I did not grow up as a die-hard Southern Baptist. I didn’t really grow up in church at all, but my family had an idea that church-going was important, so we at least made sure to be loosely connected to one during my most formative years. It just so happened that the church I was loosely connected to was an SBC church. This means that I have no real loyalty to the SBC. While I am thoroughly convinced that we’re in the right place doctrinally, the SBC isn’t the only denomination that can claim that. So why then would I choose to invest my life and career in this tribe?
The obvious answer to me is the Great Commission. The Southern Baptist Convention is at its best when we cooperate together for the cause of making disciples of all nations. That belief was renewed in me when I had the opportunity this week to be a messenger for the annual meeting in Birmingham, AL. There were more things going on in and around the meeting than a number of articles could ever take the time to spell out. My own calendar was full of meetings around every meal, catching up with old friends from around the country, and learning from exhibitors for ministries covering just about every life circumstance you could imagine. And that doesn’t even cover the fact that we’re all really there to take part in a two-day business meeting for the largest deliberative body in the world. (On a side note, I should probably brush up on my Robert’s Rules of Order for the next time our church needs to vote on something major.)
It’s a week full of prayer, worship, laughing, good food and serious theological discussions that (I think) every SBC pastor ought to experience at least once. But sandwiched in the middle of all of those things was an event on Tuesday afternoon that, unfortunately, was likely overlooked: The International Mission Board’s Commissioning Service.
For the uninitiated, the IMB is the foreign sending agency for Southern Baptists, and it’s primarily funded through an eﬀort called the Cooperative Program. When you give through the Baptist Convention of New England, part of that money is forwarded on to the national oﬃce and dispersed to things like our seminaries and executive committee, but most of it (51%) goes to the IMB. Why so much? Because mission work is literally the reason the SBC exists. The entire reason that we’re a denomination is to unite our eﬀorts for the cause of missions. We don’t exist to be a theological tribe, or an ecclesiological tribe, but a missions tribe. This means that the more you give to the Cooperative Program, the more missionaries we get to send.
Now, this is not the only way to do missions. In fact, I would argue that doing missions ONLY this way is actually wrong. Every Christian is called to be a disciple maker, and every church should be personally involved in supporting and sending. But a beautiful thing happens when we cooperate together: a lot more can be done. Despite what social media and political pundits try to tell us, we don’t have to live in a world of “Either-Or.” By God’s grace, we also have the option of being “Both-And.” And so on Tuesday afternoon I got to see some of the fruit of that reality as 26 brand new missionaries were commissioned to take the Gospel around the world. (And that’s just the ones commissioned this week!) Whether you were there to witness the incredible ceremony or not, you, Southern Baptist, were a part of that moment. You played a role in sending 26 missionaries to the nations. When we’re at our best, God uses our unity for His glory.
There are things I can point to over this last week that both encouraged and discouraged me about the SBC today and our future to come. I’m not loyal to the SBC by default. But then I remember Tuesday afternoon, and I remember exactly why I choose to spend my life and career being a part of this incredible tribe. Missions is why I SBC.
Stephen Woodard is the senior pastor at Nashua Baptist Church in Nashua, NH.