Pastors need to lead the churches to pray for those who serve us in the convention. Then they need to lead their churches to show up, stand up, and speak up, so that all who work in any convention institution or agency remember that those institutions and agencies are owned by the churches.
“I left the convention disheartened by the liberalism and pragmatism of our leaders. I am praying about how to shepherd the local flock that I serve. I’m having a hard time exhorting them to give to NAMB or the CP knowing what I know now.”
“I am done.”
“SBC21 was massively disheartening.”
“I may not be able to stop my church leaving the SBC.”
“Why should we stay in the SBC?”
Those are just a few of the messages that I have received from Southern Baptist pastors in the wake of the 2021 annual meeting in Nashville. To say that many messengers left the convention discouraged would be an understatement. As I was leaving the hall for the final time late Wednesday afternoon I engaged in several conversations, primarily with pastors, where the questions being asked were, “What should we do?” and “What can we do?” Many of those men were at their first annual meeting, although a few were also veterans who had experienced at least part of the Conservative Resurgence in the 1980s & 1990s.
In the wake of those conversations and multiple others in the days since, here are a few suggestions that I submit for the consideration of pastors and members of Southern Baptist churches who are concerned about the direction of the SBC. These are offered in light of my previous assessment of what happened in Nashville, which I would suggest that you read for context.
1. Recognize that the church is the only institution to whom Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom and calls to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (Matthew 16:16-19, 18:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:15). That is where our focus and most of our energies must be spent. I spoke with dozens of pastors who left Nashville with a resolve to go back to their churches to preach, counsel, evangelize, and disciple with a renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God in which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (Acts 20:28). That has been my own resolve, as well.
2. Recognize that every SBC church is independent and autonomous. There is no top-down authority structure in the convention. This means that, despite what some convention leaders might like for you to believe, no one can dictate what things your church does. Every SBC church can determine how much or how little to be financially and practically involved in the life of the convention, within certain parameters. A church is considered in friendly cooperation if it
1) “Has faith and practice which closely identifies with the Convention’s adopted statement of faith.”
2) “Has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention.”
3) “Has made undesignated, financial contribution(s) through the Cooperative Program, and/or through the Convention’s Executive Committee for Convention causes, and/or to any Convention entity during the fiscal year preceding.” [Note: that is a convoluted sentence that merits being diagrammed and exegeted carefully. I will take it up in another article about how concerned churches can exercise financially discretion in supporting convention causes.]