Monday, June 17, 2013

Thoughts on the Recent Southern Baptist Convention Meeting in Houston, Texas

June 17, 2013

First, I feel as if I need to preface my report by saying that the report represents my thoughts and opinions alone and does not necessarily represent the church I pastor, Hebron Baptist Church. While undoubtedly many of my members would agree with my impressions and conclusions, being good Baptists many would probably disagree with me as well. Having said that, let me jump right in with my thoughts on this year’s convention.

My general impression of the 2013 SBC this year was that it was uneventful. I’ve never seen so many “scheduled business” sessions cancelled for lack of business. This convention also marked some troubling trends. The final messenger count tallied 5,103 messengers. I’m sure this ranks as one of the least attended conventions in modern times, certainly well below the last Houston convention. I think there are a variety of reasons why people are choosing not to attend conventions as they maybe once did. First, the increasing costs to attend conventions make it feasible mainly for pastors and staff or for denominational employees who have church-budgeted or convention-budgeted monies to attend. My guess is that very few families are making convention cities their family vacation destination, Orlando being the exception. In most cities where the meetings are held, it’s difficult to find a decent hotel room under $150 per night! It’s not unreasonable to spend $1,200 to $1,500 for a pastor and his spouse to attend a convention, and that’s one in the South.

Second, many people like myself feel that the business has already been conducted before the meeting ever begins. Yes, messengers do have opportunities to speak, but you have to really be aware of what’s going on to take advantage of this and very little time is given to messenger input. Furthermore, there is the feeling that any opinion presented that does not generally agree with the status quo will be considered “unfriendly” and not accepted by the group. I’m increasingly finding myself in the position of voting in the minority. If everything is pretty much decided, why not just watch the proceedings online, an option I’m sure many are doing. Or worse, they are not paying attention at all.

Third, sad to say it takes a real controversy to get people out to a business meeting. Aside from the Boy Scout controversy that never really happened (thankfully), and a mental health resolution that got passionately bounced around some,  there was little discussion of the issues facing our churches. The Calvinism report barely garnered a yawn.

Fourth, hearing reports is not always that exciting and after you’ve been to a few of these meetings, everything starts sounding the same. Many program reports sound like this: “Everything’s great, enrollment is up, we’re instituting new programs, and you can read our report in the Book of Reports.” Ok, why don’t you just send me the Book of Reports then. Maybe there is a better way to communicate what’s happening. I am thankful though that we were not treated to dozens of annoying and useless videos during the convention.

It seems to me that The Executive Committee’s reluctance to host both bi-annual meetings and meetings in smaller markets is becoming less tenable all the time. The reality is, we don’t need a meeting every year and there are many smaller markets that could sufficiently host a meeting. It no longer makes sense to spend “who knows how much” hosting a convention of 5-6,000 in a convention center the size of the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, Texas. You know the feeling when you look out on Sunday morning and half the congregation decided to take the day off? That’s the feeling I had as I looked around at all the empty chairs. At one point on Wednesday morning, while voting on the 2nd Vice President, there were 674 messengers voting! Now, I know that this position is largely symbolic, but it just goes to show you how indifferent people are to what’s going on.

Speaking of indifferent, I believe it was at the conclusion of the IMB report that many messengers left during a special prayer time. Danny Decker (who should be applauded) closed the session in prayer and voiced his displeasure at the people who were leaving during prayer, noting that this kind of indifference was symptomatic of a greater problem that we as Southern Baptists have.

While I’m pontificating, one more thing I noted was the general sense that the convention meeting has become a platform for Lifeway and others to simply “sell” messengers on the supposedly latest and greatest in church life. I’m kind of weary of Lifeway’s latest “launches.” Lifeway rebooting Sunday School material, that’s news! Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that Lifeway’s topics and ideas are bad, it’s the way the material is written. To me, that’s always been the issue. I still use Nav Press material that was written 20 years ago. It was good then, it’s good now. I don’t understand why Lifeway doesn’t get it. Everything they touch they complicate, they make too many steps, and I could go on and on. I long for the days when Southern Baptists published periodical materials that were simple, straightforward, and that you wanted to teach and hold on to. I still have commentaries and Sunday School lessons written by Hershel Hobbs and other godly Baptists that puts to shame the material being published now.

Aside from complicating the material, the literature that is being published violates the most serious hermeneutical principle that I teach to my students. Never, never, never make the text fit what you want it to say. Too often our literature begins with a theme and the rest of the lesson is a forced interpretation of the text to fit the theme. This drives me crazy as you can tell.

On the positive side, I would like to commend our re-elected President, Fred Luter, Jr. How he moderated the meeting and carried out his responsibilities was refreshing. He did it in an orderly fashion yet he didn’t take himself too seriously in the process. He seemed very real and in tune with the messengers. I also greatly appreciated the convention worship leader, Charles Billingsley. His worship leading style and choice of songs was inspiring, I just wish more people were there to experience what I did.

I want to highlight a few of the things that we did discuss at the meeting. I’ll begin with the resolutions since this seems to be the area that had the most discussion. I’m not a huge fan of resolutions because they don’t really mean much to Southern Baptists as a whole, and they can actually hurt us on the national stage. Resolutions are not binding upon autonomous Baptist churches, but the world at large sees them as expressions of “All” Southern Baptists. The truth is, resolutions speak for the few thousand out of millions. But the national media doesn’t understand that, or at least does not want to understand that.

