Almost 30 years as a Southern Baptist denominational executive, preceded by more than a dozen years as a Southern Baptist pastor, has shaped my perspective on navigating the vagaries of working among the vast network known as the Southern Baptist Convention. It can be, alternately, a rewarding, daunting, or at times disappointing task.
Several years ago, I vented my frustrations about the dysfunction among Southern Baptists to a veteran leader. I told him I was ready to leave the denomination. He replied, “I agree with you.” I was shocked. He was a stalwart and for him to agree with me meant my hopes were dashed. Then he asked, “So, where are we going?” He paused for a few seconds and then continued, “Where are we going that has thousands of missionaries, hundreds of church plants, dozens of colleges and seminaries, a publishing house and financial services provider, hospitals, camps and conference centers, crisis pregnancy centers, and more than 40,000 mostly Bible-believing churches? Where can we find all this without any of the negative that has upset you? So, where are we going?” We looked at each other for a few seconds and I said, “I guess I’m staying.” He smiled and said, “Me too.”
If you only follow SBC issues on the media, your perspective will be slanted toward the problems which supposedly define our denomination. We seem to be focused on the roles of women in ministry, sexual abuse, abortion, national politics, and internal conflicts over money, polity, and entity management. Reality is quite a bit different. Most churches are not divided about these issues. In fact, most church members aren’t even interested in them. They are concerned about making rent, getting their kids through school, caring for their aging parents, and dealing with daily job stresses in a challenging economic environment.
The real story of the SBC is not the problems we have, but the incredible impact we make in the lives of everyday people struggling with the challenges listed above. Millions of Southern Baptists work through their churches, ministry centers, camps and conference centers, mission outposts, and new church plants to meet the needs of countless people every day. Most of that seldom makes the news! Yet, that is the daily reality for most Southern Baptists—doing ministry in Jesus name through voluntary cooperation that defies explanation. We are a huge enterprise which will always have problems, distractions, and conflicts. That’s not really news. What’s truly newsworthy is how much we accomplish in spite of those challenges.
Our annual national denominational meeting is next week in New Orleans. Pray for God’s power to be demonstrated through the meeting as we come together to focus on what we do best, what we do most often, and what we must continue to do in the future—share and live the good news of Jesus Christ everywhere.
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