The 2019 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention saw thousands of Southern Baptists gather in Birmingham. As we did, and as God worked through and among us, I couldn’t help but remember that the Gospel truly is what unites us and brings us together. As we look forward to our 2020 annual meeting in Orlando, June 9–10, I want to share several areas I’m particularly excited about:
1. Gospel Above All
Last year, our theme for the annual meeting was simple: Gospel Above All. This year’s theme is equally simple: Gospel Above All.
Of course, this is a continuation of our theme from 2019. I’m not sure that an annual meeting theme has ever been repeated before, but my prayer is that repeating the theme will emphasize even more that the Gospel really is to be above everything else. I often tell our staff that it’s only when I’m sick of saying something that people really begin to hear it.
After all, the basis of our unity in the SBC is the Gospel. Above our commitment to a method of ministry, a cultural or racial distinctive, or a political affiliation, we are to be a Gospel people. Like the apostle Paul said, the Gospel is to be of first importance to us (1 Corinthians 15:3). The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is narrow enough to unite us on the essentials and broad enough to allow freedom in the peripherals.
2. Diversity in the SBC
We know that the United States is changing. Already, nearly 20 percent of our membership in the SBC is non-Anglo. Beyond that, 63 percent of all churches planted in our Convention were planted by people of color. Last year, our committee appointments tried to reflect this. Forty-eight percent of our appointments were non-white, 40 percent were females and only 32 percent were white males. Nearly 80 percent had never served before, and nearly half of all appointments were from churches with an attendance of less than 250.
Let me be clear: this is not tokenism or a quota system. We genuinely need the perspective, insight, and wisdom of our brothers and sisters from every culture and ethnicity.
This also involves thinking about our sisters in Christ and how to steward and develop their ministry gifts. Yes, we are convictionally and unapologetically complementarian. But we also realize that God has given women a crucial role in the church. While it’s true that the Scripture clearly delineates roles and responsibilities for men and women in the church and home, the emphasis of Scripture is not on what women can’t do but on what they can and must do. I believe in order for the SBC to thrive, both our sons and daughters must thrive.
3. Who’s Your One
I have been incredibly encouraged to see how Who’s Your One has taken off across the Convention. Through Who’s Your One, thousands upon thousands of Southern Baptist believers are taking ownership for evangelism and asking who the one person God has placed in their lives to pray for, invite to church, share the Gospel with, and display the love of God to. Nearly thirty thousand Who’s Your One kits have been mailed out to churches all over the country in order to enable them to emphasize this phenomenal initiative. Several state conventions have even adopted this as their theme this fall, or as a prominent part of their annual meetings.
As we continue to prioritize the Gospel above all by sharing it intentionally with our friends and neighbors, ask yourself: Who’s Your One?
4. Send Every Member
In the book The Churching of America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark wrote that in the history of the church, the rise and fall of every major movement, denomination, or association was directly correlated with the number of pastors, planters, and missionaries being raised up. Right now, both NAMB and IMB say they have more money than planters and missionaries. We want to change that.
I’ve been encouraged to see the Go2 initiative gain traction during my time as president. With Go2, we are asking every college graduate in every Southern Baptist church or ministry to consider giving their first two years out of college to the mission of God. Both NAMB and IMB say that the majority of their career planters/missionaries started out in two-year roles. College graduates have to get a job somewhere, so let’s help them see that the mission of God ought to be the first and primary factor in that.
5. Caring Well for the Abused
I’m encouraged to report to you that churches from all over the country have voluntarily begun the Caring Well Challenge. There was a large response and fantastic attendance at the Caring Well Conference the ERLC hosted in October. Churches from all over the country have formed care teams to demonstrate the love of Christ to the hurting. The action that the Convention took last year was not a one-time planting of a flag or virtue-signaling and moving on. We knew we wanted to help change the culture in the SBC, and that doesn’t happen merely through resolutions, constitutional changes, or public statements on this topic.
This is a Gospel issue. It’s not a distraction from the mission, it is the mission. Because, at the core of the Gospel, we see a God who has compassion on the vulnerable and offers them safe refuge. We know that a watching world will not listen to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ if they do not believe our churches are safe places for the vulnerable. I believe that in this last year, thanks to your leadership, things are changing.
6. Engaging the Next Generation in Cooperative Mission
Southern Baptists continue to produce more church planters, more missionaries, and more seminary graduates than any other group in America, and we need to do everything we can to get the next generation engaged in cooperative mission. This is why we gather for the annual meeting each year! It may be a two-day business meeting, but this business meeting is the vehicle that drives our Convention’s action.
I want to see fifteen thousand messengers in Orlando, a new wave of evangelism that turns the tide on declining baptism numbers, and a wave of sending in the SBC that leads us to those days of multiplication and growth that characterized the first centuries of the church, when a group of Jewish fishermen—without resources, Conventions, money, or public platforms—turned the world upside down.
I’ll see you in Orlando!
J. D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and is president of the Southern Baptist Convention.