One of the blessings of summer for me is attending the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting. We are a gathering of autonomous, theologically aligned (for the most part) churches who pool resources together for cooperative missions and ministry. We believe that like-minded congregations can do more together than they can separately through efforts such as national and international missions, theological education, and public advocacy, as well as disaster relief. The 2 day annual meeting (preceded by a pastors conference) takes place in a major U.S. city each year, usually on a rotating regional basis. This year’s annual meeting was held in Phoenix.
Upon landing in Phoenix, the first view you’ll notice is that the city is surrounded by desert mountains. I attended the last convention here in 2011, but had forgotten just how majestic those mountains really are. Perhaps the most famous of these landmarks is Camelback Mountain, aptly named because of its appearance. It’s located between Phoenix and Scottsdale. You can climb it if you drink enough water (and are in good enough shape). It’s hot here, but not with humidity. Instead of feeling like you’re in a sauna, it’s more like being in an oven. It’s not too bad, as long as you don’t stay directly exposed to the sunlight.
One of my favorite experiences here last time was visiting the Grand Canyon, so I went again this year for a second viewing. It never disappoints. We drove through Sedona (which is the way to go) with a great view of the Red Rocks and climbed the scenic mountain drive to Flagstaff. From there, we drove to the Grand Canyon (after getting detoured by a road closing due to a wildfire - we ended up on a memorable dirt road for about two miles). I didn’t take any photos this time, because the photos I took last time didn’t do it justice. You have to see it for yourself. It’s breathtakingly spectacular.
Undoubtedly, the best part about attending the annual meeting is reuniting with old friends and meeting new ones. This is my 12th Annual Meeting to attend (off and on since St. Louis 2002) and I’ve never left without making new friends. Among the highlights:
THE YOUNG LEADERS ADVISORY COUNCIL (YLAC) Dinner
The YLAC is a small group of young pastors and ministry leaders appointed by Dr. Frank Page to discuss ways and means toward bringing the next generation of leaders to the denominational table. We first met over inauguration weekend in ATL and had dinner together while in Phoenix. I’ve really enjoyed meeting each of these guys (and their respective spouses who attended the dinner). They’re sharp, kingdom-minded, and engaged in SBC life. They’ve been an encouragement to me. With folks like these serving across our country, I feel there is much hope for the future.
COMMITTEE ON COMMITTEES
I’ve served on the associational (local) and state level, but this year was my first committee assignment on the national level (Yes, I know, Baptists do have a “Committee on Committees,” I’ve heard and made the jokes). The C of C actually does some legit work because we are responsible for appointing the Committee on Nominations, who then name the next slate of trustees for all SBC agencies and entities. In the past, the appointments weren’t considered a big deal, but when the authority of the Bible became challenged, conservative SBC leaders began ensuring that conservative appointments were made, a quarter century process commonly known as the “Conservative Resurgence.” I had the privilege of representing the Commonwealth of Kentucky this year, along with my colleague Nick Sandefur. I also got to stand on the SBC stage for the first time. That was fun. I wanted to take a selfie in front of the masses but feared that Steve Gaines or Barry McCarty might tackle me. One of my friends in the audience ended up taking a photo and sending it my way (thanks, Jacob!).
THE “SWORDSMEN” GATHERING
At the top of the list each year is our annual get-together of "Swordsmen,” men and women who have been called out to vocational ministry from Glendale Baptist Church under the 57 year leadership of our pastor, Bro. Richard P. Oldham (now with the Lord). It’s always great to hang with my tribe. I love these folks. They are family.
INTERNATIONAL MISSION BOARD (IMB) COMMISSIONING
This year the IMB held a commissioning ceremony for missionaries and their families. They are being sent all over the world for 3 year terms, and most of them won’t get to see their stateside families at all during this time. There were several missionaries commissioned in the background whose faces were dimmed by the lights because the countries where they are going are hostile to gospel witness. What a scene to see these brothers and sisters giving up everything to share about Jesus. It’s an incredibly moving time.
The SBC annual meeting usually generates press articles regularly during its sessions, but social media has given us a new challenge. This year, some extremists on the alt-right began posting extremely racist rhetoric while using the #sbc17 hashtag. After a couple of initial missteps, the Committee on Resolutions returned with a statement condemning racism while also proclaiming the gospel for all who would repent. It passed overwhelmingly and received a standing ovation. The best moment for me was looking back and seeing some of our African-American brothers and sisters in joyful tears over its passing. A convention founded in part on slavery now sits at the table of brotherhood with their descendants. Praise God.
This section isn’t nearly as much as the title makes it out to be. My return flight had a brief layover in Vegas. I saw the city (in the middle of the desert), viewed about 30 slot machines at the gate, then got back on the plane. What happens here...
VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL (VBS)
One of the most encouraging things to me of the entire trip was the drive from Nashville (where I landed) to Hawesville. I saw no less than 3 different VBS meetings at various churches taking place. If we can keep the main thing, the main thing, I like our chances. The gospel always beats the odds.