Jesus prayed that His followers would be unified so that the world may know You sent Me (John 17:23). That prayer is desperately needed for our Convention today.
I will never forget Dr. Adrian Rogers' Convention message, "Unity in Diversity," during the early days of the Conservative Resurgence. We are once again in need of being reminded that we can do far more together than we can do alone. We are in need of unity; we must major on that which unites us and keep our distance from that which divides us. If not, what's at stake? The world will find it difficult to believe the Gospel, namely, that God sent Jesus Christ!
We are many members but one body (1 Corinthians 12:12). And in the SBC we are part of a denominational family — a group of people with a common confession and a common mission. As the Southern Baptist Convention determines together to turn the tide of decline and embraces God's heart for the nations, let's all rise to the occasion of coming together for His great glory and the Convention's greater good.
I, for one, am ready for a change — a positive change that calls us to build on our Conservative Resurgence and focus on building great churches, evangelizing the unsaved, reclaiming the wayward, taking the Gospel to the lost and the least, starting new churches, and sending several thousand new missionaries to the unengaged, unreached people groups of the world. And, if I can read the Convention messengers, they felt the same way in Indianapolis.
What are some of the things I would love to attempt to change through my time serving as SBC President?
First, I want us to bring the next generation of young leaders into an active participation in our Convention. We have lost much of a generation of pastors, and if we lose the younger generation, we have no future.
We have tried to "tell" them to come back, but to no avail. However, we need a new plan. Simply put, it is not working to "welcome" them and not "affirm" them. We have to acknowledge that many people are doing church differently in many contexts right here — we must acknowledge that you do not have to travel to Africa to find a different culture. North America is full of people who think differently, worship differently, and lead differently than my own generation. Paul would value this as diversity. We, as a Convention, are blessed with a wonderful group of godly, young pastors coming along behind us. And, if they share our confession and want to be in this partnership, it is high time we affirmed them and welcomed the diversity of scripturally sound ways that they do church in their context.
Second, I would like to increase attendance at our SBC annual meeting, beginning with Louisville, Kentucky. People have been voting with their feet, and they increasingly are voting that the Convention does not matter. Yet, I believe that the SBC should serve as our pre-game pep rally. It should be two of the most exciting days that we can possibly create. It should be a time of vision-casting — passion that fans the flame of our love for Jesus and His work, and that which causes us to leave asking, "How can I be more engaged?"
This is a big task, and trends are not good — the Convention annual meeting is getting older and smaller every year. However, I plan to write all our pastors and encourage them to attend, along with their slate of messengers, and talking to them about all the exciting reasons to come. Together, we can and should encourage all of our laity who love and support our denomination's vision to join us as guests, and we will use the Convention platform to honor those guests. I will ask our six seminary presidents to challenge all of our students to attend our Convention in order to become educated as to who we are and to also allow them to catch the vision.
Third, we need to increase Cooperative Program giving — increase our support to see our churches strengthened, churches planted, ministers trained, and missionaries mobilized to assist in reaching North America and every nation in the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we do these things, we can do so in unity with all of our churches bringing glory to God by living out God's mission in the world. How? By praying for and increasing our financial support through the Cooperative Program of the SBC. This vehicle distributes funds to do everything I just stated, and I want to see the funds increased so that these things can be done more effectively. We must do a much better job of telling the story of what God is doing through our churches and our denominational entities as we support them financially through the Cooperative Program. Oswald Smith said, "The light that shines the farthest shines the brightest at home."
To make that a reality, we need to do a better job of telling the story of Southern Baptists (and also make it a better story to tell). People are more apt to support a vision before a program. We must cast the vision for what we are about — cooperating together for the glory of God and redemption of the nations. The SBC is the tool; the Gospel is the goal.
How many churches are we trusting God to start? How many students are we trusting God to train in our colleges and seminaries? How many unengaged, unreached people do we plan to engage? How many new missionaries are we trusting God to send in any given year? I will lead my own church to give more to the Cooperative Program and will lead other churches as well, but I will also seek to encourage our state conventions to send more of the Cooperative Program to global missions and North American church planting. And, since that will take time, in the next few months I will seek to jump start it by doing all I all I can to help be an agent to increase the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering so that we give over $170,000,000 this Christmas!
Do you really believe that we can turn the tide? No! And neither do I. But God can! We, as Southern Baptists, need a fresh encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. We must get back to the place of putting a premium on seeking His face and experiencing the power of His hand. Second Chronicles 7:14 is still in our Bible and God is still on His throne. We need Him more than ever, and as we acknowledge our need of Him, I trust He will choose to answer our prayer and show Himself strong on behalf of our great Southern Baptist Convention.
I believe we stand at a crossroads. We can continue to fuss over minor issues or, as Dr. Rogers gave us the charge, we can unite with a common mission. The expectation of the Conservative Resurgence was that we would agree on enough doctrinally that we could focus on the nations — let's begin now, and let's do it together.
Please pray for me and all of our leadership as we join our hearts and hands in UNITY, based on a common confession and biblical fidelity, but a unity for His name sake!
President of the Southern Baptist Convention
Pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia