The Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference: My Thoughts

April 23, 2015

Dr. Randy White | Pastor
First Baptist Church, Katy, TX

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission.

(Editors Note: This article was authored in 2014) I did not attend the Southern Baptist Convention this year, nor the Pastor’s Conference which proceeds the annual meeting. As I told my congregation, “I decided to save your money and my heart.” In the end, I did save the money, but my heart wasn’t spared because I tuned in to some of the Pastor’s conference by online streaming.

Analysis of the Platform
The thing that most strikes me is that Southern Baptists have a hard time finding a pulpiteer. The old mainstays of Jerry Vines, Homer Lindsey, Jr., W.A. Criswell, and Adrian Rogers are either dead or no longer invited. A dozen years ago the SBC leadership adopted an unwritten agenda to “youthanize” the convention meetings, and since then, old preachers have not been allowed. I’m sure someone will argue against this with anecdotal evidence, but the casual glance would make it appear that one is best qualified if they are under 45 and cool. If they have a shaved head, chances increase. A recent trend is that non-Southern-Baptist cool is a huge bonus to garner a speaking invitation (one-third of the invited speakers was non-SBC, and two-thirds of the musicians were non-SBC.)

The platform was made hip with lighting and larger-than-life video, something that has become a “have-to” for the church-growth movement. Platform attire was decidedly casual for speakers and “grunge” for musicians. For me, dress is not a hill on which to die, but I do find it curious that the church is the only place in America where a professional is expected to dress like a teenager. When the young businessmen in America’s churches go to work on Monday morning, they put on slacks. When a late-night comedian goes on the air, he has a high-quality suit. When my son goes to work at Whataburger, he’s expected to tuck in his shirt. Perhaps we think that if we dress like teenagers we will win more teenagers to Christ?  If this is our thinking, I hope we don’t suddenly have a desire to reach more women for Christ.

Analysis of the Preaching
The SBC Pastor’s Conference has been a place for great preaching through the years. During the days of the Conservative Resurgence, the conference was a rally for inerrancy, and a vital element in turning the ship. While it has not typically been a place of high-quality exegetical sermons (perhaps the setting calls for Biblical topical sermons), the preaching in the past has been some of the best that Southern Baptists had to offer.

I will share four points of analysis of SBC Pastor’s Conference preaching today. Much of this analysis is true within much of the church, especially where the church-growth movement has taken root. The analysis is my general feeling after listening to about half of the conference sermons, and is not necessarily rooted in specific statements of the preachers.

Jesus is my boyfriend theology – Some of the talk of Jesus would be downright creepy if it were about another man. When our music celebrates His dancing over me, and how jealous He is of me, and the “sloppy wet kiss” of David Crowder music or the “oh no, You never let go” embrace of Matt Redmon songs, it is no surprise that such lyrics eventually begin to influence the verbiage of sermons as well.

Anecdotal use of Scripture –I previously admitted that the Pastor’s Conference may not lend itself to exegetical preaching, but more and more it is a place where Scripture is simply used anecdotally. If a passage illustrates the speaker’s truth, it will be quoted, then the speaker will go to their next soapbox. For a denomination that claims to be “people of the book,” we do very little preaching of the book.

Excessive need to confess –Perhaps this is to make the “little guy” feel good, but there is a lot of personal confession of “not measuring up” done at events like this. “I’m selfish, I’m mean-spirited deep on the inside, I’m scared, and I’m insecure.” I suppose confession is good for the soul, but I wonder if there is any reality to it, or if it is just another manipulative tool.

A longing for experience –This is the biggest flaw in Southern Baptist preaching today, in my opinion. Though not a Southern Baptist, Francis Chan brought this out more strongly than any of the other speakers I heard. Sermons echo with, “I’ve gotta have you, I want you to rend heaven and break through, we want to experience You right now!” Or, as Chan prayed, “I fear I am going to go into sermon mode and not abide in You.” I am baffled as to why sermon mode is bad for a guy giving a sermon, nor why it is mutually exclusive from abiding in Him. The conference-goer was consistently asked, “Do you really long for Him? How long since you’ve sat with Him. Do you even miss Him?” Very little (if anything) was preached about knowing God’s Word and having the ability to present good theology to our churches or recognize false-teaching when it comes. Chan even went so far to say that the SBC is full of ritual and faithfulness, but “not a desperate cry before God.” This is the same Chan who says, “I love Mike Bickle,” the self-appointed apostle of the New Apostolic Reformation, and the founder of the International House of Prayer, the leading dispenser of Christian emotionalism in the church today.

Conclusion
Many of my fellow Southern Baptists will strongly disagree with my opinion. They will tell me to get over my grumpy spirit and quit living in the past. There will be some other SBC friends who, like me, have begun to see what a pervasive problem there is in SBC life today. These friends will be in hearty agreement with what I’ve said, and could add so much more. Outside of the SBC, my true conservative friends (those in the SBC would call them Fundamentalists), will rejoice that there is, within the SBC, at least one who thinks like they do. If any charismatic reads this, they will pray for my salvation. In the end, this is all one-man’s analysis of the SBC. Now our job is to be like the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures to see if what they were told was true” (Acts 18:11).

 

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Jon Estes

A very well written article which needs to be shared. It seems the push for the relationship with Jesus is taking on the sole meaning of “experience with a touchy / feely type thing. Having these emotions are not a bad thing but if they are what leads the sermon then it is a wrong thing.

As far as the convention / pastors conference… I quit going some years back. My last year was when A Stanley preached and I do not remembering him even using a bible. He did dote on his dad but I walked away that year not wanting to come back.

The attempts to reach the younger crowd pushed me out (and I am not that old). I am enjoying life on the outside these days.

Serving an international church in the Middle East who the IMB refused to help in 1996/1997 because they were planting an English speaking church in an Arabic speaking land.

    Rick Patrick

    Jon,

    I remember thinking the same thing when Andy Stanley gave his motivational success talk that year without using the Bible. That’s just not why I go to a Pastor’s Conference. I know the man can preach. I will never understand why he didn’t take the opportunity to do so. Maybe he thought what we really needed most was his leadership lessons.

    A major burden I have with the conference, in addition to those mentioned by Dr. White, is what I consider to be an imbalance between Calvinist speakers (Platt, Greear, McDonald, Moore, Tripp) and Traditionalist ones (Gaines). Granted, many speakers have not clearly identified with one camp or the other, at least not publicly. But when a growing number of speakers appear to have ties to Calvinist organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, not to mention the Founders Ministries, 9 Marks, and the Acts 29 Network, one gets the feeling that a “group within a group” has taken hold in the Southern Baptist Convention–and those on the outside of this group, based on nothing but their own theological convictions, are expected to keep paying the bills as the convention increasingly becomes a place they hardly recognize any longer.

Scott Shaver

Ah yes……..the glory days of the CR when “the pastor’s conference was a rally for inerrancy and a vital element in turning the ship”

Within ten years of it’s marvelous victory, appears “CR” has steered the ship headlong into the icebergs of biblical irrelevancy as opposed to the safe waters of “inerrancy”.

If The Bible’s only use is ancedotal with SBC preachers, does “inerrancy” really matter anymore?

Looks like “traditionalist” by any other name within today’s SBC would be “moderate” ……..and there’s at least “one” left.

Maybe searching scripture “like the Bereans” should have been job one before a “CR” was launched?

Lydia

You gotta give Piper some credit for all the constant brokenness and exuberant emotionalism. He is one of those guys that if you strip away all the flowery, passionate verbosity, there is not much there. He is the adjective king. A shock jock. Ever hear His “Scream of the damned”?. He has been a huge influence. I mean HUGE.

The ” confession” industry has become.a tool for control. There is a whole strategy for it that could be a separate blog post. Scary stuff.

A lot of this is warmed over church growth tactics with Calvinist lipstick.
In the seeker world I finally had to ask when we can expect people in the sinner hospital to be healed enough to get out of bed. Can we at least unhook the IV? Now with the Calvinist lipstick, the answer is never. We must remain broken, sick and unable to get out of bed and be productive members of the kingdom.

    Scott Shaver

    An industry akin to the selling of indulgences perhaps?

Jon Estes

“Maybe searching scripture “like the Bereans” should have been job one before a “CR” was launched?”

I did not expect those who do not believe the scriptures to search it.

I know, this comment is a bit snarky but I responded in like matter to the comment quoted.

It has been one of those days. Better sign off now, church is tomorrow. Gonna be a great day of worship where I serve.

John Roberts

I think there is much to admire in Dr White’s comments. Perhaps the battle was lost once the Convention emphasized ‘Speakers’ over against preaching. Too easily Baptists have forsaken the centrality of the Scriptures for the centrality of the pulpit (and/or the pulpiteer). The CR did not address the neglect of Scripture, it simply negated several ways of misinterpreting it. The irony is that there is far more of the Scriptures that we profess to love in a service at the crazily liberal Washington National Cathedral than in most of our Convention meetings. I guess we’d complain, “Yeah, but they don’t believe it”. But it’s difficult to sound convincing when we say we believe it but don’t use it.

    Lydia

    “The irony is that there is far more of the Scriptures that we profess to love in a service at the crazily liberal Washington National Cathedral than in most of our Convention meetings. ”

    There is something to this. People I know who have left the sbc for more liturgical worship say a huge factor was more scripture reading of long passages and not the main focus on the pastor. The focus being more on scripture reading as a group instead of the focus being mainly about the preacher.

    I even noticed in 3 different CBE churches I visited this past year much more actual scripture reading during worship. And very little of the gimmicky stuff I have come to loathe.

    And what is interesting us just how liberal can you get with scripture readings??? :o)

      Bill Mac

      I have noticed the same thing. It should be a bit of an embarrassment that there is so little scripture reading in some of our churches. I also am a little disappointed that while we have rules for who can participate in the Lord’s Supper, we don’t take it seriously enough to observe it more than a few times a year. Just a few pet peeves.

