7 Days Later – Thoughts on the State Convention
Last Monday, November 15th, I made my way to Shawnee, Oklahoma and Oklahoma Baptist University to attend my first Oklahoma Baptist State Convention. I have been a Christ-follower since I was 12, a Southern Baptist since conception and in “leadership ministry” in a local church since I was 21. So the fact that this was my first time to a state convention says something in and of itself. Namely, I have intentionally avoided this meeting in the past. So why go? Why take a Monday and most of Tuesday to go to something that I have been reluctant to attend?
My motivations were primarily two. The first being that I was asked to attend since I was a part of a task force that was making a set of recommendations to be voted on for adoption by the 800-plus convention messengers. The second reason I went was because I knew that as a pastor of a cooperating Southern Baptist Church in the great state of Oklahoma I needed to educate myself about the inner workings of our state-wide partnership. In other words, if I am going to stand before the people of Jesus who make up the local body of Eagle Heights, then I need to be able to speak with first-hand knowledge about what is going on amongst our cooperation of nearly 1,800 churches.
So while I was very reluctant to go, I am glad that I did because I took away several helpful observations or thoughts about what happens at our State Baptist Convention Meeting and what is happening in our partnership of local churches. Here are a few thoughts from my time at the convention:
- It was good to see gospel friends. Much of what takes place at these meetings are reports and business, but they also serve the purpose of bringing fellow gospel laborers together. It was great to see Pastor Don Varble who took the risk of giving me my first church job as a youth minister when I was young, zealous and ignorant. Those three-and-a-half years with the people of Roland Hills Baptist Church in Roland, Oklahoma were years that God used to develop some of my leadership skills. Pastor Don Varble and the people were extremely patient with me and Don had an important impact on my staying in leadership ministry. With grace he allowed me to learn, succeed and fail. It was great to see him after almost ten years and God used that reunion to give me a profound sense of thankfulness for those who have invested in my life. Also I was able to drag my old college roommate and fellow pastor, Daniel Milligan, to the meeting. We were able to reflect on our days in college and seminary and talk about the future and what God is doing in the churches we pastor. It is always helpful to be able to share with a friend the struggles and triumphs that come with ministry. The convention was worth it for me just to see and visit with people who are friends because of the gospel and for the gospel.
- There was an obvious and identifiable minority. The Baptist Churches of Oklahoma were largely represented by, shall I say, more seasoned brothers and sisters in Christ. It was fairly easy to identify both the older crowd and the younger crowd. I’m generalizing of course, but the younger crowd dressed casually while the older crowd had on their Sunday’s best. The younger crowd of messengers could also be identified by the posture of their bending necks that revealed an attention to their hand-held devices. Perhaps many younger pastors and staff could not attend the meeting, but whatever the case it looked as though there was a significant discrepancy in generational representation. This is a cause for concern as it relates to the future of our partnership in Oklahoma and in every state.
- What will young leaders do? Here is the predominant reality among the younger pastors I know: There is a consistent restlessness about the way things are. And to be honest, “the way things are” means different things to different people, but restlessness is consistently there. I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing either. Some might see it as a bad thing because questions get asked and ideas and methods get challenged. But as a young guy (39 and under – See the Graph above) speaking to young guys, we must be careful with our restlessness. We must be bold but considerate of others and striving to preserve unity in the body of Christ. We must make sure we know what we think we know, and we must answer the question that I asked as I sat around five young pastors at the convention, “Are we going to engage the process to bring about the change that is desired, or are we going to abandon the cooperation as some have already done?” And by the way, I am not saying the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma or the Cooperative Program is broken, I’m just saying that there is a restlessness about it among young leaders – generally speaking. The question is, what will we do and how will we do it? What we can’t do is attack each other on Twitter and in blogs. We must constructively engage the process as we are able.
- Much ado about a car. There was some tweeting going on about a car that was wrapped to look like a race car to promote an evangelism initiative called “My316”. Some of the questions being asked were: How much did the car cost? Is that the best way to spend money? Will this initiative impact lostness? Whatever the concerns are, let’s hope that God uses every means to advance the whole gospel to whole people in the whole world.
- Worship Time? This bugged me. During the Tuesday session there were times of business that consisted of voting, reports and a sermon or two. But in the midst of business, votes and reports were these short times called “Worship”. At least that is what the screen said behind the platform. Now maybe I’m being overly critical but I have a couple of questions? First, do we really need to inject worship songs into the agenda? Can’t we just do what we are really there to do? Someone might be critical of me at this point and ask, “Don’t you want to worship?” To which I would ask my second question, “Can’t voting, reports, doing business sessions and so forth be worship?” Isn’t it true that if I can eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31) then I can also vote to the glory of God just as easily as I can sing to the glory of God? What I am really suggesting here is that we must be careful not to unnecessarily compartmentalize worship or inadvertently mean that worship is only worship when we are singing. All of life, can and should be seen as an act of worship, even business meetings.
- All in all. To summarize I learned a lot and enjoyed (at least a lot of it) seeing what happens at a convention. I enjoyed the time with friends over meals talking about what God is doing in us and in local churches. I additionally appreciate our cooperation as Oklahoma Southern Baptists and Nationally. I hope that we will be able to work together to make hard decisions about being on mission for Jesus as witnesses to all the nations. I believe I now understand that my priority is to the local church that God has given me to shepherd, but I also have a responsibility to work with others to advance the gospel. These are my thoughts about the state convention.
Will I go to the convention next year? I’ve got a year to pray and decide, but my first convention probably won’t be my last.