of prayer concerning what to do. Gaines then spoke and said he had come to the same conclusion, JD just beat him to the punch. So JD motioned that Gaines be accepted by acclamation to avoid a further divide. What had the potential to expose a generational or theological rift within the convention was healed over immediately by the expression of relieved joy by the convention floor at avoiding a furtherance of the contest.
Closing Remarks: Did I attend every session? No, but I did attend the majority of them, and gave over ten hours to the luncheons and dinners. Much of the value of such a convention is connecting with new and old friends. At this stage of my ministry it gives me no end of joy to see former students or disciples doing well in their ministry callings (3 John 4). One was Noe Garcia, who had been a new convert when he arrived at our college campus. To see him now as an early 30’s-something accept the pulpit of North Phoenix BC (avg. attendance, 1500) as his first senior pastorate was terrific; I will make a point to worship in his church next summer when I travel to Phoenix for the convention.
I stayed in a downtown building and avoided rental car charges by taking the MetroLink from the airport to downtown and back. On the way out of town the bellhop at my hotel overheard me talk about using the MetroLink and handed me his day pass on it, so I rode for free ($4 value). I flew in on a Saturday because to do so was $100 cheaper than flying on Sunday, and the additional hotel and one day rental car made it an even wash. I attended Sunday AM services with my nephew’s family, which is a testimony of its own. Justin has come so far back in his life to now serve the Lord, and I wanted to affirm that. He took time to show me the old Presbyterian church his non-denom. church is buying and renovating for a fall move; it gave me plenty of ideas for future moves by our MSBA churches. I also saw a local SBC church that had basically died and had a rebirth in a new form, new name, new format at the old location now called the Church@Afton (http://www.churchataffton.org/) It is a rebranding and redirection of a work in the Afton neighborhood of St. Louis I will watch with great interest to see how we might learn from this for future alternative ways to revitalize some of our MSBA churches.
Photo 1. NAMB luncheon with 2000+
Photo 2. JD Grear & Steve Gaines explain a unique approach to SBC presidential vote
Photo 3. Dr. Ruben Raquel & Allan at NOBTS luncheon