The enthusiasm was as thick as the late summer air as hundreds of pastors and church leaders gathered at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) to prepare to welcome thousands of messengers to the Crescent City in 2023.
Local leaders believe the convention will make a tremendous impact on the city.
“There’s a new energy and new excitement. I’m expecting great things in this convention and in our cooperative work going forward,” said Jack Hunter, executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association.
Jamie Dew, NOBTS president, believes the annual meeting’s return to the Gulf Coast will give Southern Baptists an opportunity to see urban evangelism, church planting and mercy ministry in a context where it makes a great impact.
“Those are things that matter to Southern Baptists very deeply, and they are natural opportunities here in our city,” Dew told Baptist Press (BP).
SBC President Bart Barber revealed the theme for the 2023 annual meeting. Basing it on 2 Corinthians 4:5, he said it will be “Serving the Lord; Serving others.”
“I hope that we can show that through Crossover and through the things we do during the annual meeting as well,” Barber said.
Barber reflected on the impact the city has made on his wife, who has served on disaster relief teams numerous times over the years.
“I have a hope and belief that the seeds that have been planted during those disaster responses can be a harvest for us during Crossover this year,” Barber told BP.
The last time the meeting was in New Orleans was 2012. It was a historic year as Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected SBC president. Luter became the first African American to be elected to the post.
He believes New Orleans can be the place where Southern Baptists are reminded of their primary focus on evangelism and discipleship.
“To have the convention back in New Orleans will be a great opportunity to get us back on the right foot,” Luter said.
Baptist Press photos by Brandon Porter 1) Several hundred pastors and church leaders from the New Orleans area gathered at NOBTS for a kickoff rally for the 2023 SBC annual meeting. 2) Jack Hunter, right, speaks about the local impact of the annual meeting being in New Orleans. Daniel Dickard, left, also spoke at the event. 3) Fred Luter talks about his excitement as the SBC annual meeting returns to New Orleans. 4) Willie McLaurin prays at the annual meeting kickoff rally. 5) Pastor Nelio Liga prays as Chip Luter, Augustine Hui and Willie McLaurin join him at rally for the 2023 SBC annual meeting. 6) Jonathan Howe gives details concerning the annual meeting at a kickoff rally on Aug. 23.
Willie McLaurin, interim president/CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, served as emcee of the event that gave convention organizers an opportunity to talk about the key role local leaders play in the months leading up to the annual meeting.
“This is an opportunity to cast a vision for the upcoming annual meeting and to let local pastors and leaders know how important they are as we partner together,” McLaurin said.
He believes the meeting will have a great impact on the city.
“This will be an important opportunity for Southern Baptists from all across the country to come here to learn how they can partner locally to help get people off the road to hell and get on the road to heaven,” McLaurin told BP.
Hunter believes the city is ready for that impact. “We believe having Southern Baptists among us will be a great encouragement to us,” he said. “Both through the Crossover event and the Serve Tour, just having them here among us will be a great blessing.”
New Orleans area pastor Jay Adkins is leading the Local Encouragement Team, a team that helps recruit local volunteers and spread the word about the annual meeting’s arrival.
He says Southern Baptists serving the region after Katrina gave them an open door for gospel conversations, and the city’s hosting the annual meeting could give them a second opportunity.
“My prayer is that we will have fertile soil from the work of the Serve Tour and Crossover,” Adkins said.
“My hope is that people (messengers) will see this community … as a unique place with a unique history that is a blessing to serve.”
The 2023 meeting was originally scheduled to be held in Charlotte, N.C., but the SBC Executive Committee voted to move the meeting to New Orleans due to the need for more convention space necessitated by increased attendance the past few years.
Those attending the kickoff also heard a preview of the 2023 SBC Pastors’ Conference from Daniel Dickard, this year’s conference president. He said his primary focus is to encourage pastors to continue in faithful ministry.
“Since its inception in 1935, it’s always existed for that purpose,” Dickard said of the annual gathering.
He believes pastors are in great need of encouragement and pointed to how pastors have been stretched thin by the coronavirus pandemic and the turbulent cultural climate.
“We’re going to emphasize nine pastors, many of whom have retired or are retiring, as they have been faithful through the years,” Dickard said. “We want to hear from them, ‘This is what kept me in the ministry during the tough times.’”
Dickard plans to begin announcing conference speakers and more details later this fall.
Of course, no visit to New Orleans is complete without enjoying culinary delights. The seminary has developed a guide for visitors helping them find a seafood, Cajun or French dish that will put a smile on their face.
Luter, a native New Orleanian, says he personally recommends messengers try chargrilled oysters while in the Big Easy.
The 2023 SBC annual meeting is set for June 13-14 at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Porter serves as associate vice president for convention news at the SBC Executive Committee.)