I recently went to St. Louis for the National WMU Missions Celebration/Annual Meeting, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention. I started attending national meetings with my parents as a child and have been going ever since. I always enjoy these gatherings because of the inspiring speakers, music, and other presentations. I also enjoy reconnecting with friends from across the country and sometimes, from around the world.
Attending a national meeting reminds us that no matter what size church we attend, what we do together is significant. The SBC is comprised primarily of small churches so the praying and giving of small churches who work together is making a huge impact. Likewise, the efforts of larger churches is also needed and provides leadership and resources for our joint efforts.
Hearing missionaries say thank you for praying, thank you for giving, thank you for caring for our families always touches my heart. I thrill at the stories of people who have been saved because a missionary we sent and supported shared the gospel. In this year’s WMU meeting, we heard from one missionary who is serving today because a missionary came and shared the gospel with his great grandfather. Every generation since in his family has produced pastors/church planters.
Just before we went to St. Louis we received the report that Southern Baptists had given the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in the 127 year history of the offering – $165.8 million. This offering, begun in 1888 by the women of a fledgling organization we know today as WMU, continues to make an impact around the world.
The letters WMU mean a lot to me. W is for woman’s (spelled with an A! – singular, possessive) because of each individual who identifies with the Missionary purpose. U is for union because together we can do more. Thus, when I attend a WMU meeting, it is not about the meeting. It is about the outcomes. What happens in my life and around the world because we in WMU learn, pray, give, serve and support missions.
The 2016 meeting was one of mixed emotions for me. I am so grateful for the 20-year ministry of Wanda Lee as a national WMU leader – 4 years as president, then 16 as executive director-treasurer. She has been a mentor and friend. Yet Wanda has identified that this is the time for transition to a new leader and several months ago, I was named by WMU president Linda Cooper as chairperson of the Search Committee.
In a devotional and update shared with the WMU Executive Board in General Session, I shared the spiritual journey of the search committee. We have an enormous task but we serve a God who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. When the time is right, the committee will make a recommendation. Until then, we have asked everyone to honor the confidentiality of the process. Serving on this committee is a high calling and we all are grateful for the prayer support and kind words of so many.
At the WMU meeting, the preaching of Dr. Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary, was challenging. His book, Unscripted, is the 2016-17 WMU emphasis book. In challenging us to do be on mission, no matter what our circumstances, Dr. Iorg said, “Circumstances refine the mission, but do not define the mission.” In speaking of the organization he works with, Dr. Iorg said that is what is most difficult for him is not administration, fundraising, or the myriad of things to be done. He said “What is most difficult is keeping the organization focused on its mission.” Our mission is to proclaim the gospel. What would happen if WMU members embraced the three simple words: as you go. Imagine what would happen in the lives of individuals or families, in cultures, or to political and economic systems if believers embraced and lived those three simple words and shared the gospel “as you go.”
On Tuesday of the SBC, I took my seat and stayed in place all day except for meals. There were reports and sermons, motions and resolutions. I’ve not always been comfortable with everything that happened at a SBC meeting, but there is no doubt that this year’s convention will stand as a high mark for years to come. I say this for several reasons. One was that the Tuesday evening session was devoted to prayer. This time of prayer spoke to my soul, especially during a video reading of the Ezekiel passage about dry bones. We were challenged to persevere in ministry because the dry bones will live again.
For me, the apex of the meeting came when, after a problem with 108 ballots, one presidential candidate withdrew so that the convention would be unified. J. D. Greear will long be remembered for his statesmanship in that moment. It must be noted that Steve Gaines was willing to do the same thing and in prayer these men came to the decision of who would withdraw. Greear’s announcement was followed by a timely sermon by Dr. Ted Traylor which drew from Psalm 133:1 – Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.
There were many other great moments during the convention. Due to other commitments, I could not stay on Wednesday, but through the wonders of technology was able to tune in during the meeting, and even go back to parts I missed. You can listen to the entire SBC, from gavel to gavel, at www.sbcannualmeeting.com. Just click “Watch Live” and you will find recordings of all the proceedings.