About 5,000 of the Southern Baptist family traveled to the “dry heat” of Phoenix this year for the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. There were some special moments that made this year’s meeting a moving and memorable experience.
The first came on Sunday night. The leaders of Crossover Phoenix decided to take a new approach this year in their evangelistic efforts. Rather than having 50-plus block parties around Phoenix, as in previous Crossover years, one major event was planned. Southern Baptists partnered with Greg Laurie and the Harvest America Crusade. Door-to-door witnessing was still a component of this year’s Crossover event. Teams went out to share the gospel and invite people to the crusade. Approximately 425 churches and 5,000 people participated in this massive outreach effort. As a result, 3,549 people made professions of faith! I had the privilege to be at the crusade, and it was amazing and encouraging to watch so many people walk forward and respond during the invitation.
The Crossover leaders were not the only ones to try something new. This year, the Pastors Conference also tried a fresh approach to its annual meeting. Rather than inviting nationally known speakers to preach, this year’s conference featured 12 pastors from average-sized churches who preached a series of messages through the book of Philippians. It was a unique, and perhaps historical, moment, as pastors who are not known nationally led the national meeting.
I was encouraged to see that there continues to be a strong and growing interest in missions. Both the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board events were sold out, and many people wanting to attend had to be turned away. I had a “standing room only” ticket to the NAMB luncheon but still did not make it into the venue, as the fire marshal declared that the room was at capacity. Southern Baptists seem to be engaging more each year in planting churches and taking the gospel to the nations. One example of the increasing support for these efforts is that Tommy Green of the Florida Baptist Convention presented a gift of $3.1 million to Frank Page during the SBC Executive Committee report. This extra CP gift was made possible by the sale of the Florida convention’s former building.
Another positive development at this year’s convention was that our denomination took another step toward being more inclusive in our national leadership. H.B. Charles, an African-American pastor, was elected as the president of the Pastors Conference. The next day, Walter Strickland, an African-American leader who is serving at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was elected first vice president of the convention.
Ironically, the biggest controversy of the convention centered on a resolution regarding the “alt-right” — a movement that supports white nationalism, among other things. The Resolutions Committee chose not to report out a proposed resolution made by Dwight McKissic, an African-American pastor from Arlington, Texas. This unfortunate decision led to a tumultuous 24 hours as SBC leaders worked to find the best way to denounce “alt-right white supremacy” and take a stand against every form of racism. By Wednesday afternoon, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention passed a nearly unanimous resolution that did just that. Realizing that the color of one’s skin does not make one superior or inferior, our convention unmistakably declared that racism has no place in the SBC!
Another encouraging moment was during the Executive Committee report. Dr. Frank Page announced that Cooperative Program giving is up 3.64 percent over last year. With the $3 million gift from the Florida Baptist Convention, CP is already up over last year’s overall receipts! This is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago, when CP giving was trending downward. Perhaps a new generation of pastors is starting to realize that CP is not just about sending money to Nashville — it’s about people, and kingdom-focused ministries, and lives that are changed for eternity.
For me, the highlight of the convention this year was the missionary appointment service on Tuesday night. Approximately 33 people were commissioned as IMB missionaries to take the gospel to the nations. It was inspiring to watch the missionaries introduce themselves and tell where they will be serving for the cause of Christ. Halfway through the presentation, a message appeared on the screen explaining that for security reasons the stage lights would be dimmed as the remaining candidates were introduced. I listened to these young couples, whom I could not see, talk about taking their children to dark and dangerous places in the world. Tears filled my eyes, and I marveled at their faith and commitment. The crowning moment came when those same families left the stage and came and stood in the audience. We instinctively went to each missionary and laid our hands on them and prayed over them. It was one of those moments where you are grateful to be a Southern Baptist! I am thankful for what God is doing in our denomination as He calls — and we send — missionaries to the nations.
Dr. Steve Gaines was re-elected to serve a second term as our president. This year, his focus was on prayer. Next year, Dr. Gaines plans to call us back to soul-winning. Our annual meeting will be in Dallas in 2018. Perhaps that will be the place where God will start a revival in America.
— Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.