Just a few thoughts on the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville. Several have already written helpful responses to this year’s convention (see Ascol, Cross, Rainer, Reid, IMonk, and Stetzer). Here, I will express my own response. I will give you three reasons I attended this year and three thoughts as I departed this year’s convention.
Many reasons excited young Southern Baptists and provided optimism for this year’s convention. Young Southern Baptists have not always been excited or optimistic about attending conventions. Even so, I know too many friends who think it odd that I would even attend this year. Judging by their comments, many of my pastor friends would rather preach a funeral than to leave their city and church (where they are welcome) to go to a Southern Baptist Convention (where they believe they are unwelcome). In this case, perception is reality. Yet I had three reasons for attending this year.
(1) To attend a couple meetings with church planters and church planting churches. I have a dream of mobilizing churches and planters to partner together for the planting of more missional and confessional Baptist churches that have the DNA to plant more churches across the states and beyond. I was privileged to meet several amazing churches and planters who are in love with God and the Gospel and, as David Platt preached, willing “to die in their devotion,” rather than ‘to die in their religion.”
(2) To spend time with a hero of mine, John Keith (my father-in-law), who has been pastoring SBC churches for nearly 40 years in KY, TN, FL, and UT. I was overwhelmed with the time spent with my father-in-law. As we witnessed the events, and listened to the sermons, we stood together as God moved his heart, and mine. We disagreed graciously with each other on some points of importance during the convention, yet we were always determined to agree together on faithfulness to Gospel ministry. In truth, he has always been more patient with me, loving me despite my flaws and always willing to go the extra mile to coach me back to Gospel faithfulness. Many times this week I prayed the older SBC generations would love my generation as sons and seek unity over the Gospel. It was powerful to hear Ed Stetzer make that point in his message.
And finally, (3) To support and listen to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor, Alvin Reid, preach the evening session of the Pastors Conference on Monday night. He is a hero to many young men and women in the ministry, including me. He has modeled for us what it means to live the Gospel. He has modeled for us how to raise children with the Gospel. He has modeled what it means to have integrity. He continually encourages young ministry leaders today.
I have taken courses under Dr. Reid in evangelism, church planting, and historic movements of revival and models of church. Each time I have spent with him left me wanting to be more like Jesus, to tell more people about Jesus, and to lead my family to love Jesus above all else. Many students who have known Dr. Reid would say the same thing.
When I heard he was preaching, I knew I had to be there. I thought, “Here is a father figure who speaks for our generation, and he will be on the big platform at the SBC!” This was a major deal to me, and several other young Southern Baptist leaders I know. In the spirit of Francis Chan, most of us would “take a bullet for him.” For many, when he mounted that podium Monday night, Alvin Reid was our voice for calling all generations of Baptists to unity around the Gospel. That alone was reason to attend this year.
As I reflected on the close of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, here are three thoughts I was left with:
1. There are no winners or losers, not in the body of Christ. The only losers will be those outside of the body of Christ when Christ returns. I have heard my pastor from our sponsoring church say this recently. When a church gathers for a vote, we must never think in terms of winners and losers. We seek God and His Word, and we voice our convictions, then we move forward together in unity. We must be careful when we speak of those who raised concerns and voted against the GCR motion. They are not losers. If they affirm the Gospel and are followers of Christ, they are fellow brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist family. We want them and need them to join with us.
2. We must try harder to love those in which we disagree. It is all too easy to criticize and speak out in blogs and articles against fellow Southern Baptists, having never met them in person. I am certain I do not agree with everything any one person believes. I am likely, however, to treat a person with much more respect when I try to get to know them and understand their point of view. There is too much slandering of Southern Baptists by Southern Baptists today. How can we be for the Gospel together when we allow anti-Gospel behavior drag us apart?
3. Time to walk the talk. What will happen if the GCR theme becomes a reality over this next year, yet in five years the signs of decline in our convention are still evident? We will be devastated! As Johnny Hunt said, “Talk is cheap!” Nothing promises us there will be anymore chances to get it together. We must seek God together for a fresh movement in our day! We must personally take the challenge to make Gospel partnerships, seek His Kingdom first, and lead our churches on the mission God has given us.
In closing, we must determine to be one, win or lose. We must make an effort to love one another first, which cannot happen if we have never made an effort to meet the person we publicly criticize in writing. Respectfully disagreeing is one thing, but there is no room for slandering each other, or mischaracterizing each other. We must not simply talk and vote for a Great Commission Resurgence. We must walk the talk. I am hopeful that’s exactly what we decided to do beginning this past week in Louisville.
Sola Dei Gloria!