As we gather here in Birmingham for our 174th annual meeting, I’m reminded of when I was starting my ministry. The Lord called my family and me to pastor a church in Northwest Arkansas. Today, this corner of Arkansas is known as the global headquarters of Walmart, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and the University of Arkansas.
When I arrived I was asked what my vision was for the future of the church. I answered, “If from this region in America, God can put retail stores across America and the world; and if from here God can put trucks across America and the world; and if from here God can put chickens across America and the world; and if from here God can put Razorbacks across America and the world; then, certainly from here God wants to raise up a mighty church from this region in America to take the gospel to all of America and the world.”
To God’s glory, what started as a vision in a small gymnasium in 1986 became a mighty church that advances the gospel to the region, across the state, the nation and the world and it all started with a question that someone asked me about the future of the church.
In the Bible, God asked a very similar question to the prophets Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah.
- Then the word of the Lord came to me, asking, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” (Jeremiah 1:11)
- The Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” (Amos 7:8)
- He asked me, “What do you see?” ( Zechariah 4:2)
I believe at this crucial point in our history, the Southern Baptist Convention is facing this question: What do we see in our future as a Convention?
I refuse to accept doom, gloom and despair. I refuse to believe division, strife and disengagement is God’s will. God wants to call us from where we are today and will help us see the future He has for us.
In order for the Southern Baptist Convention — America’s largest Protestant network of cooperating churches — to move from where we are today to where we must be in our future together.
We need to:
1. Live and breathe gospel urgency.
We must become a Convention that believes people need Jesus — and they need Him now.
We must not only believe the gospel, but we must be living and breathing this gospel with a deep sense of urgency.
When we begin living and breathing gospel urgency, we will not bemoan annual baptism numbers, but we will begin celebrating growth and advancement like we have not seen in years. It is time for Southern Baptists to come home: We need to come home to evangelism! This is who we are and what we are about.
2. Empower all churches, all generations, all ethnicities, all languages.
Here’s something you might not know about the Southern Baptist Convention: more than 1 in 5 of our churches are predominantly ethnic minority and multilingual congregations. In fact, of our new church plants in the past year, 62% are either non-Anglo or multiethnic.
Not only that, in any given week, the gospel is preached in over 100 different languages across our churches. This very week at the Southern Baptist Convention, we are offering closed captioning in 21 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.
We are not simply a Convention of one ethnic composition, and if we were, we would not represent the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus started the greatest diversity movement in the history of the world. If we claim to follow him, we must be willing to empower all churches, all generations, all languages and all ethnicities in our convention.
3. Tell and celebrate what God is doing.
Next year, the Southern Baptist Convention will celebrate its 175th anniversary. To put that in perspective, the Convention was founded seven months before Texas became the 28th state of the Union. A lot has happened since then.
Cooperative missions among Baptists began to occur immediately, being built upon the power of partnership and cooperation between churches, state conventions and the national convention. In our 175th year, it is my prayer that we will once again come together as one, prioritizing like never before all we do as a Convention to reach the world for Jesus Christ. This is what we must exhaust our lives and energies to seeing occur.
God is doing some amazing things through our Southern Baptist missions and ministries. Therefore, we need to be about telling and celebrating what God is doing.
The Southern Baptist Convention is not perfect, nor do we proclaim to be perfect. But too often have we focused on our shortcomings and neglected to celebrate the amazing things God is doing through us. Through our Convention, millions of people in America and across the world have been impacted with the gospel, and though it’s evident we need to recover ground in some areas, our overall work is still growing and God is opening doors to opportunities that have never been available before.
When we celebrate what God is doing, our faith and our fellowship become stronger as we are reminded of His faithfulness and grace. God is not done with us yet.
4. Love others like Jesus loves.
What Jesus said to his disciples in John 13:34 is still a mandate for us today: “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.”
This is a command we cannot run away from, hide from, or debate!
We need to be known for love, not anger. Trust, not distrust. Unity, not division. We need a culture that is flourishing and life-giving, built upon humility, honesty, forgiveness, and servant-leadership.
A culture of love speaks declaratively and profoundly to the two amendments we are asking Southern Baptists to adopt to our Constitution this week, the first about sexual abuse and the second about ethnic discrimination.
Let me be clear: Sexual abuse and ethnic discrimination disrespect God Himself and His creation of each of us, made in the image of God and valued with the dignity of human life.
The Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse, viewing it as a horrific evil. Southern Baptists, we must address this comprehensively and correctly. We must make a clear, compassionate, convictional, and compelling statement about this issue in every way we can.
In this Convention and in this very moment, we lament any abuse that has ever existed in our cooperating churches or ministries, and we pledge to devote ourselves to aggressively promote, encourage, and help resource churches to provide the safest of environments for all children and the vulnerable who attend our churches and are part of our ministries.
What do I see for the future of our Southern Baptist Convention?
As Southern Baptists, we are at our best when we are reaching the world for Christ, together. We must recommit to do as we did in our founding: Direct all our energies to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person and make disciples of all the nations.
Whatever the cost, whatever the risk, this worldwide mission must be our priority. Jesus says to us today, “Look, I have placed before you an open door that no one is able to close” (Revelation 3:8). We must follow the path set before us, believing that our network of cooperating churches will be a blessing to our nation and to the world.
Adapted from Ronnie Floyd's speech Tuesday at the SBC Annual Meeting.