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On the Southern Baptist Convention

Well it is that time of the year when we hear about the largest Protestant denomination in America, the Southern Baptist Convention.

The beginning of June marks the annual trek to a city by faithful Southern Baptists for the annual convention. This is a yearly assembly that takes place in differing locales for the purpose of voting on a budget…and a few other things. This week I’ll be focusing on some specific Southern Baptist issues, but initially I’ll quickly parse out some thoughts on my home denomination.

It is easy to go negative when talking about church stuff, or any stuff, because we are mired in a kind of cultural torpor that validates the bitingly negative opinion…that everyone has. So that isn’t my purpose. Instead I want to briefly talk about what I like about the SBC.

Often when I describe my affiliation to the SBC I begin by noting that “I’ve been a Southern Baptist since 9 months before I was born.” That is a true statement. I was raised by faithful Southern Baptist parents who served in Southern Baptist churches. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist pastor who, literally, built churches in Oklahoma and Michigan from the ground up. I’ve had a rich heritage of faithful people who have done their best to serve God and honor Jesus while being filled (but not too filled) with the Holy Spirit. Much of my theological formation happened in the cinderblock wall and tiled floors rooms of my home church; rooms that were separated by orange vinyl retractable room dividers. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior (with all the evangelical theology embedded in that statement) in the pastor’s study of that church on March 27, 1985.

I was (and will always be) an RA…that’s Royal Ambassador. My sister was a GA (Girl in Action) and, later, an Acteen. Missions was the embedded formation tool for our upbringing, and it made us stronger Christians.

The heart of the SBC has always been missions and ministry. We can look historically and note that the first two boards established by the founders of the SBC (who were a diverse theological lot) were the Home and Foreign Mission Boards. Southern Baptists continue to support missions with annual offerings and an intentional emphasis. We have a strong and well trained missionary force across the world bringing the Gospel to people and places far and wide.

Nationally, Southern Baptists have developed a tremendous Disaster Relief Ministry that goes right into damaged areas and provides basic needs (meals, shelter, and resources) that deploys thousands of volunteers at a higher and faster rate that state and national agencies. That is something to remember.

Our seminaries train and send out hundreds of new pastors and ministers every year and, because of the generous and ingenious support of the Cooperative Program, makes it affordable for the students. The seminaries have long been established as top tier theological institutions and have had the largest student bodies of most ATS schools in the United States.

Central to the SBC is that they are a people lashed to the Cross by the power of the Bible.

They are Gospel centered, Bible honoring denomination that seeks to condition their actions first by Scripture and then by application. The theological and spiritual formation lessons I gained growing up as a Southern Baptist were always rooted in the Scripture. This is something that has stayed with me through several stages of education.

There are many things about the SBC that make me proud to be part of the convention. It is a good group of earnest people that often are distorted for any number of reasons. As we move towards an era of marked post-denominational life, the SBC continues to see aspects of growth and continued commitment to their core beliefs and practices.

During their annual gala this week here in Houston, the SBC will likely take up motions and make declarations. Yet at the center of their daily activities will be constant prayer, fervent preaching, honest worship, and Gospel centered efforts.

For that I continue to be thankful. The Kingdom of God is larger because of the continued ministry and missions of Southern Baptists.

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Professional Conferences and Networking

Recently I attended my annual Metro Young Adult Minister’s Conference in Colorado Springs. This conference is for, generally, larger churches who have specific ministers or programs to reach young adults. There are a number of similar professional meetings like this for various levels of church programming (children’s, executive pastors, worship, communications, etc.) One of the purposes of these conferences allows ministers who are reaching a similar age segment, and who normally might not cross paths, to have some focused time of interaction, networking, and professional development.

Metro ConferenceDuring these meetings there is usually a focused topic with a presenter and then some follow up. For our meeting we have David Simpson from the Table Group (Patrick Lencioni’s Consulting Firm) come and lead a conversation about some of the central tenants of The Advantage and how we can apply them within our ministry framework. Simpson provided an excellent interaction where he took the business focused concepts within the text, drew them into a ministry environment, and drilled down on their implementation. Obviously for all the people in the room we each had different takeaways. Overall, I thought the conversation and topic went very well.

More to the point I am attempting to make here: these kinds of conferences are important for ministers (or ministry leaders) to attend. The best parts of the conferences are often the interaction and networking which occur off-site or outside the normal venues. For my involvement in these groups, this is really one of the two things I look forward to the most (the main topic being the other.)

Another point of the conference is how it allows ministers and ministry leaders to spend focused time discussing, thinking, and hearing about approaches and models for their specific ministry area. Too often we all have a tendency to sit in our offices, read a cloistered group of influencers, and attempt to do ministry in a specific paradigm. It isn’t that effective ministry can exist in this environment, but how much better is to hear where others are coming from. Usually, by the end of the meeting I’ll have a dozen or so ideas that I can take back to my church and think about implementing.

While I am a bit skeptical to the value of unguided groupthink, these kinds of events plunge into a different means of talking as a group to grow ourselves and ministries. It is also vital to be reminded that there are plenty of others out there doing ministry, like me, in a similar context who also face similar challenges. (Because ministry is challenging.)

Therefore, I would certainly recommend for anyone to seek out or attend these kinds of events. Perhaps even engaging with a regional group of leaders in a semi-annual or annual dialogue that will aid you as a leader.

Sharpening our skill set is hard to do in a vacuum. However, when you are placed alongside already sharp leaders there is a natural honing process that will leave you more ready and refreshed to confront the ins and outs of regular ministry life.

So, what kind of events like this do you participate in? How are you finding dialogue and networking with other similar minded leaders in your area?

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