Andi and I traveled to Anaheim, CA this past week to attend the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Similar to last year, this year’s meeting was filled with important issues for the messengers to discuss and consider. Here are a few highlights from our experience in California:
Sprint to the Gate
I am happy to announce that Andi and I have now experienced our first “running through the airport” moment as we nearly missed boarding the plane. Due to a hold-up at the TSA security checkpoint, combined with a last-minute flight change, we had our name called over the airport loudspeaker – “The Meade family needs to immediately board flight #2107…once the gate doors are closed, they cannot be re-opened!” Well, as soon as things got cleared with TSA, we started running and did not stop until we reached the gate. We made it, but barely. I have not run that hard and that long for a very long time. It took half the flight for me to recover.
Sending and Celebrating Missionaries
At its core, the Southern Baptist Convention is about Baptist churches cooperating together to reach the world for Jesus Christ. The Committee on Order of Business was wise to place the International Mission Board (IMB) Sending Celebration at the top of the agenda this year. It served as a beautiful reminder of who we are and what we do. The messengers were able to watch 52 new IMB missionaries commissioned for gospel ministry around the world. That set the tone for everything else that would follow.
At the 2021 Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN, messenger Shadd Tibbs made the following motion: “[I move that] we the Southern Baptist Convention, of June 2021, break fellowship with Saddleback Church, as they have ordained three ladies as pastors…at the very least, I am asking that the validity of this matter be looked into and report given at the 20221 Convention…”
The motion was referred to the Credentials Committee who would study the matter and make a recommendation for the messengers at the 2022 meeting in Anaheim. However, the Credentials Committee was “unable to form an opinion regarding the relationship of Saddleback Church to the Southern Baptist Convention, until clarity is provided regarding the use of the title “pastor” for staff positions with different responsibility and authority than that of lead pastor.”
Let me unpack that. We have many Southern Baptist Churches who use the term “pastor” for some of their staff members but do not believe them to be fulfilling the office of elder/pastor. For example, some churches have a plurality of elders, but also have staff members with the title “pastor” who are not considered elders, and therefore, are not on the elder board. I try to demonstrate in my dissertation that this is foreign to the New Testament description of pastor/elder, not to mention extremely confusing.
Here is another example. At my church, Graefenburg Baptist Church, we have a part-time communications director who oversees our social media accounts and provides our graphic design. She is an incredibly valuable member of our staff. But she is considered “support staff” and does not carry the title of “pastor.” In addition, we have recently created a support staff position for Media Technology, but the gifted gentleman who fills that position does not carry the title of “pastor.” However, there are many churches that place the title “pastor” on these kinds of positions even though they do not believe them to have the authority and responsibility of the office of pastor/elder.
On the other hand, Graefenburg Baptist Church has a “Pastor for Worship,” a “Pastor for Families,” and a “Pastor for Senior Adults.” Each of those are considered to fulfill the same biblical office – pastor/elder.
This is the question the Credentials Committee was trying to understand. Does Saddleback Church use the title “pastor” in the non-authoritative way I described above, and if so, does that make a difference? To be clear, my personal belief is that if a church uses the word “pastor” then they should understand that title to fulfill the responsibilities and functions of the office of pastor/elder. I do not believe there can be a situation where a person is a “pastor” without also fulfilling the office of pastor/elder. The NT uses the terms elder, overseer, and pastor (shepherd) interchangeably.
But to be fair to the Credentials Committee, that was the issue they were trying to figure out. Despite what you might hear, the messengers at the Annual Meeting were not debating whether a female can be placed in the office of pastor/elder. If we had taken a vote and asked if females can fulfill the office of pastor/elder, the vote would have been an overwhelming “no.” Instead, the Credentials Committee was asking for direction on how they should understand a church that uses the title “pastor” but does not consider that person to have the authority of the office of pastor/elder.
If it were up to me, I would say that Southern Baptist Churches should only use the title “pastor” if they mean a person who has the authority and responsibility of the office of elder. If Saddleback, or any other church in our Convention, are ordaining women as “pastors” then we should take that at face value and, with gentleness and love, disfellowship them if they are unwilling to put an end to that practice. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 certainly does not make a distinction between “pastor” and the “office of pastor” and neither should we.
