Countdown to SBC Phoenix: What to Expect?

After being in Dallas for a few days for our son, Stephen’s, appointment at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children (he has Legg-Perthes Disease, a childhood hip condition), I am looking forward to my first visit to Phoenix next week for this year’s annual get-together of the nation’s largest Protestant body.  At the moment, I want to be in Phoenix because the “dry heat” in Arizona has to be preferable to the miserably humid temperatures that we have encountered in Texas this week.  As a native Floridian, who has called New Mexico home for the past four years, I gladly admit that I do not miss the high temperatures AND high humidity that comes with living back east.  It has been nice actually seeing the rain and all the green grass, but that’s not enough to tempt me from leaving the desert southwest.

The temperatures maybe high in Phoenix next week, but those high temperatures will be mainly confined to outside the Convention Center.  Inside, among the messengers of the SBC, the temperatures will be rather mild.  With a relatively low turn-out expected in Phoenix, those in attendance will hear first-time reports from the new Presidents of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and the Executive Committee.  I’m not sure that has happened in a long time, if ever.  With no night meetings scheduled, those who make the trip to Phoenix will have time to renew old acquaintances or to make new ones.  I’m looking forward to meeting some of the folks that I have become friends with through online dialogue from our blogging activities.

One of the highlights of the Convention will be the election of officers.  With current President Bryant Wright scheduled to be renominated by popular Alabama pastor David Platt, I see no reason why Wright will not be easily elected to a customary second term.  Although I have strong reservations about what I believe is President Wright’s call for the radical redefinition of the SBC, Phoenix will not be the place where grassroots Southern Baptists take a hard stand against the GCR. 

Now, just because rank-and-file Southern Baptists will not take a hard stand in Phoenix does not mean their voices will not be heard.  As far as I know, there are no other announced candidates for the office of SBC President.  While I do no expect anyone else to run against Wright, the offices of 1st and 2nd Vice President, both largely ceremonial, could provide some drama in an otherwise scripted affair.  As long as we do not have another run by Wiley Drake for either of these offices, then I think that the SBC can breathe a hugh sigh of relief!

Apart from the election of officers, the various motions and resolutions always make for interesting debate.  I would not be surprised that the perfunctory motion regarding the Acts 29 network will be made by one of the messengers, most likely from Missouri.  You can usually expect motions ranging from public schools to specific books that Lifeway sells.  Because of the polity of the SBC Convention, the overwhelming majority of all motions will be referred to the various entities to be dealt with by their Trustees.  As these Conventions are highly controlled environments, there will be few “surprise” motions that actually are voted on by the messengers in Phoenix.

As to the resolutions, all of which had to be submitted in advance of the Annual Meeting, I do not believe there will be anything overly controversial presented by the Resolutions Committee.  With the members of that committee having been appointed by Bryant Wright, do not expect any bombs to be detonated through the resolutions process.

One area that usually is rather mundane and free of controversy is the annual report given by the Presidents of the SBC’s entities.  Already, in advance of the Convention, a major Georgia church has announced that they will no longer forward Cooperative Program money to two of those entities — Southern and Southeastern — because of these seminaries’ apparently support of aggressive Calvinism.  This unprecedented move — at least for Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez — and their Senior Pastor, William “Bill” Harrell, a former chairman of the SBC’s Executive Committee, signals an important early skirmish in what may potentially turn into a broader battle for the heart and soul of the SBC.

While every new morsel of information from the new NAMB’s leadership elicits more questions than answers, I don’t believe that Phoenix will be all that tough a venue for Dr. Ezell, the man who sees the North American Mission Board

” . . . in the early stages of building a network, a support group, that will be the first choice of church planters everywhere, not just Southern Baptist. We will and can compete with other groups.”

Are we going to support and network with non-Southern Baptist church planters who now want to somehow be involved with the new NAMB?  There is so much that is disconcerting about what is happening at the new NAMB, but when we seem to be building a network to woo non-Southern Baptists to join us in church planting, what safeguards will be in place to prevent CP funds from being invested in nominal SB church plants?  One might say the BF&M2000, but as any lawyer will tell you, there are always loopholes in any document.

