I went to my first Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting this week. Most of my friends were shocked that I had never attended, but the recurring gathering happens in close proximity to my wedding anniversary, and I enjoy time with my wonderful wife more than debating resolutions with thousands of Baptists. Call me, crazy.
This year, the date and our anniversary were spaced out enough, but the real reason I went was concern over what I saw coming. The danger signs were enough to pull me out of detachment at the national level, and I also felt the need to explain to my church what was going on in our denomination, and I thought I needed to be in the room to feel the weight of it all.
#SBC21 did not disappoint.
Depending upon what you read, the perspectives vary. In some ways, it was better than I expected, and in other ways, it was worse than I expected. I saw some unbecoming things, but I think that godly reason won in most cases and showed the power of those not at the helm of the ship still able to turn the rudder.
There are many things to discuss and report. Some of the items, I am still trying to process, and I believe that some things won’t be unpacked for a while. But there is one item that provided such clarity for me that I wanted to share with whoever would read.
When I arrived on Tuesday morning, I came in a few minutes after the beginning, and it was standing room only. With over 15,000 messengers registered, I kept circling the convention center looking for a wall upon which I could lean or a section of concrete upon where I could sit. I eventually just had to stand in the open because you couldn’t find a spot.
Through the next few hours, we listened to recommendations, resolutions, amendments, and discussions. We were moved by incredible stories of God’s work among our churches, and we were reminded about significant challenges as a denomination. I watched agendas arise out of smear campaigns. I witnessed concerns verbalized from baseless accusations and serious issues, and I prayed to be able to discern between the two.
But here’s the moment when it became understandable to me. As the business concluded for the morning session and the worship began, a significant amount of messengers began to exit the room. It wasn’t all the people leaving, and I am sure some had some lunch meeting they had to prepare for, but there was a sizable amount that left as soon as the discussion time ended.
While being led by a multiethnic worship team, it was painful for me to sing “Holy are You, Lord God Almighty” while locking eyes with those walking out.
Just think about the irony for a moment – pastors who criticize their members leaving before worship ends at their churches were the ones leaving before it began at the convention.
When there is standing room only for the contentious business but seats-a-plenty during the genuine worship, I received all the perspective I needed for the state of the convention.
After a rich time of worship, SBC President J.D. Greear delivered an address that I wish every single Baptist could hear. He was bold and biblical, clear and convictional, honest and humble.
And for the thousands in the room, we all benefitted. It was a time of deep-felt unity in the room. I think I felt that way for who was in the room, but also because of those who weren’t.
I had some missionaries texting me while watching the livestream. I sent them a picture of the empty chairs and told them my perspective. I then realized that I could get off the concrete floor and had plenty of seats to pick from, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want a seat.
I think I wanted to tell myself that it was still standing-room only when we focused on Jesus and not who would be the next president.
So, I just stayed on the floor. In the middle of my discouragement of who wasn’t there, I was revived by who was there with me.
When there’s standing room only in the SBC, I pray for a day when it’s about the most important, unifying issues.
While there’s plenty to share, that moment is what clarifies it in my mind. This collection of churches trying to align together for the sake of the Great Commission’s fulfillment is incredible. Worshiping with those people in the room, I will gladly push back the kingdom of darkness with my life and our church. For all those focusing on smear campaigns, power positions, hidden agendas, financial oversight, closet prejudice, selfish coverups, and sinful idolatry, your day has come and gone.
A message was sent this week that no matter how much influence or power you think that you have, if you step outside of God’s directives, there will be a reckoning.
There are too many disciples and far too many churches who still live and die for the Great Commission, and we will not surrender to some lesser agenda.
There’s a lot of spins going on regarding the narrative of the convention. You might be reading this and think I’m putting my own spin on it. I guess I am, but if I’m going to spin it, I’m going to be honest – there are some really sad realities but it is overshadowed by some glorious opportunities. I thank God for the good that we are doing together, and I am committed to continue walking down the path for those who are still obsessed with the Great Commission.
I long for the day when there’s standing room only in the SBC when we focus on Jesus and His commission.
And until that day, I’ll keeping doing my part to that end.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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