The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is less than two weeks away. In light of the recent disagreements and controversies that have taken center stage, I wanted to share a few hopes and prayers I have for our annual meeting.
A Time of Repentance
Just to be honest, a lot of the interaction between fellow Christians has been discouraging. The love, grace, and charity that should mark our words, particularly to other brothers and sisters in Christ, have often been missing.
Social media is usually a barren wasteland of hot takes and inflamed rhetoric. The Southern Baptist Twitterverse is not impervious to this same temptation. Discussions on racial reconciliation and gender roles within the church have been some of the most heated in the recent past.
Instead of taking shots at an opposing camp on a panel discussion or at an open mic during a business meeting, many brothers and sisters need to repent for how they have misrepresented the name of Christ in their online interactions. To the watching world, I am afraid our Convention is known more for backbiting instead of showing honor and love to all we encounter. Even if you’re right about an issue, there is no excuse for being a jerk who tears down a brother or sister for whom Christ has died.
On an even more serious level, we need to repent in the way that the SBC at every level has dropped the ball with regard to sexual abuse. Predators have been allowed to roam in darkness, while many victims have been ignored or even silenced. Therefore, we need to look at our sinful neglect in the eye, confess it, ask for forgiveness, and make changes as churches and as a denomination that will ensure the safety of the children and women of the Southern Baptist Convention.
A Time of Humble Disagreement
Even though the recent debates have been marked by a sub-Christian level of grace, many of these issues are worth debating. These topics are not first-tier doctrines—meaning that we can disagree on them and still view the other person as a good brother or sister in Christ—but they are still important for the life of local churches and for the life of the Convention.
For instance, does racism take place at a systemic level in our country? If so, how should a church address systemic racism? How should a church actively pursue diversity? Depending on one’s answers to those questions, it will have a massive effect on the values and activities of a local congregation.
Likewise, what does the Bible prescribe regarding the role of women teaching in the local church? How does a church affirm and equip gifted female teachers? The recent controversy over this issue shows that Southern Baptist churches are not settled on the nuances of gender roles. While this is not a gospel issue, it is something that deserves serious consideration and dialogue.
There will be numerous panel discussions and opportunities for open dialogue at the SBC, and I pray that these forums will be marked by clear, biblical, gracious, and respectful interactions. As I wrote recently, I hope that our controversy doesn’t lose the gospel.
A Time of Gospel Renewal
Lastly, I hope that the Southern Baptist Convention is marked by a renewed vitality in the gospel. More specifically, we need the gospel to bring greater fervency to our spirituality, and our denomination needs to re-focus on the centrality of the gospel. Our churches have often focused on conversions—or decisions made for the gospel—but we have often neglected to emphasize how the gospel affects every area of life.
My prayer is that God would do a great work across the SBC that is characterized by a renewed commitment to gospel faithfulness. What does this look like? It looks like churches who labor in prayer for the salvation of their neighborhood and for the Spirit’s sanctifying work in their midst. It looks like churches boldly proclaiming the Good News and calling men and women to faith and repentance. It looks like churches practicing biblical membership and church discipline instead of allowing sin to go unchecked in the congregation. It looks like pastors faithfully preaching the whole counsel of God instead of unbiblical self-help talks. It looks like churches relying on the power of our triune God to sustain them and build his church instead of trusting in the latest church growth methodology.
The Southern Baptist Convention has always stated the importance of preaching the gospel to the nations. My hope is that we would also be people who see the importance of imbibing and demonstrating the gospel.
These are my hopes and prayers for the upcoming annual meeting. Would you join me in praying for these things? If you have other prayers for the upcoming SBC, feel free to share them in the comments section.