Thoughts on the SBC 2009, Take Two
Now that I have had a day to recover from my SBC travels I offer a little more detailed set of thoughts on this year’s SBC and its significance:
1. I believe history will show this to be a significant turning point in our convention. This reminded me a lot of my first annual SBC, 1985 in Dallas. That was a watershed event during the Conservative Resurgence as this is for the Great Commission Resurgence. And I am happy to say we embraced a GCR with the same zeal as the CR. Overwhelmingly messengers spoke with a single voice, a voice focused on the gospel and the future. I pray all of us who love Jesus and His good news will work together to reach our neighbors and the nations.
2. This is the convention in which leadership has been fully transferred from the first generation Conservative Resurgence leadership (roughly those courageous leaders over 60 who led from 1979 until recently) to the 2nd generation. While some earlier presidents (Merritt, Graham, Page, for instance) belong to the 2nd gen, the convention as a whole had been thoroughly first generation in its leadership. Thank God for those who paved the way for where we are now, but I would argue the greatest generational divide has actually been between 1st and 2nd gen leaders in recent days. This year the SBC spoke clearly that the values of the 2nd gen built on the 1st gen but look forward — inerrancy of Scripture, biblical fidelity, great commission focus, methodological diversity, theological unity based on essentials, a love for younger leaders, church planting, the nations, to name a few — also became the values of the SBC meeting.
Leaders including Thom Rainer, Al Mohler, Jeff Iorg, Danny Akin, Ed Stetzer, Geoff Hammond, and Johnny Hunt (among many more) led well in various ways. In addition, Ed Litton put together what many have called the greatest pastors conference of our time. This convention allowed younger men to be involved at a new pace, including speakers like J.D. Greear and David Platt, the latter of whom spoke at the PC and the SBC.
But there was more than the baton finally being passed (that was for you, Johnny). We also witnessed the rise of new statesmen. Johnny Hunt demonstrated the qualities of a statesman. More than a few underestimated his ability to lead, but lead he did, and we followed. He brought together various constituencies around a common vision central to Scripture–the Great Commission. He stood above the minor contentiousness and division and led us well, and we have followed. In addition, Al Mohler stood as more than the intellectual giant that he is; he stood as a leader pleading for that which can bring us together if we will ever be together — the gospel. And my president, Danny Akin, has shown such courage to tackle tough and often divisive issues from Calvinism to the emerging church, faced criticism with grace and conviction, and humbly stood beside Johnny Hunt in the call for a Great Commission Resurgence. I have said for some time that I know of no greater leader personally in our day than Danny Akin. These three men have risen above the fray and stood tall. I would also note Frank Page for his brief but vital role in the passage of the GCR task force motion.
3. A flattened world has arrived. Southern Baptists are as likely to get information via twitter or blogs as the established media. I could not help but see the irony in the convention with the plans of a few to sidetrack the discussion on issues unrelated to who we really are. Some interesting motions (correctly dealt with by the Parliamentarian) came Tuesday morning. The irony is that those being named in these few motions were obviously and overwhelmingly those who have led in what the convention affirmed:
–Ed Stetzer, whose views on SBC decline were clearly acknowledged as accurate and timely, the contrarian position argued and summarily rejected by the established media;
–Danny Akin, who chaired the resolutions committee, spoke at the SBC, and helped craft the document leading to the call for the GCR.
A minor touch of irony came in that John Marshall of Missouri brought the convention message (at least some will get the irony of that) and brought a message that nailed firmly the conviction affirmed by messengers that witch hunts and clandestine attempts to shape the future of the SBC can no longer succeed in a flat world where information is so readily available. No, if you will lead in the days to come you will need to do what I was taught as a young leader: tell the truth and trust the people.
