“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ,..” (I Peter 5:1)
A couple of months ago, I knew that I could not attend this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville due to a previous ministry commitment, but I did want an eyewitness account of what happened. So, I spoke with Bro. Robert Heard to share his perspectives. I hope his words will give some comfort and encouragement to you as to the direction and new leadership of Southern Baptist life.
My Perspective of the 2021
Southern Baptist Convention
Before going to this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, I was a little apprehensive about what would happen and what the future would hold for our denomination. The social media posts by many pastors and leaders in the convention were very negative. The news reports painted a bleak picture of racial tension, sex abuse cover-ups, and partisan bickering that could lead to the end of the Southern Baptist Convention as we know it. From all I had read, I truly believed and still do that this was one of if not the most important conventions since the conservative resurgence in 1979. I described it to many of my friends and colleagues as a watershed moment.
The false narratives spun by many in the main stream media tell of boisterous debates, “liberal” policy statements, and a major rift in the convention. That is not at all what I encountered. What I experienced was being part of over 15,000 Southern Baptists kneeling in prayer before our Heavenly Father to plead for Him to unify us around the cause of evangelism and discipleship. I saw the convention and the convention leadership make several clear and unambiguous statements about the need to end sexual abuse and racial discrimination. I heard calls for unity, love, cooperation, and gospel-centeredness.
The convention passed many important motions and resolutions. One of the most important was the adoption of a vision statement calling for us as Southern Baptists to “to reach every person for Christ in every town, every city, every state, and every nation” before the year 2025. This vision calls for us to increase missionaries, churches, leaders, and giving to see the Great Commission accomplished. The convention took a strong stand against abortion – what many have stated is the most pro-life statement in the history of our convention. Steps were taken to provide more transparency in how we deal with sex abuse allegations among our churches.
Many have pointed out in their social media reporting that the Southern Baptist Convention consists largely of predominately white congregations. They failed to report that the worship team leading us to God’s throne each session consisted of people from multiple ethnic origins. Three out of the four men nominated for convention president were nominated by minority individuals (two by black men and one by a woman of Asian descent). I saw people of varied ethnic backgrounds praying for each other, worshipping side by side, and displaying harmony that is not often seen in our world today.
I saw the gospel and missions put at the very center of all that Southern Baptists focused on during the meetings…and that’s the way it should be. I had the privilege to witness sixty-four missionaries commissioned to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. The messengers voted to increase our missionaries by a net of 500 over the next five years. Evangelism was emphasized as was discipleship.
I came away encouraged and excited about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is my hope and prayer that the calls for unity, love and cooperation will be heeded, and we will be able to fulfill our Lord’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This task can only be achieved if we work together and unify around the essentials that unite us as Southern Baptists – the gospel, missions, discipleship and cooperation through the Cooperative Program. If we do this, then great days are ahead.