INDIANAPOLIS (BP) – Preaching from Hebrews 12:1-3, Dean Inserra reminded Southern Baptists of the “great cloud of witnesses” – particularly giants of the faith who have gone before – and exhorted them to run the race focused on Jesus rather than hindered by distractions.

Inserra, pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., delivered the convention sermon June 12 at the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, quoting former SBC leaders Basil Manly Jr., B.H. Carroll, Adrian Rogers and Bertha Smith.

“My generation of pastors in the SBC was born on theological third base, and we are well aware that we did not hit a triple,” Inserra said.

Southern Baptists’ belief that the Bible is true fuels their Great Commission zeal, he said.

“The cloud reminds us it is all about Jesus, and therefore we can be reassured that our cooperative effort is worth it because the resurrected suffering servant is exactly the one He claimed to be,” Inserra said.

Hebrews 12 indicates that a failure to focus on Christ can result in weariness and the temptation to give up, he said.

“What is the solution to not giving up? It is the cloud, and ultimately it is Christ,” Inserra said.

Distractions threaten to sidetrack the SBC and must be avoided, he said. Just as people waiting in line to board a plane may be told to step to the left, “The world wants us to step to the theological left, and we must always be cautious, Southern Baptists, that it never happens on our watch.”

The sin that so easily entangles in this era could be a concern with what others think, especially online, Inserra said.

“This figurative progressive – that for some reason we want so badly to see us as either cool, accepting, on the right side of history, not too conservative and definitely not one of ‘those kind of Christians’ Twitter and podcasts tell us about – lingers on our shoulder, and we can so easily just step to the left as we stare at our phones to appease, impress and get a thumbs up for the moment,” Inserra said.

On the other hand, some Southern Baptists work to ensure they’re not considered liberal by others within the SBC, he said.

“The answer to this is not to move to an extrabiblical right but rather to stay on the faithful road of following Jesus, fixing our eyes on Him and submitting ourselves to the authority of His Word,” Inserra said. “It is so easy to get entangled and start running down a side street, chasing clout rather than Christ. Let it not be said of us.”

Southern Baptists are not just red letter Christians but are whole Bible Christians, he said.

“We cannot hold to inerrancy and simultaneously be embarrassed by what the Bible says,” Inserra said. “No wonder you are weary. No wonder I’m weary. The goal posts move weekly.”

When believers run the race rightly, they will see health in two areas of their churches, Inserra said: a strong Gospel doctrine and a strong Gospel culture. Southern Baptists do not have a Gospel doctrine problem, though they must always guard against it, he said.

A negative Gospel culture – particularly infighting – “completely hinders our race” and “causes us to grow weary,” Inserra said.

“If Jesus is the point, and He was full of grace and truth, holding Gospel doctrine and Gospel culture side by side is not squishy third way-ism, it is biblical Christianity. It is fixing our eyes on Jesus,” he said.

Inserra is more concerned with what younger believers in the SBC see from their leaders than with what the outside world thinks, he said. “Your enemy is not in this room.”

When people ask him why his church is still part of the SBC, Inserra said it’s because of the cloud of witnesses, because of Christ and because of a shared commission. “Our brothers and sisters, this is worth it. He and His mission are worth it.”

That is why the International Mission Board Sending Celebration is “the most exciting thing that happens here,” he said. “That’s why we get fired up about church planting and sending planters all across North America to take the Good News of the Gospel through the local church.

“That’s why we care about what happens in our seminaries as we need new pastors going out to fill these pulpits all across the world.”

A body as large as the SBC is going to have factions, tribes and networks, Inserra said, and that can be beneficial if everyone is “locked on the path of Christ together.”

Even the best players miss pitches sometimes, he said, but, “Let’s keep swinging hard for the Gospel. Let’s swing hard for the nations. Let’s swing hard to train more pastors. Let’s swing hard for human dignity and the protection of the vulnerable.”

“Let’s swing hard to see churches planted in college towns, major cities and rural areas,” Inserra said. “Let’s swing hard to ensure we are faithful to what the cloud has entrusted us with, and let’s keep running our race on the road that is paved with truth and grace that, after all, is the road of Jesus Christ.”

This article was originally published by the Baptist Press. Feature photo courtesy of Elijah Hickman.