As we approach the Annual Meeting of the SBC, I hope you’ll join me in thinking about how we can best engage the issues at hand. Take a moment and read Part 1: Service, Part 2: Prayer, and Part 3: Fasting Together.
“First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, ‘What are we sure is true?’ … and then reason up from there.” – Elon Musk (video interview)
When the time comes that there is political maneuvering and upheaval on a convention level, we must return to first principles. I think the moment in which we find ourselves is either a trap or a springboard. The outcome we reach will be the result of how we define ourselves. Are we going to be the Battling Baptists or the Missional Church?
Our reason for existence is plainly stated in our documents. From our Constitution, it reads,
Article II. Purpose: It is the purpose of the Convention to provide a general organization for Baptists in the United States and its territories for the promotion of Christian missions at home and abroad and any other objects such as Christian education, benevolent enterprises, and social services which it may deem proper and advisable for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.
First and foremost, we combine our financial resources and partner together for missions at home and abroad. We are to intentionally add in any other ministry activity that will help to further the message and work of God’s Kingdom.
It is that simple. Our convention exists for the purpose of the mission of God’s Kingdom.
A little over halfway through the SBC Bylaws brings us to how our entity leaders are to relate to one another. Bylaw 23 reads,
The Great Commission Council:The Great Commission Council shall serve as the organization through which the various entities and the auxiliary of the Convention will correlate their work. The membership of the Great Commission Council shall be composed of the chief executives of The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, the auxiliary of the Convention, and the entities named in Bylaw 14.
The Bylaw lists six purposes of the council along with eight guiding principles for the members relation to one another and the council’s relation to the Convention. These leaders are to collaborate in such a way to encourage Great Commission work through their organizations, helping one another, avoiding unnecessary duplication of effort, and building up the church in the process. The sixth statement regarding their work reads: “seeking to find the means through which the power of the Christian gospel may be comprehensively and effectively applied to the ends of the earth.”
Our core principles for existence are brilliantly displayed throughout our governing documents. We have a missional purpose and must not be deterred from it. We can press forward with God’s mission of making disciples if we take a few key actions as a Convention.
Reiterate the primacy of the church in fulfilling God’s mission.It is the church that is assigned the task of taking the Gospel to the nations. Paul said in Ephesians 3:10, “This is so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens” (emphasis mine). The Convention does not exist for itself and the member churches do not exist to prop up it as an organization.
Remember that the Messengers are the most important people at the Annual Meeting.I’m happy that Steve Gaines is our president. Our entity leaders all have important roles to play. But the importance of the convention lies with the Messengers. I encourage you to read Amy Whitfield’s article on this issue. She states, “The most important person in the SBC is the individual messenger, and when the deliberative assembly gathers, the denomination is doing its most important work: the work that determines the future of its cooperative ministries.” Messengers from local churches representing cooperative missions is why we even have an Annual Meeting.
Rejection of organizational power plays. The sensation that power is held by a convention president, Executive Committee, entities, and any other agency leaders should unsettle us. Their work is to encourage the church’s work in its mission. Having worked with two convention entities and attended two seminaries, I am happy to state the powerful impact that our agencies have for the good of the church and the furtherance of the gospel. But we must be vigilant against the temptation that the organizations exist on their own or that their leaders operate in a vacuum. Accountability to God’s mission and God’s church is both right and good.
We gather because we desire to scatter. The Convention is a means to the end. If the purpose of the Annual Meeting is ever to plan another Annual Meeting, then I’m tapping out. We cooperate as a convention because of the mission given to the local and universal church. In fulfilling that mission, we meet with the purpose of having a plan to scatter. Our purpose is not to protect political power of entity existence. Our convention’s purpose is to encourage, empower, and equip the church in its mission of making disciples throughout the world.
As we approach the Dallas Annual Meeting, remember that the SBC had a start date and will have an end date. It is not the church and its entities are not churches unto themselves. So far as the SBC continues to do that work then the SBC can continue to exist. It is a tool for the mission, not the purpose of the mission. Let’s be wise in our use of influence within the SBC and how the SBC can be influential. I pray that we will leave Dallas with the headline being that we reiterated and were renewed for our missional purpose.