This coming Sunday I will leave from the church I serve and drive five and a half hours to Indianapolis, IN, sleep alone in a hotel room, attend conferences and meetings, be separated from my family, all to drive back to West Virginia and try to play catch-up on my work. So why would I endure all of this to attend the Southern Baptist Convention next week? Along with all of these things, the Convention seems to be bickering and backbiting over secondary issues that should not divide Christians who love Jesus (examples stretch from Calvinism, private prayer languages, baptism for non-SBC missionaries, etc.). Not to mention I will be among many who are going for no other reason than to rub shoulders with the "big dogs" who have large churches and make new connections for climbing the ladder of denominational influence (as a sidebar, while all of these will be wearing their Sunday best, I will be in Dockers and a shirt, maybe even shorts if it is hot!). So in light of all this why am I going? The reasons are as follows:
1. I am Southern Baptist by confession and conviction. I honestly believe that Southern Baptists are the closest denominational body to accurately reflecting the New Testament model of the church. In college, I realized that I was baptist simply because that was how I was raised. So I vowed to God that I would study the Scriptures and be part of whatever church or denomination that I was absolutely convinced reflected the Bible. I stayed put.
2. I may not change much with my presence at the SBC, but I will change nothing without out. I am one of those annoying optimists that actually believes change is possible in my lifetime. I have seen the move of God through a conservative resurgence, and I pray we see a renewed commitment to the integrity of the Gospel in our churches and a unity of purpose centered upon the glory of Christ and the Gospel going to the world!
3. This is the first time since the year I was born (1979) that numerous candidates are up for the presidency (6 in all at this point) without a clear front runner. As long as I can remember, the candidate who was endorsed by the leaders of the convention was a guaranteed win. Yet when Frank Paige won in 2006 it opened the field for candidates who are not part of the establishment. Now let me make myself crystal clear: I am NOT an anti-establishment Southern Baptist. In fact, I hold the deepest love and respect for the men who shed sweat, blood and tears for the Inerrancy of God's Word and conservative theology. But I also know that this is a time of great opportunity, since all the candidates are conservative to my knowledge and will bring different agendas to the front of the Convention. Southern Baptists need a voice of leadership that will not be a catalyst for political agendas, but one who will honestly assess where we are and issue a bold declaration that will call for reformation.
4. The single-most important issue in my estimation facing Southern Baptist churches today will be presented to the floor, namely a motion concerning regenerate church membership. Southern Baptist purport to have over 16 million members of our churches, but I challenge you to find 7 million on any given Sunday, even Easter! The fact is, my church and many others must honestly evaluate whether or not we are honoring God and loving people by allowing people to remain on the church roll when they have no association with that church. There is no such thing as an "inactive" church member in the New Testament, and we must take seriously the problem of huge church rolls filled with names of people who do not show any interest in the community of the local church. I want to be at the SBC to cast a ballot in favor of a statement concerning regenerate church membership and a repentance for the way we are now.
5. Part of my responsibility to the local church I serve is to represent them as best as I am able at the SBC. Southern Baptists churches are not accountable to the convention, but the convention is accountable to the churches. I believe with all my heart that if I lead my church to give its money and time to the Convention, then we must be faithful stewards over that investment and participate in every way possible. I have no visions of denominational leadership, but as a servant to the local church I am also a servant to the associations we maintain, and I am accountable before God for making sure we belong in them. If the SBC were to ever stray beyond the bounds of orthodoxy, I will be there to voice my heartbreak and disagreement, and will make sure I am prepared to react in the way most honoring to God (I do not see that ever happening for the record).
So in light of all of this, I will be in Indianapolis next week. If you are there, come find me because I would love to talk with you. Pray for me and my family as I am separated from them. Most of all, pray that God will bring a brokenness to our convention that leads to a Revival yet to be seen on this earth!
PS: Since Jaimie will be on leave next week with his classes, I am taking my computer and planning to blog each night about the trip. Stay Tuned ...