Editor’s note: Willie McLaurin is the interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee.
As far as I can remember, family reunions were a priority in our family. Being a North Carolina native, I remember the many road trips to Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, and Washington D.C. Those gatherings involved travel by automobile, on-the-go lunches prepared by my mother, and the backseat games my siblings and I played during the multi-hour drive.
Once arriving at the family reunion, it was so much fun to reconnect with family members we had not seen in a while. It is amazing how family members we had not seen in months engaged in conversation as if we had seen each other the day before. There was an immediate bond because we are family. There is a saying that says, “Blood is thicker than water.” Like other families, my family has a few crazy uncles, know-it-all cousins, and loving aunts who can run circles around any well-known culinary professional.
Family reunions have been an American tradition that has created a binding force to hold families together. When families attend reunions, they spend time tracing their roots, the uniqueness of their heritage, and what has shaped them into who they are today. Family reunions help to maintain cultural heritage even in uncertain and turbulent times.
The gathering of family is seen clearly throughout Scripture. A wonderful family reunion we read about in the scriptures is when Jacob, his sons and his sons’ families travel to Egypt to be reunited with Joseph. Jacob’s family was far from perfect. There was dysfunction going on as Jacob had loved Joseph more than his other children (Genesis 37:3). This led to his other children hating Joseph (Genesis 37:4). His other sons later sold Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:28). They lied to Jacob by deceiving him into thinking Joseph was dead (Genesis 37:31-33). This brought about intense heartache for Jacob, who bore the pain of thinking his beloved Joseph was dead for years.
Jacob gathers all the family, some 66 persons (Genesis 46:5-25, 26), and travels to Egypt. Joseph gathers the four people in his family, including himself, to meet them (Genesis 46:27). When Joseph and Jacob see each other again, they embrace and weep in a joy-filled reunion.
I have described the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting as the largest family reunion in North America. Thousands of family members from different churches across the country will arrive in New Orleans, Louisiana, to engage in the most prominent business meeting in the country. At least 11,000 family messengers have pre-registered for this Great Commission gathering. We cannot predict all that will take place at our family reunion this year, but here is what I am praying will happen:
In recent weeks, I have been studying the life and ministry of Bertha Smith. Bertha served as an IMB Missionary to China for 30 years. God used Bertha to help spark a spiritual awakening in China in 1920. As we move forward to our annual meeting, thousands of prayer intercessors, like Bertha Smith, are already saturating the SBC Annual Meeting in prayer. I am thankful for individuals whose names may never appear in the book of reports or the daily bulletin but are committed to the ministry of prayer.
On the Saturday before the annual meeting, hundreds of Baptists will saturate the city of New Orleans with prayer. During the SBC Annual Meeting, the Prayer Room will be available for individuals and groups to spend focused moments in prayer. Every session of the annual meeting begins and ends with prayer. We will gather for an SBC-wide Prayer Meeting on Sunday afternoon of the annual meeting. I pray that God will use this family reunion to spark a prayer revival at our convention.
No network of churches is without its challenges. If you ask any number of Southern Baptists what the challenges are, they will articulate those challenges from their culture, context or point of view. We need to ensure that as a network of churches, a network of Great Commission Baptists, we are unified around the core issues. We are unified around the Gospel. We are unified around the fact that there are people who are lost and on their way to hell, and they need Jesus. We are unified around the command that we must take the Gospel to our nations and our neighborhoods. I am anticipating that we will come out of the meeting in New Orleans having approved a budget for sending the largest missions force to the world. I am expecting a new slate of volunteers to serve Southern Baptists on several boards and committees.
Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds an authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom. For 178 years, churches across the country have partnered for Gospel advance. Many Baptists need the opportunity to interact physically with one another. Messengers will take time to renew relationships and reach across the aisles to develop new relationships. New Orleans is full of dining establishments where you can enjoy some of the most incredible cuisine in the country. Baptists are best when we fellowship around the table together. Messengers will take time to exchange contact information and then spend the next year cultivating loving relationships that will strengthen our work. Committing to pray for others will be a blessing to them and the larger convention.
“And let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).