In 2019, I was elected president of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists at 26 years old. Our state convention is much smaller than many others, so I’m under no illusion that being elected was some incredible feat. It was, however, an honor to be given the opportunity, and it has been an even greater honor to serve West Virginia Baptists in this capacity. As my term comes to an end, I’ve spent time reflecting on what I’ve learned over these last two years. I share these four thoughts in the hopes that they may be helpful as we navigate tumultuous days in Baptist life.
- Disagreements are inevitable, but love is a choice.
In denominational life, no one agrees with anyone on everything. Ideological camps don’t line up as clearly as it seems. I have found incessant gatekeeping simply exhausting. I’ve learned that my primary obligation to my brother or sister is to love them, not figure out what ideological tribe they really belong to. If they don’t love me back, that is okay. If they pigeonhole me into some particular tribe, so be it. My charge remains the same: love them. Love is the only way to survive for the long haul.
- Institutions are frustrating, but institutions have value.
We want institutions to perfectly reflect the sensibilities of our day. They simply do not. Institutions move slowly — frustratingly so. Now, this is no excuse for institutional dysfunction, obfuscation, or corruption; these things must not exist in healthy institutions. But in our institutions, the past and future collide. And therein lies their value. We must reckon with our institutions as they are, not as we wish they were. Good decisions and bad decisions made by scores of people across time and space have led us here, and the decisions we now make will shape those who will follow us.
- Our challenges are real, but so is God’s grace.
I mentioned that disagreements are inevitable. To be clear, this does not mean all disagreements are created equally. We face real challenges in our day — challenges we must not downplay, trivialize, or spiritualize. Focusing on “the mission” demands a clear, biblical understanding of “the mission.” We may disagree about the biggest problems in our society. We may disagree about how we got here and where we should go. I do not offer a trite, overly spiritualized solution. I simply commend all of us to God’s grace as we discern these things together. His grace is sufficient for us.
- Falling from platforms is dangerous, but so is seeking them.
We talk a lot about the dangers of falling, and rightfully so. But I think it’s important to talk about the dangers of climbing. Oh, I see this in myself! When I start asking, “What’s next for me?” I am in a dangerous spot. I want to be faithful; I want to utilize the gifts God has given me to serve God’s people. But it’s easy to convince myself that’s what I’m doing, when really, I am trying to grow my platform. It’s easy to talk about serving God’s people, when really, I want God’s people to serve me.
That they may be one
We live at a time and in a culture that is fraught with division, even inside our churches. But this is not a time for Southern Baptists to mimic the cultural norms of our day. Now is the time for us to live into the words of Jesus in his high priestly prayer: “that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22).
In a culture that is often hateful and ill-tempered on nearly every emerging issue, what might happen if Southern Baptists exercised an abundance of love and earnestly pursued the unity that Jesus prays for in John 17? He tells us: the world would come to know that Jesus has been sent by the Father who loves them like his own Son. They would come to know that John 3:16 is, in fact, true. The love and unity practiced and expressed in the church is a reflection of the love and unity practiced and expressed in the Godhead, and it is part of our witness to the surrounding culture.
As my term as president of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists draws to a close, this is my hope: that we would take God’s call to pursue the love and unity that Jesus prays for seriously so that the watching world would know that God loves them and that Jesus has come to save them.