By Eric Reed
After our last issue of the Illinois Baptist went to press, we remembered what we left out of the article, “Why this one matters.” Our collection of items to look for at the Southern Baptist Convention in June should have included the forthcoming report on evangelism in the SBC by Steve Gaines’ blue ribbon committee. The panel, which includes Illinois’ own Doug Munton, pastor of FBC O’Fallon, is scheduled to present its study on the declining rate of baptisms in SBC churches and several key proposals to turn that around.
The report, by seminary presidents, SBC entity heads, and megachurch pastors, was to be Gaines’ parting word to the convention as he concludes two years as president. It is a very important word at crucial moment in the life of our denomination. We meant to say that in our May 7 issue previewing the Dallas convention.
Gaines’ important prescription for recapturing the SBC’s evangelistic fervor got muscled out by breaking news about abuse of women and the argument over inappropriate statements by statesman Paige Patterson two decades ago.
The same appears likely to happen again at the convention in June.
Any one of these stories could be the headline coming out of Dallas:
“SBC shifts generation and theology in top leadership vote.”
“Proceedings slowed as messengers argue diversity among nominees.”
“Messengers debate ERLC leadership and another round of resolutions repudiating racism.”
“SBC speaks on abuse, women, and their place in the denomination.”
“Patterson announces retirement, takes final lap before exiting SBC stage.” Or, “Patterson unseated as convention’s keynote; denied final sermon after controversial comments.” (A special called Board of Trustees meeting May 25 at Southwestern Seminary may determine if either of last two headlines proves true.)
But the headline will likely not be: “SBC adopts new plan for evangelism to turn decline in baptism and refocus churches on leading the lost to faith.”
Because the overwrought news cycle of the current era has overtaken the SBC too. If only we could come out of Dallas writing stories about a fresh wind of God’s Spirit and our renewed commitment to share the gospel. If only we could file reports of our people falling on their faces in repentance for failing to share salvation with lost people, then hitting the streets to tell the good news.
Yes, all these news stories are very important. As a people, we must deal faithfully with women and our treatment of them in the church as well as the larger culture. But while we are doing that, we must remember what brought us together as a denomination in the first place. The world needs Jesus. And all today’s headlines are evidence of that great need.
Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.