Six months have passed since we gathered in New Orleans for the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. At this halfway point between New Orleans and Indianapolis, here is an update on the activities of the Convention.
The Southern Baptist Convention will gather in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 11-12, 2024. I have selected a theme for that meeting. The theme arises out of Romans 15:5-6 (CSB), which reads “Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.”
This section of the Book of Romans deals explicitly with how we should treat brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we have theological differences. Of course, there are many other passages that explain how we should correct theological differences, discipline bad behavior, oppose divisive personalities, and teach the truth with boldness. It seems to me that one of the most prominent tasks before Southern Baptists at this moment is our need to fasten ourselves to the truth with chains that cannot be broken without abandoning the biblical mandate to “please [our] neighbor,” “live in harmony,” “welcome one another,” and “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (all these are quotes from this section of Romans 15).
Will you join me, as we approach Indianapolis, in praying toward this end?
You asked me to reappoint one committee and to appoint two new committees. I have made those appointments, and the resulting committees are hard at work.
The Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) is under the leadership of North Carolina Pastor Josh Wester. They issue periodic updates about their work, which you can find at https://sbcabuseprevention.com/updates. Their efforts represent the commitment of our broader Convention to help make our churches safe places for survivors and the vulnerable and safe from abuse.
Since assuming the role of SBC president, I have learned on nearly a weekly basis, including in recent weeks, of the great need our churches and institutions have for meaningful assistance with preventing and responding to sexual abuse. The work of the ARITF is aimed at providing long-term solutions to meet these needs to ensure our churches and entities have proactively sought to prevent abuse and are prepared to care and respond appropriately in light of any instance of abuse.
At the same website you will find the “Ministry Toolkit.” I urge every pastor and every church to look carefully at this material, which contains helpful guidance for your church related to abuse prevention and response.
I also appointed the Cooperation Group, chaired by Texas Pastor Jared Wellman. You instructed me to appoint this group to study and make recommendations regarding the meaning of “friendly cooperation” in the Convention’s governing documents. This group also has its own website for updates. The Cooperation Group has completed their “research phase” and is moving toward the development of recommendations. The research phase included conducting a Convention- wide survey of opinions about the present state of cooperation and of the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperation Group is on track to announce recommendations well in advance of the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. The work of this group is very important. It addresses the beating heart of the Southern Baptist Convention – the cooperative spirit of our churches and of all of the institutions in the Southern Baptist family. Without formal or legal connectionalism, we pursue the work of the Great Commission. This only happens because we choose to cooperate with one another. Reiterating the heart and spirit of that cooperative ideal is the great task of this moment in our family of independent, autonomous churches.
The third ad-hoc committee that I have appointed is the Great Commission Resurgence Evaluation Task Force, chaired by Louisiana pastor Jay Adkins, who is also the first vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention. They somehow did not get the memo that every committee’s first job is to set up their own website (smiley face here), but Vice-President Adkins reports that their work is well underway. At this point, they have done a lot of reading. They are planning to conduct interviews with key leaders who have been involved in or affected by the implementation of the GCR recommendations. Like the other committees, they believe that they are working at a pace that will enable them to bring their report and recommendations in advance of the annual meeting in Indianapolis in June 2024.
Will you please pray for all these committees? Each has an important job. The biblical fidelity and godly wisdom that they apply to their work will affect the future of our cooperative work. It serves us all very well to pray regularly for God to guide them.
The President of the Southern Baptist Convention appoints four committees every year: the Registration Committee, the Committee on Committees, the Tellers and the Committee on Resolutions. I am happy to report to you that work to populate those committees is well underway.
I have published an online form that you can use to recommend people to serve on any of these committees. The recommendation form will remain open until 12 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2024. I encourage you to make recommendations for people to serve.
