|Renaissance Hotel – Nashville|
On Monday, March 31st, Kim and I drove to Nashville for a 24 hour stay. I had been invited to join 150 other Southern Baptist pastors and church planters for a “Discover North America” gathering at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville.
Since I had told the church that I love and pastor that I would lead them to plant churches, I jumped at the opportunity to find out what the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention had to offer. (An added bonus was that some very generous donors paid for the lodging, parking and food for all who participated in this event. Unbelievable!)
We checked in on Monday afternoon, dropped our things off in our 7th story room and prepared for the evening’s events.
A few minutes before 6:30pm, we arrived in the East Ballroom for a delicious supper. I looked around the large crowd only to realize that Kim and I knew no one present. So, we sat down at a table with some folks that we would spend some time getting to know. The folks sitting next to Kim were from North Carolina and (other than the fact that they were Duke fans) were very enjoyable conversationalists. The gentleman sitting beside me was Korean but had been a pastor in Massachusetts for over 20 years. We talked much about his passion for making disciples, planting churches, and shepherding the 2,700 folks who regularly attend the congregation he pastors. (In only a few months, he ran against Ronnie Floyd for the position of President of the Southern Baptist Convention. I didn’t realize that as I enjoyed conversing with him.)
To our surprise, God had some fun with the seating arrangements because a husband and wife asked if they could sit at our table. As we began to engage them in conversation, we found out that they were the parents-in-law of a pastor friend here in Murray, Kentucky. Small world!
The two hours after supper were spent listening to Kevin Ezell (President of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) and Ronnie Floyd (Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas).
I am a big fan of Ronnie Floyd. I recently read his book, ‘The Power of Prayer and Fasting,’ and came away realizing that his heart’s cry is for God to move in revival. He is a mover and shaker and wants to make his one life count for the kingdom. On and on I could go. It is no big surprise that he is going to be nominated as the next President of the Southern Baptist Convention in June 2014.
Both of these men shared the growing need within our country. Churches (specifically Southern Baptist Churches) have not kept pace with the population. While our population continues to grow exponentially, the number of churches have not.
In fact, there are many places within our major cities where there is no substantial church presence at all. For folks who live in the ‘Bible belt’, this may be hard to believe.
To illustrate the situation in which we find ourselves, the following video was shown. It is a brief (10 minutes), enjoyable video that recounts the history of the Southern Baptist Convention through the eyes of an illusionist. Take a few moments to watch it by clicking here.
After a couple of hours, the meeting was closed in prayer. Kim and I went to the front of the ballroom and chatted with Ronnie Floyd and Kevin Ezell for a few minutes and then called it a night.
After waking up on Tuesday morning, I took a picture of the Bridgestone Arena from our hotel room. The significance of this arena is that it is in that location that thousands of Southern Baptist pastors, church planters and lay leaders will gather on August 3 & 4, 2015.
We gathered again at 9am in the East Ballroom for further explanations of what the North American Mission Board wants to do to help churches become church-planting churches. I left absolutely excited about being a Southern Baptist knowing that as we partner together, we can do so much more than we could do on our own.
But, before the Tuesday morning (final) gathering started, Kim and I sat down at a table with some folks that we did not previously know. As we engaged them in conversation, I began to think that it was a divine appointment. I won’t mention who they are just yet because I want to gather more information first. Yet, it may be the very partnership that would allow Westside Baptist Church, the congregation that I pastor, to begin the adventure of becoming a church-planting church.
After the final meeting concluded, we walked to the Bridgestone Arena and gathered in the stands. Cher had performed there the night before and floor was being quickly reconstructed for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four Championship that was about to begin. But, for the moment, we prayed over that arena. We prayed that in August 2015, God would gather in that place up to 18,000 pastors, planters, lay leaders and other Southern Baptist to this arena. We prayed that it would be an exciting celebration of what God has done and is doing through us to push back the darkness in North America.
I’ll definitely be there!