NASHVILLE (BP) — I played sports my entire childhood. Of all the life lessons I learned, one stands out: The worst place on the team is that metal torture device called the bench.
My freshman year of football, in a district championship game with our biggest rival, I watched the other team score the winning touchdown on special teams, which I didn’t play. I was devastated by the loss, especially because I wasn’t on the field to help my team to victory.
Around this time, I became a Christian at a Southern Baptist church in Irving, Texas. Soon after, I was discipled by a conservative Methodist pastor and started my vocational ministry as a Methodist youth pastor. Though my Christian life began at a Baptist church and shifted to a Methodist church, it was years before I felt like I had a denominational “team.”
A year into my youth pastorate at the Methodist church, I began to reevaluate my theological and ecclesiological convictions. In the end, I became a convictional Baptist and set off to school at a Baptist university. I finally felt at home.
But as we all know, home is often a place of comfort and discontent. I became a Baptist due to the sheer missional power of the Cooperative Program, the orthodox but broad theological confession of the Baptist Faith and Message, and the insistence on church government that includes and considers the congregation.
But it didn’t take long for a cynical 20-something to see the warts in the SBC. For all the good of the unifying intent of the Cooperative Program and Baptist Faith and Message, I saw what I perceived to be infighting and people insistent upon division. I saw corners of the SBC who cared little about theological integrity and/or robust ecclesiology.
My temperament about the “institution” of the convention was one of division — even though a sense of disunity is what concerned me. I was adding to the problem, not trying to help.
But once I began attending the SBC annual meeting and state convention events a few years ago, I quickly realized that what makes the SBC great is not simply theology or ecclesiology or cooperative missions; the SBC is also great because it is built for participation. The fact that any messenger can walk up to a microphone and address the convention results in some unusual moments to be sure, but it also represents a beautiful truth: The SBC is by the people and for the people. When we say we are a fellowship of cooperating congregations, we really mean it. We are not given top-down instructions from on high, but rather are given the chance to make real change.
This potential for involvement led me to a conviction I never expected: I can sit on the sidelines and complain about what I perceive to be issues in the SBC, or I can get in the game and help my team — my family — move the ball down the mission field. I realized that for every complaint I had about my denomination, I had not equaled that sentiment with engagement and action.
If you are like me, a Southern Baptist who loves his or her denomination and wants to be an agent for change, here are two ways I would encourage you to do that:
Get involved in state and national conventions.
This is perhaps the most painstaking commitment to make. Some convention business meetings can seem boring and unimportant, especially for the uninitiated who don’t understand them. But the business meetings are crucial to the life of the convention. Last year, we had proceedings that led to advancement in the SBC’s relations with minorities and refugees. Every year, there are important votes from the floor that require messengers’ involvement. This coming year, for example, a new SBC president will be elected, which is always a chance to understand where the convention is and what values might be highlighted moving forward.
Moreover, state and city/area conventions and Baptist associations engage in significant mission work, community renewal and pastoral care. Go find yours to inquire about getting involved. You might find yourself supporting a church plant, building houses for the less fortunate or providing for the financial needs of a struggling church in your city.
Get involved with denominational institutions and initiatives.
As Trevin Wax, with the Christian Standard Bible, said several years ago, younger Southern Baptists underestimate the power of institutions. This is why — according to Trevin and with full agreement from me — attendance has been spotty at annual meetings. Technically, the Southern Baptist Convention exists two days per year (during the annual meeting), but the denomination exists in smaller institutions and initiatives such as the SBC’s seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and mission boards — and the Cooperative Program that supports them. Though it receives no CP funding, LifeWay Christian Resources also operates year-round as an institution built to resource churches and support convention initiatives.
A few ways to get involved in these institutions and initiatives include giving to a church engaged with the Cooperative Program; purchasing books and curriculum from LifeWay; attending conferences organized by the North American Mission Board, ERLC or other Baptist entities; or attending a Baptist college or seminary.
The SBC has ample opportunities for younger Christians to get involved and make a difference. Let’s strap on our helmets and get in the game.