By Matt Henslee
Here at LifeWay Pastors, we’re grateful for each church leader who takes the time to read our articles. As our director, Mark Dance, often says, “We’re here to help you win at church and home.” This post, however, is primarily geared for my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters.
Last Sunday, at way too early o’clock, I drove to El Paso, Texas, for the first leg of flights to get me to Birmingham, Alabama, for the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Annual Meeting that was themed, “Gospel Above All.” I made the trip with a fellow southern New Mexico pastor, Kyle Bueermann, to help offset the cost to our churches.
Here are a few of the highlights I experienced at this year’s SBC Annual Meeting.
1. Serving my Tribe
J.D. Greear, SBC president and pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, nominated me to serve on the credentials committee at this year’s Annual Meeting. Frankly, nothing could place me further outside my comfort zone than being on the front lines of welcoming more than 8,000 people to the meeting.
As an introvert, I strongly considered working the computers and merely entering data to register messengers. However, in God’s providence, the only times available to serve that fit my schedule had me squarely in the middle of the room, welcoming all who entered at the busiest registration times.
And I’m glad.
I met brand new pastors and veteran pastors, kids and senior adults, men and women who needed information on everything from directions to the nearest bathroom to the location of a parking lot that took debit cards. It was hectic, tiresome, and…fun!
We talked about our ministries, what we hoped to see at the convention, and even about who has the best BBQ. I mean, we’re Baptists, after all.
2. Worship and prayer
I’ve heard the SBC Annual Meeting described as a “business meeting on steroids.” It was that for sure, but it was also a time of passionate worship and profound prayer.
The Summit Church’s worship team led us well, and Dr. Greear used countless opportunities to call us to pray. What stuck out the most, at least where I was located, was people of every age and color singing their hearts out to King Jesus. What stuck out the most, at least where I was located, was people of every age and color singing their hearts out to King Jesus.
In fact, seated directly in front of me was an elderly couple from South Carolina who didn’t know many of the songs. But that didn’t stop them from raising their hands and tearfully singing praises to our Lord and Savior.
3. Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Sexual Abuse Panel
On Monday night, at well past my bedtime, the ERLC hosted a panel with sexual abuse survivors and advocates. It was a meaningful, powerful, and redemptive time.
I was cut to the core of my being by the testimony of Susan Codone, senior associate dean of academic affairs at Mercer University School of Medicine, as she shared her personal story of being abused by two pastors as a girl at a Birmingham-area church. Her laser-sharp focus on redemption found in Christ alone encouraged me greatly.
This, coupled with Wednesday night’s actionable steps made in addressing sexual abuse in churches, gave some bite to our bark. It’s easy to talk about issues, but I think some healthy steps were taken at the Annual Meeting to begin to walk out what’s being talked about.
4. Entity Heads’ Reports
Over the past year, the SBC has experienced significant leadership change. This meant many Southern Baptists were introduced to some new SBC entity head leaders for the first time.
As both a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumni and current D.Min. student, I was especially looking forward to the report from Dr. Adam Greenway, the seminary’s new president. Greenway has just finished his first 100 days on the job, and already, the tide is turning in drastic ways.
His report drew much applause, and I’m confident the best days are ahead for the seminary.
5. Connecting With My Tribe
The church I pastor in New Mexico is 20 miles from the nearest Southern Baptist church. This often makes me feel like I’m on an island. However, connecting with SBC brothers and sisters from across the country seemed to shrink that distance a bit.
It was an absolute joy to hear what God is up to at their churches, to share what God is doing at our church, and to partner together to make the gospel above all, even when we may disagree on tertiary issues.
All that to say, I’m grateful Mayhill Baptist Church allowed me to serve them as a messenger at this year’s SBC Annual Meeting and I look forward to next year’s meeting in Orlando. It may not have Saw’s BBQ, but I suspect it’ll offer more of the same—a growing sense of unity and passion for taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.