After you make a recommendation, the person you recommended will receive an email inviting them to complete a second form – an application to serve on a committee. The purpose of this application form is both to make sure that the person you have recommended is willing to serve and to gather information from the person you have recommended that will help me to evaluate whether they meet the requirements of the various bylaws that govern committee appointment. The information on the application form will also help me to report back to you the demographic data that you have requested your SBC presidents to provide about our appointments.
The governing documents of the SBC do not require me to solicit your input in making these appointments, but I am delighted to do so. Those governing documents do require me to consult with other SBC officers in making these appointments (different officers for different committees). I have invited the respective officers to provide a score on a numeric scale for each of the applicants. I will take their rankings into consideration when I make my appointments.
Here are some up-to-date statistics about those who have completed applications so far:
- 4 out of 10 people who have been recommended have not completed an application form.
- The following state conventions are those from which no one has applied to serve on a committee:
- The Alaska Baptist Resource Network
- The Dakota Baptist Convention
- The Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention
- The Montana Southern Baptist Convention
- The Baptist Convention of New Mexico
- The Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico
- The West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists
- The Wyoming Southern Baptist Mission Network
- Men comprise 93.09 percent of the applicants; women comprise 6.91 percent.
- The ethnic breakdown of applicants is as follows:
- White/Caucasian: 87.91 percent
- Black: 0.93 percent
- Hispanic: 4.65 percent
- Asian-American: 4.19 percent
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 2.33 percent
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0 percent
- The self-reported average Cooperative Program giving percentage of the current applicants is 7.4 percent.
- The self-reported average size (weekly attendance) of the churches represented by the current applicants is 453.
The deadlines for the appointment of these committees all fall in the second half of the presidential year. Time remains for you to make recommendations, but the window of time for doing that is closing. Again, the form will remain open until 12 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2024.
One of these committees is the Committee on Resolutions. I will announce the makeup of that committee ahead of the other committees. In New Orleans, the messengers adopted changes to the work of the Committee on Resolutions. From now on, the committee will publish its report, complete with its proposed resolutions, in advance of the annual meeting. This change will give each messenger time to read the proposed resolutions, think about them, and pray before voting. Because of this change, the Committee on Resolutions will need to commence its work earlier than it has in the past.
Planning for the annual meeting
As a member of the Committee on Order of Business, I have been engaged in planning the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. The committee has already done a lot of work. Official announcements from the committee will come in due course as we approach the date of our gathering. Much of their work is still in the “wet cement” stage; therefore, little can be reported at this time.
I will, nevertheless, give you this unofficial announcement: Although I cannot promise what they will do with my recommendation, I have asked the committee to consider adding a Tuesday evening session to the annual meeting in Indianapolis. It has been a frequent request from the messenger body to allow more time for us to conduct our business. This year, with three ad-hoc committees reporting to the messenger body in addition to all our normal business, it is my belief that we will find it difficult to conduct all our work within the time afforded by only four business sessions. If they should see the wisdom of my recommendation, we would have business sessions on Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon.
I have recommended that we schedule during the Tuesday evening session the reports of the ad-hoc committees that I have named above. I also think it could be a good idea to schedule the presidential election during that session. None of the sessions will be sessions to skip. You’ve come all that way to Indianapolis just to attend these meetings! Plan to attend! And, indeed, you did a great job of attending throughout the meeting in New Orleans. Thank you for that.
Again, I do not have the authority to set this schedule. It is the job of the Committee on Order of Business to prepare the schedule for the Annual Meeting, and I am but one member of that committee. That fact notwithstanding, it seems prudent to me to make you aware of this recommendation on my part very early. I know that some of you are already scheduling ancillary events. Some of these are formal meetings that will take place in a ballroom at the convention hotel. Others are informal social gatherings at Chick-fil-A. Before you confirm any of those plans, I want to give you early notice that we may have a Tuesday evening session at which we will conduct important Convention business.
It is an honor to serve the family of churches that led me to Christ, helped me to discern my calling to pastoral ministry, provided me with a good theological education, and gave me so many enduring friendships. Thank you for the joy of serving you. I look forward to seeing you in Indianapolis.