But I want to be fair, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to reiterate that our Credentials Committee, including Chairperson and Kentucky Baptist, Linda Cooper, were not attempting to defend the ordination and placement of female pastors. That simply never happened.
The Credentials Committee rightly withdrew their recommendation for a study committee to be formed and will continue to look into the Saddleback Church situation. When they are ready, either before or during the 2023 Annual Meeting, they will make an official recommendation on whether we should disfellowship with Saddleback. To read more on the Saddleback topic, check out this Baptist Press article.
Sexual Abuse Task Force Report
The Sexual Abuse Task Force brought two recommendations before the messengers as a response to the horrific Guidepost sexual abuse report that was released a few weeks ago. The first recommendation was to form an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF) to be appointed by the newly elected SBC President. This task force would study and present the recommended reforms to be adopted and implemented by the convention at the 2023 Annual Meeting. The ARITF would also serve as a resource in “abuse prevention, crisis response, and survivor care to Baptist bodies who voluntarily seek assistance.” In addition, the ARITF would assist the Credentials Committee with complaints of noncooperation from churches due to sexual abuse.
The second recommendation was to establish a “ministry check” website that would list names of sexual abusers who have been credible accused. A credibly accused person is described as a “pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer … who has confessed to sexual abuse in a non-privileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law, or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them.” In addition, an “independent third party commissioned by a local church or other Baptist body may determine, by preponderance of the evidence following an inquiry, that a person is credibly accused.”
Both recommendations passed with an overwhelming majority. This was an emotional moment for many, but especially for abuse survivors. Southern Baptists were clear that this is only the beginning of the work that needs to be accomplished for sexual abuse reform, but it was a good beginning.
In addition to the recommendations from the Sexual Abuse Task Force, there were also two beautiful resolutions related to sexual abuse. Resolution #5 titled “On Support for Consistent Laws Regarding Pastoral Sexual Abuse” encouraged lawmakers in every state to pass laws providing consistent definitions and classifications of sexual abuse by pastors. This resolution seeks to clarify how the relationship between a pastor and a church member is not unlike the relationship between a doctor and a patient. Pastors are to be held accountable for sexual misconduct with church members.
Resolution #6 titled “On Lament and Repentance for Sexual Abuse” sought to publically “repent and acknowledge our need for comprehensive change in caring well for survivors of sexual abuse…” The Committee on Resolutions stood to their feet as this resolution was presented to the messengers and remained standing until the vote was cast. It was indeed a moving moment.
To read more on the sexual abuse task force recommendations, check out this article.
Abolish the ERLC?
Perhaps the strangest moment at this year’s convention was a motion to abolish the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. The motion was brought to a vote before the messengers who thankfully voted against the motion in an overwhelming fashion. This was a great relief to me since I find the ERLC to be incredibly helpful in a variety of ways and I have relied on their expertise many times over the years.
What Did Southern Baptists Demonstrate?
I walked away from this year’s Annual Meeting very pleased with the convention and the will of the messengers.
– We demonstrated that we remain committed to the inerrancy, infallibility, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture.
– We demonstrated that we are unified in our mission to fulfill both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
– We demonstrated that we are passionate about the unborn and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
– We demonstrated that we are repentant of our mishandling of sexual abuse claims and sexual abuse survivors. Although our actions are just the tip of the iceberg, we are heading in the right direction.
– We demonstrated that we are unwilling to defund an SBC entity simply because we are unhappy with some of their decisions.
– We demonstrated that we are a people who will not be misled by the agendas of the progressive left or the extreme right.
– We demonstrated that we are advocates for religious liberty for all people and oppose forced conversions.
– We demonstrated that Jesus is the center of it all.
All Southern Baptists need to pray for our new president, Bart Barber. He is a Baptist to the core, trustworthy, smart, and will lead Southern Baptists well. I couldn’t be happier about his appointment as our new president.
I love Southern Baptists and I love Graefenburg Baptist Church. May the Lord bless us, empower us, and show mercy toward us as we endeavor to glorify his through gospel ministry. Soli Deo Gloria!