Courtesy: Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
by Robert Earl Houston
After months of campaigning across the nation in various conventions, the Presidential offices of the four major conventions has been filled after spirited campaigning.
Elected to serve are:
Dr. James C. Perkins, pastor of the Greater Christ Baptist Church of Detroit, Michigan was elected as the President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. in their annual session in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Dr. Perkins previously served as the First Vice President and succeeds Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr.
Dr. Samuel Tolbert, pastor of the Greater St. Mary Baptist Church of Lake Charles, Louisiana was elected as the President of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International in their annual Family Fest session in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Tolbert previously served as General Secretary and succeeds Dr. Stephen John Thurston.
Dr. Nehemiah Davis, pastor of the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas was re-elected as the President of the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America in their annual session in Houston, Texas.
Dr. Jerry Young, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi was elected President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. in their annual session in New Orleans, Louisiana.
by Robert Earl Houston
In this wonderful nation of ours there are over 300,000,000 people who live here. There are 50 states, over 3,100 counties, over 30,000 cities. There are four major traditional baptist conventions, each claiming over 1,000,000 members. There are easily at least one state baptist convention in each state, some have as many as 4 or more. There are hundreds of district associations, state conventions, district congresses, state congresses, general associations, national conventions, local/state/national fellowships, and on and on and on.
So why is it that we only utilize a handful of preachers to speak at these events?
No one will dare say it, but in the hallway of most of our conventions, the same faces and names appear on the program year after year after year. Surely by now there should be some new faces and voices emerging from the diaspora of the African-American church experience. However, it’s the same people preaching conventions all over the nation – basically utilizing the same five sermons – and frankly, it’s tiring.
Our General Association of Baptists in Kentucky had invited a minister to be our guest speaker this year and he fell ill and was unable to be here. Our State Moderator and his wife were on the way to Cancun, Mexico when he received the news – a little less than 3 weeks away from the annual session. After consulting with a friend and praying over it, he selected Reverend Cory Ramont Morris. A minister that most of us in Kentucky had never heard before. However, by the end of the week, he became the talk of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Great theological mind. Young but seasoned. A rare ability to connect with the old, the middle aged, and the young. Tremendous delivery. Friendly and approachable. Not haughty and not stuck up. And yes, a close that could easily be construed as one of the best I’ve heard in recent memory. Outstanding scriptural approach and exegesis. Teaching while preaching.
And we LOVED it.
Maybe our problem is that we look to the stars of the church rather than to the Hills (from whence cometh our help) – and instead of considering those who are solid in the faith, upcoming, and striving pastors – we get the same old soup in a new bowl with all gravy and no meat. My former pastor, Bishop Darryl S. Brister used to say “all you need is one moment of exposure to change your life.” There are a plethora of ministers who if just given the opportunity to be programmed, you may discover what all the fuss is about in their local communities.
Case in point. A West Virginia pentecostal pastor has been attending a Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma for years and gets the opportunity to meet the host. One year, one of the speakers can’t make it, and the host calls him and asks him, at the last minute to fill in. The minister preaches a dynamic sermon and most people had never heard of him. The conference is televised and the owner of the world’s largest Christian television network sees his presentation, picks up the phone, calls him, and brings him to his network studios, and launches him into preaching history. The host was Bishop Carlton Pearson. The event was Azusa. The network owner was Paul Crouch. And that West Virginia minister, who admitted that at one point he was the pastor, musician, usher and janitor, is named Thomas Dexter (T.D.) Jakes.
Because he was given a chance.
I was the recipient of opportunities. Outside of my home church, people like Dr. O.B. Williams, Dr. J.A. Boles, Dr. S.M. Lockridge, Dr. Ray Williams, Dr. H.F. Dean, Dr. Willie T. Snead, Dr. Melvin Wade, Dr. R.C. Williams, Sr., Dr. Clyde E. Gaines, Dr. A.E. Reid, Dr. A. Russell Awkard, Dr. Bernard Crayton, Dr. C.B. Akins, Dr. Walter Parrish, III, and others GAVE ME A CHANCE. They took a chance and gave me opportunity to preach or serve in conventions – even when I was pastoring a storefront church and pastoring for free because the church was not in position to pay me; even when I was pastoring a church and I had to make it to the conventions on my own dime; even when I was fighting for my pastoral life and the storms were raging at full blast; and even at the church of my dreams – I have been the recipient of an opportunity.
