By Randy C. Davis
President and executive director, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
I crossed an item off my bucket list. I’ve always heard about the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park, and last week I laid eyes on it. It is spectacular; way more spectacular in person than in any picture I’ve ever seen.
To stand beneath its 285-foot height and wonder at its 35-foot width is inspiring. General Sherman stands with nobility and strength and has been standing in a forest with other giants for an estimated 2,000 years.
The journey from the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, through California’s Central Valley, and up to Sequoia National Park offered time to reflect on all that was seen and heard during the days messengers gathered in Anaheim.
Frankly, I’m sure people watching the livestream thought they’d stumbled into a professional wrestling pay-per-view event. At times the discussion was pointed. Some messengers acted disrespectfully to those leading from the platform and to fellow messengers bringing business before the convention. Those were easily the low moments.
But I take away many positives, and I choose to focus on those.
1. People came. The messenger count exceeded 8,000 and a few years ago I would not have expected there to be 5,000. It demonstrates to me that Southern Baptists are still very interested in participating in this network of churches and its local and global Great Commission enterprises.
2. Missionaries were appointed. The International Mission Board appointment of new missionaries is easily my favorite part of the SBC. It is encouraging to both see the Great Commission in progress and to also have a tangible reminder of why we give through the Cooperative Program.
There were 52 new missionaries sent out to serve around the globe. With almost 160,000 people a day globally dying without a relationship to Jesus Christ, we must push gospel light to the darkest places. In the words of IMB president Paul Chitwood, “Spiritual lostness is the world’s greatest problem.”
3. SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force. The recommendations offered by the SATF were overwhelmingly adopted by messengers. They are reasonable and doable action steps. Many worked hard to overcome polity and implementation issues to bring these recommendations forward, and we must move ahead in this area as a denomination and as individual churches.
4. Racial reconciliation. We’ve talked a lot as Southern Baptists about racial reconciliation through the years, and I believe we’ve come a long way. However, I leave Anaheim encouraged by the launch of the Unity Project announced by Tony Evans and Fred Luter, two godly men I greatly admire. Their aim is to provide tangible gospel-centered direction and resources to churches.
5. Fellowship enjoyed. The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board hosted our annual Tennessee messenger and guest fellowship Monday evening.
More than 300 came, and the sounds of talk and laughter that filled the room were evidence that if you give folks coffee, cake and time with friends, you help foster real unity. I appreciate the work of Cynthia Proctor and others on the TBMB staff who went the extra mile to ensure that this fellowship time was accomplished with care and excellence.
The SBC can learn from General Sherman and his impressive buddies. Amazingly, sequoias have no tap root. As a matter of fact, their root systems are very shallow. Normally you’d think a strong wind or storm would push the giants over. But here’s the interesting thing. These enormous trees that have stood for millennia grow close together as their root systems become intertwined and create an unshakable foundation of strength and support for one another. They literally stick together.
Southern Baptists may face some challenges, but it is possible for us to stick together and grow closer together. If we stay focussed on doctrinal integrity and maintain mission focus, we can do more than survive, we can thrive for the glory of God and the good of those who desperately need to hear a word of salvation.
It is my joy to be with you on this journey. B&R