NASHVILLE—The North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Network hosted its first live, in-person episode of the “We Are Send Network” podcast during the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Nashville. Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, shared his perspective on the direction of church planting after a tumultuous year.
“Churches have been remarkably hard hit during this time,” Stetzer said. “The isolation [from the pandemic] created a cultural tumult that has fast-forwarded cultural change, maybe 10 years in a year.”
Stetzer recounted many of the divisive issues that arose to the forefront during the pandemic season—racial tension, political tension, tension over how to handle the pandemic.
“All of these things took place, and I used to say for pastors, if five percent of your church isn’t mad at you, you’re probably not doing anything significant. That’s just part of leadership,” Stetzer said. “But now we’re finding it’s 20-25 percent. Most of us are not prepared for this scenario, and I believe this scenario is going to last years. I don’t believe [the end of] the pandemic ends the cultural convulsion.”
In helping church planters grasp how to navigate the cultural moment, Stetzer pointed the audience back to the last cultural upheaval that took place in the 1960s. He provided an example of one church in California that saw a move of God during that season.
“The question to me is, will we join Jesus on his mission in the midst of this cultural tumult and show and share the love of Jesus today,” Stetzer said. “I think the opportunity is great if we will say, ‘Here I am, Lord; send me.’”
Every year, NAMB invites church planting missionaries from around North America to come and be a part of the SBC Annual Meeting. While there, they receive training during events like the Send Network Breakfast, but the main purpose is to help them meet and connect with their Southern Baptist family.
“It’s important for our planters to be with the churches who support them through things like the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® and the Cooperative Program,” said Noah Oldham, a senior director in NAMB’s Send Network. “NAMB set up a virtual prayer experience for Southern Baptists where they were able to do a virtual prayer walk through planters’ neighborhoods, and some of those planters were there in person to meet their SBC family face-to-face.”
NAMB especially seeks to invite those who have never been a part of an SBC Annual Meeting so that they can see the overall value of belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention. NAMB provides some financial assistance so that it’s not too much of a burden, but those who decide to come must cover the cost of travel.
Church planting missionary Michael Byrd planted Faith Community Bible Church in St. Louis and attended this year’s annual meeting. Byrd spoke about the joy of being in the room rather than trying to follow along with highlights posted to social media.
“There’s a joy being in the room, even the organization and the structure and polity of our churches, where we can still disagree and resolve to work together and go back to our churches to pursue Jesus and rally our people to pursue Jesus,” Byrd said.
Just before the Annual Meeting, a Washington Post article incorrectly framed the attendance of church planters to the 2021 Annual Meeting as centering on SBC politics.
“Times like these Annual Meetings are very important for new church planters to see the overall value and importance of participating in SBC life and to gain a broader view of what our Southern Baptist family is all about,” NAMB president Kevin Ezell said. “We don’t tell anyone how to vote.”
Helping North American missionaries feel a part of the Southern Baptist family is important to their sense of connection to the SBC and for the SBC to feel a sense of connection to their missionaries.
“They live on the mission field every day, and we wanted them to be around their family for a couple days—the family who sends them, who prays for them,” Oldham said. “And we wanted those missionaries to have the sense when they went home that they were being sent out by their SBC family.”
During the Send Network Breakfast, Heiden Ratner, NAMB’s Send City Missionary in Las Vegas, expressed his excitement that next year’s annual meeting would be in the West.
“There hasn’t been a ton of sustaining revival-type movements in the West,” said Ratner. “I really believe it’s coming, by faith, that there’s stuff that’s about to happen in church planting on the West Coast. I think those days are ahead of us. We have faith for that.”
Published June 18, 2021