social media

I had the privilege this week of attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ve been a Southern Baptist for my entire life and have been to denominational meetings since childhood. My education came from Southern Baptist schools, and my vocational ministry has been at Southern Baptist churches.

The 2021 annual meeting in Nashville, TN was memorable and important. Here are some of my reflections on the annual meeting.

Cooperation is vital to Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists are the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S. with 47,000 churches and 15 million members. The beauty of the denomination has been its commitment to cooperate together for the purpose of sending missionaries across the world and spreading the gospel to unbelievers. We can do more together than we can separately. In 1925, the denomination developed the Cooperative Program whereby churches can give through their Baptist State Conventions to the work of Southern Baptist entities in order to send missionaries (International Mission Board), plant churches (North American Mission Board), and support theological education and cultural engagement (6 Southern Baptist Seminaries and other denominational entities). The annual meeting this week reaffirmed the commitment of Southern Baptists to cooperate for the purpose of spreading the gospel.

SBC messengers demand transparency from its leaders. This year’s meeting was one of the largest of the denomination’s largest. In previous convention meetings, the SBC overwhelmingly affirmed measures to address sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches. For example, churches that hire sexual abusers or cover up sexual abuse can be removed from the denomination. In recent weeks, critiques arose concerning how allegations of misconduct among churches have been handled. Going into the meeting, a plan had been put forward by the SBC Executive Committee to hire a firm for an independent investigation. While this move was welcomed by many, it carried an apparent conflict of interest (the Executive Committee would be hiring a firm to investigate itself). But in the meeting this week, a motion was presented to have the newly elected SBC president select a task force who would oversee how the independent investigation is to be handled. Overcoming a number of procedural hurdles, convention messengers overwhelmingly affirmed this motion to place the responsibility for the investigation outside the Executive Committee. This action by the messengers was a clear statement that rank and file Southern Baptists decry sexual abuse and demand transparency in how leadership will handle any and all allegations.

Southern Baptists are better in a room than some are on social media. The media and social media lead up to this annual meeting was considerable. Search media sites like The Washington Post for national media coverage on the meeting. If you are on twitter, you can search #sbc21 for more social commentary on the convention. One of the inherent problems with social media in general is that it is far easier to make an accusation or to post something vitriolic from a distance than it is to say something to someone’s face. As I read through twitter leading up to the convention, there was accusation, argument, and mischaracterization by individuals on different sides of the issues. This was disheartening. But that vitriol largely stayed on social media. The messengers in the room behaved themselves cordially, and there were no major divisive outbursts even though there were areas of stark disagreement. The lesson going forward is that Southern Baptists need to have more face to face conversations and guard their social media interactions with a demeanor of gentleness and respect.

Because Southern Baptists have great diversity, we don’t agree on every theological issue. The Baptist Faith and Message represents what Southern Baptists believe on key theological issues. But inside the framework of the Baptist Faith and Message, there is room for diversity of theological opinion. SBC ’21 in Nashville reflected this diversity through resolutions, motions, amendments, and various reports by denominational leaders. One issue that received a great amount of attention is CRT or Critical Race Theory due in part to a resolution made in the Birmingham meeting in 2019. At the 2021 convention, the messengers overwhelmingly affirmed resolution 2 on “The Sufficiency of Scripture for Race and Racial Reconciliation,” albeit after considerable discussion and amendment recommendations (see page 7 of the Tuesday daily bulletin ). The diversity of Southern Baptists precludes agreement on every issue. What I took away from the meeting, and what we need more of, is willingness to disagree agreeably when the issues are tertiary and not primary.

Southern Baptists remain theologically conservative. Another reason for the high attendance this year was election of the SBC president to follow J. D. Greear. The SBC President represents the denomination as a spokesperson, is responsible for appointing individuals to serve on committees that appoint entity trustees, and moderates the business sessions at the annual meeting. Four men were nominated, Albert Mohler, Mike Stone, Ed Litton, and Randy Adams. After the first vote did not see a candidate with more than 50% of the vote, Ed Litton was elected to serve as SBC president in a runoff with Mike Stone. Ed Litton is the pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama. Mike Stone was the preferred candidate of a recently formed Conservative Baptist Network. While each of these candidates differ on theological issues, they each hold to the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, and the Baptist Faith and Message. Differences of application for handling racial, political, and interpersonal issues remain among Southern Baptists, but it is unfair and unhelpful to critique nuanced differences of theological application as liberal or moderate. After leaving the meeting, I’m convinced that our denomination remains theologically conservative. Some of you reading this may have preferred a different candidate or may think differently about some of the outcomes at the annual meeting. That’s ok. Reach out in the comments below. We’ll make time to talk.

