By Van Welton
After two days of driving, New Orleans was a welcomed site. There was however no rest for the weary. There are a lot of events, meetings and social gatherings packed into the three day Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) schedule.
After arriving on Sunday evening, the first task was to register as a messenger. Unique to the SBC, those that attend the convention are titled “Messengers” and not representatives. The distinction has significant methodological roots. Because the authority of the SBC is vested in the local congregation, denominational leaders receive “messages” from the conference attendees.
Early on Monday morning, my family and I attended a breakfast sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. It was a promotional event designed to raise interest in Israel as a vacation destination. It was the first time that Israel offered the breakfast and approximately 500 messengers attended.
Official SBC events began at 8 am in the convention hall. Messengers had a choice of either attending the Pastor’s Conference or exploring the exhibit hall.
Unlike what its name implies, the Pastor’s Conference is open to anyone. Throughout the day, ministers from throughout the SBC preach sermons designed to encourage and edify. It is a showcase for some of the more prominent pastors within the convention and is always a blessing. Pastors serve long hours, often in emotional and spiritually challenging circumstances. The Pastor’s Conference is essential for rejuvenating and ministering to those that serve unselfishly.
The majority of my time was spent in the exhibit hall, a 60,000 square foot showroom where displays and information offer messengers the latest information on ministry related tools and resources. There are recruiting booths from major schools and universities, church directory companies, sanctuary furniture salesman and every SBC entity is present to explain their new ministry initiative. There is an endless supply of candy, coffee and sign-up lists.
During the convention, I man the booth of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which is the public policy office of the convention. As a church planting pastor, it is necessary that I work in a bi-vocation position to help support my family. The average SBC church congregation consists of 100 members or less. Many pastors faithfully serve while maintaining employment outside the church.
Before entering the ministry, I practiced law in Virginia. The ERLC was the perfect bi-vocational position for me. I can easily speak to other pastors about theological issues and supply legal counsel when needed.
Before concluding, allow me to share with you two noteworthy fellowship events that took place on Monday. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) provided messengers with lunch cooked by its disaster relief teams. Southern Baptists work closely with FEMA, the American Red Cross and Salvation Army to respond in times of crisis around our nation. Each state convention has its own disaster unit often consisting of chaplains, mud-out crews and food trailers. Altogether, SBC disaster relief units can provide over 1.2 million meals a day to those in need. Each SBC church contributes to the convention’s extensive disaster relief efforts through its cooperative program offerings.
After a long day, I attended a state convention fellowship at 9 pm with pastors from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (SBCV). The SBCV recently elected a new executive director, Dr. Brian Autry. The convention hosted a “meet and greet” opportunity for him and the state pastors. Genuine New Orleans coffee was served with delicious bread budding. It was the perfect nightcap to a very busy day.
The business agenda commences on Tuesday when messengers will consider two monumental issues. I look forward to sharing with you tomorrow the details. It is 11:30 pm and I need to rest before the busy events of tomorrow.
Pastor Van Welton is the Senior Pastor of Apple Valley Baptist Church in Berryville.