The best way to describe the Annual Southern Baptist Baptist Convention’s two-day meeting is “the world’s largest Baptist business meeting.” For those who have experienced a “traditional” Baptist business meeting, no further explanation is needed. I would simply remind you that we went two years without having one. When you throw in the controversy around 2019’s Resolution 9, the overall stress created by COVID shutdowns, the ever-constant blogging that adds fuel to the fire, and the reports related to the resignation of Russell Moore, you have the makings for a “very interesting” meeting.
As I share my “take-homes,” I would simply ask that you recognize your church is very likely a microcosm of what we experience at the national level. I would also remind you that these are my personal reflections and like anyone else’s they are shaped by who I am. And one of my “faults” is a penchant for alliteration. Here were my big five take-homes:
Inerrant: We are a people who value the Bible as the inerrant word of God. While many denominations are debating the acceptance of cultural trends like gender identity and homosexual pastors, we had a floor debate On Abolishing Abortions, and we approved Resolution 2: On the Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation.
On the abortion issue, some of the ardent among us wanted stronger language demanding an all-or-nothing approach to eliminating abortions. For example, they denounce any effort or politician who would work for a bill making partial-birth abortions illegal, because that bill would still permit other abortions. The authors and supporters of the resolution opposed the final vote on it because they felt a single-word amendment completely altered their intent. As approved one of the “Be it Resolved” clauses reads “that we will not embrace an incremental approach alone to ending abortion…”
Some of the passionate among us wanted a repeal of 2019’s Resolution 9 (which we were told is not possible under our resolution process) or a resolution clearly denouncing Critical Race Theory. For them the statements “We reject any theory or worldview that finds the ultimate identity of human beings in ethnicity or in any other group dynamic; and…that sees the primary problem of humanity as anything other than sin against God and the ultimate solution as anything other than redemption found only in Christ; and…that denies that racism, oppression, or discrimination is rooted, ultimately, in anything other than sin” were not strong enough statements.
I’m excited because our difficult conversations are about nuanced approaches on how best to apply historical Christian beliefs not debates about the adoption of current cultural trends. I’m also excited we have a platform through our resolutions where honest open debate can take place. I reminded you in last week’s article that resolutions are non-binding reflections of the messengers who were present at a specific convention, and that over time those opinions and positions have changed on a variety of issues—slavery is probably the clearest example.
Informed: As I listened, what continued to reverberate in my mind is that we are a people who want complete, accurate, and unbiased information about what is happening in our SBC world. A convention of churches as large and diverse as we are will inevitably have incomplete, inaccurate, or innuendoed communications. What can make them “intolerable” are the next two issues I will mention.
Intentional: There are multiple coordinated agendas running in the background at every SBC Annual meeting. Political activity is ever-present. Those who are intentional can at times be very narrow and extremely passionate in their focus. When that happens they are rarely open to information that does not support their position or conversations that don’t revolve around their area of interest. That approach can work in a single church or with a smaller group of churches, but in a convention of churches as large as we are a balanced BIBLICAL (remember my first “I”) approach will generally win the day.
Involved: As Baptists we are passionate about the Priesthood of All Believers. We value people who are willing to step in and step up and become part of the solution instead of remaining part of the problem. However, in our shift away from a hyper-congregational polity where we have to vote on the color of plastic silverware we use in the kitchen, we have swung the pendulum too far. Anyone who knows me has had to endure my rant on balancing God-called, appointed, and equipped leadership with the priesthood of all believers. Many of our larger churches have moved to a top-down decision-making process that simply informs members what was decided. We have filled SBC leadership positions with individuals from the latter paradigm who can lose the distinction between herding cattle and leading sheep.
Does your church encourage everyone to be engaged at an appropriate level of your decision-making process? In other words, are you creating sheep that will simply follow your lead and watch you work, or are you making disciples who will be willing and able to help you with the work God called His church to do?
Inspired: Yes the annual meeting is primarily a business meeting, but we also know that we need to be encouraged and inspired. That’s why God-honoring worship and God-inspired preaching are also included. But efforts in this area will fall on deaf ears if people aren’t confident that things are being handled well, and that we are heading in the right direction.
We are far from a perfect convention of churches, and that is because there isn’t a single perfect church (and yes that includes your church), and that is because there isn’t a perfect professing Christian (and that definitely includes you and me). I left for Nashville uncertain where we would be at the end of the convention. I drove home pondering and praying about what I heard and experienced. Today, I’m even more convinced that God is still in charge! That He is still my Lord! And that He is still in the process of patching and using broken vessels! Pliable clay in the Potter’s hand always has a future (Jeremiah 18:1-10).
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.