The election for President of the Southern Baptist Convention last month understandably attracted a lot of attention. But I was just as intrigued with the election for President of the annual SBC Pastors Conference that took place the day before.
Dave Miller, pastor of a medium-sized church in Sioux City, Iowa, somewhat surprisingly prevailed with 55% of the vote. The Pastors Conference President has traditionally been a megachurch pastor, often from a southern or larger state.
From my perspective, Pastor Miller ran not so much on his personal ministry resume as on a platform of ideas that proposed taking at least the 2017 Pastors Conference in a very new direction. Conference speakers would be only from SBC churches. No one who has spoken at the Pastors Conference in the past five years would speak at the 2017 meeting. Speakers would represent a diversity of geography, age, ethnicity, preaching style, and perspective. And there would be a focus on inviting pastors to speak who lead churches of 500 or fewer.
Not many of these parameters describe the Pastors Conferences of recent years, and the new ideas clearly resonated with a majority of those voting. Pastor Miller was elected, and his response the next day in his SBC Voices blog reminded me a little of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” He wrote, “The budget of this two-day event is pretty much the annual budget of my church…But we are in this together and we are going to be looking to expand our circle.”
While I personally would have been glad for either candidate to lead next year’s Pastors Conference, I can’t help but feel a sense of satisfaction in the ideas that it appears will now influence next year’s program. I too have wondered why the same men sometimes speak in consecutive years of the Pastors Conference, or why speakers aren’t always from SBC churches.
Most of all, as a Midwestern Southern Baptist, I celebrate the idea that there are gifted preachers in small to medium-sized churches, and in churches outside the Deep South, and in churches of diverse cultural settings. The Pastors Conference will benefit from some of these voices, as it has from the gifted communicators who lead many of our megachurches.
After 10 years at IBSA, I still speak in or visit a church for the very first time at least once or twice a month. Many times someone in those churches will say something like, “We didn’t think you would come to a church our size,” or “We waited until our 100th anniversary to invite you because we know you’re so busy.”
I’m always humbled and a little embarrassed by those assumptions. So I want to say again that IBSA and I personally truly desire to serve and assist each and every local church we can, regardless of size, location, ethnicity, or age. Especially if I’ve never been there, I would love to come to your church, to get to know your church family, and to listen to your pastor or give him a week off, whatever serves the church best.
The average Southern Baptist church in Illinois had about 80 in worship last year. Across the SBC, the average was around 110. It may be that larger churches tend to have more full-time pastors and more practiced and polished preachers. But the ones I’ve been learning from all my life lead these wonderful, average churches. I’m glad a pastor from western Iowa reminded us that pastors from these churches have a lot to offer. And I’d love to come and worship in yours sometime soon.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.