Phoenix will be hot, but not as hot as Dallas (read into that what you will).  There will be skirmishes this year, but no major battles.  Bryant Wright will be re-elected and many within the establishment class of the SBC will continue to misread that as a mandate to press forward with radical changes at breakneck speed.  They will misunderestimate the grassroots backlash against the radical redefinition of the SBC.  I cannot predict the future, but something tells that the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans and the SBC will interact.  As it just so happens, the Annual Meeting of Southern Baptists will take place in June 2012 in New Orleans.  Coincidence or Providence?

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About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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16 Responses to Countdown to SBC Phoenix: What to Expect?

  1. rickpatrick says:

    Dr. Ezell wants NAMB to be the FIRST choice of church planters EVERYWHERE rather than the ONLY choice of church planters who are SBC. He envisions a NAMB that starts churches in partnership with other non-SBC organizations (like Acts 29) that may not always reflect our Southern Baptist beliefs and practices.

    These SBC leaders sure do love them some Acts 29.

    They seem to think that Acts 29 is better than we are, that we should bow down at the feet of Acts 29, partner with Acts 29 and jointly sponsor new works that will be both SBC AND Acts 29–effectively merging the SBC with Acts 29 in starting new churches.

    This MAY not be the boring convention everyone is expecting.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Rick,

      After my little post today, I am beginning to rethink the “hotness” in Phoenix. I have not delved directly into the NAMB/Acts 29 connection although others have done a good job at connecting some dots and asking some tough questions. I didn’t think Phoenix would be the place for grassroots SBs to take a stand, but it maybe the place where the stand begins. Hope you are doing well in AL. God bless,

      Howell

    • D.R. Randle says:

      Rick,

      Acts29 is better than the SBC in Church Planting. The stats don’t lie. Here are a few found in an article from mid-March 2011:

      The Acts 29 Network was founded 11 years ago. In the first six years, it grew to team of 71 churches. Over the last five years, there has been an explosion of growth, adding 300 new churches, with hundreds more planters applying.

      There are 392 current Acts 29 churches
      There were 133 new Acts 29 churches added in 2010
      There are 480 current applicants (480 guys lined up saying they want to plant with Acts 29)
      There are 100,000 people worshiping on a Sunday at an Acts 29 church
      There are 22 different denominations represented

      Acts 29 churches are urban (55%), suburban (38%), rural (5%) and inner city (5%). Additionally, sixty-four percent of our churches have congregations of 200 people or less; six churches have more than 2000 in attendance.

      Historically, and statistically speaking, 4 out of 5 church plants fail. Since it’s inception 11 years ago, the percentage of Full Member Acts 29 churches to close it’s doors is 1.67% which means that Acts 29, as a network, has a 98.33% “viability”/success rate for Full Members [compare this last stat with the “Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007”, published by NAMB which indicated that only 68% of all plants survive after 4 years].

      So Rick, that’s incredible impressive – that’s God-sized impressive. It would be one thing if these guys were compromising the Gospel, preaching prosperity, or allowing sin to run rampant; but most of these guys are so Biblical that they even do Church Discipline on a regular basis. So while the SBC is still stuck in the 1950’s these folks have been able to not only look like 1st century Churches, but actually reach 21st century sinners. So yes, absolutely we should learn from them, partner with them, and hope God blesses us like He has them.

  2. Stephen Fox says:

    If you speak to Bryant Wright ask him to identify Ginny Brant for you if she happens to be there. You may want to have her out as a guest speaker, pretty interesting story she has to tell in her recent book about her father’s pilgrimage.
    Also ask Bryant if he has patronized http://www.westcobbdiner.com there in his hometown of Marietta. I met the proprietors over the weekend, and the menu looks grand, especially the country fried steak and greenfried tomatoes.

