Six reasons you should attend the SBC Annual Meeting
I want to encourage pastors, students, and future pastors to attend the SBC for at least six reasons.
It is rare to find an evangelical Christian under 50 who has been a part of one denomination for their entire church life. I was born into a family that was deeply committed to the local church and equally committed to the vision and mission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have many cherished friends in other denominations, Baptist and non-Baptist, but I have remained a Southern Baptist from cradle roll.
My first real awareness that I was a Southern Baptist in distinction from other Baptists in the Deep South came toward the end of my senior year in high school, 1985. My parents rode a church bus for 15 hours to Dallas to participate in what eminent Southern historian John Shelton Reed aptly called a “pitchfork rebellion.” (so-called because Southern Baptists came from the hills of Georgia, the plains of Alabama, the swamps of Louisiana, to rise up against liberalism).
I remember our pastor telling the congregation that the Bible was under attack by liberal scholars in our denomination and electing Charles Stanley was an important step in reasserting our footing upon God’s Word. That was all it took for our church—and my parents—to join 45,000 messengers in Texas to vote for a president who supported the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, an important moment in what we now call the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC.
Three decades later, I am privileged to serve as a pastor, and I see the importance of participating in the annual meeting. This was reinforced during my years as a student at SBTS, and I want to encourage pastors, student/pastors, and future pastors to attend the SBC for at least six reasons.
Because fellowship and encouragement are vital for pastors.
Pastors need each other. For many of us, the annual SBC meeting is a bit like a class reunion. We see friends from our seminary days and past ministry positions. And we make new friends among the hundreds of pastors (often accompanied by their families) who travel to the annual meeting. Relationships have been deepened over the years, and I have often left the meeting encouraged to press on in the work of ministry. This has been especially helpful during seasons of affliction and discouragement.
Because you need to know how the denomination functions.
In my pre-ministry life, I worked as a newspaper journalist and it was always clear to me that few journalists could grasp the SBC’s denominational polity. Most of them call us a “church” as in the Roman Catholic Church and seemed to view various leaders as the single authoritative head. Upon entering ministry, I soon realized that many Southern Baptists—including many who have been Southern Baptists long enough to remember Royal Ambassadors and Sunbeams—do not understand how the wheels of the denomination turn. Strictly speaking, the convention is just that—a convention. It exists only two days each year for these meetings. Obviously, the denomination continues to run the other 363 days through various entities as the Executive Committee, NAMB, IMB, Baptist Press, the six seminaries, a number of standing committees, and more. But business that drives the remainder of the year is done the second week in June. Thus, these two days are very important and those who lead in local churches should respond accordingly.
Because we need to be encouraged to do evangelism.
Thom Rainer research has shown an overall decline in interest in evangelism among churches in America. A critical part of the SBC’s mission is cooperation for the sake of spreading the gospel both locally and globally. Attend an SBC annual meeting and through our denomination’s themes and events such as Crossover, you will be reminded of the centrality of evangelism. Evangelism and missions are the one consistent refrain to SBC meetings over the decades.
Because denominations still matter.
One clear trend among younger evangelicals (by which I intend baby boomers and those younger) is a move away from denominations. Many view denominations as the ecclesiological equivalent of the cassette tape—inherently flawed, prone to brokenness, in need of replacement by better technology. By no means am I here to promote a form of sectarianism, but I still consider denominations—when they are healthy—a good thing for precisely the many reasons my good friend Nathan Finn enumerates in this article at The Gospel Coalition. For one thing, they unify us in general around doctrine. While there are certainly differing convictions on secondary theological matters within the SBC, our denomination still rallies around our confession of faith, the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and may assume broad agreement on its doctrines.
Because both large and small churches should be represented.
It is easy to get the idea that the SBC is composed mostly of churches of more than 1,000 members. Not so. The vast major of the churches in our denomination marks a weekly attendance of 100 or less—including the congregation I serve. Most seminary students who work as pastors labor in very small congregations. The beauty of the SBC is its inclusion of all our churches. If you pastor a small church and can afford to do so, go to the SBC as a messenger and participate in the meetings. Take members with you, particularly young men who have shown an inclination toward gospel ministry.
Because it promotes a spirit of cooperation among pastors and churches.
The SBC Annual Meeting draws pastors and church staffers from the four corners of our country and every place in between. The SBC is, by design, a big tent. Large church pastors, small church pastors, medium-sized church pastors, tiny-church pastors spend two days (three or four if they attend the pastor’s conference) conducting denominational business together, singing hymns together, fellowshipping together. Our annual meeting is an excellent reminder that we are together for the gospel, together to promote the fame of Jesus and his redeeming love for sinners. No matter a church’s size or place, conservative pastors and churches in the SBC who seek to be faithful to the gospel and the Great Commission can surely be together for that.
If you are a pastor or plan on being a pastor, I hope to see you in a couple of weeks in Dallas.