By Randy C. Davis
President and Executive Director, TBMB
We are going to meet. We are actually coming together, in person, to represent more than 40,000 churches that comprise the network of churches called the Southern Baptist Convention.
While gathering for the annual SBC isn’t that earth shattering in itself – after all we’ve been doing it every year since 1845 through wars, pandemics, heated (and needed) theological debates, cultural shifts and massive economic downturns – it is a big deal this year because of the unceremonious way the global COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt end to us having the convention last year. And like you, I’m excited to be gathering together.
However, there is a great danger to our future gathering if we allow our focus to stray from our purpose and results in “mission drift.” Possible? Absolutely, look at institutions like Harvard and Yale that were birthed as bastions of Christian values and biblical conservatism. You’d have to search long and hard to find a vestige of those roots on today’s campuses.
I’ll repeat what I’ve heard my friend and president of the International Mission Board, Paul Chitwood, say many times. “When the Great Commission is not the lead topic of conversation in Southern Baptist life, the other topics tend to divide us.”
The statement is true for every SBC or Tennessee Baptist Convention entity and church, and us collectively as a people. If we lose our focus on the Great Commission (and behave in a non-Great Commandment manner) we drift from what God has commanded, expects and blesses. And when we drift, we dishonor those who poured their lives into making the SBC the greatest missionary supporting enterprise since Pentecost. Remember this? “Look at the fields, they are white unto harvest.”
That must remain our battle cry.
We are just two weeks away from more than 12,000 messengers and guests arriving in Nashville for the 2021 annual meeting, and as a denomination, we stand at a crossroads. Individually and collectively, we have decisions to make that will determine whether we focus on our Great Commission purpose or if we will lapse into mission drift.
It is not a simple, clear cut decision. Many issues have been bubbling over the past several months like molten lava. Many are expecting an eruption on the convention floor. Secular news media has been conducting interviews with pastors asking them what they expect to happen during the convention.
The air is rife with the expectation that the Southern Baptist Convention will implode. And it could. Unity is a fragile thing and if we neglect it, or worse, contribute to disunity, we launch the vessel of mission drift whose destination is eventually on some distant and irrelevant shore.
Here’s how we keep that from happening.
Pray. SBC President J.D. Greear has called for several days of prayer and fasting in advance of the gavel dropping. He’s asked all Southern Baptists to collectively set aside every Tuesday between now and then to petition the Lord on behalf of our meeting. Humility before the Lord in prayer and fasting prior to the convention should lead to humility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ during the convention.
Promote unity. Ephesians 4:3 directs us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” We each individually control how we respond to others. Do we need to have some difficult discussions from the convention floor? Absolutely. Mission drift begins with the erosion of the core tenets of who we are as a people.
There are times when we must discuss, debate and clarify anything that threatens our biblical and doctrinal fidelity. The Baptist Faith and Message has served us well as our confessional standard on the essentials of the faith.
However, we are also directed biblically that “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14:40). If you’re coming, determine in your spirit that you will contribute to unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace.”
Show hospitality. I fully expect that the great number of Tennessee Baptists coming to represent their churches or to serve as volunteers will show hospitality to our guests. That’s what we do, and I’ve experienced it time and time again as I’ve traveled our great state and been a guest in our great churches.
However, Tennessean or not, everyone can show hospitality to their neighbor – the person sitting in the chair next to them, the person standing at a microphone with whom they disagree or the person running for SBC president whom they oppose.
Hospitality is, “the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Hospitality toward others promotes unity.
As we gather in Nashville as Southern Baptists, together we will collectively determine that our Great Commission mission as Southern Baptists is preeminent and that we will cooperate – even in the disagreements – to come out of this convention with a renewed focus to reach the world’s people with the gospel that they might know our great Savior. We must maintain our focus in a distracted world.
It is truly my joy to be on this journey with you.