Looking Ahead to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention
In just a few short days, I will be joining thousands of other Southern Baptists in Dallas, TX, for the SBC’s annual meeting. Our church, the Summit, has partnered with the SBC for our entire existence because the Summit and the SBC share one core passion—to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth. The heartbeat of the SBC has always been missions, and God-willing, it always will be.
Our mood as we approach this year’s convention is more somber than usual. The past few months have been difficult for the SBC. But even in the midst of the tougher season we are currently weathering, I believe God has great things ahead for this network of churches.
As I think through what this next week will look like, there are many highlights that I’m anticipating, even in advance. This is just a random collection of what I’m looking forward to:
1. Seeing Old Friends
The SBC is not your typical denomination. Technically, it is more of a network of churches that partners together for mission. But I’ve been wondering recently if it would help our SBC culture more to think of ourselves not as denomination, nor even as a network of churches, but first and foremost, as a family.
For years, I’ve referred to the SBC annual meeting as a giant, wacky family reunion. And honestly, when I approach these annual meetings, my primary emotion isn’t apprehension, but anticipation. I can’t help but think about all of the close friends I get to re-connect with. I love hearing ministry updates from people I hardly ever get to see—but who are being used greatly by God. I always come away from the SBC encouraged, and the primary reason for that encouragement is the people.
We are a large family, and that means many of us have our differences. But at the end of the day, we come together and we love each other because that’s what family does. In a small sense, gathering together to worship and hear updates on the mission reminds me of the multi-ethnic community of God promised in Revelation 5, where people from every tribe, tongue, and nation gather together to praise the risen Christ.
While the SBC is a large family and we have our differences, we come together and we love each other—because that’s what family does.
2. Hearing Reports from Our Missions Agencies
What draws the churches of the SBC together is one thing—mission. So it is always a highlight for me to hear from NAMB and the IMB. I literally cannot imagine two better agencies for planting churches in our nation and in our world than these. This year I’m particularly excited because our church has a couple being commissioned by the IMB at the convention.
God first called me to the pastorate by calling me to the mission field, and he never relinquished that missionary call. I always have missions at the front of my mind, but in the days and weeks after hearing from NAMB and the IMB, there is little else I can talk about.
3. Empowering My Teenage Daughter to Explore Dallas
This is a bit random, but earlier this year I read a fantastic book by Ben Sasse called The Vanishing American Adult. Sasse has seen a troubling trend in many of us parents, where our passion to protect our children inadvertently shelters them from the life experiences they need to grow into mature adults. It’s a great book that has given me a lot of helpful ways to shepherd my children in a quickly changing society.
One of the ideas Sasse praises in his book is pushing our children to explore new environments and new cultures. In that vein, I’m sending my teenage daughter out with a girlfriend of hers to navigate the city for a day. Am I nervous? Yes, of course. But I think we’ll both grow tremendously by doing this.
4. Meeting with the Directors of Missions
I don’t always spend a lot of time with the Directors of Missions (DOMs) at the convention, but they asked me to meet with them for one reason—to pray over me and Ken Hemphill. That is the kind of united, mission-first spirit that this convention needs in the days ahead.
Obviously our associations are undergoing changes and asking questions, but cooperation is more vital today than ever before. I look forward to the conversations the DOMs will have in the months to come, as they have shown a renewed focus on church planting, revitalization, and diversity.
Also, I’ve heard that this is the largest gathering of DOMs the convention has seen in over a decade (maybe more?). Kudos to Ray Gentry, head of national DOMs, for his initiative in this and for his invitation.
5. Coming away Humbled and United
Obviously, these past few months have been turbulent ones for the churches in our Convention. Many outside of our Convention look at this tumult and conclude that the SBC’s days are numbered. (Some come to this conclusion with glee.) But I don’t think we’re destined for failure at all. In fact, while these have been trying days, I believe that they have been days of intentional pruning. God is bringing us to our knees in humility, and while humility often feels like humiliation, we should always see the humbling process as God’s gift to us.
God is pruning us, and this is usually painful. But I believe that he is pruning us with a purpose, preparing us for greater days of effectiveness ahead. We have seen many of our leaders fall, which should remind us that our point of unity never was and never will be specific people. Our point of unity is the gospel, and though a thousand may fall on our right hand, I trust what God says: These evils will not touch those who trust in him (Psalm 91:7).
God is bringing us to our knees in humility, and while painful, we should always see the humbling process as God’s gift to us.
Bright days are ahead for the SBC if we will heed the voice of the Holy Spirit, turn from our sin, and cast ourselves upon the mercy of his grace. God wants to be merciful to us and bless us and cause his face to shine upon us—so that his way might be known in all the earth and his salvation among all nations.
I still believe that the greatest days of the Great Commission are in front of us. God is not done working in this world, and he is not done with the SBC. If we walk away from this convention united on the unchanging gospel of Christ, in the spirit of Christ, and with the mission of Christ, we will walk away from this convention in unstoppable power.
Bonus: Eating in Dallas
I felt a little sheepish adding food onto the actual list of things I’m looking forward to next week. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t have big plans for my belly in Dallas. For food lovers, there are precious few cities in the U.S. that welcome you with open arms like Dallas. I plan to eat Texas-sized portions of ribeye, BBQ (in Texas that’s beef, not pork), and authentic Tex Mex. In related news, I also plan to sleep quite a bit the next week.
PS – For those of you curious about my schedule at the SBC, I’ve included a snapshot of some of my auxiliary events outside of the main meeting sessions. Feel free to come say hello! (And be sure to check out the full schedule of events here.)
Sunday, June 10
- 9:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. – Preaching at Prestonwood Baptist Church (Honored to have Jack Graham ask me to come! I have the greatest love and respect for his ministry.)
- 5:40 p.m. – Kick Off Dinner with Associational Leaders (DOMs) (The Adolphus Hotel)
- 7:00 p.m. – Summit Network Dinner
Monday, June 11
- 10:00 a.m. – “Vision for the SBC,” Interview with Brandon Pickett (CP Stage, Convention Exhibit Hall)
- 11:30 a.m. – NAMB Luncheon (Omni Hotel)
- 1:30 p.m. – “For the Church” Interview (Convention Center, Level 1 Meeting Room A 134)
- 5:00 p.m. – IMB Dinner (Convention Center, Level 2, Ballroom C1-4)
- 7:00 p.m. – Preach at Pastor’s Conference
Tuesday, June 12
- 8:00 a.m. – Hispanic Breakfast (Convention Center, Level 3, Room A 309-310)
- 11:45 a.m. – Life Action Ministries Lunch (Omni Hotel, Ballroom H, Level 3)
- 12:20 p.m. – “For the Church” Lunch (Convention Center, Level 2, Ballroom C)
- 8:30 p.m. – IMB Commissioning Service
- 9:15 p.m. – “NAMB Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconciliation,” Panel with Dhati Lewis (Omni Hotel, Level 3, Ballroom F)
Wednesday, June 13
- 12:00 p.m. – Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Lunch (Omni Hotel, Ballroom C/D/E)
- 5:00 p.m. – Collapsing from exhaustion (Somewhere in Dallas Love Field airport)