I’m writing from Phoenix, where I’m attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s my 34th consecutive meeting, having attended every year since 1983. I am blessed to be here again.
Some people might see the term “denominational meeting” and imagine it as enjoyable as a convention sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it’s a gathering of part of Christ’s church; a meeting of believers in Jesus Christ, and it’s a blessing to be part of that.
Once-a-year fellowship with dear friends
I look forward to the annual Southern Baptist Convention for several reasons, but mainly because it’s the only time all year I get to enjoy fellowship with some of the most devoted followers of Jesus on the planet. What’s not to like about that?
I’m thinking right now of the late Dr. T.W. Hunt, the most prayerful man I’ve ever known. When I was pastoring in the Chicago area in the 80s and 90s I had T.W. at our church three times. But after I became a seminary professor in 1995, the only time I could see him was at the SBC. I always loved asking him, “What’s the Lord been teaching you, T.W.?” His eyes would flash and he would reply, and usually he would relate something about prayer or Heaven that he was learning. Man, I miss that.
Although I’m exhausted by the end of the convention, it’s a good tired. The convention is “work” for me in the sense that my employer, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pays my expenses so I can represent the school at our booth. So that’s where you’ll find me during many hours of the convention. When possible I’m in the convention hall, keeping up with what’s going on and representing my local church as a voting messenger.
The convention hall and the exhibit hall
So think of the annual SBC meeting as largely divided into two adjacent locations. The first is the convention hall where the convention proper occurs. This is where reports are heard, business is conducted, and the times of preaching and singing happen.
The second location is the exhibit area, which usually is separated from the convention hall only by a wall. This is a 2x football-field-sized room containing a huge Lifeway store, “booths” from all the SBC agencies, many colleges, and miscellaneous other Christian organizations. These booths may be as narrow as a single table or as large as half the size of a basketball court. The larger booths usually have either signage suspended from the ceiling above or towering up from the floor, so that the visual effect upon those entering the exhibit hall is almost like that of suddenly walking upon a small town during its annual festival.
This is where friends meet, purposefully or serendipitously. Anyone looking for me knows that sooner or later they can find me at the Southern Seminary booth. Prospective students come by for information and alumni reconnect with faculty and each other. I love seeing former students here—it’s about the only time I ever get to talk with them—and hearing about what the Lord has done in and through them.
Who should attend?
If you are a Southern Baptist pastor or church staff member, I hope you will attend whenever your church’s financial situation makes it possible. If you are a Southern Baptist church member—and especially if you are a leader in your church—I hope you will consider the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting as something for you, too.
Most SBC churches may send up to ten messengers (elected church representatives who may vote on denominational business). Many churches, however, can afford to send only their pastor and, hopefully, the pastor’s wife. But with a potential of ten messengers per church there’s always a large percentage of messengers at the convention who are not on the staff of their church and who pay their own travel expenses.
Why should you attend?
Decision-making. The church that sends messengers to the convention gets to participate in the decisions of the denomination. This includes the votes for the president of the convention and it’s budget, including the budgets for our International and North American mission boards (representing about 10,000 missionaries), and the SBC seminaries, which are attended by one out of every five seminary students in the country.
Policy-making. Attending the SBC also means you can enter into the discussions and votes on the many resolutions passed by the convention, declarations which typically garner more attention in the national media than anything else that happens at the meeting. While the resolutions officially represent only the opinion of those messengers gathered at the time of the vote, outsiders perceive them as the official position of the entire SBC on current issues, such as abortion, gender issues, and other important controversies and crises. When the messengers of the denomination speak with one voice on these matters, it gains a hearing we could never get individually
Educating. Another benefit of attending the convention is staying informed. The reports from our convention agencies (such as our mission boards, Lifeway publishing, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commssion, each of the six seminaries, etc.) keep you up-to-date on the Lord’s work in the SBC. The testimonies from missionaries and others remind you of the end results of the gifts and prayers you offer for these in your local church.
Space does not permit me to speak of the pre-convention events such as the Crossover evangelistic efforts, the Sunday night-through Monday night pastors’ conference, and the pastors wives’ luncheon. There’s a galaxy of events surrounding the official convention business sessions, such as missionary commissioning services, the seminary alumni luncheons, various panel discussions, authors’ book signings, radio and podcast interviews, and so much more.
There’s not just something for everyone, there are many things for everyone. The opportunities for information and edification start early in the morning and go until late at night. And as you go from one event to the other you experience the providential encounters with brothers and sisters who have been or perhaps will become precious to you.
