ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber shared his optimistic outlook for the future as he visited the offices of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) Wednesday (Sept. 6).
“I’m going to predict that spiritual awakening is coming for America, and that we’re going to have the opportunity to benefit from that and participate in that, and it’s not just wishful thinking,” Barber said in response to a question from NAMB president Kevin Ezell about the future of the SBC. “As a student of our history, the spiritual awakenings that we’ve had before have come in times of profound darkness. Just because that feels like a trend right now doesn’t mean that we’re stuck in that.”
Ezell hosted Barber during an all-staff meeting Wednesday and again Thursday, (Sep. 7) during a gathering of associational mission strategists.
In describing the challenges facing the next generation, Barber described their situation as inheriting a “raw deal.” He referred to statistics that show how 46 percent of adolescents today are reporting that they consistently deal with feelings of anxiety and depression.
“They’re unhappy with what their culture has handed to them,” Barber said. “There’s going to be a profound opportunity to point them toward answers to the longings and questions that they face, and that’s always [been] there. But, I think it’s going to come in a deeper, more profound way. I think that Southern Baptist churches are going to be one group of churches that are still around actually preaching the Gospel whenever that moment comes. I’m optimistic about where things are headed.”
Before speaking to the future of the SBC, Ezell asked Barber to share more about what the last year and half have been like serving as president, and Barber discussed the joy of meeting Southern Baptists from across the nation. Hundreds of people and churches have sent him messages of encouragement, letting him know that they have been praying for him.
But neither Ezell nor Barber shied away from the ongoing challenges facing the SBC.
“There have been some ways that God has blessed us amazingly over the last couple of years, but there have also been some obvious ways that God’s hand that’s on the SBC to bless the SBC, is also on the SBC to humble the SBC,” Barber said. “Serving in a time like that poses some additional challenges.”
Despite the challenges, however, Barber maintains that the SBC remains the best way for Baptist churches to partner together for the sake of the Great Commission.
“Over the course of time, we have repeatedly found reasons to cooperate instead of reasons to separate,” Barber said of the history of Southern Baptists. “There have always been reasons to separate from the beginning … but even with reasons to separate in front of us all the time, God’s continually led us to reasons to cooperate that have overcome the reasons to separate.”
Barber called the SBC’s Cooperative Program “genius” and went on to use the church he pastors, First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, as an example of how a congregation in a small town supports missionaries around the world and can travel to serve alongside and learn from those on the mission field.
“Even the things that we do on our own,” said Barber of FBC Farmersville, “are enhanced and made stronger, made wiser and more efficient, by the fact that we’re able to draw from the knowledge, planning, encouragement and training that comes out of this thing we’ve all built together. It’s a beautiful, I believe divinely inspired and planted, thing that’s going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Before closing the meeting, former SBC president and current president of Send Relief, Bryant Wright, prayed over Barber and the days ahead for the Southern Baptist Convention.