I’ve preached for state conventions in Oregon/Washington/Idaho; Kentucky; California; North Carolina.
I’ve preached for district associations in Oregon, California, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
I’ve preached for city-wide revivals in Newark, NJ, Gary, IN, Albuquerque, NM and other places.
I’ve preached in Revival or for special occasions literally around the nation.
Because I was given a chance. Maybe before the next leader of a group invites Rev. Dr. So and So or Bishop So and So or the Pastor who is pastoring the large church over in the next state or many the denominational leader who you know really can’t preach, but has a big name.
There are gifted young pastors, middle aged pastors, even elderly pastors who have never been given the opportunity to preach because they didn’t graduate from a certain school or they didn’t have the opportunity to complete college or they had a family to support and sat under the feet of their pastor or college was not for them – and yet they minister faithfully, biblically and with integrity. They are in every state – just waiting for a chance.
I’ve always prayed, Lord, if I ever get in the position to help someone else up, please help me to do so. I wonder what would happen if our conventions do today what they use to do in yesterday and give an opportunity to young preachers like E.V. Hill, Melvin Wade, Stephen Thurston, A.L. Bowman, Sandy Ray, C.L. Franklin, Jasper Williams, E. Edward Jones – and other young pastors who were given the opportunity to preach nationally at a young age.
When our session in Lexington closed after hearing a session that will live in the annals of history of this 149 year old institution. The name of Corey Ramont Morris will stand in the hearts of minds of the delegates that trusted their Moderator to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. We didn’t know him then. But we know and appreciate him now.
Give somebody else a chance.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
As previously noted, the election season of most of the traditional National Baptist Conventions is about to converge upon us beginning with the Presidential election of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International next week in Memphis, Tennessee.
The NBCAI will be first; Then in August, the Progressive National Baptist Convention will meet in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to elect a new president for a two year term; Then in September in New Orleans, Louisiana, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. will elect a new president. Then in 2015, (if memory serves me right), the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America will vote.
The campaigns are in full-gear. I have a few observations after listening to some discussions and it boils down to one simple question:
“What happens if you lose?“
I would love to hear, for once in my lifetime, the losing candidate of a national baptist election to say these words: “I want to congratulate the winner and assure him and the convention of my loyal support.”
Unfortunately, in recent convention history a phenomenon has developed negatively. Let’s walk through it. I’ll use my name as an example, but remember, I have NEVER ran for National Office (and have no desire to):
Dr. Robert Earl Houston decides to run for national president. I then assemble a campaign team, including a campaign director, meet with various state leaders, raise (or borrow) money, then devote myself to running, showing up in various venues, and then conduct a campaign that may not be holy and always ethical. I may have to utilize some “bulldogs” in the trenches to try to deter, destroy and defeat the integrity of either the sitting president or those who are candidates as well – and yet be at arms’ length enough away that if my campaign gets called on it, I can say “I didn’t say that.”
Of course, I have to have a slogan. Let’s see . . . How about “Robert Earl for Prez” – that’s catching. I need a marketing strategy, website . . . oh yeah, gotta raise more money, because the cost of running for a national office can reach six figures. I have to make sure my wardrobe looks “presidential.” Gotta have a media team – to reach out to the younger pastors and to look hip (even though a national convention has not had a president under 40 since PNBC did so in the EARLY 1980’s) to this newer generation, I need a media coordinator, a “twitter-er,” a web designer, videographer, photographer, and maybe I need to release a “fresh rhema word” everyday to draw in younger preachers, because you know younger preachers value flash over ethics.
Then the day of the election comes and the delegates cast their votes. I make sure that the photographer takes the photo of me emerging from the voting station. I’m going to walk the hallways all day and prepare for the announcement along with my team. Of course, they are going to surround me at the microphone, current leadership be damned.
The announcement comes. My palms are sweaty, I step out just for a second so I can look great at the announcement. I sit there and then the announcement is made . . . I just lost.
