I had the privilege of visiting Phoenix, Arizona again this year for the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting. I traveled with a fellow Associational Missionary named Greg Bentley who serves the Altamaha/New Sunbury Associations. Greg and I arrived on Friday prior to the Convention to participate in the Crossover events that NAMB coordinates with the state convention of the host city. This year NAMB partnered with Greg Laurie and Harvest America to hold an evangelistic gathering at University of Phoenix Stadium. On Friday, Greg Bentley and I attended training at North Phoenix Baptist Church and went to the Dream Center the following day. The Dream Center reaches out to low income residents in Phoenix with the Good News and love of Jesus Christ. We went to a Veterans’ center nearby and ministered to the residents, including sharing in several Gospel Conversations.
Uber adventures - As a side note, Greg and I used Uber to get around Phoenix. They have a light rail system there as well. Uber turned out to be a cost efficient way to navigate the city. Part of the fun of attending the Convention is working out the local travel arrangements. More than once things have gotten really interesting and evolved into God moments where I’ve had opportunities to share the Gospel. Greg and I attended the gathering of Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders at the Hyatt in Phoenix on Sunday and Monday morning. SBCAL brings AMs together from all over the nation for networking, worship and learning. I was recently asked to serve the southeast region of the US as an officer of the SBCAL and consider that a great honor.
The Convention – From SBCAL Greg and I attended the North American Mission Board luncheon where we heard a report from Dr. Kevin Ezell about their work. NAMB currently focuses primarily on planting churches in large urban areas (SEND cities), revitalizing existing churches and disaster relief. From there, Greg and I registered as messengers and headed over to the main hall for the pastor’s conference. This year the conference speakers were all from “normative sized churches,” that is to say, not mega churches, which I found refreshing. After the pastors conference ended Greg and I attended an after-hours meeting of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and 9 Marks (a ministry of Mark Dever and Capital Hill Baptist Church). Russ Moore, Mark Dever and other panelists discussed ways that the sexual revolution is impacting the church. If this sounds like about a 14 hour day, it was.
On Tuesday the SBC Annual Meeting begian in earnest. So we had been there since Friday and now the Convention was starting. The Convention is basically intermittent reporting by many of the SBC entities, punctuated by worship and preaching. Each year registered messengers may propose resolutions and the national media pays really close attention to these. Bart Barber wrote a very good article discussing the nuances of this which I would encourage you to read here: http://sbcvoices.com/considering-sbc-polity-in-light-of-the-alt-right-resolution/. It is most excellent.
I’m not going to get deep into the resolution about the Alt-right other than to say that the SBC is doing everything it can to attract all kinds of people to our denominational life, and there will be a few of these seminal discussions as we proceed. The alternative is to be an aging, white denomination and it is hard to see how that can reflect our Scriptural mandate to reach everyone with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In fact, I’ll bring it closer to home: I am always confused by our willingness to reach out to people who are far away from us by our financial gifts, while simultaneously refusing to reach the different kinds of people (ethnically) who live right in our church communities. I think until we are willing to address this in ALL our local churches, the discussion of racism at the national level is relevant. I have noticed that the churches in our Association that are making an effort to connect to everyone in their community without discrimination are exhibiting more vitality than others, and I don’t think it is coincidental.
*This article was written for the July 2017 newsletter of the Middle Baptist Association.