On the back cover of his signature work, The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention 1917–1984, Albert McClellan says the following:
“To many observers, Southern Baptists are a paradox—a people of seemingly contradictory qualities. One has described them as a rope of sand with the strength of steel. Others have compared them to a bumblebee, which in theory should not be able to fly, but which does so quite well.
“Southern Baptists strongly affirm both the autonomy of the local church under Christ and the call to cooperate with other local churches in doing the work of Christ on earth.”
McClellan was correct. Everything we do as Southern Baptists is about affirming and supporting the work of the local church. To that end, Baptists do their work in an amazing way that is characterized by both independence and interdependence. As I travel across the land, I see both of these powerful descriptors at work.
I also recognize that Baptists work within different affinity organizations. Baptist associations, state conventions, national entities, and numerous fellowships work autonomously, as well as cooperatively, making working together a joy and a challenge at the same time.
The Executive Committee was established in 1917 to serve as a vital link in this great fellowship of Southern Baptists. Working together at these various levels, we seek to encourage the work of local churches as they do the work of the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 2010, I was given the incredible privilege of helping lead the work of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. As a part of this ministry to which God called me, I’ve attempted to change the conversation to encourage pastors and church leaders to reengage in this great task of worldwide evangelization, to rebuild trust and encourage dialogue among people groups, and also to involve and encourage people of every ethnic group within our nation to be a part of God’s work within our Convention. My goal has been to build relationships at all the levels described above so that together we might work better in trust and unity.
Over the past years, there have been some incredible results. People have deepened their involvement of Cooperative Program giving and are working to make sure that it is organized correctly according to the needs of a twenty-first century world and church. We have seen challenging days on the mission field, but we are excited that our missionary count is headed back up with still the largest permanent mission force of any faith group. The enrollment numbers of seminaries are some of the largest in human history. There have been changes in our annual meeting demographic as the average age of participants has gotten younger. There have even been changes in the annual meeting event itself as we have been able to bring costs down while at the same time remaining relevant.
We live in an anti-institutional and an anti-denominational age and, therefore, to do a work that many people would call “denominational work” is indeed a huge task. However, I’ve been privileged to work with a great staff and partner with great leaders at the national, state, associational, and local level. There is a deep desire to reengage churches as never before in evangelistic strategies and relevant ministries.
Many people ask me about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention and I often reply that I am cautiously optimistic about the days ahead. There are some great things happening and many factors that are influencing us now and in the future. I believe that God is not done with Southern Baptists! If we stay focused on His Word and His way, He will continue to favor us with an increased number of churches, and—I pray in the days ahead—an increased number in baptisms, worship, and discipleship as well.
May God bless the Southern Baptist Convention and the Executive Committee as Southern Baptists work together with a common purpose.
Frank S. Page is president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee and is a member of Clearview Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee.