Although I’m still suffering some effects of jet-lag from the Mediterranean trip, I’m back on an airline today to travel to Nashville for my first meeting as a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Because of my primary passion to serve as pastor of Green Acres, I’ve intentionally declined most invitations to serve on boards or committees. Currently, I serve only on the Trinity Mother Frances Health System Foundation Board, and the Board of Trustees of the Texas Baptist Child and Family Services. I accepted that position because of my heart for ministries like Breckenridge Village of Tyler. (For more information on Breckenridge read my August 24 blog)
I allowed my name to placed in nomination for the SBC Executive Committee because of my deep love for the people and churches of our denomination. I also agreed to serve because of my concern for the future of the SBC.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, let me give you a thumbnail of our structure. First, unlike most other denominations, there is no hierarchy in the SBC. It’s not a top-down structure where an individual or a small group dictates policy and practice for the churches. The most powerful entity in the SBC is the local church. There is no pope, bishop, apostle, prefect or board that tells Green Acres what we have to believe, or how we spend our offerings.
This precious Baptist value is called “the autonomy of the local church.” The SBC is an organization is which about 42,000 local churches voluntarily agree to affiliate and cooperate with the other churches for the sake of missions, ministry, and theological education.
In addition to the national SBC organization, there are also State Baptist Conventions (for most states). But the national SBC organization doesn’t dictate to the state conventions either. In addition to the national SBC and State Conventions, there are also local Baptist Associations (usually a county or two). But again, neither the SBC, nor the State Convention dictates to the local associations.
For instance, Green Acres voluntarily affiliates with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Smith Country Baptist Association. But these are three separate lines of connection, not one line that runs from the church, through the association through the state to the national convention. If you’re confused at this point, don’t be embarrassed. Probably about 90% of the people in the pews of our churches aren’t clear about this.
The Southern Baptist Convention actually only “exists” for two days a year when the messengers from the local churches convene for the annual meeting. For instance, last June the annual meeting was held in San Antonio and there were about 9,000 messengers from local churches around the U.S. This annual meeting is like a gigantic church business meeting in which any elected messenger can speak or make a motion. It is the largest deliberative body in the world.
Although the convention truly “exists” for two days a year, the work of the Southern Baptist Convention continues 365 days a year through the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, our six seminaries, and various other agencies. So two people from each state convention are elected by the SBC messengers to comprise the Executive Committee. This group oversees the work of the SBC between the annual meetings. I was elected for a four-year term last summer in San Antonio to serve from Texas. The Executive Committee meets three times a year, and oversees the budget and the work of these various agencies.
The 42,000 churches in the SBC all contribute to a fund called “The Cooperative Program” so that even the smallest church can be a partner in world missions, evangelism, and theological education. This year the total Cooperative Program gifts were more than $200,000,000. In 2006 Green Acres gave over $1.7 Million to the Cooperative Program – this amount is more than any other single church in America gave. That’s not a statement of pride, instead it’s a statement that reveals how serious we are about missions. I'm blessed to serve a church where the members are so generous in their gifts and participation in missions. We put our money where our heart is – in THE MISSION of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.
I covet your prayers as I serve the Lord and serve our fellow brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Convention. We must have organization and structure, because God is not the author of confusion, and everything regarding His church should be done decently and in order (1Cor 14:33). In spite of this, don’t forget that the Bible DOESN’T say, “For God so loved the world that He sent a committee …….”