The Pastors' Conference, as usual, had a great lineup of speakers. I arrived rather late on Sunday, and since I was tired from my long trip, I missed the first session. That was unfortunate, because that session featured two great preachers: Ronnie Floyd and David Platt. I also heard good things about H.B. Charles, who also spoke that night. In fact, my friends raved about him so much that I purchased the CD of his message to hear for myself (my friends were right!). I did attend the Monday sessions, and heard great messages from Johnny Hunt and Rick Warren. Tony Evans, one of my favorite preachers, was scheduled to speak that afternoon. Alas, his flight out of Dallas was canceled because of a storm, so he was unable to attend. The young man that filled in for him did quite well, though.
The convention itself began on Tuesday morning. This year I arrived early for the opening session, so I was also able to witness a small but important tradition: the presentation of the Broadus gavel to the SBC president. That gavel is a piece of Southern Baptist history in and of itself. It's made out of wood from the Holy Land, and it's been used by every SBC president since 1872. John Broadus, a founding professor at Southern Seminary, had the gavel made while on a visit to the Holy Land and presented it to the SBC on his return to the States. It's rather awe-inspiring to think about the men who have handled it: James P. Boyce, J.B. Gambrell, E.Y. Mullins, George W. Truett, M.E. Dodd, John R. Sampey, R.G. Lee, Herschel Hobbs, Ramsey Pollard, W.A. Criswell - the list goes on and on. Incidentally, the SBC president must return the gavel to the SBC at the end of each session. Herschel Hobbs once commented that the Broadus gavel is more heavily guarded than the gold at Fort Knox!
Fred Luter, the first African-American president of the SBC, concluded his second and last term of office (SBC presidents are not allowed to serve more than two years in a row). I was not able to attend the SBC last year, but I was able to witness Dr. Luter's election two years ago, and it was truly an electrifying moment. Like most outgoing SBC presidents, Dr. Luter seemed quite happy to give up the position. Though it's a great honor to serve in that office, it's also a great deal of work and responsibility, and I've never seen anyone who was sorry to hand the job over to someone else. I must say Dr. Luter did an impressive job presiding over the business sessions. Unfortunately, some SBC presidents do not brush up on their parliamentary procedure in preparation for the meetings, and as a result have made some serious blunders. Dr. Luter, however, seemed well-prepared and only made a couple of minor mistakes (by that time it was late in the afternoon, so he was probably tired).
One of the highlights of each convention is the SBC president's address, and this year was no exception. This year's convention focused on revival, so on Tuesday night we had a good old-fashioned revival service. Fred Luter preached an impassioned sermon on the need for revival in our churches, our denomination, and in our country. To say that his message was powerful would be a gross understatement. I felt like I was attending a camp meeting instead of a national convention! I encourage all of my fellow pastors to buy a CD or DVD of that sermon and play it for your churches. He said things that all of us desperately need to hear.
Dr. Ronnie Floyd of Springdale, Arkansas, was elected as the new SBC president. He was one of three nominees, and he won on the first ballot. Since I voted for him, that was okay by me. I didn't have anything against the other two nominees, but I did honestly believe Dr. Floyd was the best choice of the three.
The business sessions this year went quite smoothly. There were a few disagreements, but none of the fireworks that we've seen at some past conventions. In fact, there was so little debate and discussion over business that we were ahead of schedule. At the Wednesday morning session, there was no miscellaneous business and the resolutions committee had already concluded its report, so Dr. Luter, Dr. Floyd, and other SBC leaders led us in a time of prayer for our churches and our denomination. I've been in quite a few prayer meeting before, but never one this large!
I also had a couple of encounters that were very meaningful to me. On Monday morning I was in the exhibit area sending a text message to a friend when an elderly man walked up to me and asked me if this was the Broadman and Holman exhibit. I looked up and saw the face of Jerry Vines, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention! I told him I believed this was the right exhibit, and he asked where they were doing book signings (he was going to sign copies of his recently-published autobiography). I wasn't sure of that, but I found a young lady who was able to help him. I immediately called my wife and told her, "I just gave directions to Jerry Vines! How cool is that?"
The next afternoon I was in the exhibit area again, and I noticed a young man demonstrating a computer app about Adrian Rogers. This caught my interest, since Dr. Rogers is one of my all-time favorite preachers. An elderly, petite woman was also watching the demonstration with keen interest, and I noticed it was Dr. Rogers' widow, Joyce Rogers. After the demonstration concluded, I spoke with her a few minutes and told her that I heard her husband preach many times when I was a student at Mid-America Seminary, and that he was one of my heroes. She was very gracious and friendly.
All in all, it was a great convention. Certainly we have some concerns about the state of churches in America and our denomination in particular, but you will be pleased to know that Southern Baptists are still alive and well. I don't agree with those who say America is in a post-church age. It would be more accurate to say the church is in a post-American age. Nations come and go, but the Kingdom of God lasts forever.