Recently, I encouraged a pastor friend to attend the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. He has attended SBC meetings in the past and did not see a compelling reason to attend again. His initial reaction to my invitation was, “What’s going to be so different about this year’s meeting?”
I’ve had the privilege of serving as the chairman of the SBC Committee on Order of Business this year. Our committee has worked diligently alongside SBC President Ronnie Floyd to ensure that this year’s meeting is one of the most impactful gatherings Southern Baptists have ever experienced. There have been several encouraging trends over the past few years in SBC life. The 2015 annual meeting is a continuation and extension of those positive trends.
This will be the 10th annual meeting I’ve attended. While still a relative newcomer, this annual meeting program is the most exciting I’ve seen. Here is what’s different about this year’s June 16-17 meeting:
Everything about the meeting has been driven by the vision of our president to display visibly the unity we have in Christ. From a joint seminary report and presentation time on Tuesday morning to a joint missionary commissioning service on Wednesday morning, our leaders will stand hand in hand, together demonstrating the unity of the Southern Baptist Convention. If Southern Baptists are going to reach the world for Christ, we will do it together. What messengers will see is not seminaries that are in competition with one another, or entities that vie for the attention of the churches. Our leaders will stand united, inspiring the rest of us to embrace unity as we fulfill the Great Commission.
One of the greatest moments I’ve experienced in my SBC journey was when Fred Luter was elected as our first African American president. The SBC’s intentional commitment to diversity over recent years has been outstanding. In that same vein, the great diversity of our convention will be on display at this year’s meeting. Our worship director is Julio Arriola, a native of Mexico who will lead us in inspiring and refreshing times of worship. Those who have been chosen to pray and read scripture passages during the sessions represent not just the ethnic and racial diversity of our convention, but also the diversity represented in our ministries – small and large church pastors from rural and urban areas, representatives of our associations, state conventions and seminaries – every person chosen intentionally to represent our diversity. Our Tuesday night session also is dedicated to reflecting our commitment as a convention to racial reconciliation.
Great Commission emphasis
Wednesday morning will be a historic moment that no one will want to miss. The entire morning will emphasize our commitment to the Great Commission. The climax of the morning session will be a joint missionary commissioning service led by Ronnie Floyd, David Platt of the International Mission Board and Kevin Ezell of the North American Mission Board. We will celebrate what God is doing through IMB and NAMB and will experience an unprecedented moment that will be the centerpiece of the annual meeting.
We have managed to fit almost every committee report and major business time into the Tuesday afternoon session, including elections of all officers. While time for business is important, we wanted to make it as efficient as possible in order to maximize the time during the rest of the program for elements that will enrich those who gather. One example of where we were able to add a new element is a special president’s panel on Wednesday afternoon on “The Supreme Court and Same Sex Marriage: Preparing Our Churches for the Future.” Along with the convention sermon, and reports and presentations from LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Wednesday afternoon will provide a great resource for messengers to think deeply about cultural engagement.
Ronnie Floyd has sounded a clarion call throughout the country for extraordinary prayer in anticipation that God can bring another spiritual awakening. In light of this, we will have dedicated times of prayer throughout the annual meeting. These moments will call us to serious engagement regarding our need for awakening as a nation. These moments will culminate in a powerful time together on Tuesday night as we host a national gathering of Southern Baptists for prayer for the next Great Awakening and to reach the world for Christ. This time of focused prayer we pray will be catalytic in the life of the SBC.
Celebrating what God is doing
Henry Blackaby once said that we should find where God is at work and join Him. God is at work through Southern Baptists all around the world, from the work of local churches and national and international church planters to international hunger relief efforts. We will tell the story and celebrate what is happening through every aspect of Southern Baptist life. One great initiative we will celebrate will take place in the days before the convention begins. Many people, including a large number of college students, will arrive early to participate in the Crossover event, focused on reaching Columbus for Christ. We hope each messenger will walk away from the annual meeting totally refreshed and encouraged about what God is doing through the SBC.
Come to Columbus
The annual meetings with the highest attendance in the past were those during the height of the Conservative Resurgence. As a young Southern Baptist, I am so grateful for the many thousands who attended those meetings and secured a better future for our convention. How thrilling would it be now if Southern Baptists would gather again in great numbers to commit ourselves to the future as we seek to reach the world for Christ together. I believe this year’s annual meeting will be a high point in the history of our convention. Join me in Columbus to participate in what God will do!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew Hebert, lead pastor of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church in Hobbs, N.M., is chairman of the Committee on Order of Business for the 2015 SBC annual meeting, June 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio.)