SBC 2024: What Comes Next?

I’m still a little weary from all of the travel and excitement of this year’s SBC Annual Meeting. (I know I still look like I’m a sprightly 34, but let’s just say the years are starting to pile up.) 

As I reflect on the whirlwind of these past few days, I am grateful for what God continues to do through this collection of cooperative churches. 

The messengers of the Convention voted in a new president—Clint Pressley, a fellow North Carolina pastor. Clint is a great friend of mine and a partner in the gospel. I will be praying for him in the days ahead, that God leads him with grace and wisdom as he gets run over by this freight train. Jesus once said that his disciples were to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), and that’s the paradox of leadership I’m praying that Pastor Clint follows. That he would “understand the times,” like the sons of Issachar, and know exactly what he, and we, should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

As a former president of the SBC, I might be more interested than most in the nitty gritty of the actual business meeting. We covered a lot of ground this week, which is a tremendously positive thing. I tip my hat to Bart Barber, who, as SBC president, moderated the whole event. It’s a bit like trying to carry cats in a wheelbarrow—never simple and always full of surprises. But he handled it well. (Bart, you can now enjoy the best title in the SBC: immediate past president of the SBC! Take a rest, you’ve earned it. Have a Welch’s unfermented grape juice this evening.)

A lot of the talk leaving this year’s Convention is centered on the “Law Amendment,” which failed to get the 66.67% majority vote necessary to pass. (It got 61%.) 

It’s no secret what my position on this amendment was (you can read all about it here). I never opposed the Law Amendment because I disagreed with the doctrinal convictions of complementarianism. I opposed it because of our historical principles of cooperation—that is, what level of doctrinal uniformity is necessary for cooperation. I respect (and agree with) the concerns of many who were in favor of the Law Amendment. Doctrinal fidelity is important.

But I think we can be firm on complementarianism even as we show latitude regarding who we cooperate with. Not all errors are equal, of course. We are a group that unites for mission, which means that we often link up with some who apply truths differently than us, even as we unite around essentials.

I believe the decision the messengers made on FBC Alexandria was correct and important. FBC Alexandria is clearly, and by their own admission, egalitarian. As the chairman of the Credentials Committee noted, we dissociated from them with the current constitution and current language of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM 2000).

We made the right call on this amendment, since passing it would have too rigidly enforced uniformity in ways that are out of character with our principles of cooperation. A friend of mine compared getting the right balance on this issue to putting together a piece of furniture. The IKEA instructions always warn you, “Don’t overtighten the screws.” Too loose and the structure is wobbly. But tighten the screws too much, and it also ends up wonky—or busted.

We can be united on complementarianism even as we allow differences (and even, at times, certain errors) in application. 

Just to be clear where we are: At the Summit, because we believe the titles of “pastor,” “elder,” and “overseer” all refer to the same office, we believe only qualified men can be pastors (cf. 1 Timothy 2–3; 1 Corinthians 11). We practice this because we believe it’s what the Bible teaches, and I’d encourage every church to apply it that way. 

If you agree with me, the pertinent question is: How do we encourage greater uniformity in proper practice? Some wanted to enforce it by an amendment that would automatically exclude from cooperation anyone who operates differently, who errs in even the slightest of ways. 

But I think there’s a more effective way.

Think for a moment about all of the change we’ve seen in our Convention in the last 30 years. Our soteriology is more Reformed. Ecclesiology is on more solid footing. Thirty years ago, you could scarcely find an elder-led Baptist church! Now it’s the norm. We better understand the balance of gospel and mission centrality with public engagement. How did this happen? We accomplished all of this without constitutional amendments or changes to the Baptist Faith and Message. We did it by expressing clearly what we believed, modeling it, and persuading others these were the right things to believe and do. If we want to shore up our applications of complementarian doctrine, that’s where we’ll experience the greatest return. 

Overtightening regulations on conformity is rarely the way to effectively influence others. If we exclude every church we believe makes errors in application, we will likely not see many of them change. After we kick them out, they’ll just persist in whatever they were doing. 

The more effective way is teaching and modeling. We are right, of course, to insist on unity around the essentials. But we can accomplish the rest through modeling and influence. There’s a role for policing the borders, but it’s usually more effective to affirm the center.

So, as I wrote last week, 

“I would happily join Al Mohler and my friends at the CBMW in exploring ways we can renew and promote this doctrine for a rising generation.” 

Now that this amendment is behind us, I am committed to modeling and promoting the biblical pattern of complementarian doctrine. After all, complementarianism has never been an ecclesiastical box we must check; rather, it’s a beautiful truth that God wove into creation, one that brings him glory and leads to our flourishing. 

I also hope that we can continue talking about the various ways that women in our churches can be raised up and better equipped for ministry. Women make up more than half of our membership, and they are almost always underutilized. In my experience, these women aren’t angling to become pastors; they simply want to steward the gifts God has given them for the body of Christ. The pressing question now is, How can we see them released into ministry and leadership? 

To all of the women leaders in our churches: Thank you for sticking with all of us. You are an incredible part of our church, an important and essential part of our future. If you are not thriving, neither will be the men in our churches either. 

Honestly, I believe the SBC has more momentum now than ever in my lifetime. We have doctrinal unity in the essentials. We have a growing sense of missional urgency. It makes me think of the words of Hebrews: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39). We are not a “shrink back” Convention. We are a Convention with a sacred charge: Reach our neighbors, reach the nations. And we go forward, assured of success, because our Savior promised that even the gates of hell could not withstand us.