Every busy pastor, church staff person and lay leader has to look at their schedule and ask the question, “Is it worth my time to attend the annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) in Greensboro?”
For some the distance is only a few miles; for others the trip is more than 200 miles, translating into as much as four hours of driving each way.
Weighing the investment of time, the expense of travel and the potential of an overnight stay is not a light matter when church budgets are tight and the demands on one’s time are increasing.
Some have said there was a time when their vote at the annual meeting was essential. The prospect of turning the state convention in the same direction as the Southern Baptist Convention was important to them. So they made attendance a priority. Now, some of the same people say they trust the BSC leadership and the committees in place. They no longer sense the urgency to attend. Involvement is perceived as a luxury, no longer a necessity.
It is reported that many in the categories of Generation X and Millennials are either less interested or completely uninterested in the workings of denominations. Therefore they are not likely to consider attending annual sessions.
With due consideration for the researchers who analyze unique generational preferences, I wonder if the absentee generations simply have not been given the information they need to convince them of the value of working together through existing structures. I understand they perceive these systems to be outdated and cumbersome. In some cases that is true, but not in all cases.
As one who has experienced North Carolina Baptists’ internal operations, I strongly encourage skeptics to take a closer look. Tightening the belt, overhauling the purpose and fine-tuning the mission of the BSC have driven the agenda for almost eight years. It is impressive to see the clear hand of God reshaping us.
Even the annual meeting schedule is more efficient. Until a few years ago, the meetings continued into Wednesday morning. Now everything is packed into a 28-hour period, ending Tuesday evening.
But, maybe there are some principles that transcend the issues of distance and generational characteristics when identifying the value of annual meetings. I offer two points to ponder.
First, there is something everyone can contribute to the annual meeting.
Your vote is still important. Electing the right people to give leadership to the BSC is not a light matter. Supporting resolutions that address emerging issues and voting on a Cooperative Program missions budget that will impact the world with the gospel are not small concerns.
As you interact with peers at the annual meeting there is the potential that God may say something through you to minister to a fellow N.C. Baptist. It is like serving on a mission trip. You may go with one purpose in mind, but in the great wisdom of God, He uses you in ways beyond your imagination. Being available is the key.
Then there is the potential for giving your leadership to a convention-related ministry. There are many places to serve. Invest some time in the big picture of Kingdom work.
Second, there is something you receive as you attend the annual meeting.
Through a message at the pastors’ conference, a report from a convention agency, a theme interpretation, the music or a sermon, God speaks to messengers in unique ways. There may be a powerful word from God that impacts your life, your family and your ministry.
We are blessed that the convention sessions are available by live streaming on the Internet. But one of the great benefits of being in the meeting hall is the abundant networking that happens. Connecting with ministry partners and special friends is huge.
In a conversation with David Horton, president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College, he described the networking at the meeting as “social media on steroids.” I like that. But the “media” in this case happens to be face-to-face conversation instead of distant electronic communication. I treasure the personal conversation at these meetings.
Don and Julie Wright attended this year’s convention as messengers from First Baptist Church in Cary. They have been active members of a N.C. Baptist church since 1984, but have never attended the BSC’s annual meeting. “We were greatly impressed and enjoyed the exhibits and meeting people,” he said.
But the couple was really moved by all of the networking they encountered. “We found that we had mutual acquaintances with many people. We really enjoyed the exhibits and talking with people.
“We were both very impressed by the presentation of the Baptist Children’s Homes. As a result of that, we understand the financial need they constantly have and the importance [of their work]. It was impressive. And the fact that they have branched out into Guatemala with their services was very impressive.”
Wright was thankful for the healthy working relationship between North Carolina Baptists and the Southern Baptist Convention. He expressed appreciation for every segment of the meeting. “You see the Spirit around you; you see enthusiasm and the love of Christ shown to one another, and the commitment to service. In our entire experience we have nothing negative to say. We were positive and uplifted the entire time.”
Josh Eller also attended his first annual meeting.
He served on the staff of three N.C. churches, but is now in his first year as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in McLeansville. “When I walked in the thing that impressed me the most was the cooperative effort of all the churches,” he said.
Eller, 34, grew up in a Baptist church and was aware that Baptists are doing a lot of ministry in the state, “But when you see it first hand, it just puts it in a real-life perspective of what we are trying to do together,” he said. “When I saw all of the different missions that the convention supports – the Baptist Children’s Homes, the disaster relief work of Baptist Men – when you see what all our money is going to, it is an encouragement.
“It reinforces to me that our church wants to be involved in something that we couldn’t do ourselves. Knowing that we are partnering with other churches, we can accomplish a lot of things we could not do on our own,” Eller added.
I asked if he had any concerns. “The only thing I saw that concerned me was that when I walked in the convention center, I felt young,” Eller said. “At 34 years old, I am young. But looking around I asked, ‘Where’s my generation of pastors?’ … It was such a concern. I’m not sure why my generation of pastors are not participating. I don’t see them. It looks like an older generation of pastors at the meeting.”
Let’s get on the same team to impact lostness in our state. We can do more together.