The future of the SBC now belongs to those who can openly, publicly, and biblically articulate a vision for the glory of God and the sake of the gospel. This is not the day of personal letters, phone calls, and confidential emails. It is the day of blogs and twitter, like it or not (and there are good and bad parts to that). It also belongs to those who understand both our faith and the culture. Note comments from the Nashville Tennessean after the SBC, which makes clear David Dockery and Geoff Hammond understand where we are and where we must head:
Dockery articulated it is time to change:
“David Dockery, president of Union University, a Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn., thinks there is a spiritual component to the Baptist decline. Because of their success, Southern Baptists began to believe they were God’s chosen people. ‘We are God’s last and only hope — that was said from the pulpit of this convention more than once, from the 1950s on,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to move way beyond that.’”
We just did, David, and you have helped us in this. Many times we heard that God does not need us, but we certainly need Him.
Also, Hammond observed our world has changed, and we must think like missionaries:
“Geoff Hammond, head of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board [observed]: Rather than expecting people to show up in their churches, . . . Southern Baptists have to get out in the community. ‘Southern Baptists have to go out and get to know their neighbors,’ he said, ‘and serve them with the love of Christ.’”
I said the same thing at the Pastor’s Conference. Welcome to the new, missional, gospel-focused leadership of the SBC.
4. This convention served as a referendum on the future. Younger men came. Places like the Baptist21 Forum and Nine Marks found hungry audiences, and a young man from Prestonwood Baptist Church spoke eloquently for his generation regarding the passage of the GCR Task Force. Some still think being a Baptist Church is wrapped up in the name of the church, a style of worship or way of life more aesthetically similar decades ago. As I meant to say but ran out of time at the Pastors Conference, with all due respect to my friend Chuck Kelley, before this meeting I felt we were not as much in danger of being the new Methodists as we were the new Amish! I noted that three speakers on the Pastors Conference program (including me) are members (the other two are pastors) of SBC churches without Baptist in their name. We will focus on those with whom we share a conviction about the Word and the gospel, and less on the secondary differences between us.
A word to younger leaders and to those of my generation and those older who love them: thank you for coming. You are vital not only to our future but to our present. Heed the words of Paul and be an example. Honor those older than you, but honor Jesus more. I would only hope we can add an even greater emphasis in the coming days on those even younger, college students and youth. I will not be satisfied until four generations are seen and involved at some level in SBC life. We still tend to treat young people like children rather than young adults. But this year we made a valiant step forward.
5. David Platt. Amazing. His Pastors Conference message was the most significant sermon I have heard in a long time, maybe ever. You MUST hear it. The voice of a prophet: Will we risk all and die in our devotion, or retreat and die in the wilderness? So moving. I was stunned. David is a young man of God for our time. I told he and his precious wife how much I loved them, and then I told him so many would pat him on the back, but because God’s hand is so heavy on him, I told him above all else to fear–fear God. If the future of the SBC is in the hands of men like David Platt and JD Greear I am happy.
6. We are a family, and all families have odd members. Note some of the motions on Tuesday, which caused more than a few to scratch their heads. Someone hated on the Holman Standard Bible; some wanted to investigate Drs. Akin and Stetzer and me; and at least three people really hate Mark Driscoll. We have a wonderful convention that allows any messenger from any church in the whole denomination to stand up at a mic and say things. Like the uncle at the family reunion you really did not want your fiance to have to meet when you were young. But we are a family and we should love one another. That is part of why I love being part of something so large–it can also make such a great impact when we all come together.
And we all came together, well, nearly all of us. There will always be a few more interested in issues other than the gospel. But I will give my life for the gospel. And I will stake the rest of my ministry on the future for my family and my students and others just like them.
7. Finally and personally, two things. First, speaking at the Pastors Conference was one of the great honors of my life. Ed Litton was gracious to ask me to speak. I thought about being a 9th grader and afraid to give a book report to a handful; now I was speaking to thousands of leaders. I had to hurry and cut out about half, but I feel I was able to say what was in my heart. God was good. Finally, I commit to make the Great Commission Resurgence personal. David Platt said it best: “Those most effective in reaching the many are those most passionate in reaching the one.” I recommit to being a follower of Christ who yearns to tell others personally the good news. I pray we will all join in that movement.