By Randy C. Davis
TBMB President & Executive Director
We wanted to gather, and we did … in droves.
After a year without an annual Southern Baptist Convention because of the pandemic, and with much on our minds, Nashville hosted the largest gathering of Southern Baptists since 1995 with more than 20,000 messengers and guests.
Prior to the convention, I put out a call for Tennessee Baptists to show up and show why we are known as the Volunteer State. You did it.
I am extremely proud of the servant leadership and kind hospitality Tennesseans provided as the SBC gathered under the banner, “We Are Great Commission Baptists.” From those who served as ushers and greeters, to disaster relief volunteers who coordinated childcare, to our friendly Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff who spent an enormous amount of time extending a red-carpet welcome to folks from all around the globe, Tennessee Baptists did a great job helping to host the SBC.
While pundits expected tensions to run high, the actual spirit of the meeting was very different. Yes, there were moments of tension. However, after not having a convention in 2020, being together meant more to us than the issues that divide us. Seeing long-time friends sweetened the fellowship. I felt there was a spirit of comradery, as “[we] were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
The SBC presidential election was obviously a big draw in driving registration to nearly 16,000 SBC messengers. Pastor Ed Litton of Alabama won in a second ballot runoff over pastor Mike Stone of Georgia, receiving 52.04 percent of votes to Stone’s 47.81 percent.
We were clearly a divided bunch when it came to the presidential election, and the secular press and unscrupulous bloggers saw chum in the water for dividing the body of Christ. At least two national publications ran stories after the election with the headline, “Moderate Pastor Elected President of SBC.”
It is impossible to classify any of the four candidates as theological moderates. Ed Litton is a Baptist Faith & Message-affirming theological conservative. He is certainly not a theological moderate.
Regardless of who you voted for, it’s now time to pray for Dr. Litton and grant him the opportunity to build unity and focus among Southern Baptists for what we do best: Missions. If we say we are a Great Commission people, we must be a Great Commission people and that begins with praying for those in positions of authority.
The young messenger from Texas stole the show when he went to the microphone — his third attempt — and calling “for the love of everything good and holy to turn on the air conditioning.” He got an “amen” from me and the only unanimous vote of the convention. However, I felt there were other highlights as well.
During the Send Conference on Monday, Paul Chitwood and the International Mission Board reported that 64 new overseas missionaries were appointed, adding to a total of over 500 new IMB missionaries appointed since the beginning of the pandemic. Astounding.
God advances God’s work regardless of earthly challenges. We are rapidly approaching a global mission force of 3,700. The Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is the mechanism by which we as Southern Baptists financially support sending and maintaining our missionaries around the world.
I thought one of the most touching moments of the convention was honoring COVID and double lung transplant survivor Tennessee Pastor Zach Lloyd and his family.
They were recognized during the Send Luncheon with a moving video sharing his story. There were some other nice surprises for the Lloyd family that portrayed a “behold how they love one another” moment. We need more of this across our denomination.
So where do we go from here? For Tennessee Baptists it’s to Summit 2021, the annual Tennessee Baptist Convention scheduled for Brentwood Baptist Church Nov. 14-17. It will be our turn to “be together in one place.”
In fact, our theme for Summit is, “Forward together, with one heart,” drawn from John 17:21. Brothers and sisters, we must be united and moving forward together if we are to have the type of Kingdom impact our state needs to see 50,000 of our fellow Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship. Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field, and it is going to take all of us cooperating together to reach that goal.
I look forward to being together with you, because as always, it is a joy to be on this journey with you.