In the Southern Baptist context, the same reasoning that applies to attending the national meeting of the denomination also applies on a smaller scale to the state denominational meetings each year and the local association gatherings.
Sure, there are parts of the convention event that aren’t for me. But that’s true for everyone, and it’s unrealistic to expect something of this magnitude to be otherwise. And of course, there are differences of opinion in the discussions on various matters. But that’s true on the local church level, too, so obviously that will be the case when representatives from thousands of churches gather. There are so many options, and so many opportunities, though, that if you don’t experience countless blessings while attending the SBC then you’re doing it wrong.
The Southern Baptist Convention is an association of churches, and churches are comprised of individual believers in Jesus. And some of the dearest, most Christlike believers I’ve ever known are among those who attend the annual meeting of the SBC. Seeing these friends each June is one of the highlights of my year.
I hope to see you at next year’s convention meeting in Dallas.
Photo credit: the Florida Baptist Convention.
You’re invited to watch as author, blogger, and Crossway Books president Justin Taylor interviews me about my Family Worship book.
Here’s the Crossway info page about the Family Worship book.
Here’s where you can sign up for a free 5-day email course with Don on family worship.
Here’s the Center for Biblical Spirituality page to order the book.
Remember that Father’s Day is June 19.
I did not know Jerry Bridges as well as those who wrote these tributes, though I wish I’d had that blessing. I was honored to speak at a couple of conferences with him. Other than a couple of letters or emails perhaps, this was the extent to which I knew him personally. But each time we were at a conference together I was struck by his humility and kindness.
Like nearly all who have written of him since his home-going to Heaven, Jerry’s books had a great impact on me and my ministry. I have recommended his books on countless occasions, and it so helpful when someone asks for a book recommendation to be able to say “anything by Jerry Bridges.”
If you aren’t familiar with Bridges, you owe it to yourself to read at least one of these brief articles. I hope you’ll read them all.
This one is from Justin Taylor and was posted on the Gospel Coalition website. Here’s the best overview of Bridges’ life among all the tributes.
Here’s another from the Gospel Coalition website. It’s by Bob Bevington, who coauthored two books with Bridges. It has one of my favorite stories regarding Jerry in all the tributes:
A year ago I sat at Jerry’s dining room table, the place he typically did his writing—longhand with pen on paper. Every 10 minutes or so Jerry would put down his pen, close his eyes, and slip into what looked like a catnap. A couple times it looked as if he was going to fall off his chair. Then he’d suddenly awaken, pick up his pen, and start writing away. He’d look at what he wrote, nod his head as if to say, “Thank you, Lord,” and then repeat the process. The result was Jerry’s final book, The Blessing of Humility: Walk within Your Calling, which will be released later this year.
“Remembering Jerry Bridges” is by C.J. Mahaney. C.J. writes of the “surprising friendship” he had with Jerry for more than fifteen years.
Tony Reinke, author and host of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, provides “Five Lessons from a Remarkable Life of Faith.” This includes both an audio and text version of a 2011 interview with Bridges..
Tim Challies wrote “My Too-Weak Tribute to Jerry Bridges.” With Bridges-like humility, Tim underestimates the strength of this testimony.
Finally, here’s the obituary on the Navigators’ website. It also includes a list of the more than twenty books that bear the name of Jerry Bridges.
Besides his humility and holiness, what I’ll remember most when I think of Jerry Bridges is his exhortation to “preach the gospel to yourself every day.”
Thank You, Lord, for the life and works of Jerry Bridges.
Photo from ChristianityToday.com
On October 20, 2015, I was honored to attend the dedication of the new C.H. Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. Midwestern is one of the six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and one of America’s fifteen largest. I was privileged to teach there for ten years before I was invited to my present position at Southern Seminary in Louisville.
MBTS has enjoyed the evident blessing of God ever since the election of Dr. Jason Allen as president three years ago. The school has seen record enrollment, unprecedented financial support, and a remarkable transformation of the campus under President Allen’s leadership .
What will surely stand as one of the most enduring aspects of his legacy at Midwestern is the conception and construction of the Spurgeon Library.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon is still widely considered “the Prince of Preachers.” He pastored in London at what became the largest evangelical church in the world for 38 years until his death in 1892. During his lifetime his was acknowledged as the best-known name in Christendom. Through his monumental, 64-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit sermon collection and more than 120 other books, he remains one of the most influential Christians of all time.
