Kim, Joseph, and I arrived in Nashville on Sunday evening. The Southern Baptist Convention would not begin until Tuesday morning but many SBC messengers showed up on Sunday and Monday for some wonderful worship and a time of celebration at the Send Conference.

We were able to get a hotel room only a few blocks away from the Music City Center where the Send Conference and SBC would be held. So, we quickly got settled into our room and then walked a few blocks to the Music City Center.

Music City Center, Nashville, Tennessee

We entered the massive arena only to realize that thousands of others were arriving at the same time. After taking about an hour in a very long line waiting to officially register and get our messenger packets, we quickly made our way to the massive room where the Send Conference was already underway. The rumors we had heard about how large the crowd would be this year was confirmed.

As we entered the hall, Michael W. Smith and CeCe Winans were leading in worship. It was incredible! (Click “play” on the following video.)

Since Sunday night and Monday are all about celebrating the Gospel-centered mission of the SBC, Kevin Ezell (President of North American Mission Board) and Paul Chitwood (President of the International Mission Board) led the meeting. Instead of a rigid meeting with a sense of stiff formality, Kevin and Paul just had some conversations (some unscripted) that enabled us to feel like we were a big family gathering to celebrate what God is doing.

But then the “main event” took place. Everyone was looking forward to hearing the man who would bring that evening’s sermon.

Dr. Tony Evans moments away from bringing the evening sermon.

It may look like a lot of people were in the room as you see the previous picture and watch the following video where Dr. Evans was preparing to preach. But, we were sitting toward the front of the hall. There were an estimated 14,000 – 15,000 in the room!

Here is a video I took of Dr. Evans letting the crowd warm up to him before he began his message.

To say that Dr. Tony Evans was on fire would be an understatement. He spoke directly to the elephant in the room but did so in a way that caused many opportunities for wild applause and hearty ‘amens.’

If you watch a video of the sermon (that I have not yet been able to locate), there was a moment when Dr. Evans stopped to listen to someone yelling in the crowd. Apparently, someone said that he needed to be the next SBC President (someone closer to the front told me this). Dr. Evans responded with something like, “They outlawed lynching years ago.” It seemed clear that he, as a black man, felt that there were people in the room who would fight against his presidency simply because of his skin color. I believe it is safe to say that most of the thousands in the room were broken that there were those in our midst who would make such an incredible godly pastor feel that way.

On Monday, we spent some time in the exhibit hall. For those who have never been to a Southern Baptist Convention, the exhibit hall is a very, very large area where all sorts of ministries and organizations set up a booth. In this year’s exhibit hall, Lifeway, Guidestone, all SBC seminaries, many of the colleges, Answers in Genesis, and about 140 other entities were present. Messengers were encouraged to visit and gather information.

Exhibit Hall layout

Kim and I went to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary exhibit and visited with Dr. Hershael York for about 10 minutes. He is a dear friend and has meant so much to our family. He was Kim’s youth minister many years ago, he was our pastor when Kim and I married (we were his last wedding before he became a professor at SBTS), and so much more. He and Tanya have been such a blessing to us.

Then we visited the Navy booth and talked about our oldest son beginning Navy Officer Candidate School this coming Sunday. We also visited the Love Worth Finding booth and talked with some folks who were on staff at Bellevue when I served there. Kim and I have visited the exhibit hall at another SBC (2009) but this one was so much more heart-warming.

The culmination of the Send Conference happens on Monday nights with the International Mission Board Sending Celebration. Click ‘play’ to view some videos I captured of missionaries telling of where they will be serving oversees. The missionaries that appear as silhouettes are going to countries where they could be denied entrance or even persecuted for proclaiming the Gospel if their identity was revealed. There were also times of worship in song between missionary segments.

