It was a blessing to be able to attend the 2018 SBC in Dallas. Considering the well publicized issues and conflicts that were in the air heading into the convention, I am grateful that the convention ended with a minimum of open conflict and with a good deal of unity as we move forward. For those interested, here is my evaluation of what happened and where things stand now that the convention is over.
1. J.D. Greear is our president and we should pray for and support him. J.D. won the election with 68% of the vote. At age 45 he is one of the youngest SBC presidents in history and his election certainly represents a new generation of SBC leadership. His election is the culmination of trends in SBC life that have occurred over the last 10 years. He represents a new style and new vision of SBC leadership. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I believe J.D. Greear is sound theologically. His church baptizes hundreds and plants dozens of churches each year. Count me as one who will pray for him and give him a chance to lead.
2. The SBC is becoming more diverse. Each year at the convention, I am blessed to see evidence of this fact. As a denomination, we cannot reach a rapidly diversifying country if this isn’t a priority. Recently, I read that 20% of our SBC churches are now predominately ethnic churches. Praise the Lord for progress in this area and may it continue. The SBC is now leading the way in calling for churches and church leaders to make more tangible steps toward racial unity. It isn’t enough just “not to be racist.” Count me as one who is grateful for this trend.
3. The SBC is committed to solid, Biblical theology. With the well publicized issues regarding handling of abuse, moral failure, and treatment of women, the SBC entities and churches are asking hard questions and taking a hard look in the mirror. It’s one thing to come to the convention and talk about the sins of people outside the church, but it is quite another thing when judgment begins at the house of God. As painful as this may be, it is much needed and healthy. However, some have attempted to link a Biblical, complementarian view of gender roles, marriage, and church leadership with abuse, misogyny, and poor attitudes toward women. Many secular news outlets view our convictions on these issues as outdated and even dangerous. It was good to see several of our entity heads reiterate a commitment to complementarian teaching on these issues – even in the face of great cultural pressure. For those concerned, I don’t see any sign of compromise on these issues among our SBC leaders.
4. Southwestern Seminary is hurting now, but better days are coming. The controversial firing of Paige Patterson was the most heated issue to come to the floor of the convention. Bart Barber’s point of personal privilege and his remarks might just be the most dramatic moment I have personally ever witnessed at an SBC convention. Regardless of how anyone feels about Patterson’s firing, the seminary is hurting and new leadership is coming. I believe that new leadership can help the seminary community heal and see better days. The SBC needs a strong Southwestern for so many reasons. Even though I am not a graduate, I have friends who attend and teach there. Count me as one who is believing God for a great turnaround at Southwestern.
5. The generational divide in the SBC is real and its leaders need to make great efforts to avoid being out of touch with the majority of pastors and churches.
In my opinion, the points of division in the SBC aren’t theological as much as generational and methodological. Nowhere was this more evident than the newly elected SBC president J.D. Greear on stage with outgoing president Steve Gaines. Gaines was wearing a nice suit and tie. Greear was wearing jeans and sneakers with a jacket. I am not being critical of J.D. on this point. He dresses in keeping with who he is and his ministry context. My point is the juxtaposition of that moment and what it represents. A new generation of Southern Baptist young leaders has risen – which is a very good thing for the future. They tend to lean more Reformed in their theology than previous generations. They tend to dress more casually in almost every setting. They came of age with social media and use it constantly and effectively. They are extremely smart and theologically astute. They bring a fresh (and needed) perspective to so many issues. They are not content with the status quo. Beards and baby strollers are everywhere. The Millennials have come to faith in Christ and they have come to the SBC annual meeting!
However, SBC leaders would do well to realize that the majority of the room at the SBC annual meeting is a totally different thing than the majority of our SBC churches. For instance, I recently read that the majority of our SBC pastors are over 50 years of age. The average SBC church is a small church in a small place with a small budget, but it is doing BIG work by faithfully sharing the gospel and seeking to reach people each week. Its pastor isn’t writing books or speaking at conferences. He is preaching Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night at the church he pastors. He makes visits almost daily to hospitals and nursing homes. He conducts multiple funerals each month. He counsels hurting people both within his church and in the community. He deals with benevolence needs. He relates to every age group in the church. He attends deacons meetings and committee meetings. His phone rings all the time. He seeks to win people to Jesus regularly. This average SBC church gives almost 10% of its budget to the Cooperative Program (although that isn’t a lot of money) and faithfully collects both Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings in addition to CP. For every Summit Church and City Church Tallahassee, there are literally hundreds of churches and pastors like I described. They don’t have a “brand” and they are not on the cutting edge, but they are on the front lines. They are the grassroots heart and soul of the SBC. Many of them feel that the national SBC is increasingly out of touch with them.
If we truly want to have a strong SBC going forward, then our leadership would be wise to put as much effort into including these largely forgotten churches and pastors as they have the younger leaders and new churches. If they do, I truly believe that the next decade of SBC life can truly be characterized by unity and gospel advance across America.