The Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference: my thoughts


Dr. Randy White

I did not attend the Southern Baptist Convention this year, nor the Pastor’s Conference which proceeds the annual meeting. As I told my congregation, “I decided to save your money and my heart.” In the end, I did save the money, but my heart wasn’t spared because I tuned in to some of the Pastor’s conference by online streaming.
Analysis of the Platform
The thing that most strikes me is that Southern Baptists have a hard time finding a pulpiteer. The old mainstays of Jerry Vines, Homer Lindsey, Jr., W.A. Criswell, and Adrian Rogers are either dead or no longer invited. A dozen years ago the SBC leadership adopted an unwritten agenda to “youthanize” the convention meetings, and since then, old preachers have not been allowed. I’m sure someone will argue against this with anecdotal evidence, but the casual glance would make it appear that one is best qualified if they are under 45 and cool. If they have a shaved head, chances increase. A recent trend is that non-Southern-Baptist cool is a huge bonus to garner a speaking invitation (one-third of the invited speakers was non-SBC, and two-thirds of the musicians were non-SBC.)
The platform was made hip with lighting and larger-than-life video, something that has become a “have-to” for the church-growth movement. Platform attire was decidedly casual for speakers and “grunge” for musicians. For me, dress is not a hill on which to die, but I do find it curious that the church is the only place in America where a professional is expected to dress like a teenager. When the young businessmen in America’s churches go to work on Monday morning, they put on slacks. When a late-night comedian goes on the air, he has a high-quality suit. When my son goes to work at Whataburger, he’s expected to tuck in his shirt. Perhaps we think that if we dress like teenagers we will win more teenagers to Christ?  If this is our thinking, I hope we don’t suddenly have a desire to reach more women for Christ.
Analysis of the Preaching
The SBC Pastor’s Conference has been a place for great preaching through the years. During the days of the Conservative Resurgence, the conference was a rally for inerrancy, and a vital element in turning the ship. While it has not typically been a place of high-quality exegetical sermons (perhaps the setting calls for Biblical topical sermons), the preaching in the past has been some of the best that Southern Baptists had to offer.
I will share four points of analysis of SBC Pastor’s Conference preaching today. Much of this analysis is true within much of the church, especially where the church-growth movement has taken root. The analysis is my general feeling after listening to about half of the conference sermons, and is not necessarily rooted in specific statements of the preachers.
Jesus is my boyfriend theology – Some of the talk of Jesus would be downright creepy if it were about another man. When our music celebrates His dancing over me, and how jealous He is of me, and the “sloppy wet kiss” of David Crowder music or the “oh no, You never let go” embrace of Matt Redmon songs, it is no surprise that such lyrics eventually begin to influence the verbiage of sermons as well.
Anecdotal use of Scripture –I previously admitted that the Pastor’s Conference may not lend itself to exegetical preaching, but more and more it is a place where Scripture is simply used anecdotally. If a passage illustrates the speaker’s truth, it will be quoted, then the speaker will go to their next soapbox. For a denomination that claims to be “people of the book,” we do very little preaching of the book.
Excessive need to confess –Perhaps this is to make the “little guy” feel good, but there is a lot of personal confession of “not measuring up” done at events like this. “I’m selfish, I’m mean-spirited deep on the inside, I’m scared, and I’m insecure.” I suppose confession is good for the soul, but I wonder if there is any reality to it, or if it is just another manipulative tool.
A longing for experience –This is the biggest flaw in Southern Baptist preaching today, in my opinion. Though not a Southern Baptist, Francis Chan brought this out more strongly than any of the other speakers I heard. Sermons echo with, “I’ve gotta have you, I want you to rend heaven and break through, we want to experience You right now!” Or, as Chan prayed, “I fear I am going to go into sermon mode and not abide in You.” I am baffled as to why sermon mode is bad for a guy giving a sermon, nor why it is mutually exclusive from abiding in Him. The conference-goer was consistently asked, “Do you really long for Him? How long since you’ve sat with Him. Do you even miss Him?” Very little (if anything) was preached about knowing God’s Word and having the ability to present good theology to our churches or recognize false-teaching when it comes. Chan even went so far to say that the SBC is full of ritual and faithfulness, but “not a desperate cry before God.” This is the same Chan who says, “I love Mike Bickle,” the self-appointed apostle of the New Apostolic Reformation, and the founder of the International House of Prayer, the leading dispenser of Christian emotionalism in the church today.
Many of my fellow Southern Baptists will strongly disagree with my opinion. They will tell me to get over my grumpy spirit and quit living in the past. There will be some other SBC friends who, like me, have begun to see what a pervasive problem there is in SBC life today. These friends will be in hearty agreement with what I’ve said, and could add so much more. Outside of the SBC, my true conservative friends (those in the SBC would call them Fundamentalists), will rejoice that there is, within the SBC, at least one who thinks like they do. If any charismatic reads this, they will pray for my salvation. In the end, this is all one-man’s analysis of the SBC. Now our job is to be like the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures to see if what they were told was true” (Acts 18:11).
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