Damn. After all that work, energy – matter of fact, I raised more money in running than the national convention raised in foreign mission giving and home mission combined. My slate of officers, where I promised some of the pastors intricate roles in the Houston administration, is now history. And I am pissed off that the collective convention could not see the vision that I saw for leadership. They’d rather choose the one who won by a legitimate vote instead of the one who had the great campaign, multi-media, twitter, instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube (after all of those commercials I authorized).
So, I get up, and signal for everyone following me to walk out of the hallway and we are not coming back. Let’s see how they do without me and all of the churches and pastors who have committed to me. Let’s see how much money they raise now. Let’s see how many mission projects get funded now. Resurrection of Bishop College? Won’t happen now. Because when we leave, nobody will come to the convention. The convention will be a hollow shell. And the new President and his campaign staff and convention leadership can all go to hell, as far as I’m concerned. I might even meet with my supporters later this week and maybe we’ll form a new convention or call it a conference or fellowship. THE END.
Even though the story is fictional, the reality is that this scenario lurks in the background and histories of all four conventions. Yes, it can happen in National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. Yes, it can happen in the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Yes, it can happen in the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and yes, it can happen in the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. The truth of the matter is this – it has happened before and God help us if it happens again.
What any losing candidate should do is:
a. Swallow your pride and congratulate the winner, (shake hands, hug) immediately, on stage. Right now!
b. Ask to address the audience after the winner speaks and say to the body:
“Brother President elect. I ran for the office because I wanted to see substantive change in our Convention. However, I yield to the will of God, who has spoken through these voting delegates. I am disappointed, but above everything, I am a called man of God who understands that a three-fold cord is not quickly broken. Therefore, I want this convention and this President to know that we are not nor never been enemies. We are brothers who met somewhere at the cross. And I want all my supporters and delegates to stand and as the late Dr. A. Louis Patterson would say “Appreciatively applaud OUR president – I said OUR president. And we aren’t going anywhere. We shall support you and your vision for this convention, to be the best of our abilities.”
c. And the winner needs to consider utilizing people who supported the losing candidate in positions as well. Winning a convention and going to war with a segment of the convention doesn’t make sense. There are gifted people who supported other candidates – it doesn’t mean that just because they didn’t vote for you that they are less gifted or won’t support you as well.
Otherwise, we will not have to worry about the government or Southern Baptist or Full Gospel or American Baptist or GUF destroying us – we’ll do a fine job all by yourselves.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME
by Robert Earl Houston
This morning when I rose, thankful to God to see another day, I had an announcement in my e-mail concerning the organization of a new group that was forming. It is the third such notice I’ve received in the past three weeks and unfortunately, split happens.
When I began in ministry in the 1970s, there were just (for Baptists) three major baptist conventions – the National Baptist Convention, USA., Inc. (NBCUSA), the National Baptist Convention of America (called “The Boyd Convention” or NBCA) and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Incorporated (PNBC). Each convention was distinctive – the NBCUSA was the largest and numerically a powerhouse with members throughout the nation, especially strong in the east and north. The NBCA was strong in the south and was making strides in missions and evangelism. The PNBC was “the thinking man’s convention” where many of the baptist educators and social crusaders made their denominational home.
Churches and Pastors identified rapidly with one of the three. NBCUSA and NBCA met the first week of September, religiously and PNBC met in August, although there was a sizeable percentage that were “dually aligned” with PNBC and one of the other two conventions. Convention halls were packed. Schools were benefitted (although in retrospect it wasn’t strong as it should have been). Properties were purchased or developed in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and other parts of the country.
However, today there is a plethora of “national bodies” or fellowships or partnerships or ecclesiastical groups that have been borne out of conflict, burden, personal vendettas, election fall outs – and the end result is that we are in a time of where conventions increasingly no longer matter, enthusiasm for said conventions is waning and it’s becoming a game of political leapfrog (hopping from one group to the next) for a generation of preachers – which leads to the next generation of pastors and preachers rebuking all of it because of all the disunity.
