Last week I attended the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which has always been a good experience if for no other reason than to see friends from across the years who live throughout the United States. The convention is our time as Southern Baptists to do business and be inspired.
Through the years, the convention has not always been inspirational. There were many years marked by turmoil, as Messengers fought for the soul of the convention. Thankfully, Southern Baptists accomplished what no other denomination has done. We turned from the slippery slope toward liberalism and returned to conservative roots that stand on the infallible and inerrant truth of Scripture. This was not easy nor pleasant, but we stayed the course. Today, SBC seminaries are secure and agencies are strong in regard to affirming sound doctrine.
Unfortunately, the battles and inward focus on doctrine tended to move the convention away from the centrality of evangelism and missions. In addition, during those days, the SBC leader’s commitment to the Cooperative Program was not as important as his commitment to the Bible. It was a right focus. Commitment to the Cooperative Program as the foundation for ministry and missions took a blow. Leaders often did not have a full commitment to the SBC’s funding approach. In many ways, that is still the case. Leaders of our mission boards were elected who had not demonstrated that support during their pastorates.
Missions and evangelism focus were lost in the battle to find the solid rock of doctrinal truth. The result has been a major retreat in the number of missionaries on the field due to lack of funding. Evangelism leadership from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) has been reduced to a part-time leader. It is heartbreaking to watch both of these things occur.
Yet, the convention meeting in 2017 gave indication that the SBC may be beginning a move back toward missions and personal evangelism. I’m not sure about the Cooperative Program, but I am hopeful.
Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has placed evangelism and prayer at the center of the convention’s work. A new task force to study how evangelism can be at the center of SBC life again is being formed. I am thankful for this. NAMB has placed focus on church planting as the evangelistic approach. The problem with that approach is that it leaves 99 percent of Southern Baptist churches out of the equation. SBC churches need leadership and training in personal evangelism. Hopefully, NAMB will step up and take even greater leadership in the area of personal evangelism.
One speaker, Greg Laurie, whose church just joined the SBC and who does crusade evangelism, preached why and how to give an evangelistic invitation. This is both a blessing and a curse—a curse because we are now having to press the idea of an evangelistic invitation among SBC pastors and a blessing because the SBC president placed evangelism front and center.
In years past, the greatest convention moment for me was the commissioning service that was part of the International Mission Board (IMB) report. There has been a drought in recent years—not true in 2017. We were blessed to be a part of the commissioning of IMB missionaries to the field. We heard their testimonies, and then to have the privilege of praying over them was the winning shot of the convention. For many, there was a cooperative sigh of relief and joy unspeakable to see that the IMB is moving back to business.
As a foot soldier and as a leader in Oklahoma during the conservative resurgence, I found my heart rejoicing in the above events. The fight for the centrality of an infallible and inerrant Bible was worth it, but worth it only if we take that Bible to the streets in America and to the ends of the earth. I am inspired to see the convention bring evangelism and missions central. Now we will see if Southern Baptists are willing to sacrifice and pay the price to carry the Good News to the ends of the earth.