SBC President Bart Barber warns against 'toxic' churches that 'empower critics'

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber giving a speech at the SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.
Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber giving a speech at the SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. | Screengrab:

Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber warned the United States’ largest Protestant denomination against “toxic” churches that “empower critics” rather than buildup struggling believers.

Barber, who was elected in 2022 and then reelected last year, is stepping down as president, as the convention only permits individuals to serve up to two consecutive terms.

In the official president’s address, delivered Tuesday morning, Barber read from Romans 15:1-6, a passage which reads in part that “we who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves,” adding that “Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’”

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Barber explained to those gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana, for the annual meeting that “even when we need to deliver to people news that they don’t like, we can deliver it to them in a way where they unmistakably know that we love them.”

“I don’t know if we always have that going on in our churches,” Barber said. “Its not weakness for us to be loving in dispute. It is godliness, it is obedience. Confronting and challenging one another in a prophetic tone is not the only way to sanctify people.”

Barber went on to state that churches shouldn't “build our brother up by tearing him down,” but rather “the godly aim that we have is that we should edify brothers in Christ and call them to greater service.”

“Edification talks with brothers and sisters about the problem, while disobedience talks about them, without seeking to edify them or build them up,” he continued.

Barber then warned about “how toxic our churches can become when we empower critics who do not want to disciple people. They just want to destroy them; they want to dominate them.”

“My church and your church [will] be healthier when we can get the people in our church to see their mission as building people up and growing people in the faith that has been delivered to us,” he said.

Barber also discussed the importance of unity within the faith, highlighting the “tremendous diversity of voices” within the SBC and contrasting a “supernatural” unity with a worldly notion.

“People we push out the door and shut it behind them will no longer be influenced by us at all,” cautioned the outgoing president. “There’s the unity that man achieves by carnal means. Comes by just running off everyone who disagrees.”

“There’s another kind of unity. It’s the unity that the Spirit of God achieves through spiritual means, where you look and see that God has given a gift … its supernatural.”

Barber considered the multilingual and multiracial nature of the SBC to be “a beautiful thing given to us by God,” noting that they can be of one mind while disagreeing on “mundane” things.

“The most important things are the things we agree on,” he stated. “Starting with our common affirmation that Jesus is Lord."

“Our disagreements are largely the mundane relics of our incomplete sanctification, but the things that we agree on, every one of them are supernatural feats, accomplished by our God. They are, far and away, the most important things.”

Barber’s remarks were part of the SBC's Annual Meeting, the two-day denomination-wide gathering of thousands of Southern Baptists in Indianapolis for churchwide business matters.

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