A voracious reader, Spurgeon amassed an enormous, 12,000 volume library. After his death in 1892, Spurgeon’s twin boys—both of whom were preachers—made personal selections from their father’s books. Through an interesting set of circumstances, the remainder of the library was sold in 1906 to the Missouri Baptist Convention and housed in the library of William Jewell College in Liberty (suburban Kansas City), Missouri. There sat Spurgeon’s books, largely ignored, for an entire century.
In 2006, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, under then-president Phil Roberts, purchased the library for $400,000. When Jason Allen was elected in October, 2012, he made a priority of giving greater visibility to this unique resource. Sharing this vision with Allen were Bill and Connie Jenkins of Indiana who provided the significant financial resources necessary to fulfill the master plan for the library.
Part of this plan was the complete renovation of the former seminary chapel building, which the seminary has renamed Jenkins Hall. This magnificent metamorphosis (and permit me to give a shout-out to our dear friend, Yvette Conte, who is responsible for most of the interior design) houses the books themselves, Spurgeon’s preaching rail, one of his desks, and many other pieces of Spurgeonalia. The building also contains offices, a recording studio, and more. To fulfill its primary purpose as a study center, the Spurgeon Library is beautifully appointed with a dozen large research tables surrounded by large, comfortable chairs and topped with classic reading lamps.
Another part of the plan was a curator of the library. For this purpose Allen tapped the providentially-prepared Dr. Christian George, then teaching at Oklahoma Baptist University. During his PhD work at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, George made the remarkable discovery of some 400 previously unpublisted sermons of Spurgeon’s from the earliest days of his ministry. These are scheduled for publication in 2017 by B&H Academic in a ten-volume, annotated edition that will serve as a lasting contribution both to Spurgeon scholarship and to the church in general.
It’s hard to imagine how the day of dedication for the library could have gone better. Dr. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC spoke in chapel with the first of his two presentations for the third annual Spurgeon Lectures on Preaching. That was followed by a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony. At this event, we heard from the wife of Spurgeon’s great, great, grandson as well as their daughter. Both made timely, Christ-centered remarks which prompted Dr. Allen to say (to the agreement of all) that Spurgeon would have been well-pleased with their comments.
Next came a barbecue lunch and a panel discussion. It was my privilege to be a part of that panel and address questions by Dr. Allen about Spurgeon’s productivity, devotional life, relevance for preacher’s today, and more. Pictured are Jason Allen, Jason Duesing, Christian George, Mark Dever, and myself.
Actually, I was there primarily by virtue of being Caffy’s husband. She had been commissioned to paint life-size portraits of both a young and mature Spurgeon for placement at the entrance to the library. Am I permitted to say that these are really good? You can see them in various stages of development on the Facebook page for her art studio. Also on that page is a portrait of George Whitefield that hangs in President Allen’s office.
I did a significant amount of doctoral study on Spurgeon. One of the first realizations I had in the process was how little PhD-level research had been conducted on one of the most important figures in the history of the church. In other words, whereas many fields of academic study would by now offer little in terms of fresh, unplowed ground, Spurgeon studies are as wide open as was the heartland of America when Lewis and Clark paddled up the Missouri .
And now, there’s no better resource in the world to visit for research on the life and ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon than the Spurgeon Library. Through the library and the Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, Midwestern Seminary offers fellowships as well as a limited number of scholarships to seminary students called to full-time vocational ministry. Scholars and professors from other institutions are also welcome to conduct research in the Spurgeon Library.
Whether you are a scholar, pastor, or layperson and you visit Kansas City and you love Spurgeon, be sure to set aside a few hours to visit the Spurgeon Library.
Here’s an interview I did with Craig Sanders, editor of Towers, the Southern Seminary magazine, about my book Praying the Bible.
This link will take you to the Towers online webpage where you can read the article.
In addition to the interview, Sanders also wrote this review of Praying the Bible.
To get info on Don’s book Praying the Bible or to order it, click here.
[Read part one of this post here.]
Then I heard Jean tell her own story. She would keep Bibles open in several rooms—in the kitchen, nursery, bathroom—and look at them when she could. While preparing a meal or changing a diaper, she’d glance over and perhaps read only one verse. But this intentionality helped her keep the Word in her heart and the presence of God in her awareness. And as the children’s needs grew less demanding, her disciplines were already in place to receive any additional time she could give them. Even though Jean felt almost spiritually dormant during those years in comparison to her early growth as a Christian, she kept alive the spiritual disciplines through which her soul would thrive in years to come.