The local church is the primary change agent for our denomination. Southern Baptist polity is congregational. Denominatioal leaders don’t dictate to the convention churches as in a hierarchical polity. Southern Baptists believe in the autonomy of local congregations. This is a blessing and was evident in the events of the business sessions. While Southern Baptists, like many other denominations are experiencing a decline, hope for change does not rest in denominational entities or leadership. Hope for change rests in the power of God working through local churches. Each local congregation is the body of Christ for its community and to the world. Denominatioal change begins with our local churches.

Here are a few of my favorite moments at the meeting. (1) I was greatly encouraged by the times of special prayer, especially seeing 13k messengers on their knees in prayer. (2) On Monday afternoon 64 missionaries were commissioned to the nations. One missionary left his dream job at NASA to take the gospel to the nations. May his example motivate each of us. (3) During extra sessions on Monday night and Tuesday night, I gathered at First Baptist Nashville for the 9 Marks at Nine Events. Before beginning the event, attenders sang congregational hymns acapella. The boisterous sound of a thousand Baptists singing praise to God was inspirational and worshipful.

This time of year is known for setting resolutions: exercise, eat healthier, get more sleep at night, etc. Resolutions are not bad. It is a good thing to be healthier and care for the body that God has given us. But resolutions and changed activities only go so far, especially if we continue to eat junk foods.

I love to eat junk foods: fast food burgers, cookies, chocolates, candies, potato chips, and I could go on. I’m sure you have your junk food weaknesses as well. We know that junk foods are not the best for our health. We are better off eating the things that God has made (fruit, vegetables, nuts) rather than foods processed with chemicals.

But we are unwise if we consider our physical health only when considering our habits. We need to change the habits of our junk feeds as much as junk foods.

The term junk feeds comes from a fascinating book entitled The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch. I would recommend this book for anyone (families in particular) as a resource for evaluating your technology intake.

We are not bored exactly, just as someone eating potato chips is not hungry, exactly. But overconsumption of distraction is just as unsatisfying, and ultimately sickening as over consumption of junk food.

Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

If you’re anything like me, minutes can zoom by scrolling through social media feeds, news articles, and websites. No doubt there are healthy reasons for having up to the minute access to the news and apps to connect us to one another. But these technologies must be put in their proper place. Scripture is ever-timely here.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

The Apostle Paul, Philippians 4:8

When our addictions to the news or social media platforms or websites or binge-worthy shows or sports or whatever dominates our time and attention, we should evaluate these thoughts under the rubric of Philippians 4:8. Do these feeds and time consumers lead me to think about what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise? If not (and for much of what we scroll through, the very platform or medium is designed to be addictive and manipulative), then we must at least limit it in our lives if not cut it out altogether.

The only thing that should be all-consuming in our lives is God himself. If we are followers of Jesus, we need to remember that God rescued us from sin and slavery. The gospel teaches us about the transfer that took place. Christ took our sin and gave us his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Because we’ve been rescued and forgiven, we have Christ, have new life, and have the privilege of abundant life (John 10:10). But too often we allow junk feeds to shape our thinking and turn our attention from God who loves us deeply. In truth, following Jesus means loving him with all that we are, maybe especially our minds.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (emphasis mine)

Jesus, Matthew 22:37

Does God consume our thinking? Followers of Jesus that are growing in Christ will engage in these healthy spiritual habits to develop our thinking under the truths of the gospel:

  • Read the Bible daily. There is really no substitute for reading the Bible everyday as a means of spiritual growth.
  • Study the Bible intentionally. Take time to learn what Scripture means.
  • Listen to Bible-believing preaching consistently. Make sure you are hearing from a Bible-believing preacher weekly.
  • Meditate on the Bible regularly. Memorize and meditate on Scriptures for your spiritual growth.
  • Pray through the Bible daily. As you read, let the Bible inform your prayer life.

The more you allow God’s Word and God’s truths to govern your thinking, the better you’ll be able to discern truth from error and grow toward spiritual maturity. Don’t be content with junk feed thinking. Rather, feed your mind with what will make you spiritually healthy.

Other resource suggestions:

  • For an insightful corrective regarding social media consider watching “The Social Dilemma,” a documentary currently on Netflix.
  • For an older book relating the concerns about shifting platforms of information, consider reading Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman.
  • For a book detailing the concerns of how some of these elements are affecting negatively young adults, read iGen by Jean Twinge. This is especially pertinent for the parents of teenagers and college age students.

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash