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Association, church hold prep meetings for messengers prior to annual meeting

Lead Pastor Jason Wing leads a prep meeting for messengers of University Baptist Church in Beavercreek, Ohio, on June 3.

BEAVERCREEK, Ohio (BP) – ‘80s cultural icons prioritized being informed. School House Rock said knowledge is power. G.I. Joe reminded everyone that knowing is half the battle.

Southern Baptists will gather next week for their annual meeting, held this time at the New Orleans Convention Center. There will be reunions, totes full of giveaways and large amounts of N’awlins cuisine consumed, in addition to presentations, reports and votes over convention business.

When it comes to the latter, there’s also a good chance messengers from University Baptist Church will be better prepared than most.

Last year Jason Wing, UBC’s lead pastor, attended an associational gathering geared toward informing pastors about the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim.

“James Risner, our director for the Greater Dayton Association of Baptists, hosted it, and we were able to discuss the issues prior to the annual meeting,” Wing said. “It helped inform us pastors greatly and led me to think that our church should do one for our messengers.”

On June 3 Wing gave a 33-slide presentation to UBC’s 12 messengers. It included a list of “Foundational Things to Know” such as basics of the SBC, what to expect during business sessions and the role of messengers.

The group also talked through issues that will be in the discussion such as women pastors, the presidential election, the ARITF report and financial transparency. Attendees received resources such as an information packet and instructions on using the SBC Annual Meeting app.

University Baptist budgets the costs for its messengers. That includes using a travel agent to get deals for airlines and lodging. Their hotel is a seven-minute walk from the convention center.

When Wing became pastor at University Baptist in 2018, he had been in ministry for 16 years but had never attended an SBC annual meeting. That changed in 2021 when he went to Nashville.

“I learned a ton and it was exciting, but also complicated and confusing at points,” he said. “I even made a motion that was accepted to go to the next step. That was a fun experience and made me passionate about helping UBC messengers be educated and equipped for the meeting.”

That kind of feedback is confirmation for Risner on why he held such a gathering last year for pastors in his association, with principles based in Proverbs 11:14 and 15:22. 

“We’re a typical association with guys who are plugged into what is happening at the national level for the SBC and others who aren’t,” he said. “This is an informal gathering where our family of churches can support each other and talk about issues within the context of associational life.”

Conversations are completely different in person than online. That truth and other observations led Risner to leave Twitter 12 years ago.

Social media can be a “cesspool of mistrust,” he said. Even back then he noticed the negativity it could bring. The SBC annual meeting prep hosted by the association isn’t so much about bypassing the negatives of social media, though, as it is about putting a focus on real talk.

“We know and trust each other here,” he said. “An anti-institution mindset is divisive and identity politics is fueling a lot of controversy. We want to push back against fracturing and help churches rally around the Great Commission.”

The 90-minute gatherings are largely peer-led, with 15-20 having attended different ones. Lunch is included.

They talk through topics certain to be at the annual meeting, with Risner as a guide should they overlook anything worthy of discussion. Attendees – mostly pastors, but with other ministers and some lay leaders mixed in – share resources such as articles and podcasts.

Those conversations help determine what sources on SBC topics are trustworthy and which ones aren’t.

The response has been positive. “People like it and contribute,” said Risner.

The Greater Dayton Association of Baptists also hosts a post-annual meeting debrief a few weeks later.

“It helps guys get on the same page with the facts,” he said. “It’s also very helpful for pastors who want to give a report back to their church.”

The meeting prep isn’t about trying to sway others’ opinions or politicking but providing messengers the opportunity to be informed. The SBC has plenty of the former and could use more of the latter.

“When you’re in the room with somebody,” Risner said, “it changes the dynamic.”