Guest blog: Georgia Baptist president’s observations on the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention
(Below is a guest blog by Dr. John Waters, pastor of First Baptist Church, Statesboro, Georgia, and president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. He shares his personal observations about the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, which met last week in Houston, Texas.)
Southern Baptists gathered in Houston, Texas, this month for our annual convention meeting. Controversy or unsettled issues often marked previous conventions, so the annual meetings usually morphed into an annual show down, with messengers already having made up their minds regarding a particular issue weeks before their arrival.
This year’s Southern Baptist Convention, however, seemed to mark a course correction. With a shockingly low attendance barely breaking the 5,000 mark, not many Southern Baptists made the trek to the Lone Star state for this annual meeting, but those who attended participated in a well-planned and effective event.
Having attended this year’s annual gathering, I offer the following four observations about this year’s Southern Baptist Convention:
1. Baptists are beginning to favor cooperation over conflict.
With several potentially divisive issues before us, Baptists chose to respond with wisdom, grace, and a plea for unity. The theme of “Revive Us: That We May Be One” set the stage for a spirit of cooperation that sadly has been absent in many of the previous conventions. The report regarding Calvinism and the resolution about Boys Scouts of America were characterized more by their thoughtfulness than their abrasiveness, and messengers seem to be resisting the urge to fight, choosing instead to make strong statements tempered by love and the spirit of Christ.
2. Previous “hot issues” seemed noticeably absent.
With the commotion caused in recent conventions about the Great Commission Resurgence (Orlando, 2010) and the descriptor name of “Great Commission Baptists” (New Orleans, 2012), it was remarkable how these hot topics seemed to be long forgotten. Even though these issues were passionately debated and subsequently approved, Southern Baptists seemed to have put them in the past, relegating them to the historical archives of the Convention for anyone who wants to search for them. But did the adoption of these quasi-controversial matters substantively change the make up and DNA of Southern Baptists? Given the deafening silence about these issues only a few years after their acceptance, they apparently were forgotten as quickly as they were adopted.
3. The call for global missions has been re-ignited among Baptists.
It was difficult to miss the mandate to get the Gospel to the nations, and rightly so. Over the past 30 years or so, Southern Baptists privately swelled with pride when talking about our global mission strategies and our thousands of fully funded missionaries around the globe. But the growing statistics of lostness among the nations and the fatness among Southern Baptist churches have been a wake up call. Danny Akin’s closing sermon was particularly insightful, as he reminded messengers that they could be parachuted into places on the globe and walk for weeks on end without ever meeting a single believer or seeing a single church. They would find, instead, countless people groups representing millions of souls that have never once heard the name of Jesus. In an over-saturated America with churches on every proverbial street corner, maybe it is time we managed with less at home so that we can poke deeper and wider holes in the darkness in parts of the world that don’t even have access to the Gospel.
4. Fred Luter’s genuine spirit set the right temperature for Baptists.
Noticeably uncomfortable in certain settings requiring parliamentary finesse, president Fred Luter displayed an affable and infectious spirit that endeared him even more to Baptists, if that is even possible. He capably handled all of the business required of any SBC president, but his love for churches and pastors was apparent and set a gracious tone for the entire meeting. His gregarious manner was perhaps best displayed after he struck the gavel for the close of the annual meeting and then looked into the crowd and shouted, “Love y’all!” With men like Fred Luter leading the Southern Baptist Convention, the days ahead will be good ones indeed.