The Blessing of Denominational Meetings

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.


How I Started Reading the Bible Every Day: Encouragement for Parents & Children

I literally don’t remember not reading the Bible every day. Here’s how it happened.

I’m told I started reading fairly early, reading Dick and Jane books sometime before my fifth birthday. But while I remember reading the books, I have no recollection of starting to read them.

I do remember learning words and phrases by watching TV commercials that consisted of nothing more than an announcer reading exactly what was on the black-and-white screen. In particular I recall a long-running commercial for a Memphis-area car dealer. It was just black words on a white background, like broadcasting a 60-second video of a poster, advertising a Volkswagen Beetle. Eventually I realized that the voice-over corresponded exactly to what I was seeing, and I learned to read along. On small-market stations—such as the four channels we could receive from Memphis television in the late 1950s—local advertising was a very low-budget enterprise.

So by sometime early in elementary school—though I don’t remember exactly when—I was able to start reading the narrative passages of Scripture.

The Influence of the Home

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the greatest blessings in my life was not just learning to read at an early age, but being trained at that age to read the Bible every day. My dad modeled daily Bible reading, and lovingly encouraged me in the practice. My mother made sure I had adequate lighting above my bed, the place where I did most of my childhood reading.

The Influence of the Church

We attended a church where my Sunday School teachers asked every week if each of us boys had read the Bible every day. In fact, this was a churchwide practice. Each Sunday School class, from the school-age children on up, kept records of how many in each class brought a Bible that morning, had read it every day the previous week, had read the printed Sunday School lesson, were staying for the worship service, and more. Each class reported its results to the church Sunday School superintendent who compiled them as a weekly snapshot of some measurable aspects of the church’s discipleship. In those days, this was done in virtually all of the thousands of churches in the denomination.

For most of my boyhood and teenage years, two men—first one, then later the other—taught my Sunday School class. Both were deacons in the church, and I respected them. I never thought of either of them as particularly holy men, at least not in the sense that I did of a couple of the elderly men in the church. Yet Sunday after Sunday, at the beginning of class my teacher would ask each boy in the class who had read his Bible every day that week to raise his hand. There was no pressure or shame. It’s just what we did. Everyone who came to church was expected as a normal part of life to read his or her Bible every day. It was in the air we breathed.

The Influence of a Plan

But this was more than a mere expectation, for the church provided practical, if simple, help for daily Bible reading. Every person who attended Sunday School was given an age-graded publication called a “quarterly.” This was a booklet of about fifty pages which contained the “lesson” for each Sunday in a quarter of a year, thus the term “quarterly.” This was published by the denomination, purchased by the church, and distributed with the hope that each person who attended Sunday School would read the week’s lesson before it was discussed in class on Sunday morning,

But the quarterly also served another purpose. Inside the back cover was a list of the suggested Bible readings for each day in the quarter. I don’t recall the scheme of the schedule used in my childhood. I seem to remember that most of the time the readings were not sequential in terms of reading through complete books of the Bible. But eventually, I think that at least for older readers, the plan was modified to one that took you through the entire Bible in a three-year cycle.


Legalistic? Well, any sort of structure in the Christian life can contribute to legalism if one is inclined that way. And any who thought (and I’m sure some did) that reading the Bible every day (or doing any other good deed) would earn them a ticket to Heaven were gravely mistaken. In my church, Ephesians 2:8-9 (we’re saved by grace through faith, and not by works) was a constant theme.

But I was a child, and we all—but especially children—need some structure when beginning to learn something as big and important as the Bible. Without guidance and a plan, children will flounder when trying to read and understand the Bible on their own.

So I was encouraged at home and at church to read the Bible every day, and I was given a simple plan for doing so. And it worked. It served me well. It helped me begin a practice that became second nature and has continued for a lifetime. Every day, for almost sixty years, I’ve not had to stop and think about whether I’m going to read the Bible, at least not think about it any more than I’ve had to decide whether to put on clothes or to eat that day. And by grace, the Word of God has done it’s work in my soul. My earthly and eternal life are immeasurably different because of the simple practice of reading the Bible every day and what has resulted from it.

Well, that’s my story. I believe the same simple factors, that is, Godly influences and reading plan, with the specifics adjusted for your own context, can work for you and your family, too.

P.S. I was prompted to write this story as a result of being asked to consider writing an endorsement for a forthcoming Crossway book by David Murray called Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids (Crossway, 2017). Writing the endorsement reminded me of the beginnings of my own Bible reading. That expanded the endorsement into a foreword for the book. The foreword expanded into this blog post.

Simple resources like David Murray’s book are so important. I don’t even want to imagine what my Christian life and my ministry would have been without the encouragement and structure for daily Bible reading I received as a child. But if I’d had something like Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids. I think my scriptural foundations would have been even stronger. Blessed beyond their knowing is the boy or girl who receives a workbook like Murray’s and the loving help to complete it.

P.P.S — A few years ago, Justin Taylor did the church a great service when he complied a long list of links to various Bible reading plans.


Photo from Inquisitr.