By Nathan Finn
Last week, approximately 5300 registered Southern Baptist messengers (plus other attendees) met for our annual meeting in Baltimore, MD. We consumed thousands of pounds of crabmeat. Hundreds of Baptists watched one or more Baltimore Orioles games at Camden Yards (I caught two games). On the whole, we had a great time. In this post, I want to offer my personal reflections on the annual meeting. As is always the case with this blog, my views are my own and do not reflect any official position of Southeastern Seminary.
First, this year’s annual meeting was marked by a greater sense of unity and fraternity than I’ve seen among Southern Baptists in many years. There were no distracting debates or even public snarky comments about the state conventions vs. the SBC, or Calvinism vs. non-Calvinism, or the Cooperative Program vs. Great Commission Giving, or small churches vs. large churches. We came together, conducted our business, worshiped and fellowshipped, and did so in almost uniformly friendly ways. I think Fred Luter’s convention presidency, as well as Frank Page’s tenure as president of the Executive Committee, have had a healing affect on many Southern Baptists. I pray we continue to be this unified moving forward.
Second, I am encouraged by Ronnie Floyd’s election as SBC president. He is a well-known pastor with a track record of solid denominational leadership. His message of prayer and spiritual awakening is a needed word for these days. I was also encouraged that Dennis Kim ran for president; I would have been equally encouraged had he won. I mean that. I have heard many wonderful things about his church and his leadership among Maryland Baptists. In fact, let me say I am thrilled to see the return over the past decade to contested presidential elections. There are many godly leaders among us. In a mostly democratic convention of churches, it’s a blessing to have to choose between multiple worthy candidates.
Third, I am pleased with the final version of the proposed amendment to the SBC Constitution. I have long advocated a greater financial commitment on the part of cooperating churches. As for theological expectations, the final version is better than the original draft, which potentially opened the door for excluding churches that differ from the Baptist Faith and Message on non-central issues where the confession does not necessarily reflect the views of a majority of churches. This amendment must pass next year as well before it goes into effect. I hope it does so.
Fourth, I am grateful that Southern Baptists continue to speak with clarity into the moral confusion of our day, primarily through our resolutions. I know some folks bristle at resolutions because they are advisory. I know others think we project a negative image that turns off spiritual seekers. Honestly, there have been individual resolutions over the years that I regretted personally, but even then, I believe resolutions are a needed, healthy way to take a clear stand on important issues facing Christians. This year, as Baptist Press notes, we passed resolutions that addressed matters ranging from “transgender identity to payday lending, church revitalization, global hunger relief, the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and casinos and lotteries.” You can access a complete list of this year’s resolutions, and every resolution Southern Baptists have ever passed, at the SBC website. On a related note, let’s commit to pray for Russell Moore and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as they take the lead in helping Southern Baptists think about the great moral questions of our day from the perspective of the Christian worldview.
Fifth, I am very, very grateful for the part Southeastern Seminary’s students played at this year’s convention. On Monday, around forty-five of our students attended the SBC Executive Committee Meeting. After that meeting, Dr. Page and his executive team met with our students and students from Midwestern and New Orleans seminaries to discuss SBC polity, the Cooperative Program, and the future of the convention. Numerous people, including several ExComm members, told me how excited they were to see so many SEBTS students at the SBC. Most of our students also worked for the Committee on Order of Business, serving as microphone monitors and pages. Others served on the Tellers Committee and the Credentials Committee. For nearly all of these students, this was their first convention. I trust it will not be the last one for many of them. More broadly, I am pleased to see so many younger Southern Baptists attending the convention. The trend is noteworthy and stands in stark contrast to the trend just five years ago. We have a long way to go, but I am encouraged that a growing number of younger Gen-X and millennial Southern Baptists are attending the convention every year.
Finally, I want to thank my faculty and especially staff colleagues at Southeastern for planning a great experience for our team. I have been out-of-pocket for six months on sabbatical, so it was great to re-engage in Baltimore and see things go so well. Our booth looked great and the students who were working it were winsome and informed. Our “I am going” video was primo and the pictures (which you can see on Twitter and Facebook) were very cool. Our Friends and Alumni Luncheon at Camden Yards was hands-down the best one I’ve attended, even though Ed Stetzer mocked me for wearing bowties (he is a sad, jealous man—pray for him). Our staff dinner on Tuesday night was a great time of fellowship. I want to especially thank Ryan Hutchinson, Art Rainer, Amy Whitfield, Larry Lyon, Jonathan Six, and Elizabeth Graham for all of your hard work. You and your respective staffs are top-shelf.
I don’t think I have ever been more excited to be a Southern Baptist. If this year’s annual meeting is any indication, the Lord is not through with us yet. Let’s pray for revival and renewal among our churches and our entities. Let’s urgently share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone who will lend us an ear. Let’s give sacrificially to the Cooperative Program and other kingdom causes as we use our resources to advance the gospel. Let’s commit to continuing to stand firm for religious liberty and biblical morality, regardless of what happens in the wider culture. Let’s continue to plant new churches and revitalize existing churches in every city, town, and country crossroads in North America. Let’s continue to send missionaries to the unreached peoples of the world and the harvest fields where the Lord is doing a mighty work. Join me in praying for ongoing biblical faithfulness and kingdom fruitfulness among the people of God called Southern Baptists.