Last week, over 20,000 Great Commission Baptists gathered in Nashville for its annual meeting. For those unfamiliar with Baptist polity, the SBC is not a top-down denomination where the local church and its members must submit to the will of its leaders. Rather, the SBC consists of nearly 50,000 autonomous churches who democratically meet to handle its business.
When all is quiet at the national level, these annual meetings are (frankly) poorly attended. However, when Baptists arrive in droves to a business meeting, that means there is controversy stirring. In a series of posts, I want to share what actually happened in a widely covered #SBC21 and sift through the rumors and nonsense you might have read online.
This experience has taught me a valuable lesson. Do not trust everything you read online or in the news. Both entities want war and drama and compared to how it sounds online, there was very little discord.
Let us start where we should always start. Regardless of serious debates over serious issues, I want to pause and consider the countless things worth being grateful for. One could argue that the root problem in our culture is the lack of gratitude. A nation that fails to remember the things of God loses its heart of thanksgiving.
The Local Church
I suspect mainstream media outlets do not understand Baptist polity. If you want to understand what is happening in the SBC, its President and Executive Committee is not the best resource. Although they are valuable leaders elected by and held accountable by the messengers, the SBC is first and foremost the local church. This is radically different than most Protestant denominations. It is my recommendation for reporters and would-be reporters to start there.
For my part, my experience in the SBC (from the moment of conception) has been positive. This experience does not mean it has been perfect or without frustration. The local church can be a place of frustration and heartache. The state and national conventions are no different. Yet considering who we are and what our vision is, I can find no better home for myself, my family, or my church than among other Great Commission Baptists.
The rescue of the SBC four decades ago from the poison of liberalism was made possible because of the local church. That is where her real beauty lies.
The Work of Missions Around the World
Baptists have always been a missional people. From William Carey to Adonirum Judson, to Luther Rice, to Billy Graham, to the Foreign Mission Board. United by our shared theology and our passion to reach the nations, the ongoing work of our missionaries is a consistent blessing of our convention.
Beginning with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the annual report from its president, Kevin Ezell, was a reminder that the work of the gospel is not dead, even during the pandemic. Ezell reported that since 2010, Great Commission Baptists have plane dmore than 8,200 churches. Those churches make up nearly 17% of all churches across the convention. Outside the South, church plants represent nearly 19% of all reported baptisms in the SBC. In Canada, 54% of all current Baptist churches were planted since 2010, and more than half of the baptisms reported in Canada came from those churches.
During the COVID pandemic, Baptists planted 588 churches, saw 143 new church affiliates, and 126 new church campuses. That is a total of 857 new Great Commission Baptist congregations. Of those churches, 60% were ethnic or multiethnic congregations.
The International Mission Board (IMB) reported equally exciting numbers. At the convention, 64 new missions were sent to the mission field. These new missionaries were being sent to join the 3,631 missionaries already on the field.
Since the pandemic, 500 missionaries have been commissioned, 247 new people groups and places have been engaged, 769,494 people have heard the gospel (compared to just over 500,000 in 2019), 144322 new believers with 86,587 baptisms. This has resulted in 18,380 new churches planted.
The work of missions marches forward and I am pleased with the leadership of Kevin Ezell (NAMB) and Paul Chitwood (IMB).
Growing Diversity and Generational Change
Media outsiders and pundits give the impression that the SBC is an aging organization that will soon die out. Although baptisms are down among teenagers, one need only to attend the average pastor’s conference and conventions to witness the opposite. The SBC is a vibrant and diverse convention.
I suspect much of the reported conflict reflects this reality. Over the last decade, I have noticed a changing of the guard from the generation of leaders who saved the SBC from liberalism and a new guard who look, sound, and act differently. Both generations hold fast to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.
Regardless, the SBC continues to demonstrate that it is the most diverse protestant denomination in the country. I applaud outgoing President JD Greear for his effort in reflect this diversity with his appointments. This diversity includes gender, race, age, and background. In his presidential address, he asked, “do we want to be more Southern or more Baptists.” With him, I want to be more Baptist.
Every convention and conference includes an exhibit hall featuring countless ministries. For a local pastor just trying to survive COVID, it can be overwhelming. However, reflecting on the countless ministries that exist to serve Christians, the local church, and our communities is a testimony to the power and influence of the gospel in these troubling times. Many of these ministries are led by Great Commission Baptists. Off the top of my head, the exhibit hall featured ministries for legal help, disaster relief, church signs, schools, university, colleges, seminary, missionaries, resources, ministries, and media.
In short, if you want to serve in the work of ministry, the opportunities are endless.