Jean also realized that her opportunities for evangelism and ministry were not eliminated, they merely changed. She had the best opportunity of anyone in the world to share the gospel with the three little souls (who are Christian adults today) God had entrusted to the care of her and Roger. Additionally, she learned more about cultivating the heart of a humble servant by ministering to her children—who seldom adequately appreciated her serving them—than she likely would have otherwise. She also learned some creative methods of evangelizing and ministering to other moms and children she invited for coffee and play.
Like Jean with three in diapers, you may be in a situation that curtails many of your spiritual activities. You may be looking at many years of such limitations. Do what you can for Christ and his kingdom, with joy and without guilt. God does not love us more when we serve more, nor less when we serve less. He accepts us, not because of what we do for him, but because of what he’s done for us in Christ. As Ephesians 1:6 puts it, God accepts us, not on the basis of our work, but “in the Beloved [that is, Jesus.]” And nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Love God, and within the limitations he has sovereignly placed in your life at this time, do what you can for his glory. Realize that just your mere presence at church—even without a recognized ministry there and as weary as you are—can be a ministry to your pastor and teachers who prefer listeners to empty seats. In fact, talking to your pastor or an older sister in Christ about your feelings in this season will probably encourage you.
Be careful, though, that you do not excuse yourself from all effort in the pursuit of God and the extension of his kingdom outside the walls of your home. In every season there will be temptations to coast spiritually, and then to decline into a cold-hearted, spiritual inertia. Also, resolve that once this season of life changes into the next that you will never think of serving the bride of Christ as simply a nice idea for people who have spare time.
Yes, the mom at home can be doing real ministry and evangelism there, and with the result that both she and the body of Christ become stronger for it. But she should anticipate the day when she returns to her place in her local church’s ministry “when each part is working properly,” and through her Christ “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
[Read part one of this post here.]
This article by Donald S. Whitney originally appeared in the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, Vol. 2:2 (Spring/Summer 2012) p. 86
Twenty-four years of pastoral ministry have taught me that moms—especially mothers of young children—often come to church feeling tired, then return from church feeling guilty. While at church, they hear sermons and announcements about doing evangelism and serving in the church, and they often sense that they are failures at both.
There never seems to be enough time for their maternal responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, wiping noses, and teaching their children, much less for reaching out to a lost world with the gospel of Jesus in fulfillment of his Great Commission or for building up the body of Christ in their local fellowship. Even finding a few minutes for Bible reading and prayer occasionally is difficult.
Thus the pulpit proclamations of the biblical mandate to reach a lost world for Christ, and the earnest pleas of the pastor about the need for workers in the church do not sound like spiritually-galvanizing challenges that inspire greater faithfulness, rather they often fall as crushing condemnations upon the weary hearts of many moms.
Seasons change in everyone’s lives, and perhaps there is no more radical change that occurs in the life of a woman than the one that happens the day her first child arrives. It’s a season that changes with dramatic suddenness and lasts as long as there are young children around the dinner table and until she has watched her final soccer practice and piano recital. And among the parts of life that seem forced into hibernation during this season are private devotions, personal evangelism, and consistent ministry in the local church.
My wife and I have a friend named Jean who was one of the countless Christian women who felt as though her options as a believer were either family or spirituality; children or church. Discipled well after her conversion in her late teens, Jean thrived on a spiritual diet meaty with disciplines like the reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, prayer, fellowship, service, evangelism, worship, solitude, journal-keeping, and Scripture memory. She felt herself making spiritual progress almost daily. All this continued after she married her equally-dedicated husband, Roger.
Then, in rapid succession, Jean had three children in diapers. Caring for their most basic needs eliminated almost every moment of the time she used to devote to caring for her soul and ministering to others. Her longings for the things of God reached as high as ever, but her time and energy for them had new and severe limits.
On at least three occasions I’ve eavesdropped as Jean conversed with young moms in similar situations. In effect she’s told them, “At this season of your life, you can’t do what you’re used to doing. You don’t have time for all your heart desires to experience in your spiritual life. Nevertheless, do what you can do, even though it’s precious little. Just don’t deceive yourself by thinking that you can put off a devotional life or ministry in the local church until you have more time. Because when the years roll around and you finally do have more time, your spiritual habits will be so ingrained that you won’t give more attention to the things of God at all.”
Part 2, including details of Jean’s own story of how she fought spiritual inertia as a mom of young children, will appear in the next post.
This article by Donald S. Whitney originally appeared in the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry, Vol. 2:2 (Spring/Summer 2012) p. 86