Eighty next-generation leaders got an insider’s glimpse of the Southern Baptist Convention’s inner workings in a series of mealtime meetings with five key SBC leaders.
The students and young leaders were invited by Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, to participate in the second-annual SBC Student/Young Leaders Conference. The event, which was held during the Executive Committee’s February trustee meeting in Nashville, was designed “to provide the future leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention an inside and close-up look at the legislative process of the Convention, as well as give them an opportunity to participate in Q&A sessions with current leaders of SBC ministries,” said Ashley Clayton, the SBC Executive Committee’s vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship.
The young leaders were selected by Southern Baptist seminaries and colleges to attend the conference. In addition to three mealtime meetings, the group sat in on trustee committee meetings and plenary sessions, where they were welcomed by EC Chairman Mike Routt, senior pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Every one of these sessions connected with this young crowd at a strategically high level, and every presentation was absolutely on-message and relevant,” Clayton said. The meetings provided an opportunity to network with key SBC leaders and learn about the day-to-day shape of the cooperation that makes up the Southern Baptist Convention. They were also allowed the chance to interact with models of faithful leadership that will help them grow into better leaders themselves.
Paul Lamicela, an intern at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote to express appreciation for the “wonderful example of godly, mature leaders with a passion for preaching, the church, missions, and ministry” that he saw. Lamicela also noted: “As one who is not from an SBC background, it was good for me to see firsthand some of the workings of the SBC organizations and Executive Committee. I am grateful for the godly leadership God is blessing our denomination with. Thank you for planning the student leadership event so we could get this ‘inside’ glimpse.”
The three meals featured conversations with Page; David Platt, president of the International Mission Board; Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board; Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas.
In the first session, Page and Platt made presentations about their specific leadership roles. Page talked about the trustee process and outlined what the group would see and hear during the two-day Executive Committee meeting. Platt talked about the recent “draw down” and organizational reset of IMB’s mission force due to financial constraints, then discussed at length the organization’s plan for sending “limitless missionary teams.” Platt challenged each attendee to ask God where he intends them to serve.
In the second session, Moore fielded questions across a broad spectrum of subjects including politics and Christian responsibility, family and marriage, and race relations. Ezell reported on church planting in North America and Canada and gave high marks to Southern Baptist church planters who face seemingly insurmountable challenges, especially in cities where lostness is growing and resources are getting harder to find. Ezell promised every current and prospective church planter and missionary: “No matter where you are, wherever God has called you, as a part of the Southern Baptist family, you are not alone.”
In the third session, Page reported on the upswing in giving through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist’s primary and fundamental funding model for the Convention’s missions and ministries. Page also presented a heartfelt presentation on suicide, depression, and grief. He referred to his book, Melissa: A Father’s Lessons from a Daughter’s Suicide, and told the group that every week someone who is either contemplating suicide or dealing with the aftermath of suicide contacts him for help.
Floyd fielded multiple questions from the floor, including queries on the importance of theological education, Cross Church’s decision to increase giving through the Cooperative Program, and what a Great Awakening among Southern Baptists would look like. Floyd “was open and transparent in his dialogue with these young leaders,” Clayton said. “He championed continuing education, was passionate about investing in SBC missions, and lifted up prayer and evangelism as main ingredients for revival.”
The first SBC Student/Young Leaders Conference was held in conjunction with the ERLC’s 2015 Leadership Summit on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation.” The conference model was developed by Southern Seminary, which has begun taking its ministry leadership interns to Nashville each spring to meet SBC entity leaders there.
After the 2015 meeting, Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president, said he thought the annual event would strengthen the SBC’s connection to younger leaders. “Imagine the impact on the denomination after a decade if five-hundred-plus key Southern Baptist leaders have attended this event and shaped their ongoing commitment to investing in the SBC,” Bethancourt said.
Mark Kelly is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE and is a member of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia.