When Baptists gather in Phoenix next month, they’ll address the challenges of taking the gospel to a world that seems less inclined to hear the message, and doing so with fewer resources to get the job done.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention June 13-14 will also meet against a very different political backdrop than a year ago, and could contend with the fallout of recent debate fueled by a raucous and divisive U.S. presidential election.
Recent calls for Convention-wide unity—and similar statements by SBC leaders—could rule the day in Phoenix, where Baptists will focus on prayer, evangelism, and financial stewardship, said SBC President Steve Gaines.
“I believe Southern Baptists can be used of God to spark a mighty movement of prayer, evangelism, and discipleship across our nation and around the world,” said Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in metro Memphis, Tenn., in announcing the meeting’s theme. “Pray! For such a time as this” is based on Luke 18:1 and Esther 4:14.
“If we will pray and abandon ourselves to the Lord, he will use us exponentially to take the gospel to people,” Gaines said.
Similar to the previous few annual meetings, Gaines said the 2017 gathering will include seasons of prayer, as well as a personal evangelism emphasis on Tuesday evening led by Greg Laurie.
The California evangelist also will lead a Harvest Crusade Sunday, June 11, as part of the annual Crossover evangelistic effort that precedes the Southern Baptist Convention (see Nate Adams’s column on page 2 for more information). Organizers say the event at University of Phoenix Stadium, which holds 65,000 people, promises to be the largest single gospel presentation in Arizona history.
Focus on stewardship
Following the example of previous annual meetings, the gathering in Phoenix will include a panel discussion with SBC leaders. This year’s topic: financial stewardship.
Gaines told Baptist Press Southern Baptist churches cannot give more to SBC missions and ministries than church members give through their local congregations.
“The solution for increased funding for world missions begins in the heart of every individual believer in Christ,” he said. “Southern Baptists need to get our financial houses in order.
The Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ unified giving channel for supporting missions and ministry around the world—is likely to be a topic of conversation in Phoenix as well. In February, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced they would temporarily escrow their CP giving because of positions taken by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
ERLC President Russell Moore, a vocal critic of now-President Donald Trump during the campaign, has apologized for comments that seemed directed at all evangelicals who supported Trump, and the ERLC’s executive board released a statement in April pledging their support for Moore. The statement also called for unity in the SBC despite differences, a sentiment echoed by Gaines.
“I believe all of us who are recipients of grace and forgiveness should grant him the same forgiveness that we desire from the Lord,” Gaines said after Moore and the ERLC executive board released the statement. “It is high time that we put all of this behind us….It is time to move ahead and work together to double our efforts to take the gospel to our nation and the nations.”
If the recent controversy surrounding the ERLC does make an appearance at the SBC, it could be in the form of a motion from the floor, or during the Q&A time following Moore’s report, which is the final item on the meeting schedule. International Mission Board President David Platt could also face questions about the IMB’s support of a Muslim group’s fight to build a mosque in New Jersey. (Like the ERLC, the IMB also signed on to a friend of the court brief in support of the group.)
In February, Platt apologized for how “distracting and divisive” the brief was, and pledged that in the future, the IMB “will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission.” Still, the mosque debate could spark a religious liberty conversation in Phoenix, as could President Trump’s controversial travel ban for people from some majority Muslim countries into the U.S.
Online pre-registration for the Phoenix meeting is now open at sbcannualmeeting/sbc17. Messengers and guests are required to be registered and properly badged in order to enter the general sessions June 13-14.
For more information about the Southern Baptist Convention’s June meeting in Phoenix, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.
– With info from Baptist Press