What is the Southern Baptist Convention?
Recently the SBC has been in the news in some unfavorable ways. Some are asking about the purpose and future of our convention. What will the future of our convention be? Do we have a voice in our society? In full transparency, I have sympathy with much of the concern and frustration aimed at Southern Baptists. We must do better on race, on our complementarian positions, on our politics stances, and our overall Christian witness. I think many are trying to do better, my hope is that we will.
As I think about the role and purpose of the SBC, I am more than a little concerned that we may be losing our way. We are large and influential. We have a voice worth hearing. Our leaders are quoted and highlighted in different public places.
If we are not careful, we will forget that at our most basic, the Southern Baptist Convention is a missionary sending organization.
1. Our history tells the story of a people with a vision for God’s mission.
Now, we must never forget that the founding of the SBC is forever stained by our founders support of slavery. This cannot be hidden and should not be denied. However, as one looks over the history of our convention, we cannot ignore the importance of missions.
Our founding documents implore us to focus on “one sacred effort.” The challenge to take the gospel to the ends of the earth was not a venture pulled our of thin air. It wasn’t the invention of visionary leaders. Early Southern Baptists recognized that the mission was “sacred,” that is, it was God’s mission to which we are called and from which we cannot run. This is the dominating story line of our convention.
2. Our structure supports this vision for God’s mission
The SBC is a huge organization. It is complicated and confusing. Even those of us who work inside it are often surprised by the nuances and complexities. On the other hand, if we step back, we can see that the Southern Baptist Convention is structured for the purpose of advancing the Gospel around the world.
We have two missions agencies that shoulder the responsibility for mobilizing and empowering our people. We have six seminaries that exist to train a new generation of leaders to guide our churches deeper into God’s mission. We have an Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that equips Southern Baptists to speak with gospel clarity to some of the most difficult social and cultural issues of the day.
The goal of each of these entities is to help Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches succeed in the pursuit of this “One Sacred Effort.”
3. Our funding systems support our vision for God’s mission
It is no secret that Southern Baptists are a generous people. Sure, we can alway give more and our entities can alway use more. But the truth is we give sacrificially. We don’t do this because it makes us more spiritual or because we want to be celebrated. We don’t give because we agree with everything done under the banner of our denomination. We give because we have a vision for gospel advancement.
Our Cooperative Program enables all Southern Baptist Churches to be part of God’s global mission. As a denomination we have established, without hesitation or apology, that the vast majority (almost 75%) of all the funds given to the Southern Baptist Convention, will go toward our missionary advance. We do this through our regular weekly giving as well as through our two annual mission offerings — Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. We demonstrate, by our financial decisions that we are a missionary organization.
Now, I am not naive. I don’t believe for a minute that the issues we face in the SBC will disappear overnight. I know we have a long way to go before we become the convention we want to be.
However, let’s not forget our vision is for the fulfillment of a “sacred effort.” No matter what we do. I pray this vision will remain true. Our mission is to follow God’s mission for his people to make disciples of all nations.
** If you are interested in knowing more about the mission and function of the Southern Baptist Convention, you can pick up a copy of my book, Together on God’s Mission. The details are on the book page. **