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On the Free Will Baptist National Convention
I’ll be participating in a seminar next Monday during the Free Will Baptist National Association in Birmingham. The session is entitled, “Men's and Women's Roles in the Home and Church.” Check your program for location and time. In today’s newsletter, I reflect on past Convention experiences and look ahead to this year’s meeting.
Bound for Birmingham
Later this weekend my family and I will travel to Birmingham, Alabama for the 86th National Association of Free Will Baptists. It seems like only yesterday we were observing the 75th annual session! Having children does seem to make time speed up, but in recent years I’ve started to marvel at how the number of Conventions I’d attended was piling up. This year makes 26. I still have most of my nametags, packrat that I am.
First, I thank God for nurturing me in a Free Will Baptist context where (1) my local church valued and invested in CTS in such a way that attending the Convention was a regular possibility for students; and (2) my parents saw the benefit in my being able to go. More than one pastor, church leader, or parent has seen how bringing students into this setting exposes them to a range of relationships and resources that opens their eyes to what God is doing elsewhere. If nothing else, one immediately notices that Free Will Baptist life is a lot bigger than just their local church.
Of course, adults who attend the first time regularly realize this, too. I’ve been privileged to introduce more than one student or adult to this setting. It’s always so rewarding to see them initially overwhelmed, then grateful.
Second, I’m grateful to have served ministry organizations and churches who have sent and continue to send me to the Convention. My home church, Horse Branch (Turbeville, SC), comes to mind first. I then think of Sherwood Forest (New Bern, NC) where I served as a Pastoral Intern during college. Then there’s Welch College (Gallatin, TN), where I served as a summer recruiter one year. Then I think of the church where I first served on staff, Tippett’s Chapel (Clayton, NC), followed by my present church, Grace (Arnold, MO). It has been such a blessing to represent these ministries as a competitor, sponsor, judge, recruiter, presenter, and delegate.
Finally, I think about the responsibility inherent to being a pastor of a Free Will Baptist church in the National Association. Most churches not only allow their senior pastor to attend; they expect him to. I realize every church situation is different, including in the finances. However, I deeply appreciate and agree with this statement in my church’s job description of the pastor:
8. He or his designee shall be expected to attend the St. Louis District meetings, the national and state conventions of the Free Will Baptist Association, and keep the church generally informed of and involved in denominational enterprises.
Unless I’m providentially hindered from attending due to health or other special circumstances, I’m sent to represent our church. Obviously, this is essential from a representational perspective. But attending also enables me to fulfill another aspect of my job: “keeping the church generally informed of and involved in denominational enterprises.”
I was meeting with a church recently to assist them in establishing a process by which they might revise their Constitution and By-Laws. A deacon from the church raised a question about the future direction of the denomination, and how a church that established a procedure to divest themselves of funds in the event of a closure might want to consider that we don’t know where things will head.
In principle, I agreed with such a sentiment. I imagine there are plenty of United Methodists who came of age during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s who would be shocked to see what has transpired in the UMC today. However, short of our capacity to foresee the future, one of our very best means to foster and shape the direction of our movement is to stay at the table. How do you keep boards, commissions, and departments accountable? You show up. You ask questions. You build coalitions. You nominate. You vote. It’s been done before, and this type of engagement will be needed until Jesus returns.
As an aside, this very concern about accountability and fidelity is one reason why its fortuitous that Free Will Baptists meet annually, not biannually, triennially, or quadrennially as many other denominations do.
What I Do and Don’t Look Forward to
Just for fun, let me mention several things I look forward to at this year’s Convention:
-I look forward to seeing people who I only see once a year.
-I look forward to seeing people who I didn’t expect to see.
-I look forward to the Exhibit Hall.
-I look forward to a song service where thousands are participating.
-I look forward to Dr. Picirilli’s Monday morning seminar.
-I look forward to a new Randall House book that I didn’t know was being published.
-I look forward to finding a good, local dive in Birmingham to enjoy a meal in.
-I look forward to hearing and being helped by a sermon or seminar given by someone I barely know.
And as I’m not fully sanctified yet, there are also things I don’t look forward to:
-I don’t look forward to the ridiculously hot weather.
-I don’t look forward to the scramble to find food at the same time as thousands of other people in a relatively small space.
-I don’t look forward to the lateness and length of the evening services.
-Also, I don’t look forward to having a 6-month-old child in that situation.
-I don’t look forward hearing the same, tired old criticism of Free Will Baptists from someone doing nothing to improve the problem.
-I don’t look forward to seeing people blithely accept major news and reports without asking a single question.
-I don’t look forward to hearing people spend way too much time explaining why they wore just a tie, or just a sports coat, or a three-piece suit, and just a Polo shirt. No one cares—or at least, not as much as you think.
I’ll conclude this newsletter with two admonitions to readers who may also be attending. First, remember why you’re there. Second, take advantage of that reason and other benefits of being there. Take it all in. Take notes. Journal. Be intentional in your conversations. Ask good questions. Take two or three tangible, positive things home with you—for your benefit and the benefit of your local church.
Imagine the sheer investment of time and money associated with the Convention. If the average couple spends $1500 (or their church does in sending them), take that and extrapolate that over the entirety of those in attendance. Then think of how long it took everyone to pack and travel to and from Birmingham. Think of the totality of what Free Will Baptist churches, entities, and people are giving to this event. Let’s make it count!
Quote of the Week:
The real challenge for people of faith in maintaining a coherent identity in the modern world is not that the proliferation of secular realms weakens the plausibility of religious belief. Rather, it’s that we’re socialized in ways that produce distinct internal conversations, models of desire, and habits in these realms that are disconnected from—if not at odds with—our religious identities. These are powerful cultural blind spots. And they cannot be overcome by sheer willpower. (Brandon Vaidyanathan)
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