State bodies are not exempt. District or City bodies are not exempt. It is a spirit of division that has taken hold in the black baptist community and if you tick off the wrong person, a “reformation” will be formed with cassocks and titular hats to replace cooperation, trust and team building.
When NBCA split in 1988-1989, I had just been called to my first church in Portland, Oregon and I remember the pain of not being able to see my friends that I “grew up with” in the conventions since my teenage years. It was an ugly, needless split and the division lines were not blurred, they were sharp. I remember saying to my pastor “why does the convention have to split?” He simply said, “split happens.” In those two words, they were both analytical and prophetic.
What can stop the hemorrhaging? I believe three things:
a. It’s going to take a meeting of the minds and some acceptance of either other’s differences. To tell the truth, we all complained, rightly so, about the divisiveness of the Tea Party, but they may have gotten some of their training from watching how we as baptists operate. We need common goals – saving Bishop College should have been the clarion call that kept three bodies together. We missed a golden moment.
b. A Moses. The Black Baptist Church needs a Moses. Someone who can, by the strength of the Lord and a strong personality, to pull us together. The patron saints of the Church are resting in the couch of nature’s night. Who will be the next generation of leaders that want to see Pastors and Churches come together as a tool for good and social justice, instead of being pacified with a Conference that meets in a Super 8 Hotel conference room that holds 50 people and declaring “we’re worldwide.”
c. It’s going to take some failure. Some of these groups, honestly need to fail. There needs to be some serious assessment and then foreclosure of some of these groups who have started out so that the Baptist Church can come home. Is being a Bishop worth tearing up a group that was feeding the hungry? Is being an Adjutant to the Ninth Presiding Elder of a 40 church “International and World Wide” fellowship worth destroying years of fellowship on the local level?
I am 53. Most of my years are now behind me and I’m starting to feel like Dr. Gardner Taylor used to feel. Dr. Taylor had the desire to see all the of the Baptist Conventions meet jointly one time before his death (thank God it did happen and Dr. Taylor is still alive). My desire is greater, I don’t want us just to come together. I want us to stay together, to break a spiritual curse.
by Robert Earl Houston
It is customary at the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. that when the Nominating Committee comes forth, they always present the prognosis of elections. “Next year, 55% of our elected officers will change.” It helps the convention to prepare for the turnover. I’ve come to say that within the next year, it is possible that all four of our traditional national baptist conventions AND the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship will change leadership.
NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION, USA, INC.
Dr. Julius Scruggs of Alabama was elected President in 2009 and several ministers have declared or exploring runs to challenge him in 2013, if he decides to seek re-election. The election will be held at their annual session in New Orleans in 2014.
NATIONAL MISSIONARY BAPTIST CONVENTION OF AMERICA
The NMBCA has actually been operating without a President since the death of Dr. C.C. Robertson of Dallas. In a controversial move, the Executive Board decided to postpone the election until the annual session next month in San Antonio. The current Vice President, Dr. Nehemiah Davis, is acting president and is being challenged for the post by Rev. Dale Jay Sanders, Sr. and Dr. Samuel H. Smith, Sr. of Louisiana and Texas, respectively.
PROGRESSIVE NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION
Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr. is the current, tenured President and will complete his two terms in 2014. As of this writing, the only declared candidate is Dr. James C. Perkins of Detroit. At least four men are running for the office of 2nd Vice President including a layman. Their election will be in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
NATIONAL BAPTIST CONVENTION OF AMERICA, INC. INTERNATIONAL
Dr. Stephen John Thurston of Chicago, IL has served since 2003 and will lead the convention into Memphis for the 2014 annual session. At present there is at least several declared candidates: Dr. Samuel Tolbert of Louisiana, which means that for the first time in NBCA history, a President will seek re-election against a Vice President; and Dr. George Brooks of Nashville, who has served as Congress President.
FULL GOSPEL BAPTIST CHURCH FELLOWSHIP
Bishop Paul S. Morton, Sr., who is now the leader with more tenure than all four of the traditional convention presidents combined, has lead FGBCF since 1994, meaning that he has 19 years of leadership. He recently announced the name of his successor – Bishop Joseph Warren Walker of Nashville, who will begin his tenure in 2015.
