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Barber encourages Southern Baptists to dwell on the beautiful in SBC life

SBC President Bart Barber gives his address to messengers at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans June 13. Photo by Jose Santiago

NEW ORLEANS (BP) – In his presidential address, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber implored Southern Baptists to dwell on the good and beautiful, even during challenging periods. Referencing what can at times be a raucous SBC social media conversation, he urged messengers to dwell upon the good God is doing through the Southern Baptist Convention.

Barber asked messengers to check their hearts about what stirs them, whether they become angry, bored or frustrated when they read good news about how God is using Southern Baptists.

“If you’re not sure about the state of your own heart, let me tell you, Google knows,” Barber said. “Facebook knows. Twitter knows. The algorithm knows. It watches every time you click ‘like.’ Santa Claus has nothing on Facebook. It knows when you’ve been sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve liked bad or good. If your social media feed is a constant barrage of criticism and conspiracy, what social media is giving you is a mirror image of the sense of taste that you have cultivated.”

Barber, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, preached from Philippians 4:8-9, focusing on the passage’s commands to imitate the ways of Paul and dwell on specific truths in order to receive peace that God promises in the passage.

The Texas pastor noted Southern Baptists already do many of the activities Paul did in the New Testament, such as planting churches, training pastors and warning of doctrinal drift.

“Doing all of the things that Paul did doesn’t seem to be, all by itself, any guarantee that we will experience the overwhelming presence and peace of God,” Barber said. “We as Southern Baptists are trying to do all of those things. We are committed to doing all of those things. But sometimes the peace-giving presence of God seems hard to find in our family of churches.”

Barber suggested that both parts of the text are important.

“Maybe doing the right things only guarantees that peace will rule over us if we are also dwelling on the right things,” Barber said.

Noting Philippians 4:8-9 is all about aesthetics, which he described as the study of beauty and taste, he told messengers that they had their own philosophy of what is beautiful. A Christian’s aesthetic tastes drive him or her to dwell on “one thing versus another.”

“God is calling us to dwell on the right things – to have a distinctively Christian sense of taste,” Barber said.

But, Barber contended, the Christian sense of taste was impacted by the fall and needs to be cultivated and trained. He then dug into the kinds of specific things Christians should dwell upon, as Paul described in the passage.

With more than 47,000 churches in the convention, Barber said Southern Baptists can find examples of both good and bad. Look long enough, he says, and you’ll find “immoral monsters and weak-kneed compromisers.” But alongside those, Southern Baptists will find those faithfully serving Christ in variety of different capacities throughout North America and around the world.

“They’re standing firm in the faith when all of the world is marching in the different directions,” Barber said. “Every bit of that is there to see. The question is, ‘Do you want to see it? Do you have a taste for seeing it or do you find it attractive? Or are you disinterested?’”

Barber said that dwelling on what’s good doesn’t mean ignoring problems within the Convention. He referenced the ministries of Jesus and Paul and their practice of pairing criticisms with praise.

“God is trying to accomplish something far more fundamentally important than spin control and public relations,” Barber said. “He’s trying to retrain our hearts and reform our tastes and help us not to miss the beautiful things when they’re right under our noses. He wants us to see them there to appreciate them, to meditate upon them, and dwell upon them in our consideration.”

Barber ended his presidential address, which came just two days after his mother’s death, with the story of how his mother taught him about finding the beauty in people. He described a poor family whose car broke down on the edge of their Lake City, Ark., community. A service station owner and deacon at his family’s church called Barber’s mom and asked if she could help them.

Barber says the family became his mom’s new project. She found them a place to live, food, furniture, and clothing. She also built a relationship with the family and helped assimilate them into the church. All the members eventually came to faith in Jesus. The children earned college degrees, matured as believers, and now live as successful, healthy adults.

“It’s so easy to become callous, but my mom never did,” Barber said. “She learned to see the beauty in the people around her and because of that, she changed people’s lives. I miss her today. She passed away, but her legacy lives on.”


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  • Tobin Perry