The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting did not have my full attention when I arrived in Baltimore last week. In fact, I’d say my enthusiasm for it was pretty low. My mind and my heart were on that which needed my attention here in Tennessee.
However, by the time Jeanne and I left Baltimore Thursday morning, I was encouraged and glad that we attended the annual meeting. The fellowship with friends from Tennessee and across the country refreshed us. There were also several highlights that proved to be special moments for me.
First, a message during the Pastors Conference by North Carolina Pastor J.D. Greear affirmed the work of TBC Executive Board. He encouraged churches to get beyond the walls of their buildings, into their communities, engage the culture and present the gospel. Our Harvest Plants 1-5-1 initiative equips and encourages churches to do exactly that. In the last six months, 373 TBC churches have planted more than 700 1-5-1 groups beyond their respective church campuses. The result? So far 743 Tennesseans now know Jesus personally, have been baptized and set on the road to discipleship. I’m certain the majority of these new believers most likely would not have stepped foot into a church building. People from the churches went to them.
How it encouraged my spirit to hear someone like J.D. publicly recognize what is happening in Tennessee. That affirmation of direction charged my batteries and creates anticipation for what more God will do in Tennessee through our churches and through the TBC.
Another special moment came when I learned that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, my alma mater, received a $3.5 million gift to be used for equipping bivocational and small church pastors. The majority of Tennessee Baptists pastors, 61 percent in fact, fall into the bivocational category. The average TBC church has a weekly attendance of just over 100, certainly putting many pastors in the “small church” category. I’m thankful for Chuck Kelley, the seminary’s president, leading NOBTS to provide biblical and practical training for those preparing for ministry in the local church.
The most emotional moment came during the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission report. Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, introduced Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor serving an eight-year sentence in Iran because of his faith. She received the longest standing ovation of our two-day convention. Tears flowed as I imagined our Christian brother being brutally treated in the horrible and inhumane conditions of that prison in Tehran. Please pray for this brother and his family. He is a brave and uncompromising witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s Friday morning and I am at my desk reflecting on all that I heard and saw at the convention, and I’m encouraged and thankful for the great Kingdom work being done throughout Tennessee, across the United States, and around the world. I can say without reservation I am thankful to be a Tennessee Baptist working with our Southern Baptist Great Commission partners. It’s good to pause and celebrate. However, don’t linger too long and leave one hand on the handle of the plough.
The work’s not done. Together, we still have a lot to do for our Great King.