It will be interesting watching developments of this passing of the torches.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED.
by Robert Earl Houston
DETROIT, MI – Today I am at the 52nd Annual Session of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., which has served as my denominational home since I began pastoring the Historic First Baptist Church of Frankfort, Kentucky. Our church is one of the congregations that united with those who were disaffected by the decisions made by the leadership of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. in 1960, and in 1961, by one vote, created this convention.
I’ve been received warmly in this convention. I’ve had the opportunity to play musical instruments (piano and organ), lead congregation/praise singing, lectured in South Carolina, preached for the Region just outside of Cincinnati, and serve as State President of the Kentucky State Convention.
Since 2010, I’ve been serving as the Webmaster/Internet Ministry director and it’s been a grand enterprise to transform the web site. I’ve discovered that no matter what changes you make, when it comes to dealing with people – some folk are never completely satisfied and they have visions for the web site that are not congruent with the purposes of a web site. I had the privilege of authoring the first web site of the national baptist conventions – for the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, under the presidency of Dr. Willie T. Snead, Sr. Deadlines have been intense, re-writes are factored in, and it’s always satisfying to hear delegates say “thank you” for the web site.
Today, it will all change.
I’ve prayerfully made the decision that it’s time for me to step aside (not step down) from the day to day operations of the web site and it’s time to utilize some of the great, young minds. I met today with an outstanding graphic artist/web designer and will be making my transition out at web designer and focusing more so on content, if it meets with the President’s approval.
First off, I’ve been doing this for national conventions since about 1993. That’s 20 years of doing this type of ministry and it’s time for new ideas, new designs and a new approach.
Secondly, I think that conventions need to shuffle the personnel deck. When I started preaching 35 years ago, I remember seeing the secretaries being wheeled to the desk and taking minutes by trembling hands, because they had been serving in the same position for years and years. I don’t want to be the webmaster of a convention at the ripe old age of 75.
Lastly, this is a season that I want to focus on my local congregation and my health. We are preparing to march into our sanctuary for the first time in weeks after extensive renovation. I recently returned to the church after cancer surgery in May. Our church bus has even been in extended service and repair. And now a convergence of return – the building, the pastor, and the bus is about to take place.
Even though I’m “cancer free” I still have to carefully manage my health and my recovery. The flesh is starting to grow in the transplant area and yet, there are times when I have a stabbing, painful episode or even become so tired that I have to lay down. It’s not over yet.
I can’t begin to fully explain it but I feel the zeal for the work like I just walked in the door as pastor. God is sending new members, we are developing new ministries, we are developing (thanks to Rev. Anna Jones) a unique prayer ministry, and in this season, I hear the Holy Spirit saying even more, “feed the flock.”
Also, I want to spend time developing relationships with Kentucky pastors that have been kind to me as well. I’m also setting in motion a transition in our State Convention – it’s time to begin making that move too.
My greatest position and honor is not at a national convention, nor state convention, nor general association, nor district association. I received it again last Sunday when a young boy came up to me and said, “Pastor, when you leave, I want to be the next pastor.” This Sunday he came up, hugged me and said “I love you Pastor.”
My greatest position in the world is pastor. Thank you Lord.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
by Robert Earl Houston
Where art thou? . . . (Genesis )
I’ve been “blogging” off and on for several years. Recently, I discovered a way to combine several of my enterprises, namely “Homegoing of the Saints” which puts a spotlight on those African-American pastors who go home to be with the Lord; the “Vacant Church List” which was the first listing for African-American Baptist pulpits online (and I’ve done it without charge or entry fee for years); and then I’ve put out several notices, etc. and developed a fairly strong following. Since being on WordPress since late last year, I’m approaching 250,000 visits. God be praised.
In recent years other pastors have been regularly blogging – H.B. Charles, Jr. has an excellent blog and leans heavily on preaching themes. Dwight McKissic has an excellent blog as well and he “gets after” Southern Baptist Convention issues and is one of the leading SBC bloggers. Kip Banks, General Secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention recently started a blog and there are other brothers out there blogging – but to my knowledge, that number is less than 25. Shaun King’s Shaun in the City is one of those mind-stretching blogs and he is very transparent in his church planting saga.