  3. D.R. Randle says:

    Howell,

    We had such a beautiful thing going there for one post, when we actually agreed recently over at SBC Voices. Alas, that agreement seems short lived. I take issue with you here in one major statement that you make. You say,

    Are we going to support and network with non-Southern Baptist church planters who now want to somehow be involved with the new NAMB? There is so much that is disconcerting about what is happening at the new NAMB, but when we seem to be building a network to woo non-Southern Baptists to join us in church planting, what safeguards will be in place to prevent CP funds from being invested in nominal SB church plants?

    I think you, along with others who feel the panic button must be pressed because of Ezell’s statement, need to recognize a few things. First, Ezell didn’t say anything about money here. In fact, in a sentence prior to this statement he talked about how he believed the #1 draw to Acts29 was the “sense of brotherhood,of training and top notch resources that they can’t find anywhere else.”

    I believe the network he wants to build is one that has non-monetary resources (like the Acts29 bootcamp, their comraderie, the accountability levels, etc.) This is often what attracts people to Acts29, not the monetary support (in fact, here is a video of Matt Chandler speaking about why he affiliated with Acts29 – I do not believe they recieved a dime from the network). That monetary support usually comes from other sources (with Acts29, it comes usually from other Churches who partner together to help a plant monetarily – and not primarily from the network itself). If NAMB could build a network like this which would attract non-SBC planters (of which there are a great number in our seminaries), then they may be able to attract more young Churches to later affiliate with the SBC and eventually give to the CP.

    So again, attracting people to use the network does not equal giving them money. In fact, it costs quite a bit to utilize many of Acts 29’s resources, particularly their boot camps and assessment processes. So this network Ezell is speaking of is more about non-monetary resources, and not primarily about giving out money to plants. It’s more like how LifeWay sells Southern Baptist materials to non-Southern Baptist Churches and allows those Churches to come to (sometimes free) training on how to use those resources.

    In this way, NAMB helps to expand the reach of Southern Baptists and hopefully lead some non-SBC folks to want to affiliate with the SBC and eventually to participate in CP giving. It’s not a whole lot different from how the GBC just started an all-African-American local association in Atlanta and are now using the draw of SBC resources and benefits to go after non-SBC African-American Baptist Churches in hopes they will affiliate and begin giving to the CP (this also will help us to look more like the Kingdom of God in diversity and hopefully will begin to topple old racist walls as well).

    One last point on attracting non-SBC folks to a NAMB sponsored planting network: it’s more likely that this network would attract non-Calvinists than Calvinists. The reason being that there are actually already a couple of other Reformed networks which would attract Calvinist more readily. If anything, it will look like the Great Commission Initiative (or potentially arise out of it), which is doing exactly what Ezell is talking about – providing (non-monetary) resources to all sorts of planters. Here in my association we are considering using them as support for a plant orginating from our newly formed “New Work Team”.

    So I hope that helps to explain a bit more and help people to quit pulling the fire alarms before the details about what Ezell is refering to come out.

    • Howell Scott says:

      D.R.,

      Sorry for the delay in responding, but have been at 6 Flags in Dallas with the family all day. I’m not sure I was pulling a fire alarm regarding Acts 29. I do think that some of the actions and/or statements coming from the new NAMB leadership are less than clear, particularly knowing that there are issues floating out there that do make people nervous. I don’t have any objections to those who are not currently Southern Baptists becoming affiliated with the SBC. Your example of the African-American association in the Atlanta area seems like a positive step to bring more churches into the SBC. You maybe right that Dr. Ezell was not talking about monetary support, but he is not communicating as well as he could be, IMO. Hope you are doing well. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • D.R. Randle says:

        Howell,

        Have you been able to read the entire interview that Ezell gave to The Christian Index or have you just seen various quotes?

