By / Nov 24

When asked to define conservatism, noted scholar Yuval Levin simply replied, “gratitude.” He explained that true conservatism is rooted in gratitude because it appreciates the institutions, procedures, and traditions that have been built up over the years by those who came before us. 

That understanding of conservatism deeply resonates with me, both as a philosophical conservative and as a theological conservative. I continually find myself grateful for what previous generations have done. Even in the midst of a challenging cultural season, where so many are interested in tearing things down, I find myself grateful for the efforts of peers, colleagues, and others who continue to build.

I am grateful for my fellow Southern Baptists, as well. We have built, and continue to do so, upon the work done by countless pastors, missionaries, church planters, ministry leaders, and scholars. Whether it is the enduring strength of the Cooperative Program, the commitment to sending missionaries around the globe or the planting of churches across North America, there is much to be thankful for. Here are five things the Lord has laid on my heart that I am truly grateful for. 

A cooperative spirit

Most of our state conventions have wrapped up their annual meetings. I was able to attend the Tennessee Baptist Convention just last week, and it was a true joy to be with pastors and church leaders from across our great state. People from various towns and different ministries came together to encourage one another and remind us of how much can be accomplished when we work together. 

I know this was the takeaway for so many messengers at all of our state conventions as well. Our cooperation is what makes us unique. We really are so much better when we work together to serve our communities and reach the nations for the sake of the gospel.

I’m grateful for the cooperative spirit that resides at the heart of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Our theological fidelity

Another core component of the SBC is our commitment to the gospel. We believe that the Word of God is inerrant, and thus, we rightly hold a very high view of Scripture. If it weren’t for all six of our seminaries holding so fast to this truth, we would be foundering as a denomination. Each seminary continues to train men and women for gospel service. We must support our this integral work of our seminaries. They have excelled at teaching and equipping outstanding individuals we need to lead our churches and serve in this chaotic culture that is so desperate to hear a word of truth. 

Our theological fidelity ensures our churches continue serving in their communities and keep sending their best to be missionaries overseas. And all of that guides our work at the ERLC, ensuring that we are speaking to a watching world based on the convictions of our convention. 

I’m grateful for the theological fidelity our churches, associations, conventions, and entities hold to in our efforts to proclaim the gospel and reach the lost.

A commitment to church planting

I’m always saddened when I learn of an old church building that has been converted into something else. While I know a church building is only a structure of wood, brick, and other materials, it also represents lives and ministries where God has been at work. To think about that space no longer being used for these purposes grieves my heart, which is why I’m thankful for the important work our sister entity, the North American Mission Board, is doing to plant new churches in communities all across the country. Some are replants in those old, forgotten church buildings, and others are new plants meeting in movie theaters or strip malls. Regardless, the fact that our convention of churches continues to prioritize church planting is a natural outflow of our commitment to obey Christ’s commandment to go into all the world.

I’m thankful for NAMB and the faithful church planters who seek to take the gospel into new and forgotten corners of our country.

A commitment to international missions

In September, Staples Mill Road Baptist Church held a commissioning service for 34 International Mission Board missionaries being sent to the four corners of the globe. Around that same time, members of our ERLC life team traveled to Northern Ireland to place our very first Psalm 139 project ultrasound machine overseas. I see the same spirit in both of these events — Southern Baptists, motivated by the gospel, being sent out to save lives. It reminds me that the SBC views gospel proclamation around the globe as one of the main objectives, if not the main objective, that brings us together, and that’s a very, very good thing. 

I’m thankful for the IMB and our convention’s commitment to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. 

A commitment to life

You would be hard pressed to find a Southern Baptist who doesn’t think the protection of preborn lives is not a matter of utmost importance. As a true conservative network of churches that actually believes every aspect of the Bible is true, we are resolute in our commitment to advocating for the rights of God’s image-bearers in the womb, and this requires a cooperation unlike no other. And Southern Baptists have risen to the task.

In the past year alone, the ERLC has placed 24 ultrasound machines. In December, we will place our 25th. This is not an accident. We have committed to placing 50 machines by the 50-year mark of the disastrous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. When I think about how Southern Baptists have rallied around the Psalm 139 Project already, I’m confident we will be able to place the other 25 life-saving machines in pregnancy resource centers around the country. The SBC cares about life because we know how precious each life is to God. 

I’m thankful for our convention’s commitment to taking a stand for life. 

A grateful people

I was recently visiting with a pastor of an SBC church, and he was reflecting on the last year. He admitted it has been uniquely challenging at times, but he was still appreciative of all the ways the Lord has blessed his congregation and ministry. Unfortunately, these stories of gratitude can get lost in the midst of all the noise. But I cannot tell you how many times I have had this same conversation with other pastors. I think that reveals a fundamental truth about Southern Baptists: We’re a people of gratitude. We know we are the recipients of an unearned grace, saved from death, and have been raised to walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4). And that’s why I’m thankful for a convention that cooperates to tell the world about the One who is the reason for the gratitude we have. 

