In the most recent issue of The Pathway, I did not offer much specifically in the way of observations concerning the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) 175th annual meeting Oct. 26-28 at First Baptist Church, Raytown. I prefer to ponder over such significant events. The media often rushes to offer their perspective in an effort to help us make sense of what has transpired and frequently end up either getting it wrong or missing something important.
Now that I have had time to reflect, I am ready to offer opinions on a couple of things that occurred at First Raytown.
The first was the 418-329 (56-44 percent) vote to allow churches to send up to 20 messengers to future annual meetings. It obviously would have benefited larger churches. As a fascinating debate unfolded, I initially thought the measure had a chance to pass. Then Jeff Purvis, pastor of First Baptist Church, Herculaneum-Pevely, stepped to a microphone and with authoritative eloquence delivered a history lesson that I think greatly influenced the outcome.
Battling cancer and so sick he struggled to attend just parts of the annual meeting, Purvis reminded Missouri Baptists how a handful of primarily larger, moderate churches controlled convention leadership positions by loading boards and commissions with people from their churches. Purvis knows because he was a leader in Project 1000, Missouri’s version of “The Conservative Resurgence” that had occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). As the pastor of a mid-sized church by Missouri Baptist standards, Purvis and the Project 1000 movement knew if the smaller churches in the MBC – many pastored by conservative bivocational pastors – would get involved, the grip liberals and their sympathizers held on the convention could be broken. In fact, once the victory was secured, it was Purvis who led the move to change convention rules limiting the number of people serving on convention boards and commissions from one church. That rule change has served the MBC well and Purvis at Raytown wasted no time in reminding Missouri Baptists of that fact – and it changed the whole debate.
Sitting at the press table, I could not help but recall how things had been in the MBC just a decade ago. Liberals controlled Word&Way, thus most of the information distributed throughout the convention. They (mostly just a handful of liberal churches) loaded the convention’s boards and committees with people from their own churches. This is how they stayed in power and manipulated things to the point of moving the convention toward liberalism and away from the Southern Baptist Convention. Purvis’ argument reminded me of Harvard Philosopher George Santayana’s famous quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In a nutshell, that is what Purvis said to the messengers.
Conservatives oppose any consolidation of power. This is rooted in our Biblical view of man. Man is not good. Man is sinful and in need of a Savior (Jesus Christ) and accountability – best attained through “checks and balances.” Conservatives believe that consolidation of power will lead to tyranny and the tyrant must be fiercely opposed at whatever the cost.
I am not saying the motion was a “big church power grab,” nor did anyone else. However, I do think it may have been perceived that way by some. Let me caution against questioning motives, especially now that the fabric of the MBC is so thoroughly conservative.
Our larger churches bring much to the table in our convention. God is using them in mighty ways and their leadership is vital to the success of the MBC. We are blessed by their affiliation. In fact, many of the larger churches are the very ones who have planted and supported some of our smaller ones.
All that said, it would be irresponsible for me not to state the obvious: We are primarily a convention of smaller churches. The backbone of the MBC is its bivocational pastors.
Yet even as Purvis harkened us back to a critical time in the MBC’s history, I could not help but think about the MBC’s future and how it seems to be “turning the page.” Even as we rejoice in what God has done through our convention over the past decade, we also realize that much work lies ahead – and I really sensed that at our annual meeting. Despite the continuing lawsuits and the tough economic times, there was much laughter, joyous fellowship and a feeling the convention is back on track and moving forward. I know I feel that way.
The second development that I have thought about was an item not discussed in business sessions at the annual meeting (nor does it need to be at this time). MBC Executive Director David Tolliver is advancing the idea of having future annual meetings televised – via streaming video over the Internet – to regional locations around the state. The technology would allow messengers to speak during business sessions and vote.
Granted, there are a myriad of issues to address for such an idea to become a reality, but I think it demonstrates how the convention is moving forward under Tolliver’s leadership. Like it or not, it is this type of critical thinking that will help the convention prosper in the future. Whether the idea ever comes to fruition or not, its goal is to provide an efficient and convenient way of giving Missouri Southern Baptists an opportunity to participate in the MBC’s business.
Missouri Southern Baptists ought to be excited. A new day has dawned and with it a renewed commitment to The Great Commission and Acts 1:8. Let us love each other, pray for one another and most of all – in everything we do – bring honor and glory to King Jesus!