I have expressed optimism in the recent past about the future direction of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), so what I am about to share should come as no surprise. The refreshing, able leadership of MBC Executive Director David Tolliver, a unified and dedicated Executive Board and a rapidly growing number of churches committed to carrying out the Great Commission point to great days ahead. With the MBC saved from liberalism (though eternal vigilance is required) a new era is dawning for the convention, one in which term “lawsuits” will disappear from the MBC lexicon just as the convention strives to become more efficient and responsive to its affiliates – the churches, many of which are expressing anew a commitment to bless God by growing His kingdom and restraining evil wherever it rears its ugly head.
The North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) presentation of its God’s Plan for Sharing (GPS) Award to the Missouri Baptist Convention is the latest bit of evidence in support of what I am sharing here. To say that MBC leadership and churches throughout the convention have embraced GPS is an understatement. Fifty of the state’s 61 associations participated in the pre-Easter door-to-door canvassing that saw volunteers deliver 750,000 door hangers to homes, with information about a local church and material directing them to a central web site and 1-800 phone number. Several churches experienced record-setting crowds for Easter services with attendances jumping as much as 60 percent. Souls were saved and in many cases membership ranks have grown.
What makes this all the more remarkable is that MBC churches did not allow the high profile, controversial debate over the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) douse their excitement and commitment to GPS. While GCR seemed to “suck all the air out” of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., it did not deter Missouri Baptists from embracing GPS.
The blessings for Missouri Baptists in embracing GPS did not stop with Easter services. Something else – of historical significance – happened as well. GPS has become a catalyst for bringing MBC and African-American Baptist churches in Missouri together in a common quest: win Missouri for Christ. In what can only be described as an “historic event,” MBC leaders delivered 5,000 GPS packets to the Missionary Baptist Convention of Missouri’s board of directors in a landmark March 11 meeting in Columbia. It’s been characterized as historic because the two conventions have never partnered on anything – until now.
All of the excitement generated by GPS comes amid the news that the MBC experienced its first increase in baptisms in 2009, the first after several consecutive years of decline. There are signs that churches are getting more aggressive in their church planting efforts will being ably supported by an eager and talented MBC church planting staff. Churches statewide are deeply involved in mission work and the numbers interested in the MBC’s partnerships with West Africa, El Salvador, Canada and northern Illinois are steadily rising.
All this is occurring as Missouri Baptists demonstrate a renewed commitment to discipleship training with – among other things – a more focused understanding of the importance of living and teaching a Christian worldview. Tolliver’s church health initiative is being embraced by churches that understand what it truly means to live a robust Christian life – one that brings honor and glory to God through word and deed. Missouri Baptists have been unwavering in their defense of unborn infants and in protecting the traditional family. God is blessing Missouri Southern Baptists because our desire is to first – love and obey Him – and second, love others.
Several years ago while attending an SBC annual meeting I had a colleague from another state make a wisecrack to me about how dysfunctional the MBC has been and that some of its leaders were nothing but a “bunch of lunatics.” Such ungracious comments are not what the Apostle Paul said Christians should express to one another. They are certainly not constructive. Such intemperate statements about Missouri Southern Baptists are to be expected from bitter moderates in the state, political liberals and secular voices like California Federal Court Judge Vaughn Walker (who specifically targeted Southern Baptists in his recent opinion legalizing homosexual marriage in California).
A gracious God gave dedicated, Bible-believing conservatives a grand victory when Project 1000 saved the MBC from liberalism – something conservatives in several other states failed to accomplish. It has taken time – often through stormy seas – to right this old ship. But NAMB’s recognition of the MBC’s commitment to GPS, I think, is emblematic of the exciting new day that has dawned in this convention. Take heart Missouri Southern Baptists. While the need is great in Missouri and around the world for the Gospel, perhaps the time is right for each of us to more resolutely act on our commitment to the Lord. Let me encourage each of you to get more involved like never before. Let’s join hands and lead – to glory of God the Father.