      • Howell Scott says:

        D.R.,

        I first saw the story that Peter Lumpkins had at his blog. I did follow the link to read the original Christian Index interview. As I am on vacation, I was not going to write an in-depth article on NAMB this week (although there is much in the article that I could write a post or two on). I will say that some of what Dr. Ezell said in his article (not the Acts 29 stuff) is at variance with what I understand, particularly with regard to funding associational DOMs. Perhaps the language was not as clear as it could have been, but there are still some unanswered questions that people have regarding the many changes taking place at the new NAMB. I am not ready to do what Bill Harrell has done, but the next year will bring clarity to the words and proposed actions at NAMB. Hope you have a great day. God bless,

        Howell

  4. Andew says:

    “Phoenix will be hot, but not as hot as Dallas (read into that what you will). There will be skirmishes this year, but no major battles.”

    I’m not so sure…you’re the second person to notice Kevin Ezell’s statement about big-tent church-planting…and I’m sure the budget realignments of IMB and NAMB will ruffle some feathers.

    Concerning the minor coup of Abilene/Harrell, I imagine someone will make some waves…if they don’t, then the establishment will soon lose their credibility with both sides (young/old, CP-faithful/GCR-faithful, etc.)

    The rock may get rolling in Arizona, but I agree that the momentum will only pick up once the Convention returns to the South….we’ll see!

    • Howell Scott says:

      Andrew,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about Phoenix. After some responses that I have had today, I’m beginning to think that I may have been a bit premature in saying that it will not be “hot” inside the Convention Hall in Phoenix. There maybe more fireworks than I might have anticipated, but I do believe, like you, that the major “battle” will be in New Orleans next year. It certainly won’t be a dull meeting, that’s for sure. Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

  5. Mark says:

    Harrell has been addressed over the years. His issues are not new.
    As unclear as Ezell’s words seem, I’m sure he is not out to compromise the BFM since he did clearly stated that much.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Mark,

      I agree with your assessment regarding Dr. Ezell and the BF&M. I’m not sure what Pastor Harrell’s issues have been, but his move to defund Southern and Southeastern is significant, even if no other churches follow his lead (although I think that more might). As I shared with D.R., I think that there will be more clarity brought to bear on NAMB, both from within and without, over the next 6-12 months. Once State Conventions, local associations, church planters, and existing NAMB missionaries have to start putting together a budget for 2012, I think we will begin to see how NAMB’s funding has shifted. I believe, based on what we have bee told by NAMB leadership, that we will see a seismic shift toward church planting. Once everything shakes out, then I think that churches, associations, and State Conventions will be in a better position to make informed choices on partnerships, cooperation and missions dollars. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  6. Pingback: SBC Phoenix: Grassroots Voices Speak Out! | From Law to Grace

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  8. Well, hindsight is 20/20. SBC = So Boring Convention. Any disagreement? Referred to committee. Questions about leadership? I’m sorry, brother, that’s out of order.

    I LOVED the testimonies from Norwich, Connecticut. I also liked reports from Land and Patterson. Giglio and Warren had great sermons at the Pastors Conference.

    Other than that, I’ve pretty much slipped into a coma.

    DR, thanks for telling me how great Acts 29 is. I think I’m sort of partnering with them now, so I’ll learn to pray for their elders, ask for God’s Sovereign Grace to reveal His glory, and brush up on my wine tasting. Is it red with beef and white with fish and poultry? Maybe I can learn how to be a Baptist 29. I don’t seem to have much choice.

    • Howell Scott says:

      Rick,

      I wish I could tell you the Convention was boring, but I came to Phoenix and missed it all. I got hit with the worst stomach bug I have ever had in my life and have been holed up in my hotel room since Monday. I was able to make about an 1 1/2 at the Pastor’s Conference on Monday morning and attended an “SBC Conservatives Meeting” on Monday evening for another 1 1/2 hours. That was all she wrote. God is still good all the time, though! Feeling better today. This is the first time that I have even checked my blog or been on the computer since Sunday night. I’ll have more next week about the Convention itself (once I read up on what went on 🙂 ) Hope you are doing well. Have a great weekend and God bless,

      Howell

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