* The original Boy Scout Resolution was amended at least 3 or 4 times, I lost track. Thankfully, attempts to outright call for disassociating with the Boy Scouts were soundly defeated. While the resolution strongly disapproves of the actions of the Boy Scouts, it leaves the decision of associating with the Scouts up to the churches. What most people forget is that it’s entirely up to the churches anyway, regardless of what the resolution says. I have written a detailed response concerning the recent Scout Resolution. You can find a copy of my thoughts in the church foyers or soon online at

* The resolution “On Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God” received a surprising amount of attention. Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas spoke several times concerning the mental health issues we are increasingly facing in our culture and churches today.

* Another resolution addressing “Sexual Abuse of Children” was passed with various amendments. Behind this resolution, there have been some high profile Christian ministries in the national spotlight. Some Christians have questioned how serious these ministries are in confronting allegations of sexual abuse within their organizations. Without mentioning names, there were several speakers who hinted at this background.

* Other resolutions passed with little to no debate including resolutions affirming the Billy Graham evangelistic organization, human trafficking, tithing and the cooperative program, recognizing the 125th anniversary of the WMU, praying for the President and other leaders, on violations of religious freedom, on the danger of age discrimination in healthcare rationing, and on America’s growing prison population. I plan to post copies of these resolutions in the church foyers over the next few weeks.

In Other Business
* The Crossover reports are always encouraging to hear. This year over 500 decisions were made for Christ. Crossover essentially consists of a concentrated effort by Southern Baptists to impact the cities in which the conventions are held. Events usually conclude the weekend before the convention begins.

* The North American Mission Board’s focus will be on what they have termed “Send Cities,” comprising of 32 major cities in the United States. This sounds like a great plan. I just hope they don’t forget the small and forgotten places that need help too. We just returned from New Mexico where NAMB support has ceased with the missionaries that we work with. There are just some places and works that are never going to be self-supporting. I hope that we don’t become only concerned about numbers and the bottom line. Oh wait, we’re already there!

NAMB is also working on and envisioning a future where the current field of 600 Summer missionaries will be increased to the needed 6,000 Summer missionaries, many of whom will continue on and fill the missionary ranks of service effectively impacting our nation for Christ. Anything we can do to get our students and young people plugged into missions is a good thing. 

* Frank Page discussed the much-anticipated “Calvinism Report.” After reading the report, I was impressed that both sides could come together and craft such a document. You can read a copy online at I feel that this document could be a great teaching tool for our churches.

* Long time leader Richard Land has retired from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He was honored at various times during the convention. Russell Moore, the new head of the commission presented a fiery report to the convention outlining his heart and direction. Some have suggested that the tone of Moore’s administration may be a little more open to working with other Christians. This is positive news. As one person has said, “there are not enough of us to not work together with other Christians.” We can no longer go it alone as Southern Baptists, especially when there is not that much that separates us.

* A change in Guidestone’s ministry statement will now allow them to offer investments and insurance to “other evangelical ministry organizations and like-minded individuals.” While this may sound like a positive development, I’m concerned that we will now have a SBC entity soliciting investment monies from church members. Other denominations have seen the ethical problems associated with profiting and/or losing monies from their own members and have rejected similar types of changes. David Miller, past 1st Vice President has written an excellent blog on this subject outlining why this is not a good idea. The recommendation passed without even a comment, probably because so few people understood it or even knew that it was going to be presented.

* The following officers of the convention were elected:
    President: Fred Luter, Jr
    1st Vice President: Bart Barber
    2nd Vice President: Jerry Moore
    Recording Secretary: John Yeats
    Registration Secretary: Jim Wells

“For His Glory!”

Pastor, Joe Alain

On Our Way to Athens! Sunday's Sermon Text (June 23, 2013)

This Sunday we will be journeying to Athens! Well, not literally, but we will be looking at Paul's journey to Athens in Acts 17:16-34. What we're going to discover is that ancient Athens looks a whole lot like our world today. Seeing how Paul communicated the Gospel in Athens is helpful to us for reaching our present culture. By the way, Paul in Athens is the theme of our Vacation Bible School which begins Monday, June 24th. There's still time for you to be involved in this tremendous ministry to the children and families of our community. You can encourage your friends to register their children online at

See you Sunday for life-changing worship as we exalt our God who is worthy of worship!

"For His Glory!"
Pastor Joe

Acts 17:16-34, New International Version (NIV)

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?

20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.”

21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.

23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.

25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.

30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

33 At that, Paul left the Council.

34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Praise for Our Food Bank Ministry!

This past Wednesday (June 5th) Hebron’s Food Bank kicked off an exciting new partnership with the Baton Rouge Food Bank. What an amazing blessing to see so many of our people helping out, from youth to our senior adults. Our men picked up nearly 3,000 pounds of food, and we served over 100 people. One of the remarkable things to note was the diversity of kinds of ministry that were all going on at once. We had people greeting and working the registration process, stocking food, praying and counseling with people, distributing clothing, and there was even a Bible study for the children who came. Church, you are to be commended and I’m very proud to be your Pastor! Meeting needs and sharing Christ is the church being the church! To God be the glory!

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe