The recommendation of “Great Commission Baptists” as a descriptive name and the prospective election of the first ever African American president are on the horizon for the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 19–20 meeting in New Orleans.
Messengers will decide whether to adopt the informal, non-legal “Great Commission Baptists” descriptor as recommended by the SBC Executive Committee, embracing the suggestion of a special task force appointed to study changing the SBC’s name, deemed by some a regional barrier to the Gospel.
“The overwhelming acceptance of the Executive Committee was the first major step,” SBC President Bryant Wright said of the proposed descriptor. “Obviously, the decision of the Convention will be most important. If approved, our entities will lead the way in using the descriptor. I think it will be a ten to twenty-year process of helping Southern Baptists and the general public to think, ‘Those people really are Great Commission Baptists,’ when they think of us.”
Fred Luter Jr., senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and current SBC first vice president, currently is unopposed for the SBC presidency. Luter would be the first African American to hold the post, on the heels of the SBC’s historic 2011 measure calling for greater accountability among its entities regarding ethnic diversity in leadership. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, is expected to nominate Luter.
“Our election of Fred Luter as the first African American president of the SBC will send a great, hopeful, powerful message to our city, our culture, our Convention, and our country,” Crosby has said. “For many, it will make them rethink who Southern Baptists are, and it will help us reach the new diversity that we find in our cities. It is a statement that people of all ethnic groups make up the Southern Baptist Convention and are honored.”
The annual meeting will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the 2005 source of troubling images when thousands suffered hunger, thirst, and lack of medical care as victims of Hurricane Katrina. The center has undergone $92.7 million in improvements since the storm, according to press reports.
“Jesus: to the Neighborhood and the Nations” is the annual meeting theme, drawn from Luke 24:47-48 and worded to convey the importance of dual missions at home and abroad, Wright said.
“Last year in Phoenix, God moved so powerfully [that] it seemed more like a missions conference than a denominational business meeting,” Wright said. “It is my hope that with Jesus: to the Neighborhood and the Nations, we will once again see God’s Spirit convicting us and motivating us to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.”
Wright said his prayer is that messengers will have a “loving and caring Christian witness” at the annual meeting, “that the spirit of our messengers will be Christ-like to all we come in contact with.”
Concluding his final term as SBC president, Wright described his tenure as faith-enriching, energizing, and exhausting, referencing the godly passion of young seminarians, the church planting efforts of the North American Mission Board, frequent travel, and communication opportunities, among other experiences.
“It has been energizing to see how God is leading us to embrace the unengaged and unreached people groups of the world,” Wright said. “It has been energizing to preach the Gospel in so many settings, from small country churches to mega-churches in our great cities, and from churches in Egypt to students at Harvard.
“Two years is plenty,” he said of his tenure, “although by the time you have some idea of the vast scope of Southern Baptist ministries around the world, you’re going out of office.”
• Southern Baptist pastors will focus on changing their communities and the world at the 2012 Pastors’ Conference, June 17–18 at the convention center. “Changing: Lives, Communities and the World” is the theme, with sessions scheduled Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and Monday at 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 6:00 p.m. Speakers include David Jeremiah, David Platt, Fred Luter Jr., Johnny Hunt, and Jack Graham. Honoring Father’s Day, pastors will spotlight the father-son teams of Bailey and Josh Smith, Ronnie and Nick Floyd, Don and Rob Wilton, and Tony and Anthony Evans.
• Woman’s Missionary Union will hold its missions celebration in the convention center’s La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom, 3:00–7:00 p.m. Sunday and continuing throughout Monday, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Speakers will include Wanda Lee, WMU national executive director; David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans; Jay and Kathy Shafto, IMB field personnel; Damian Emetuche and Stacy Smith, NAMB field personnel; and Debby Akerman, national WMU president. Participants are encouraged to bring donations to area ministries, including hygiene kits, snack packs, and gift cards.
• NFL quarterback Tim Tebow’s mother, Pam Tebow, will address the 2012 Pastors’ Wives Conference, scheduled from 8:30–11:45 a.m. Monday, June 18, in the convention center’s Hall B-1. After ESPN aired the portion of an interview with Pam Tebow that focused on her refusal to abort “Timmy” when she was advised to do so, she gained a national platform for the pro-life message. Attendees will also hear a testimony from Jeannie Elliff, wife of IMB President Tom Elliff, and a roundtable discussion about parenting children of ministers. Women who serve in any facet of local church leadership, missions, and denominational work are invited to attend the free event. Registration is not required.
• The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions will emphasize passion in ministry, June 17–18 in Leavell Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 3939 Old Gentilly Boulevard. Fred Luter and Richard Blackaby will be among the speakers. General meetings are scheduled 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Monday and 9:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Tuesday, with breakout sessions 1:30–4:30 p.m.
Messengers can pre-register online at www.sbcannualmeeting.net under the Messengers tab through Saturday, June 16, 2012.
Diana Chandler is staff writer with Baptist Press and a member at Irish Channel Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana.