Messengers at SBC meeting ponder hopeof revival
SAN ANTONIO—Missouri Baptist messengers expressed hope mixed with skepticism when asked to comment on the theme of the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, “Lord, Send Your Holy Spirit,” which referred to a particular focus on prayer during the June 12-13 business sessions.
“I think it comes as a result of our lack of comfort with this issue of not getting the job done that we think we ought to be able to get done,” said Doug Richey, messenger, Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs. “We keep this very clear emphasis in front of us all the time in terms of evangelism and church planting, which is fine, but I think that one of the reasons why we have seen a decline in baptisms is it might not have to do with the fact that we don’t have enough programs or enough emphasis or enough focus. I think it might have to do with the fact that maybe God is choosing not to use us as an effective tool because we’re unwilling to recognize just how dependent we really are.”
Richey went on to explain the importance of integrity, honesty and humility when it comes to revival, spiritual awakening and prayers that God will hear.
“We can’t expect to see hordes of people coming to the kingdom when we’re a dull tool,” he said. “So I think the call for revival is an important one, but I’m hoping that it’s not a superficial call. I hope that we’re willing to do what is necessary to honestly expect that God would grant our request for revival.”
Rodney Albert, messenger, Hallsville Baptist Church, said God can revive Southern Baptists, perhaps with a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit blowing powerfully through the streets, waterways and gardens of beautiful downtown San Antonio.
“Revival is the key to our Convention’s success,” Albert said. “Long before baptisms, long before evangelism, we must have revival. And the heart of revival is God’s people seeking His face and ultimately turning from our wicked ways. When Southern Baptists do that, we’ll see revival.”
Richey was involved in a spirited debate June 13 in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center over a resolution on integrity in church membership that ultimately failed. It was declined to be brought before the Convention by the SBC Resolutions Committee, which meant that an override vote requiring a 2/3 majority of messengers was attempted. That vote produced what appeared to be an even split of messengers, which killed the resolution.
Richey was troubled by the defeat of the resolution because he and a growing number of messengers feel that Southern Baptist leaders are not being truthful with the general public when a total membership number of 16.3 million is reported. A more honest number, Richey said, would be the primary worship attendance figure of 6.1 million, although a press release by LifeWay Christian Resources indicated that the total membership number is “most reliable,” with the primary worship number designated “least reliable.”
As a two-year member of the SBC Credentials Committee, Richey felt led to testify at a microphone as to the effect that he feels the 16.3 million number is having on revival, or the lack thereof, in the Southern Baptist denomination. Working on the Credentials Committee means that Richey is prepared to give out information on total membership, which has produced several insightful moments, he said.
“As I would give them their total membership they would look with amazement, both laymen and pastors alike,” Richey said. “The laymen would say, ‘Our church is not that big,’ and pastors would say, I don’t even pay attention to that number any longer because that’s not possible for us to operate thinking that we are that big.’ It takes quite a bit for Baptists to agree on much, but I think in recent years the one thing that our leadership, pastors, and laymen alike have been able to agree upon is that when we say that we are a Convention of over 16 million people, we will then tongue-in-cheek say the CIA, FBI themselves can’t find over half of those.
“So one of the things that we need to recognize is that biblically every analogy or metaphor that God has provided us describing the body of Christ insists upon mutual accountability, edification, love (and) support. When you think of the family of God, the church of God, the body of God, the army of God, the temple of God—none of those metaphors are possible if we operate with the idea that a person can come, be baptized by immersion, join our congregation and leave without so much as a word from our pastors or laymen.
“We need to make sure that we are communicating love through our congregations that when they become a part of our family we are concerned about them when they are no longer in attendance. We are concerned because that is disobedience. And we need to make sure as well that though this is a local church issue, this does not infringe upon the autonomy of the local church because this is a way that we as the Southern Baptist Convention represent ourselves, how we track ourselves, and it does have an effect on the way that we even go through the Conventional process. So it does affect us corporately as a Convention.
“We are not telling churches how to handle this issue. We are calling (on) our congregations to acknowledge this is a problem, and it’s time for us to take responsibility for it.”
In the end, messengers saw no need for that. Tradition calls for messengers to follow the wisdom of the Resolutions Committee, and in this case, as is the custom at SBC annual meetings, tradition was upheld.
“Mr. President,” said Resolutions Committee Chairman Gerald Harris, addressing SBC President Frank Page, “we felt like this was a resolution that infringed upon the honored principle of church autonomy. We also felt that the Resolutions Committee did not have a responsibility to instruct churches regarding their membership.”
Richey said the key for Southern Baptists in walking the pathway toward revival is to trust in the King.
“It’s not the program,” he said, referring to any particular method, custom, tradition, rule or device within Southern Baptist culture. “It’s not the numbers of people that we can say that are in our camp. It’s God that’s going to make our work effective and productive.”