Where are the Black Pastoral Bloggers?
The purpose of this blog today is to encourage African-American Pastors to blog. Blogging is to participate in a form of social media that is more probative than a 140 word tweet or a quick flash on Facebook. It’s not expensive – there are free sites available and many internet providers are available so you can personalize the site even more with your own name (which I recommend).
The diaspora of African-American pastors should be reflected in the blogosphere. Pastors who are in the rural parts of the nation, I believe, are just as significant in their struggles, triumphs, etc. as those who pastor mega-churches. Those pastors who came before us carried to the grave pieces of wit, wisdom and experience that I know would have been a blessing to this generation. You can participate.
I would love to post and re-post articles that I’ve discovered from those of African-American hue. I think that our experiences are just as real and profound as MacArthur, Stanley, Piper, Stetzer and others. Matter of fact, I ran a search for “best pastor blogs” and maybe 1 or 2 blogs of people of color were even mentioned.
It’s because we have a story to tell that we’re not telling. We have great minds, great talents, great experiences that should and need to be heard.
I’m not a mega pastor. My congregation (on roll) is around 700 members or so. We don’t have one church in multiple locations. We have our issues like everyone else. But blogging for the pastor gives you a discipline in word construction, sentence structure, and analytical thinking that enhances your pulpit presentation. Trust me on that.
Just a word of warning – blog but don’t vent. Never take to the national stage your local church issues. If “Sister Sally” is kicking your tail in business meeting, don’t make her a national issue. If “Brother John” just cussed you out last week, don’t make him a national celebrity. In other words, be careful what you blog about – if it’s murky to you – it may leave room for a church member to misinterpret what you were trying to say.
I will make this promise to you – if you have a blog or know of a blog that will be helpful – I will make a link to it from my site – and if you have one, I hope you will do the same.
One final word – this is not to demean other races – that’s not my purpose. My purpose in this fast-changing African-American led church, is to encourage pastors (not laypersons, not associates) but pastors to share their views.
YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOMED
by Robert Earl Houston
We’ve all heard the whispers and numbers don’t lie. Among the four traditional African-American Baptist denominations, namely, National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. International, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., and National Missionary Baptist Convention of America – attendance in both annual sessions and Congresses are falling.
When I was a young minister, attending the NBCA (before the split) Convention and Congress, I was amazed at the numbers. During the annual session, President’s Day it was packed “kibber to kibber” – no matter what part of the Country, if the NBCA Convention or Congress assembled there, a large crowd was sure to attend. Even in controversy, in San Francisco in 1980, when the hotel workers were on strike and we literally had to change our own beds, the ballrooms were packed and late night service was the crown jewel of the meeting. I remember the Ministers Classes of the Congress were standing room only to hear preachers like Drs. P.S. Wilkerson, Robert H. Wilson, Sr., Nehemiah Davis, Melvin Von Wade, Michael Lee Graves, A. Charles Bowie, and others stalwarts of NBCA.
But today it’s a sad, different story. Our conventions are falling down in attendance, I think for three reasons that I want to share and then I want to share a blog by Trevin Wax, to show us that this problem is just not a black baptist problem and methinks it may be across the board in most religious conventions.
Problem #1 – Costs
Baptists are consumer friendly. We don’t mind travel – our local churches prove that. Our preachers prove that. We will take a two-hop plane to get to a revival and you won’t hear a peep of complaint. Most of our congregants don’t even attend the church in their neighborhood – they drive cross town, in traffic – or in some cases across counties or even across state lines to get to church. But for Baptist conventions there is a reality – it’s the cost of travel. I was trying to help a friend get from Portland to Louisville for the NBCA session next week. The lowest that fare has been most of the summer is $590.00, round trip per person. Add the cost of a hotel approaching $150-$175 per night, plus meals, plus transportation, plus materials – and easily this trip runs into $2,000. And they’re staying home because the travel cost has gotten so out of hand. It’s partially not the conventions’ fault – they have no control over airfares (but part of me wonders what would happen if the four conventions banded together and negotiated with the airlines for a fare structure?). However, locations can make the difference in airfares. I love Louisville, but our airport is not a main hub for any airline and is more expensive to fly in and out of – as is most of the airports across the country. The hub cities – Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Denver, Chicago, Orlando, Miami, and Baltimore – tend to have lower prices, more hotels and more flexibility in hotel costs. But my point is – the cost is getting to the convention is killing conventions. Dr. Isadore Edwards in a classic sermon once said that it shouldn’t take $2,000 to deliver a $100 registration check.
