After serving as President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2014-2016 and presiding over the 2015 and 2016 Annual Conventions, this year's convention was an interesting journey for me personally. With the peace of God and the confident assurance in His timing, I enjoyed praying and participating as a messenger again.
I participated in the entire meeting, and my reflections are from my observations, where my own indelible memories from previous years cannot help but shape my perspective.
Here are five personal reflections on the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention.
Reflection #1: Evangelism Awaits Becoming The Priority In Our Churches Again
Dr. Steve Gaines, our president, shared with conviction the great need for evangelism to become the priority of our churches again. While baptisms continue to decline deplorably, at least it is being talked about again. Thank you, President Gaines, for making this the needed priority again.
In my own 2016 Presidential Address in St. Louis, The Stakes Are High, one of the main points of my message was, "Now is the time for Southern Baptists to evangelize." In fact, as I called upon us to prioritize evangelism again, I stated: "While theological debate is ascending and is applauded loudly in our convention, evangelistic fervor and fire is being extinguished and the masses are silent about it." Yes, it is time for us to evangelize. Furthermore, I stated, "Our convention celebrates everything but the main thing and then we wonder what happened with the main thing ... evangelism."
Until evangelism becomes the priority of pastors, church leaders, and churches again, our baptisms will continue to decline. Thank God, evangelism matters in our Cross Church family and it is applauded in every way. We are on our way perhaps to one of our greatest years in baptisms and possibly the strongest yet. However, we will recommit ourselves, and yes, I have recommitted myself personally to intensifying my own witness for Jesus daily.
Reflection #2: Personal Stewardship Is Being Emphasized and Strategized
Thank God that personal stewardship is being emphasized and strategy is taking place. This is far overdue, and I applaud this action. Dr. Frank Page gave an excellent report on Tuesday afternoon, championing a new partnership with Dave Ramsey Solutions.
Dave Ramsey is the leading champion in helping families in areas of personal finance. Just recently, Dave Ramsey was a guest on my podcast, and you can listen here. Additionally, we put together an article of some lessons I've learned from Dave.
This is a brilliant stroke by our Executive Committee. Financing the work of Southern Baptists was one of my great burdens for our convention while I was President. In fact, in the same 2016 Presidential Address noted above, I talked about our great need of stewardship.
By the way, the Wednesday afternoon panel on stewardship I was privileged to participate in was strong. You can watch this panel here. It is something you could even show your church in certain settings.
Reflection #3: Southern Baptists Spoke Clearly and Powerfully Against All Alt-Right White Supremacy
Southern Baptists denounce all racism as anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. This has been our position and is our position today. I believe it will always be our position. We are clearly and powerfully against all Alt-Right White Supremacy.
While some were confused by our Resolution Committee's challenge relating to bringing forward this resolution, it was not a matter of the heart, but of judgment and logistics. However, the Resolutions Committee and their chairman, Barrett Duke, with humility, offered apology, responding with a resolution all Southern Baptists could support. This Resolution #10 is powerful and you can read it here.
There were many references to resolutions and ways we have spoken to the entire race issue in the past. Yet, the Alt-Right White Supremacy issue needed to be addressed specifically. Southern Baptists have made a remarkable commitment over the past years. Both the 2015 and 2016 conventions prioritized sections of the annual meeting regarding racial unity, and addressed this great need clearly. We must and will continue forward in this area, and this resolution is proof.
Reflection #4: Celebrate The SBC Process
The past two years, we have seen messengers help the Resolutions Committee reach important decisions. Last year, it was related to the Confederate Flag. If the 2016 Resolutions Committee would have brought out a resolution calling for the confederate flag's removal, it would have been very divisive and probably defeated. Yet, the humility of last year's chairman, Stephen Rummage and his committee, permitted the messengers to help shape the resolution. It was done in a wholesome and right manner, all over a very difficult issue.
Again, this year, the messengers helped the 2017 Resolutions Committee achieve Resolution #10 in the right way and in the right tone. This process should be celebrated.
Yes, the SBC process can be slow, laborious, and at times, not friendly to growth. But, we need to celebrate the SBC process that was a true friend to our convention this year. The SBC messengers have been and are heard at the annual conventions.
Reflection #5: H.B. Charles' Election As The 2018 Pastors' Conference President Was Special
Pastor H.B. Charles of Jacksonville, Florida, was elected President of the 2018 Pastors' Conference. I so rejoice over his election, a pastor and great preacher of God's Word. His message in the final session of the convention was strong and wonderful.
Pastor Charles will be the first African American President of our Pastors' Conference. This again, more than shows our great commitment to racial diversity in the future of our Southern Baptist Convention.
As I stated in my 2016 Presidential Address last year, "It is with deep regret that I can do nothing about this stained past against our African American brothers and sisters; but with all I am and with all I can, I join you in creating a future together that binds up the nation's wounds and always marches ahead knowing we will not be satisfied until 'justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'" (Amos 5:24)
Electing Pastor Charles is another forward step toward our future in the Southern Baptist Convention. I cannot go forth without calling our attention to the humble spirit demonstrated by Pastor Brad Graves of First Baptist Church in Ada, Oklahoma. Pastor Graves, already a candidate for Pastors' Conference President, stepped aside in humility and in honor of Pastor Charles within 24 hours of Pastor Charles being nominated. Pastor Graves did so because he too saw this as a major need in our convention and future; therefore, he put aside himself for the sake of the convention. This is refreshing and worth celebrating. Thank you, Pastor Graves and Pastor Charles, for both being great leaders and examples for all of us. We are thankful for each of you.
By the way, this past Saturday, Pastor Graves' dad passed away. One day after withdrawing from the election, Brad led his dad to Jesus Christ after twenty-five years of witnessing to him. Thirty-seven days after giving his life to Christ, Pastor Graves' dad went to heaven. Oh, we serve a great and gracious God. Please pray for Pastor Graves and his family during this time.