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Getting down to business: Charlotte pastor offers look at scheduling, logistics behind SBC meeting

Spence Shelton, lead pastor of Mercy Church in Charlotte, has served on the Committee on Order of Business for the SBC annual meeting for three years. He’s serving as the committee’s chairman for this year’s national meeting in New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Morgan Amanda Photography

Spence Shelton, lead pastor of Mercy Church in Charlotte, is serving as chair of the Committee on Order of Business for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans. After serving on the committee for the past three years, Shelton has had a front-row seat to what goes on regarding the scheduling and logistics behind the annual meeting.

The Biblical Recorder recently caught up with Shelton to ask him about what serving on the committee has been like, what he’s looking forward to in New Orleans and more. Here’s a transcript of that interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

First, what responsibilities does the Committee on Order of Business have before and during the annual meeting?

Our main responsibility is setting and facilitating the schedule for the two days we are officially “gaveled in” for the annual meeting. Everyone on the Committee on Order of Business (COB) shares the goal of putting together a schedule that will help Southern Baptists accomplish our meeting goals while feeling unified and optimistic about our cooperative effort to fulfill the Great Commission.

Take us behind the scenes. What’s something messengers may not know or may be surprised to know about the committee and its work?

The COB is really three separate teams rolled into one, which is what makes these committee members so impressive. Here’s a description and summary of those different roles.

1. Master-chef level planners. You may be surprised to know we start planning pretty much as soon as the previous year’s meeting ends. We debrief almost immediately, and by September, we already have rough drafts (yes, plural) of possible routes the annual meeting could take. We take input from our president, our entity leaders, our committee chairs, our parliamentarians who help us elect officers, and many more SBC leaders who will play a role in our annual meeting. We take all of their requests into consideration and plan those two days down to the minute.

2. Meeting facilitators. This same group who spent all year planning the meeting then spends the entire two days helping the president facilitate the meeting. (Ever wonder who those extras are on the side of the stage? That’s us!) We will arrive in New Orleans a couple of days before the meeting to get everything in order, to pray and to prepare for the Lord to guide us through this year’s convention.

3. Motion deliberators. After each session, the COB considers each motion presented by our messengers at the microphones. Our role is to help ensure each motion is given God-honoring care. We recognize that we, as the convention, are local church led, so we want to be thoughtful to ensure each motion by our local church messengers is thoughtfully and prayerfully considered. In that space, I want to strongly encourage anyone thinking about making a motion to come to our messenger training Monday, June 12, at 4:45 p.m. immediately following the afternoon session of the pastors’ conference.

All that to say, the COB has a full plate, and this particular group is honored to be able to serve Southern Baptists this way.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s meeting in New Orleans?

A couple of things stand out. The Sending Celebration led by the International Mission Board (IMB) is going to be a huge celebration. At our best, Southern Baptists are a Great Commission focused people. And though this celebration only lasts a few minutes, it represents years of mission-focused prayer and discipleship by so many of our local churches who are sending their people to reach the nations with the hope of Christ. Praise God!

I’m also looking forward to our president’s address. President Bart Barber embodies the best of who we are as Southern Baptists. He’s a faithful local church pastor who leads his church to give faithfully and generously in so many ways to the mission of the SBC. His spirit of optimism about what the Lord has in store for us is contagious, and I look forward to hearing what the Lord has put on his heart for our convention.

What memories will you take from serving on this committee?

I have been so impressed by the people selected to serve on this committee. They love Jesus and sacrifice time and energy to serve this convention of churches. Most of them are not pastors like myself who live in the ministry world. Most of our members are lay leaders in their churches who have brought their expertise into our committee’s operations and, I believe, made us really effective in carrying out our responsibilities.

It’s also been a joy to talk with a few of our entity heads like [IMB President] Paul Chitwood and [North American Mission Board President] Kevin Ezell and hear their hearts for reaching the lost. I can have a tendency from my seat in the big convention hall to think entity heads are inaccessible. That’s my own issue, of course. But it was wonderful to interact with such godly people who were gracious, kind and flexible in how their entities would be scheduled for this year’s meeting.

Based on your experience, how would you encourage N.C. Baptists to be involved
in Baptist life at the local, state and national levels?

I want to offer a simple principle that’s true for Southern Baptist life at all levels – decisions are made by those who show up. So I encourage you first to show up. Secondly, ask your local and state leaders how you can serve the advancement of the mission. They should have a good view of what God is doing in the area they are responsible for, and their vision may spark vision in your own heart and vice versa.

When it comes to the national level, I encourage you to pray, and as the Lord opens opportunities, keep your yes on the table. The COB was not necessarily where I thought I would ever serve. However, I had my yes on the table, and when I was asked to serve, I prayed through it and said, “Yes.” I love that our convention creates opportunities like the one I had for new voices to lead, and I hope many more will say “Yes” when called upon.

We had a wonderful year together on the COB, and the main reason why is because Southern Baptists nominated some incredible people to serve on this team. I hope you get a chance to meet a committee member or two while we are all together in New Orleans. They are wonderful, gifted people who have faithfully served.

I hope I’ve represented N.C. Baptists well in my role on the COB. I’d love to meet you at the convention this summer. And if you happen to make your way down front to the stage to say “Hey” during a break, I won’t be sad if you bring an extra beignet with you.

This article originally appeared in the June 2023 edition of the Biblical Recorder magazine.