The Sending Conference (Sunday and Monday) was incredible and uplifting. The SBC (Tuesday and Wednesday) was not expected to be so heart-warming. So, I have to admit that Kim, Joseph, and I took a 2 hour trip west to Murray, Kentucky early Tuesday morning so that we could visit with our son, Sean, and Dani (Zach’s wife). Sean is doing great as a Christian counselor at Crossings / Jonathan Creek this summer. Dani is being a true champ as she counts down the days until she can see Zach after he finishes Navy Officer Candidate School in 14 more weeks.

We got back to Nashville for the 2:30 PM afternoon session. But, during our time in Murray and on the trip back to Nashville, Kim used the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting app to let us listen to the reports and everything else.

As we were nearing Nashville, we listened to J.D. Greear’s President’s Address that he was preaching before they broke for lunch. Honestly, even though I was driving on the interstate, there were a few times when I wanted to pull over so that I could give a standing ovation. He spoke to the spirit of descension that is currently permeating our SBC. He did so with clarity and courage. We needed to hear this!

When we got back into the convention hall after lunch, we settled in for the big event, the elephant in the room. Over 15,000 people showed up to vote for the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Four men had been nominated for president. They were Al Mohler, Ed Litton, Mike Stone, and Randy Adams. If I could state it so simplistically, Mohler was running as a man who could thoughtfully speak into the many issues that are causing discord in the SBC right now. Litton (appeared in the movie “Courageous”) was running as a man who could work toward racial reconciliation and unity in the convention. Stone and Adams were running as reformers, alleging things that are so serious (if true) that we would expect them to begin the process of completely revamping the convention and its leadership. Randy Adam’s supporters created a newspaper that was handed out to messengers that felt more like a tabloid than a serious newspaper.

The New York times wrote an article calling Litton a moderate (a.k.a. liberal). Those who supported Stone and Adams generally felt this way. But Litton and Mohler are both very conservative. The vote was not between moderates and conservatives; in my estimation it was between conservatives and hyper-conservatives. We have some problems in the SBC that need to be addressed but this is not 1979 when a conservative resurgence is necessitated.

I had intended to cast my vote for Al Mohler as SBC President, believing that Southern Baptists need such a statesman to speak on our behalf, and to speak into the issues confronting us. But, as we approached the vote, I felt that a vote for Mohler would only split the vote among the group that would vote for Mohler or Litton. I saw Mike Stone as the only “threat” on the hyper-conservative side so I wanted to cast my vote so that he did not win. So, I cast my vote for Litton.

The results of the initial vote were as follows:

15,678 messengers were registered and 14,300 cast ballots.

  • Mohler: 3,764 – 26.32%
  • Stone: 5,216 – 36.48%
  • Litton: 4,630 – 32.38%
  • Adams: 673 – 4.71%

Since none of the candidates received at least 50% of the vote, it went to a runoff between Stone and Litton. Once again, I cast my vote for Litton.

As we awaited the results of the vote, I went to the back of the hall. I wanted to capture a video of the room as people were waiting to hear who would lead us. Virtually every one of the thousands of chairs were filled as thousands stood around the perimeter of the room. I suspect that there was somewhere between 13,000 – 15,000 people in the convention center.

We eventually learned who would be the next SBC president.

13,131 votes cast

  • Stone: 6,278 – 47.9%
  • Litton: 6,834 – 52.1%

There were other motions/resolutions that were brought forward, some addressing such issues as CRT, abortion, and other hot-button issues. Some passed and some failed. Generally speaking, I was pleased with the outcome of most of them.

On a side note, there were times when things got a bit tense. We could only hope for a reason to laugh. Besides that, the thousands of people in the convention center were winning against the AC and it was getting a bit warm. So, during the time when the microphones were opened for motions, a messenger named David Bumgardner stood in front of the mic. With a smile beaming on his face, he made the following motion. Thousands of us wildly applauded. We appreciated his gift of humor. (Just click ‘play.’)

Well, I hope you have enjoyed my abbreviated reflections on our trip to the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention. It was a wonderful time and I look forward to next year’s convention in Anaheim.