Problem # 2 – Location, Location, Location
I think PNBC showed us the way at our session in Orlando, Florida. When we met there recently, it was “packaged” as a great family getaway – and they came in record numbers. It was something to see – young people by the hundreds, in the spacious Marriott Resort and families were able to go to Disney properties, Universal Studios, the Holy Land Experience, and other area landmarks and frankly, it has been the best recreational convention I ever attended. Families came. Airfare was cheap because Orlando is a major tourist site. Even if you didn’t spend $99 per night at the host hotel, there were so many $40 and up hotels in the area, it promoted travel. Even members with timeshares used them to get to Orlando. My suggestion is simple – put the conventions where people want to go. They want to go to cities that are family-friendly. Taking them to some cities (I’m not going to mention which ones) that are (a) off the beaten path, (b) unable to accommodate late night dining; (c) impossible to fly in and out of; and (d) are non-seasonal, creates an empty convention. It doesn’t make sense to go to Phoenix in September and Chicago in January; It doesn’t make sense to go to Anchorage in February and Palm Springs in June; It doesn’t make sense to go to New York in January and Birmingham in September. Select cities that are seasonable and capable, family-friendly, and places that have interest and cultural interest.
Problem # 3 – Planning
A strange trend has popped up in our conventions. Our reactions to the new conferences that have popped up (preaching and layperson) has been to make our conventions into conferences – when both serve two completely different purposes. The Elks, Masons, Deltas, Ques, and other conventions don’t bring in speakers from other fraternities and sororities and their numbers are just fine. But what has killed us is this false fixation that in order for the convention to do well, we’ve got to bring in “A-list speakers.” No, I contend, use the speakers you have within your convention. This is a pet peeve for me because how can you say we’re a National anything when you rarely get to hear from your fellow travelers? Back in my NBCA days we heard Pastors like Hayward Wiggins, Isadore Edwards, A.L. Bowman, O.B. Williams, G.L. Bedford, S.M. Lockridge, E. Edward Jones, Stephen John Thurston, M.L. Price, P.S. Wilkerson – and not only did they preach, THEY BROUGHT THEIR CHOIRS, they brought their members – and the session would be packed. I remember in Denver, our pastor, the late Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, preached and our choir of about 100 voices was seated next to a choir from Dr. Isadore Edwards’ church (he was the alternate) and they had about 125 voices – there were 225 voices in the choir stand, with another 2,000 plus in the audience – AT THE AFTERNOON SESSION. The people wanted to hear one of the NBCA voices from “way out there in Portland.” Nowadays it’s hard to identify with people from your own convention, because you never hear them during the session. Also, give us some “free time” to spend with our families. Give us time to eat, to rest, to reflect, to relax, to fellowship. Don’t program us from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. because the truth of the matter is, if you don’t give us a break, we’re going to take a break. Give us time to check out the exhibit halls. Give us time to talk to college representatives and retirement specialists. Give us some time to shake our President’s hands in the hallways like we use to have. It is a convening time for the constituency of the convention – let the conferences do their thing, and let the convention be the convention.
Of course, your comments are welcomed. But read Trevin Wax’s blog below . . .
Why Did So Few Southern Baptists Show Up in Houston?
by Trevin Wax (www.thegospelcoalition.org)
One of the stories from this year’s Southern Baptist Convention was the low turn-out of messengers. Truth be told, I am much more concerned with the recent report of our declining membership and number of baptisms than I am the dwindling number of messengers showing up for a yearly business meeting. Still, I’d like to venture a few guesses about why the turn-out was so low.
1. Houston is hot.
Not hot as in “awesome city!,” but hot as in humid. All kidding aside… No one ever points to weather when addressing Southern Baptist attendance, especially since we’ll go in significant numbers to muggy New Orleans when we’re electing a president or to stifling Orlando when debating a structural change (thank goodness for our expired boycott of Disneyworld!). Seriously, though, several times this year I asked pastors if they were going to the Convention, only to receive this response:I’d rather be anywhere than Houston in mid-June.
2. The trade-off isn’t powerful enough to devote significant time and finances.
Now to the more serious reasons… I think this is the key to the declining attendance of Southern Baptist Convention over the years.
A generation ago, many pastors tacked a vacation alongside the Convention proceedings. The Convention provided an excellent excuse to get away, get refreshed, enjoy time with family, and escape the doldrums of summer. Nowadays, fewer pastors see the SBC as particularly refreshing. The pastor’s conference is nice, but business meetings bring up the specter of political rancor, and that’s what a lot of pastors are trying to avoid during the quiet days of summer.
Simply put, it costs a lot of time and effort to go to the SBC, and unless a pastor sees spiritual value in being there, he is likely to decline going. He is also less likely to send others from his church, which leads to a further decline in messenger numbers.
What’s more, a pastor is likely to funnel their travel and training budget to other conferences they consider especially life-giving. In all likelihood, there were more Southern Baptist pastors at Catalyst than messengers at the SBC this year. Next year, there could be more Southern Baptists at Together for the Gospel than at the Convention in June. Pastors are carefully considering what conferences are most beneficial and then making their plans according.
3. Things are going smoothly, which makes people feel their presence is unnecessary.
While some messengers stay away because of the possibility of a rancorous business meeting, other messengers stay away because things are so peaceful. Sure, we’ve had an ongoing discussions about Calvinism and the Cooperative Program and church planting. But none of these debates have led to divisive resolutions or polarizing elections.
There are several types of Southern Baptists (David Dockery lists seven), but the camps are not neatly defined into voting blocs (thankfully). Plenty of pastors consider it a good sign when their monthly or quarterly business meetings are poorly attended. It’s a sign things are well. Perhaps many pastors view the Convention this way, especially when we’re not electing a president.
4. The things we are most passionate about are not the things the annual meeting tends to platform.
On Monday of this year’s Convention, 3500 people attended the North American Mission Board’s “Send North America” luncheon on church planting. This is a staggering figure when you consider the fact that only 5000 messengers attended the Convention. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there were more messengers together for this lunch than for any of the actual business meeting proceedings.
What does this tell us? Southern Baptists are hungry for a meeting that casts vision and rallies our people around a great cause (and a free lunch!). They’re not necessarily there, first and foremost, to vote on resolutions.
Ronnie Floyd compares and contrasts the SBC with the Walmart Convention to make a point about the power of a story to unite and embolden people:
We should continually be evaluating how we conduct our time together annually, in order to more effectively communicate our story as the Southern Baptist Convention. We have a great story to tell and my desire is for all generations to know that story.
5. Younger guys underestimate the power of institutions.
My first visit to a Southern Baptist Convention was in San Antonio in 2007. I remember my initial shock at the small number of young people present. In 2013, the picture is different. More messengers dress casually than before, and there are more young pastors present than before.
But overall, the pastors of my generation have to be convinced of the relevance of participating in denominational life. It’s much more attractive to branch out into nimble networks or associations that have a certain “cool factor.” Unfortunately, this emphasis is short-sighted.
Here’s J. D. Greear reflecting on the need for institutions:
Recently I read Tim Keller’s Center Church, in which he discusses the interplay between movements and institutions. He points out something that is easy to ignore, that both need each other. It’s easy to see how institutions without movements quickly die (and, by “movement,” I mean that sense of shared excitement, led by charismatic leaders with a compelling vision) quickly die. What we often forget, however, is that movements without institutions lack both staying power and the teeth to accomplish their agenda.
So yes, it is easier for us to be involved in a movement without the messiness of institutions, but it is not nearly as effective.
What do you think? Why are fewer pastors inclined to attend the Convention? What can we learn from other denominations or conferences? Is there still value in a denominational meeting?