The Southern Baptist Convention's 1997 annual meeting in Dallas will make its share of history, with the launch of the SBC's new North American Mission Board among the highlights.
'We're going to celebrate a lot of things when we meet together," said SBC President Tom Elliff. Yet he described as "uppermost" a yearning for "God to meet with us in such a remarkable fashion that, when all is said and done, we would come away gripped with a sense of urgency that we are closer than ever to the return of Christ … a sense of urgency for reaching the world with the message of Christ."
Urgency is reflected in the theme of the June 17-19 SBC annual meeting, To the Cross at the Dallas Convention Center, the 140th session in the 152-year history of the nation's largest evangelical body.
Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City Okla., said he is praying for "a revived fellowship, a convention sold out to God and sold out to His purposes, willing to follow Him wherever, at whatever the cost."
The vision for NAMB's role in advancing the evangelization of North America will be the focus of a 30-minute presentation Wednesday morning, June 18, including NAMB presidential nominee Robert Reccord and other live speakers as well as multimedia segments. Reccord currently is pastor of First Baptist Church, Norfolk, Va.
Elliff hosted other facets of the SBC meeting anticipated to add to this year's spiritual thrust:
• a time of covenant between the six SBC seminaries and the convention at large Tuesday evening, which Elliff said will underscore "the sense of sanctity and sense of adventure of the call of God." Messengers will be given an overview of each seminary's history and vision, and each president will recount his call to ministry The presidents will sign a covenant of faithfulness to SBC churches and Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, will preach on "The Cross and the Call." A musical presentation on the Word of God will begin the evening's special emphasis.
• a time of missions challenge Wednesday evening, including various individuals from overseas and U.S. pioneer missions fields whom Elliff described as "folks whose lives have been remarkably touched by God" through SBC ministries and who God is now using to reach people in their respective regions. Additionally, Adrian Rogers, former SBC president and pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., will preach on "The Cross Over the World," with the evening's music to feature a choir assembled from churches in the Dallas and Tarrant County Baptist associations, perhaps the largest choir ever assembled for an SBC session.
• a celebration of SBC ethnicity Thursday morning, including a Bible study by Ledtkey R. McIntosh, Native American pastor of Glorieta Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, and a sermon by international evangelist Luis Palau.
One issue of intense interest during this year's SBC will be whether Southern Baptists vote to boycott the Walt Disney Company.
In a widely publicized resolution last year, messengers called on Southern Baptists to boycott Disney if the company refuses to change the increasingly "anti-Christian and anti-family trend" in its corporate decisions.
The SBC resolution asked the Christian Life Commission "to monitor Disney's progress in returning to its previous philosophy of producing enriching family entertainment."
CLC President Richard Land said April 9 he will make a report to the SBC Resolutions Committee. For now, he said, the monitoring is continuing. Disney's latest foray into the nation's culture wars is the Disney-owned ABC sitcom Ellen which presents network TV's first openly homosexual lead character.
In business sessions, messengers will act on a proposed record SBC budget of $148 million in Cooperative Program support for more than 4,200 missionaries working among 336 people groups in 127 countries and 4,800 home missionaries across the United States.
The new NAMB formally will be launched in an organizational trustee meeting June 19 after the convention adjourns. Thus, this year's SBC annual meeting will bid farewell to the Home Mission Board, Brotherhood Commission and Radio and Television Commission — the three agencies merging to form NAMB — along with several other SBC entities closing under the convention's Covenant for a New Century restructuring, such as the Historical, Stewardship, and Education Commissions.
A Thursday morning video will recap each outgoing agency's history accomplishments and prayers for the SBC's sharpened Great Commission focus for the 21st century.
The restructuring, initially approved at the 1995 meeting in Atlanta, reduces the number of SBC agencies from 19 to 12 and, according to SBC officials, will provide an estimated monetary savings of approximately $34-$41 million over five years to be made available for evangelism and church planting.
As has become the tradition at these large once-a-year meetings, "Crossover Dallas an evangelistic blitz of the metropolitan area, will precede the SBC sessions as will a host of other meetings such as the Pastor's Conference and the Woman's Missionary Union annual meeting.
SBC President Elliff will be nominated for a traditional second one-year term. A previously announced challenger, Texas bivocational minister of music Dan Bates, said April 7 he will not be a nominee.
Elliff is the ninth SBC president since 1979, the year the denominational direction some call the "conservative resurgence" began. His presidential address will be Tuesday morning; the first election of officers will be at 2:20 that afternoon.
The convention sermon will be delivered Wednesday morning by the CLC's Land, who has titled his message, "The Watchmen and the Vision," based on Jeremiah 6:13-17 and Proverbs 29:18.
The convention's music director will be James D. "Jim" Whitmire, minister of music at Bellevue Baptist Church.
Moderating the six sessions of the annual meeting will be Elliff; First Vice President Bob Anderson, retired pastor of Parkview Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, La.; and Second Vice President Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans.
A shuttle discount between a number of downtown Dallas hotels and the Dallas Convention Center aboard the DART/Light Rail System will be available for $8 for four days, while shuttle service between Market Center-area hotels and the convention center will be available at a cost of $10 for four days, $8 for three days.
Organizers said hotel rooms are still available in the Dallas area, but to guarantee reservations the SBC housing form needs to be returned. Messengers who had reservations for the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, which unexpectedly canceled its Sl3C room block in March, are being relocated to other hotels.
Food service is planned in the convention center for lunches and dinners at reasonable prices, a spokesman said, and DART/Light Rail Service will be convenient to a number of restaurants m the West End area of Dallas.
Dear Southern Baptist Friend,
Our annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will be marked with historic significance. As we gather in Dallas, Texas, we will (1) Approve our largest ever Cooperative Program budget; (2) Give birth to the North American Mission Board which will guide our future efforts in reaching this continent for Christ; (3) Hear the reports of record giving to our Cooperative Program and special missions offerings; (4) Rejoice at the testimonies of God's moving through our rapidly expanding mission force; (5) Marvel at the record enrollment of our seminaries; (6) Give thanks for the increasing strength of our boards and agencies and (7) Chart a visionary course for the years to tome.
But there is another matter which I pray will grip our hearts as We gather in Dallas. Will you pray with me that God will meet with us to bring a spiritual awakening which will sweep our great nation? That continues to be the desperate need of the hour.
Our theme, To The Cross, will serve as a reminder that "the preaching of the cross … is the power of God." As we gather, I am praying that the "cross" will be ever in our minds. Our convention will be called to renew our surrender to the Savior and our commitment to follow Him … wherever!
Please pray with me that the very atmosphere will be charged with an awesome sense of the presence of God. Pray that there will be a uniting of our hearts as we worship Him. Pray that each person attending will experience a genuine, life-changing encounter with the Savior who died for us and is now risen to bring light and life to the nations.
And when the meeting comes to a close, pray that it will be rightly said that never, ever have Southern Baptists gathered with such an intense focus on the Savior and His mission for us in this world's closing hours. Will you pause just now and join me in that prayer?
Thomas D. Elliff
President, Southern Baptist Convention