By Eric Costanzo, Teaching Pastor and Minister of Community Ministries, First Baptist Church, Tulsa, OK
Dear SBC Leaders and Messengers: Let’s try a new approach!
A Critical Response to the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, AZ by a lifelong Southern Baptist.
The reports and published resolutions from the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which took place on June 14-15 in Phoenix, AZ, have reinvigorated my conviction that our denomination needs a serious overhaul in the public relations department.
My concerns are not with the meeting itself. Since I was not in attendance, I am not entitled to any opinions one way or another. In fact, I am confident that our denominational leaders and messengers engaged in authentic prayer, vibrant worship, and inspired decision-making at the Annual Meeting. Unfortunately, most people would never know such things took place based on what was published for public consumption during and after the events. Fewer people from our denomination attend these meetings, and fewer people outside of our denomination find our faith communities to be appealing.
But don’t take my word for it. Baptist Press reported that the 2011 meeting was the lowest- attended annual meeting in 67 years [since 1944].
By Wade Rials, Senior Pastor, Thorington Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL
Phoenix 2011 has come and gone. Only history will be able to judge this convention for Southern Baptists. As a young pastor, I am still learning what to expect at these events. I do know that we eat well. Without a pedigree within the Southern Baptist Convention, this young pastor has learned all things through experience. An honest evaluation will see very strong missional components that transpired in Phoenix 2011 as well as some not so lovely aspects. In this short article, I intend to outline a few of both and conclude with a thought about the future.
Because I am a cynic and critic by nature, allow me to start with the ugly side of SBC life.
1) The conversations in the hallways don’t perfectly reflect the conversation in the main hall. Whether we choose to admit it or not, we are a divided group in many ways. Ideology has replaced mission and led to factions. These ideological factions are ardent in their beliefs and hold fast to their convictions. The question before us is: Are we willing to die on the hills of our particular ideology? Comically, I feel in many ways as a man pulled in many directions looking for home. As a recovering Calvinist (still meeting with CA and going through the 5 step recovery program), I have dear friends who grow TULIPs in their front yard. I truly love these guys and enjoy talking about their TULIPs and do my best to get them to plant ROSES instead, but as one who no longer adheres to that hermeneutical paradigm I sometimes feel chastised and alienated by my friends when conversing with my new group of theological compadres. Take it for what it’s worth; people are watching who you talk with in the exhibit hall and gossip ensues.
By Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Hueytown, AL
I left Phoenix in a contemplative state of mind, ignoring (for the most part) the noise of minor skirmishes on the convention floor over Lifeway’s book selections, the new gender neutral NIV translation and the question of whether or not Baptists have been truthful, courageous and fair in our treatment of homosexuality and homosexuals.
For me, the most serious theological question raised at the convention has implications for both the church planting emphasis by NAMB and the people group adoption emphasis by IMB. This topic was addressed with his usual clarity and passion by Dr. David Platt in his excellent convention sermon.
As I understood his message, based upon Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission is not merely a call to evangelize all people everywhere by sharing the Good News of salvation through Christ. While Platt conceded that this common evangelistic goal is certainly a good thing, he indicated that Jesus actually gave us a much more precise command, namely to bring God glory by making at least one disciple among each of the world’s people groups.
By Wes Kenney, Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Valliant, OK
This year’s convention was for me a great time of fellowship, a renewing of old acquaintances and friendships, and the beginning of many new ones. While I have my concerns with how it will be carried out, I believe NAMB’s new focus on church planting is a good one, so long as it doesn’t happen at the expense of evangelism efforts. Evangelism is an essential part of the ministry assignment given to the board by the convention, and must not be neglected.
I’m grateful for the way in which the GCR recommendation regarding the IMB’s potential work within North America was implemented through the change we adopted in the IMB’s ministry statement. Rather than simply removing all geographical boundaries to their work, the IMB’s expertise will now be brought to bear at the request of NAMB when working with a particular non-native people group in North America. This will avoid overlap and be a much more efficient use of resources.
In summary, I left this year’s convention pleased with the direction we seem to be headed in our cooperative work. This optimism comes as much from new friendships formed and conversations held away from the convention floor as it does from any of the official actions of the convention. Ultimately, our convention is governed by her churches, and I have great confidence that the great majority of our churches are committed to obedience to Christ’s call to our neighbors and to the nations. I believe that that obedience will result in greater things for the SBC in the years ahead.
SBC Today has now posted the reflections of Brad Whitt and Wes Kenney on the SBC Phoenix. We would welcome your reflections as well. You may post briefer comments as responses to these articles, or send your own article length reflections for possible publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Brad Whitt, Pastor, Temple Baptist Church, Simpsonville, SC
As I reflect on my time spent in Phoenix for this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention what sticks out most in my mind is how little actually sticks out in my mind. Apart from time spent fellowshipping with friends and making new ones, and my general love for worship and preaching, there was very little that excited my spirit or sparked my interest specific to SBC 2011.
I’ve been involved in planting a church in a frontier area and have heard a great deal about NAMB’s new church planting emphasis over the past year. Thus, there was nothing new or appealing in its presentation that would cause me to lead my church to increase our partnership with them. I also pastor a church that has been actively and personally involved in getting the Gospel to the far corners of the world for decades. So, we’ll no doubt continue doing what we’ve been doing.
The worship was fine. The spirit was cordial. The weather was hot. The food was good. In the end it was pretty much the way it was the last time we gathered there.