Focused on the theme “Together on Mission,” a crowd of nearly 10,000 Southern Baptists gathered Sunday evening (June 13) in Nashville for the opening session of the SEND Conference.
Christian musicians that included Michael W. Smith, CeCe Winans and Crowder joined pastor Tony Evans and Southern Baptist mission board leaders Kevin Ezell and Paul Chitwood in urging those in attendance to overcome their divisions, politics and struggles to take the gospel to the world.
The two-day SEND Conference, held at the Music City Center, will culminate Monday night (June 14) with the International Mission Board’s Sending Celebration.
During his message, Evans challenged Southern Baptists to spend less time on issues they disagree on and more effort on making disciples, baptizing believers and teaching God’s word.
‘Did you score?’
“A SEND conference is like a huddle in a football game,” said Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. “This is a great huddle, but after your SEND conference is over, you’re going to have to break huddle. Now, the question is did you score or did you just have a nice, private gathering?”
Evans said, “One of the theological, sociological, political and cultural reasons for the chaos we’re now experiencing” is that God wants to wake the church up.
Referencing racial divisions, he said one of the reasons for racial issues among Christians is that “far too many whites are more white than Christian” and “far too many blacks are more black than Christian.”
But, he said, God is never in favor of “color blindness.” “Let’s get that straight,” he said. “People say I’m colorblind. God is not color blind if you read Revelation.”
John saw “people from every nation, every tribe, every tongue,” Evans noted. “He says whatever they were here is the same thing there,” he said. “God is not colorblind, but neither is He blinded by color. He never wants your humanity to trump your Christian commitment.”
And referencing politics, Evans said Christians should never allow the politics of men to divide the church of Jesus Christ.
“God doesn’t ride the back of donkeys or elephants. … God stands above this,” said Evans, whose message at one point compelled a man in the crowd to stand up and nominate Evans for Southern Baptist Convention president. Evans humorously declined the nomination.
‘Only one subject’
He also noted, “There is only one subject in the Bible, only one, the glory of God through the advancement of His Kingdom. Everything ties to that.”
Following Evans’ message, Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, and Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, spoke about unity and the importance of working together to make an impact for the Kingdom.
“It’s about those beautiful feet that are taking the gospel to the nations and we praise the Lord for everyone who is out there on the front lines near and far who are serving,” Chitwood said. “We know that the mission that we’re in together is really founded upon our prayers.
“Together,” they agreed, Southern Baptists can take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Prior to the start of the conference, a crowd of some 1,200 attendees prayed together in the lead-up to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting. Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, led the prayer time.
Breaking into groups
On June 14, the SEND Conference continued with tracks for pastors, women, children, students and young adults. The Pastors Track focused on unity in the Spirit.
It’s absolutely vital that we “go” to the unreached with the gospel — but it’s even more vital that we first “come” to Jesus, said Gregg Matte, senior pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church. “Knowing Christ is vastly more important than serving Christ.”
Preaching from Revelation 22, Matte challenged pastors not to get so familiar with the Word that they forget its power, like a banker might do with $100 bills or a jeweler might do with diamonds.
“Let’s come to this Word personally so we can then let God do something through us corporately,” he said, noting that pastors must respond to Jesus’ invitation to “come” before they can extend that invitation effectively to others.
“As we get to know the Father we love and who loves us, and as God does something so great in us, He can then do something so great through our churches,” Matte said. “It doesn’t mean we have to be successful. It doesn’t mean we have to be famous. The goal is to be faithful.”
When the Spirit and the Church are unified and working together, “it’s powerful,” Matte said.
Unity between churches
So is unity in the Spirit between churches in the mission, said Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church, West Palm Beach, Florida, who served as the host for the morning.
“The point of all of us is to help all of us keep the mission of Jesus front and center not only in our churches and in our communities but in our own hearts,” Scroggins said. “None of us can do the mission of Jesus alone. No one church can do it alone. But together we can do more than any one person or any one church can do on their own. We really are better together.”
Matte and the other speakers — Hershael York and Miguel Nuñez — carried the SEND Conference theme of Together on Mission through the morning session.
Nuñez — pastor for preaching and vision at Iglesia Bautista Internacional and president of Ministerios Integridad & Sabiduría in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — said communion with God is vital to the mission.
