Editor's note: During his first year as president of the Convention, Bryant Wright encouraged Southern Baptists to return to their first love and called for a radical reprioritization of missions and evangelism, including reaching 3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups. In his second term, Wright focused on the Convention's name as a potential barrier to evangelism in some parts of the country, recommending an alternative "descriptor," Great Commission Baptists. He has now announced this year's theme, "Jesus: To the Neighborhood and the Nations." SBC LIFE recently asked Wright a few questions about his hopes for this year's annual meeting in New Orleans.
SBCLIFE: What led you to "Jesus: to the neighborhood and the nations" as this year's theme?
Wright: Well, obviously Jesus' Great Commission, especially as described in Acts 1:8, begins with the focus on Jerusalem and the disciples spreading out to the uttermost parts of the earth. And initially I was thinking about "from the neighborhoods to the nations" because of that. But we have carefully chosen the wording "to the neighborhood and the nations" to emphasize the both/and component of the Great Commission. Sometimes people feel like it's either/or—that they must focus on those at home to the neglect of those in the uttermost parts, and sometimes people are so focused on the uttermost part that they neglect their own neighborhood, their own local mission field. So, we felt that some people think unless they are reaching their neighborhood first they don't have the right to focus on going to the nations. This is a specifically-worded theme. Christ is clear. We are to focus on both. It is not either/or. It is both/and. They ought to be our focus all the time.
SBCLIFE: The verse you selected for this year's theme is from Luke 24. What led you to use this version of the Great Commission rather than the more frequently used Acts 1:8?
Wright: Part of the beauty of Scripture is to look at parallel teachings in different parts of Scripture. It gives us a sense of freshness, an understanding of what Jesus is teaching us. Lord willing, I intend to preach on this expression of the Great Commission in my Convention sermon. And I think it just allows us to expound more fully on the very crisp, clear mission Jesus gives us in Acts 1:8.
SBCLIFE: How do you anticipate the theme will be highlighted during the annual meeting program?
Wright: I will be focusing on the theme in my message and I know that David Uth and the Convention sermon will be focusing on this theme as well. As was the case last year in Phoenix, the whole Convention will have a missional focus. The IMB report will focus on reaching the nations, with a special emphasis on reaching unreached, unengaged people groups. NAMB will focus on reaching our neighborhoods and our nation through church planting. So, the theme will be highlighted through the whole focus of the Convention.
SBCLIFE: What encouraging signs do you see in the initiatives you have introduced to Southern Baptists during your tenure as president of the SBC?
Wright: I think our original focus to return to our first love and having that radical reprioritization on fulfilling the Great Commission by reaching unengaged, unreached people groups is still the major focus. But the study of the potential name change as a barrier to evangelism in the United States now allows us to really focus our descriptor on what our mission is. At the same time, it allows those who feel it will enhance their mission to identify themselves with the descriptor Great Commission Baptists if they feel a regional focus of "Southern" is limiting what they do. I have been receiving encouraging words from our entity leaders that they are already beginning to plan and think about how that descriptor can be incorporated in what they do if the Convention supports it. Eventually that will have a huge impact on it filtering down to the local church and especially in the church planting movement. But, time will tell if the Holy Spirit really leads us in this area. It certainly created unity in the Task Force and there was an overwhelming approval of it by the Executive Committee. So, I hope it will be approved at the Convention in June.
SBCLIFE: In light of the theme you have chosen, what do you hope messengers will carry away from this year's annual meeting?
Wright: That there will be passion for carrying out Christ's Great Commission, a radical reprioritization of Christ's Great Commission. I'm praying this will be Spirit-led, just a powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit as we focus on carrying out Christ's Great Commission in a unified spirit.