NASHVILLE (BP) – The 2023 Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention is both a snapshot of the current moment in Southern Baptist life and a story about the past and the future of Southern Baptist work, said SBC Recording Secretary Nathan Finn, who’s fairly new to the job.
The 564-page annual – a record of the proceedings and reports from the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans – is now available in hard copy and in a searchable online format at sbc.net.
Finn, who is director of the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University, took over from John Yeats, the now-retired executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, who served in the recording secretary role for 25 years. And while Finn has been to many SBC annual meetings, he’s never had such a monumental job to do while there.
He’s always been aware of what’s going on at the meetings, but in New Orleans he was “paying attention on a deeper level than I had paid attention before,” he said.
But he was not alone in his efforts to accurately record the proceedings.
“Like Dr. and Mrs. Yeats, my wife Leah helped me,” he said. “We had a lot of fun together, working with the [SBC Executive Committee] staff to figure out a rhythm.” EC staff members Andy Beachum and Madison Burnette also helped put the book together.
“It was fun to have a front row seat for everything that was happening,” Finn said.
And it wasn’t just what happened those two days in June that deepened the experience for Finn.
“It was very informative to be in a position to have to go back after the meeting and rewatch everything,” he said. “To sit there the whole time physically and then come back a few weeks later and rewatch everything – I understand and appreciate so much more about how we work than I did before.”
Finn believes the annual is an important resource for all Southern Baptists. “[It’s] giving us a snapshot, and it’s telling a story,” he said.
The annual is “the best place to go to see who Southern Baptists are – all the organizational information. But it’s also telling a story … the decisions being made, the resolutions, where Southern Baptists stand on XYZ at any given time. …
“[It’s] the story of who we’ve been and who we’re trying to be and who we want to be.”
Like in every annual, the 2023 entity reports are important entries. They help Southern Baptists “appreciate the kingdom work” the entities are doing and “help us hold them accountable,” Finn said.
Another must-read for Finn is the convention sermon, which was included in the records of early SBC annual meetings. After a long stretch of not including the text of the convention sermon in the annual, Southern Baptists revived the practice about 12 years ago. It’s important to see what the person, voted on by messengers to deliver the sermon, has to say, Finn said.
A few things stand out for Finn in the 2023 annual.
“Folks are going to be very interested in the proceedings and the decision on the three churches removed from fellowship,” Finn said.
“I also think many people will be interested in the motions that led to the creation of the cooperation group and the task force that’s looking at the [Great Commission Resurgence] and what the fruit of that is.”
Readers will also want to read about Southern Baptists’ continuing response to sexual abuse, he said.
“The last couple of annuals and probably the next couple of annuals as well,” Finn said, show messengers “responding to these terrible things that have happened in Southern Baptist churches, and we’re still trying to get it right.”
Other highlights include the first resolution by a faith group related to artificial intelligence as well as what Finn called “two complementary resolutions” – one affirming the historical Baptist position on the role of bishop/elder/pastor being reserved for men and one affirming women’s roles in fulfilling the Great Commission.
What Finn called a “perfect storm” of events delayed the release of this edition of the annual, which usually comes out in time for the September meeting of the SBC Executive Committee.
“This has been a time of transition in Southern Baptist life,” he said. “We have a new recording secretary. We have some new staff at the Executive Committee, and the Executive Committee is understaffed. And one of the key leaders on the Executive Committee staff, Jonathan Howe, necessarily needed to step into a more significant leadership role.”
He stressed, however, that this schedule is not the “new normal;” he expects the 2024 annual will be ready this fall.