By / Oct 21

One day a couple of years ago, I walked outside to my mailbox and found that a package had been delivered. It contained a copy of Every Moment Holy, a collection of liturgies for attending to the presence of God in everyday life, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey and Ned Bustard. The volume contains prayers for everything from washing windows to consuming media to saying goodbye. This book has now become like a little companion to me, offering words of solace, inspiration, and edification when I need them. It was sent to me by my pastor, Dean, who has a special knack for sourcing books for the people he knows well. I suppose it makes sense that a pastor would be well suited to offer life-giving words to the people he tends to, and I have been a happy recipient of this generous gesture more than once. 

How pastoring is like keeping bees

Presently, it is Pastor Appreciation Month, and this little leather-bound book is helping me reflect in gratitude for my own pastor (for reasons more than his gift-giving skills). Inside, there is an entry entitled, “A Liturgy for the Keeping of Bees.” Often we liken the pastor’s call to his church to the shepherd’s call to tend his flock, and the Bible gives us plenty of imagery throughout its pages to draw these comparisons. After all, pastors who shepherd well do so by imaging the Good Shepherd, Christ, whom we encounter in the Scriptures. And yet for some reason, this October, I have been thinking about how maybe in some ways, pastoring is also a little like keeping bees.

As church members we often function much like a beehive, moving as the liturgy says bees do, “full of buzz and bumbling about.” Our lives are busy and industrious, and in varying degrees of faithfulness, we are on a mission. Day in and day out we labor, ideally unto the Lord but sometimes for lesser glories, and we need someone to keep an eye on us. We are delicate. We need to be kept, and we flourish when we are being faithfully tended and directed toward that for which we were made. We too can be “a small comedy of creatures . . . with our bright and varied stripes.” And, like bees, we live within “a nature now fallen and hostile,” seeking defense from that which threatens to overtake us and subvert our purposes. 

A faithful beekeeper serves the bees by tending to them, nurturing them toward flourishing so that others might enjoy the fruits of their labors and so that God might be praised for his wonderful work in creation. A beekeeper exercises dominion in cruciform, working on behalf of those he has taken into his care. And while we are much more complex beings than bees, we who follow Jesus and love his Church find ourselves in the care of pastors who devote their time, energy, expertise, stewardship, and love to us. Like bees that “harvest in the blooms” of flowers planted for their benefit, we feast on rich nectar of gospel truth and learn to thrive in spaces cultivated for our good, to give us a taste of creation as God intended. You could say that we are all being raised to live well in the kingdom. All the while, it is the beekeeper’s joy to see that his hive grows and prospers and to share the abundance of what they make together with others.

What do I appreciate about my pastor?

Speaking of abundance, what first brought my attention to this particular prayer and eventually to this metaphor was a conversation with Dean, my pastor. He had read the liturgy for beekeeping and shared it with a local coffee shop barista whom he had befriended. The barista was not a follower of Jesus, but she was a beekeeper. Dean made the connection between a vocation she pursued and how walking in that very calling reflected her status as an image-bearer of God. He offered her something more, a glimpse into truth that transcends, and deeper meaning for her life. He pointed out to her that God cares about bees and beekeepers.

I would say that this example portrays the essence of who Dean is — one who takes the time to get to know someone well by listening, taking interest, and learning to speak his or her language. He does this out of love for the people God has placed in his path. He is not perfect, but he is a man changed by the gospel, and that is evident in the way he shares Jesus, along with liturgies and laughter, with beekeeping baristas. Because he is a good pastor, he calls all the members of his church to walk in this way with him. 

So what do I appreciate about my pastor? Many things, but almost none as much as his faithful presence and wholehearted commitment to the people he knows God has entrusted to him. He does not simply keep us organized around a common mission; he feeds us with truth and works tirelessly to ensure that we have a place to gather, grow, and prepare to go out from. Even when the work is tedious, even when we swarm and sometimes sting, when conditions aren’t ideal and when he’s too tired to tend to us, he suits up and serves for the good of what is being built. He too knows and receives his place in God’s kingdom. 

How should we respond in gratitude?

How should we respond in gratitude to such faithful pastors who keep us well? 

First, let us live well in their care. May we participate in the life of the church, busy ourselves with the right things, and follow the ones guiding us to do what we were meant to do. May we also show up faithfully and labor fervently to harvest and share the abundant goodness of the gospel with those around us. Let us not grow weary or get off task, but bless our leaders by joining in purposeful service with them. 

Second, let us remember that pastors are also God’s creatures. They need to be kept, tended to, and pastored themselves. Even if we do not fill the role of pastor to pastors, may we encourage ours by praying, speaking uplifting words, inquiring of their wellbeing, and serving them as we are able. Let us be the ones they thank God for in their prayers.  

Finally, may we trust our pastors when they have proven to be trustworthy. Rather than rejecting their care or demanding it on our terms, let us humbly entrust ourselves to their leadership. As many voices clamor for our attention, we would do well to listen to the ones that proclaim words of life and truth to us over and over again. When our pastors are people who love God’s Word and his Church, let us join them and participate with joy in the life of the kingdom as we enjoy God’s presence together. 

As the liturgy reads, “Together may our co-labors resound to [God’s] praise and glory.” To the pastors who keep their churches well, thank you and bless you.