Experiencing the Convention

Posted on June 16, 2011 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

The heat hit 107 degrees in Phoenix this week so no one wasted time in seeking refuge in the air conditioned comfort of hotels and the convention hall. It was strange to have no responsibilities or speaking engagements after 17 years of attending the Southern Baptist Convention as president of the IMB. It was delightful to hang out in the exhibit hall and visit friends in the corridors as other messengers do. I did not envy Tom Elliff, new IMB president who I encountered rushing to one of 13 meetings and appearances on his agenda for the week!

So the absence of personal responsibilities may have shaped my perspective to see the 2011 convention as a positive, inspirational annual meeting, though much smaller than normal. Registered messengers numbered only 4,800, the smallest number in 50 years. Certainly the distance and expense of getting to Phoenix had something to do with the smaller crowd. Likewise the absence of controversy and publicized “hot button” issues which usually attract the crowds was a factor.

I was encouraged that the crowd in the corridors, assembly hall and exhibit area seemed to represent a younger profile of convention attendees. Hopefully, this is encouraged by changes in process and renewed focus of the denomination on the Great Commission and things that really matter.

There was a freshness and renewed vision as new leaders of key SBC entities were recognized, dedicated in prayer and shared their vision–Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee, Kevin Ezell at the North American Mission Board, and Tom Elliff at the International Mission Board.

An unmistakeable characteristic of the 2011 convention was a unified focus on missions and church planting.  Beginning with the Pastors’ Conference, under the leadership of Vance Pittman, every speaker represented a challenge to plant churches among the unreached of North America and around the world. An offering of more than $200,000 was given to support reaching an unreached people group.  As the convention moved into session, reports from the Executive Committee, seminaries, Mission Boards and President Bryant Wright’s address challenged churches to take ownership of our Great Commission task.

David Platt, in the convention sermon, once again was used to stir the convention with a passionate, anointed challenge on behalf of the lost, unreached peoples of the world. In an unprecedented feature, both the North American and International Mission Boards had an appointment service for new missionaries in their presentation. How appropriate, as there is nothing more important that Southern Baptists do cooperatively than the sending and supporting of missionaries  in obedience to the Great Commission.

An emphasis that has been emerging in recent years became unmistakeable, perhaps as a natural outgrowth of the convention approval of a Great Commission Resurgence last year. The task of missions is no longer that of the denomination to carry out on behalf of the churches. It is clear the Great Commission will be fulfilled only as grassroots Southern Baptist and every local church takes ownership and responsibility of the task.

Ezell challenged churches to partner with NAMB to evangelize and plant new reproducing churches as a part of “Send North America.” Elliff challenged churches to adopt one of the 3,000 plus unengaged people groups around the world and, with the help of the IMB, initiate strategies to reach them within the next year, and thousands responded to each appeal.

Change comes slow in a large, diverse denomination with such a bureaucratic legacy but there is every indication the SBC is being revitalized by a fresh vision of being on mission with God to reach a lost world.

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