      I have found the phrase “you don’t believe the bible” to simply be code for “you don’t believe exactly the same as I do”. People find out I’m not YEC and you would think I had denied the virgin birth. I have one church member who is almost apoplectic that I’m not a premil dispy. When he found that out he acted as if I had joined ISIS. For him, to deny Left Behind theology is to deny scripture.

Scott Shaver

Jon:

I happen to enjoy a little “snarky” every now and then…lets you know folks are still alive. I assure you my beliefs on scripture are every bit as sound, “inerrant”, and binding as you consider yours to be for yourself. Every bit as “God-fearin” and “bible-believin” a Baptist as you my friend.

Just never saw the need to go tearing things up using The Word of God as cover in the grab for power, prestige and pensions by folks I assume you’re convinced “do believe Scripture”.

Funny but sad thing is there are thousands more Baptists like me who are still being told “we don’t believe scripture or teach it” by neo-traditional Baptists who likewise are now being told the same thing within their conservatively resurgent SBC…… BY GROUPS THAT AREN’T BAPTIST! Riddle me that.

Hey, if we’re gonna talk the language of community priesthoods and communal responsibility for the sins of the fathers etc……maybe apologies and reparations in the SBC structure for moderates is what must happen “spiritually” before a “peace” between “CALS and TRADS” can be achieved?

    Jon Estes

    Scott –

    Glad you like “snarky” every now and then.

    I no longer have a dog in the hunt in the SBC politics. I still have many friends who remain loyal and some who have waved their final good bye are still serving faithfully.

    I do believe a few things needed to be torn up if not redirected. Looking back there were a few more casualties than need be and too many promotions that took place. The SBC is living with what they thought they wanted but as I get older, the only thing I want to be looking ahead for is the return of Christ… Not where the SBC can or will be.

    I am not a die hard traditionalist but there are some things which need to be held on to. If we do not have enough of our own men to preach at the Pastors Conference, then we need something other than a Pastors conference… Maybe a Pastors revival.

    Apologies and reparations??? Nah… Not sensing the Lord leading me that way.

    Then again, I will continue talking to a Theological School of Richmond Graduate soon about doing some ministry together. He is serving in Italy and I am in UAE and there is enough bible belief in me that we can help others who are in need of help.

    Great day of worship with my church family. Now time to get ready for our two day I Am A Church Member retreat. Starts @ 5 pm, that’s like in 2 hours. Later…

      Scott Shaver

      Know how you feel Jon.

      My oldest daughter is planning to continue some education at seminary in the near future.

      On seminaries these days, about the best you can do is rely on their upbringing, hand em a copy of “Axioms and Walter Shurden’s “The Baptist Heritage” and tell em….you’re on your own :)

Bill Mac

If it’s going to be called a Pastor’s conference, why not make it a conference? I’ve never been, but it sounds to me like just a really long church service. Conferences are events people go to to learn, and network and share ideas. There are different tracks and breakout sessions. I’m not one to decry sermons, but is there really that much value in a bunch of people who preach sermons for a living getting together and listening to a few more sermons? Why not have resources for small church and bivo pastors, the bulk of the SBC? Why not discuss SS curriculum and share ideas on mission initiatives? Maybe I’m just ignorant of what goes on.

Jeff Phillips

Anyone else troubled by the Ben Carson invite? A Seventh Day Adventist who basically declared himself a Universalist in his Easter Facebook post

    Rick Patrick

    One year it was Phillips, Craig and Dean. Another year it was the song leader for T. D. Jakes. Now we have James McDonald and Ben Carson. About a decade ago, on the convention floor (not the Pastor’s Conference) we had a twenty minute conversation about Mark Driscoll. Several said, “He’s not even a Southern Baptist…why are we talking about him?” The rest, as they say, is history.

    The reason we talk about folks who are not Southern Baptists is that they can still affect Southern Baptists by their influence. Every single case mentioned above can be resolved as long as everyone who sings, preaches or prays is a bonafide Southern Baptist.

      Scott Shaver

      Can’t fault you for that Rick.

      Go to a family reunion and you expect to hear from and interact with “family’.

      Andy

      I’m not a traditionalist, but I agree with RICK PATRICK! :-)

      (Even if it means we run the risk of inviting Steven Furtick… :-)

        Scott

        Andy…you crack me up. :)

        lydia

        would Furtick be better or worse than say, Mahaney?

        I would vote for some obscure pastors laboring in the real trenches. I think they would be much more interesting and edifying than these perfumed prince’s.

    lydia

    I do think it is a mistake to invite political candidates. At all.

    Yet if I were a betting woman I would bet that you won’t see anything in the press or on certain blogs about Ben Carson being disinvited because he is black and the SBC inherently racist. I have been amazed to see so many SBC blog posts about the state of racism in the SBC. The irony of all these factors are amusing.

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