Busy First Day at the Southern Baptist Convention; A First Person Report from a Local Pastor

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.


  1. sargewillis says:

    Wow, it doesn’t seem there is much rest for the blessed,and still had time to write this to keep us informed, thanks.

  2. Just Thinkin' says:

    Curious about your family’s viewpoint of the convention

    • Just Thinkin' says:

      Are children just there as observers or are there special events for them during the convention?

      • Great question. The SBC provides a “Convention Camp” for children that come with their parents. The children play games, sing songs and visit nearby attractions. The camp is similar to a typical VBS.

        It is funny to me that the disaster relief teams conduct the camp. I am not sure what the convention is attempting to communicate through its volunteer selection.

        My wife and I decided to keep our children with us during the convention. They are old enough to appreciate the floor events and the exhibit hall. During breaks in the convention events, we were able to tour New Orleans. It was a great family event. Thanks for your interest.

    • Well, I obviously enjoy the convention. I was raised in another denomination but chose the SBC for my family because of its missions emphasis through the Cooperative Program and the eccleciastical authority structure. As a minister, I appreciate its conservative theological position on Scripture. While there are passages of the sacred text still subject to worthy debate, on a whole the SBC statement of faith best reflects my exegetical understanding of the paradigm of God’s theology.

      I hope this helps. If you would like me to comment on a specific faith position or convention policy, please indicate. Thanks for the interest.

  3. Scott W. Holmes says:

    I’m excited about the SBC electing the first African-American leader as president. How do you feel Rev. Fred Luter Jr. will affect the Southern Baptist churches across America?

    I’m also excited to see SBC take a public stand for one man and one woman marriages. Can we expect SBC to take a public stand on important issues in the future?

  4. George Archibald says:

    Please comment on FEMA’s federal government control with its regional camps where people are ordered to go during designated emergencies, and “social distancing camps” for people with health issues who are segregated from the general population.

    Does the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and its church pastors help FEMA with these camps, take orders and/or accept funding from FEMA?

    What are the ethical and religious liberty issues and consequences of the SBC’s relationship with FEMA and subserviance to its dictates?

    • Now you don’t want to get people all stirred up on that , do ya?

    • Good to hear from you George. Your questions go beyond my full knowledge of the relationship between our North American Mission Board (Disaster Relief) and FEMA. While I cannot point to a specific policy manual, I am confident that SBC disaster relief efforts are totally supported by our Cooperative Program. Certainly, you would agree that this administration would have stopped any federal funding for the ministry long ago.

      SBC disaster relief efforts rests on the backs of thousands of Southern Baptists who feel the need to assist others in times of crisis. They are local people, like those trained at Apple Valley Baptist, who show up and share love in a time of need. Units prepare food after a natural disaster has devastated a community. Units pick up trash and remove mold after a crippling flood. Disaster relief chaplains even spent a considerable amount of time at ground zero ministering to the relief workers there. Again, it is simply lay members sensing God’s call to go and help. They do so without pay or reconsideration of any kind. Please see more at http://www.namb.net/dr/.

      I found this relationship statement on the web for your interest.

      It is dated 2005 and there may be another more up to date document. If there is a crisis, the yellow shirted Southern Baptists will be there.

      See you soon.