As you listen to this episode of Marked by Grace, it is dropping on the week of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is dropping on Monday, June 12th, and if all has gone according to plan, I am in New Orleans with the other messengers of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, and we are going to be ready to participate in the Southern Baptist Convention. If you’ve been paying attention to SBC life at all these days, you know there are some mighty and tumultuous events going down in the SBC. I’m not going to talk about those on the podcast. I’ve already been talking about those on our First Baptist blog at First Thoughts, fbcjax.com/blog. You can go find out about that there. So I’m not going to weigh in on all that now. I’m just going to say it’s tough days in the Southern Baptist Convention; there’s a lot of controversy, there’s a lot of stuff to argue about. There have actually been a lot of people that have been bailing out of the convention. As I have spoken about convention issues and trying to weigh everything that’s going on. One of the common things that I have heard from people, one of the things I’ve heard from you is, man, why are you still in the SBC? Or people will say it in an even more negative way. They’re like, man, we’re glad we dropped out of the SBC because this stuff’s crazy, and we don’t want to deal with it. Well, one of the movements on social media that I’m very grateful for is a trend to take some time and answer the question, in the midst of all this fighting, in the midst of all this difficulty, why are you affiliated with the SBC? I love that. I want to take a few moments on the podcast this week to let you know why I care about the Southern Baptist Convention, why I love the Southern Baptist Convention, and why I think with all the difficulty and with all the problems, I think the Southern Baptist Convention is worth fighting for.
First Baptist Church
I’ll tell you very personally. First of all, one reason why the SBC is so important for me is because of where I serve. I’m speaking to you right now from my office in the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. There is no denying that First Baptist Church Jacksonville has been one of the most significant churches in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. There’s no boast in that. All of that greatness happened before I got here. But it has definitely been one of the most significant churches in the SBC. First Baptist Church has given millions. I don’t even know how many tens of millions of dollars First Baptist Church has given to the Southern Baptist Convention. First Baptist Church has supplied leadership and other kinds of investment to the Southern Baptist Convention. Anybody who was around knows that through the 1980s and into the 1990s if you came to the First Baptist Church Pastor’s Conference, the featured speaker at that Pastor’s Conference was going to get elected to be president of the Southern Baptist Convention that year at the annual convention. Honestly, there could not have been a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention if it had not been for that kind of vehicle of communication at the First Baptist Pastor’s Conference. And if there hadn’t been that kind of leadership supplied here from First Baptist Church. First Baptist Church has been deeply invested in this convention. And I honestly just feel as a matter of stewardship, I have an obligation to try to honor that legacy and honor that faithfulness.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
But it’s not just my current ministry before I came to First Baptist Church. I was, among other things, a faculty member at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; I was a professor at Southern for ten years. I spent ten years of my life pouring into thousands of students to help them be better ministers of the word of God, better teachers in the kingdom of God. My salary was paid for ten years by Southern Baptists. Southern Baptist in Milwaukee and Southern Baptists in Plano, Texas, and Southern Baptist in Southern California and in South Georgia and in Kentucky. They came together, and they made an investment in me and dozens and dozens of other faculty members to instruct to train the next generation of pastors and church leaders, and missionaries. I don’t want to walk away from that investment. Before, I was a faculty member for ten years. I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I got a Masters of Divinity from Southern Seminary and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Southern Seminary, and I’m telling you, Southern Seminary was hands down, no question about it, no contest, the best Seminary in the world. When I was there, I was getting the best education you could get in the world. I was getting it at bargain basement prices because the Southern Baptist Convention ensured that I, as a Southern Baptist got to go to seminary for half the cost of everybody else. And so Southern Baptists made a personal investment in me and my education that I’m using today. I don’t want to walk away from that. I’m not going to walk away from that. I can’t walk away from that.
Farmdale Baptist Church
Before, I was a faculty member at Southern, and while I was a student at Southern, I served in my first decade of ministry, I served three Southern Baptist churches. One in North Carolina, two in Kentucky, full of faithful men and women, boys and girls. Listen, I think the largest church budget I oversaw in those early years was something like $275,000. We were doing well to take care of everything we could, just in our purview. But because we gave to the Southern Baptist Convention, our pennies, and our nickels and our quarters and our dimes, they went together with the $100 bills and the $1,000 gifts and the million dollar gifts from other Southern Baptists. We were able to participate in the great task of the great evangelization of the world in the Great Commission. And we were able to participate in that in ways we never could have if we’d had to come up with it on our own. I didn’t want to walk away from that heritage. I don’t want to walk away from that investment from those faithful people who gave so diligently to see the Great Commission proceed. Before that, actually, the very first church that I pastored when I got out of college was the very same church where I first got introduced to Jesus Christ and where I first began growing in my relationship with the Lord and a Southern Baptist leader, a faithful Southern Baptist woman shared the gospel with me her name is Sue Bumgarner. She’s still a dear friend today. I talked to her on the phone just a little bit ago. She shared the gospel with me. She let me know I was a sinner. She let me know that Jesus had the answer for that and his death on the cross, and I turned from my sin, and I trusted in him in a crummy little room in Crestwood, Kentucky, on a youth retreat from Farmdale Baptist Church. I grew up in the Lord at Farmdale all through the rest of high school, and they gave me my first pastoral ministry job. And that woman, Sue, was a faithful Southern Baptist.
My whole Christian life has been one big long investment from Southern Baptists into my heart and into my mind and into my life, and into my ministry. Listen, Southern Baptist Convention is tough; it’s complicated. Most things worth doing really, really are that way. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. We are the largest missions-sending organization not just in the world but in the history of the world. Guys, this is worth fighting for. This is worth coming to the convention, and voting for this is worth being excited about. It’s worth standing up for. And from the very beginning of my Christian life, even when I didn’t know it, I was excited about the Southern Baptist Convention. My journey with the Southern Baptist Convention continues today. But it began in that little room in Crestwood, Kentucky, with a Southern Baptist named Sue sharing the gospel with me. I want to let you know that’s why I’m committed to the SBC. And I want to say, Sue, thanks.