He said Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem — to stop evangelizing — until they received the Holy Spirit. Unity with the Spirit is vital to the missions task, he said, as is unity together in the Spirit. That’s what Jesus prayed for in John 17 — for the disciples to be one, Nuñez said.
“If we’re going to allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, we must surrender to Him,” Nuñez said. “Humility fosters unity.”
York — senior pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church, Frankfort, Kentucky, and dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky — talked about how life can feel out of control and God can feel far away in the “smoldering ruins in which we find ourselves.”
Preaching from Psalm 44, York explained how the people of God felt “grief and loss and abandonment” when they didn’t understand what God was doing, but God was at work even so. He was weaving together a story of redemption through their painful times that would find its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and He never left them.
God will keep believers now too, until the day they are completely whole and unified in heaven, York said. They can count on that as they press into God and His work, even if they don’t understand what He’s doing.
“God who keeps covenant will be faithful one day to unite us there before the throne,” he said.
Help from the Spirit
The afternoon also featured messages from Kevin Smith, executive director of Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware; Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church, Las Vegas, Nevada; and David Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, El Cajon, California.
Preaching from Ephesians 4, Smith focused his message on how working together for the gospel takes effort — and help from the Holy Spirit.
Relationships in the church are too often torn apart by gossip and jealousy and a hunger for power. Christians are becoming more and more known for the same things as unbelievers, Smith said. Many believers “don’t look any different than the rest of the world,” he said. “What good is the salt if it has lost its saltiness?”
With declining baptisms and growing division throughout the convention, Smith said the answer has always been God, but we have to first acknowledge we have a problem.
“You can’t get help if you don’t acknowledge you need help,” he said. “God is able to help but He won’t help those who are unrepentant, unwilling to repent…Humble repentance is required.”
Politics also continue to divide believers in Christ who don’t take the time to listen to one another.
There are four inerrantists running for president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a presidential election isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with us,” Smith said. “The presidential election does not necessitate repentance. A presidential election does not necessitate humility before the living Lord of the church.”
“We’ve got to be more honest and stop acting like our politics equals God’s politics,” he said, noting we have to stop assuming the worst in others.
Kingdom is ‘alive and well’
Pitman began his message with a word of “discouragement,” noting that all churches are going to die. All churches have a shelf life.
“Every church Paul planted is dead,” said Pitman, calling out pastors who have wrapped their identity in the success of their churches. “Now today the church at Ephesus is a pile of rocks.”
Pitman followed up with, “Can I give you some good news? The kingdom of God is alive and well.”
He shared “three truths.” First, when God births a church, it’s always about something bigger. Second, when God births a church, he invites us to join in His kingdom activity. Third, when God births a church, it’s for His glory, not ours.
Christians should be emboldened to share the gospel more than ever, he said, because we are living in a time when more people are coming to Christ today around the world than at any other time. But we must remember, he noted, “It’s not about growing our church, it’s about expanding His kingdom.”
“God does not need the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “The Southern Baptist Convention needs God.” He closed his message by pointing out that if we don’t seek the Kingdom, He will use somebody else.
Focus on the gospel
No matter what was going on in evangelist Billy Graham’s life when he was alive, Pastor Jeremiah said, Graham kept the focus on preaching the gospel.
The famous evangelist was a servant of the gospel, Jeremiah said, and “no matter what, he preached the gospel.” While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things down for many, it didn’t stop God’s work in people’s lives. At the height of the crisis, Jeremiah said, “the main thing started to become the main thing.”
“Sometimes we have to take a page out of the Billy Graham Book and preach the gospel like never before,” said Jeremiah preaching his message from Colossians 1. And we need to strive to be more like Paul as well, he said.
“If you were to get Paul in a corner, he would say I’m a preacher. I preach the gospel,” Jeremiah said.
“It is always important for us to be coming back to the simplicity of Jesus Christ…I know we’re not all called to be a vocational preacher, but we are all called to preach the gospel.”
Pastors elected new officers on Monday afternoon for the 2022 SBC Pastors’ conference. Matt Henslee, senior pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church, Mayhill, New Mexico, was elected president of the Pastors’ Conference. Cam Triggs, pastor of Grace Alive Church, Orlando, Florida, was elected vice president and Sam Greer, pastor of Red Bank Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, was elected treasurer.
For more information, visit sendconference.com.