I was walking through the exhibit hall today thinking about our annual convention, trying to sort out everything I’ve seen so far. Here’s my take on the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good. 1. Everyone has a voice and gets to be heard. If you think we should be doing something different or better, get up to that mic at the appropriate time, state your name and what church you are from and make a motion. Yep, everyone gets a chance to talk. If you think we should stop boycotting Disney, stand up and let it fly. I love the idea that we all get a chance to be heard.
2. Conversation abounds for those who wish to make it happen. I’m not talking about professional “networking,” but building relationships and discussing truth, beauty, mission, and community as it relates to our churches. This means missing some of what happens on stage if you are only here for Tuesday and Wednesday. But I believe this is a very important part of making the journey.
3. Books. Last year was a bust for me. But this week I actually found some great books at the Lifeway exhibit. You want to know where to look for future reference? Check out the sale tables. I am serious when I say the best books to purchase were on the sale tables. This is not because they were going out of print, nor because they aren’t good books that sell well. The stuff I bought was going for 3 to 5 bucks each because (I’m guessing) Baptists don’t like to read them. Max Lucado's stuff was like 14 dollars.
4. Richard Land’s words during the ERLC report concerning ministry to homosexuals were good. I didn't hear everything, but what I heard I liked. Land and a video presentation that followed explained that homosexuality is not simply a choice a person makes, but is a much more complicated issue than many are willing to admit. The message was, we need to love and reach out to people who find their identity rooted in their sexuality. As I have said to some of my homosexual friends in the past, “I believe you are more than your sexuality.” Being able to "walk with them toward Jesus" doesn't require us being comfortable with sin, but with loving people.
5. Reports of all the good work that really have been happening this year. From tsunami relief work to our new church plants and much more, good things are happening through the SBC.
The Bad. The Bus. Seriously. The bus was a bad idea. SBC prez Bobby Welch took a tour bus around the country to promote a vision of baptizing one million people in one year. “Boo,” on both counts. I hate thinking about the money and time spent on a bus tour intended to motivate the convention to baptize one million people. It came off looking like an extended photo shoot. And the goal of baptizing one million people in one year? Of course I would love to see God work through our labor and bring about one million conversions (this is, I hope, what we're really talking about when we emphasize baptisms). But we have a problem. I think we all know we’re bad at baptizing people, not because we do it infrequently, but because we baptize people who don’t have a saving interest in Jesus Christ. We all know our statistics. Over half of our members are unaccounted for. They are not participating in the communities of faith we claim they belong to, yet they were baptized and added to our numbers. I am not suggesting the motives were wrong in chartering a bus, nor that people were not genuinely converted during the past year if associated with the tour. What I am suggesting is that this is the kind of thing we have done for years that has left our denomination anemic. It starts well enough, for example with an awareness that our baptismal rates are declining (though theoretically that could be a good sign). So we set a numeric goal and hire a bus driver? Bad idea.
The Ugly. The preaching. Not all of it, but not a little of it. Look, I’m not talking about style. That’s preference. I personally don’t like preachers using hyperbole without restraint, hyper-alliteration, yelling all the time or soliciting “amen’s” from the crowd. But that’s just me. And I am not trying to measure one preacher against another. What I find ugly is the tone and direction of much of the preaching. The prophetic voice is often directed toward the world in such a way that it amounts to an arrogant scolding of culture. While I do believe God’s word condemns sin and unbelief, it should go out with an appeal to experience the redemption offered in Jesus. Our message should not simply be, “You screwed up,” but Jesus offers forgiveness, deliverance and freedom for all of us screwed up people. Yes, we need to address sin while standing in the pulpit, sitting in the coffee shop and even when voting for a president. I would just prefer to see a different attitude. But even here we have a problem, because much of what is preached against, as “sin” is not sin at all. Sometimes the good desire for radical holiness amounts to an unbiblical separateness from our culture (I’ll hit this topic again after the convention).
I want you to know this has been a great trip so far, and I am excited about tomorrow. I have seen some good things here, great things even. But we are still in need of change. I know I am, but I write that stuff in my journal.