Almost 5,300 messengers went to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting in Baltimore last week to elect a new president, to hear reports on ministries that span the world and to declare that our convictions have not changed. We still believe the Bible, which means we oppose sin, but we favor all that brings glory to God.
Our intensity to obey the Great Commission is greater. Our strategies to do so are more clearly defined than ever in our history. Now there is the need for churches to answer the call sacrificially with prayer, dollars and disciples.
The messenger count was an increase over the 2013 convention in Houston, where 5,103 Baptists gathered. North Carolina’s representation (427) was the third largest of the state conventions, behind Virginia (497) and Maryland (429).
I heard sermons and reports about strategies for church planting and church revitalization. Both are high priorities and both are necessary. There is no need for tension between those whose focus is church planting and those who emphasize church revitalization.
Pre-convention reports of declining baptisms and low giving patterns in the ranks of Southern Baptist churches do not necessarily translate into the death of the convention. Before anyone considers funeral arrangements, they should hear the reports from SBC entities in Baltimore.
The tone of the Baltimore event was very upbeat. International Mission Board (IMB) president Tom Elliff reported the highest Lottie Moon offering in history. Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, reported that the percentage of Cooperative Program gifts was slightly up last year, after 30 years of decline. North American Mission Board president, Kevin Ezell, is optimistic about church planting movements in strategic cities, and Southern Baptists are responding positively to the mission opportunities on the home continent.
The theme of the convention was “Restoration and Revival through Prayer.” It should not surprise anyone that much would be said about prayer. But a surprising note of perceived criticism surfaced through a very interesting Twitter rant.
Typically outsiders weigh-in on some element of Southern Baptists’ annual meeting. They tend to be confused about our theology, our convictions, our polity, our methodology or our vision. The strange twist this year was that the vocal outsider was Andy Stanley, a popular mega-church pastor in the Atlanta area and the son of a former president of the SBC.
Stanley tweeted, “Instead of praying for revival leaders of the SBC should go spend three weeks with @perrynoble Why pray for one when you can go watch one.” Another tweet said, “Praying for revival equates to blaming God for the condition of your local church.”
Two more tweets said, “Why not call the Church to pray for the things Jesus & New Testament writers prayed for? Why add Revival to the list?” and “Churches that need reviving most are the very churches that resist it most.”
He halted his tweeting missive with, “In closing, congratulations to Ronnie Floyd whose fabulous church doesn’t need reviving. It’s led by a leader who follows the Spirit’s lead.” Not knowing how to interpret Stanley’s views, confusion and criticism ran wild on Twitter.
Afterward in an interview with The Christian Post, the Atlanta pastor seemed to pull back from his initial comments. The report said “… the conversation spiraled beyond what he had intended it to be ….” Stanley tweeted “Dr. Alvin Reid takes me behind the woodshed…and I deserve it,” along with a link to Reid’s blog post on AlvinReid.com. Reid, professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, graciously chose not to pick a fight or publicly criticize a brother, but wisely answered this question: “What should we think about praying for revival?”
Stanley’s series of tweets was most unfortunate. It teaches yet another lesson on the troubles a mere 140 characters can launch.
In all of the talk about revival, let’s not lose sight of the new president’s emphasis.
At his first press conference Ronnie Floyd said he wants to “cast a clear, definable vision. … I believe that the greatest need in the Southern Baptist Convention and, quite honestly, the greatest need in the United States of America is a great awakening. … Just as Jonathan Edwards called for years ago before the First Great Awakening, its time for us to come together. It’s time for us to have visible union and it’s time for us to come together in extraordinary prayer.”
He said he has given many hours to calling pastors and churches together to see revival, which he described as “the manifested presence of God in our lives.”
The Arkansas pastor wants revival in the church, “so that America would be awakened with a powerful God consciousness where great numbers come to faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” He pointed out that it has been over 100 years since America has experienced a great revival movement. “We’re overdue. It’s past time,” Floyd said.
“We must have that movement. … for the purpose of the Great Commission elevated to its rightful priority in all we do as the church, so that we might see it accelerated to its completion in this generation.” When Floyd chaired the Great Commission Task Force in 2009-2010, one of the things God used to place him on a “different trajectory” was the extreme lostness he saw in the United States and in the entire world.
“We must get the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth,” he said. Floyd called on every believer, every church and every Southern Baptist entity to “do everything we can to accelerate the gospel to its completion.”
Without hesitation, Southern Baptists should heed the call. Programs, activities and big numbers are no substitute for spiritual awakening. Desperate prayer is needed.