DALLAS—Despite turmoil related to terminations and resignations of "several" Southern Baptists "from key positions of leadership," Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines says, there are signs "the Lord is going to come upon us powerfully in Dallas" at next week's SBC annual meeting.
Meanwhile, prayer strategist Ted Elmore said he is seeing "more emphasis on prayer today" in Southern Baptist churches than he has "ever seen" in 25 years of leading Texas state convention prayer ministries. Baptist historian Stan Norman noted Southern Baptists, historically, "are at our best when our backs are against the wall."
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. wrote in a May 23 commentary that the SBC is facing its "own horrifying #MeToo moment" which stems from "an unorganized conspiracy of silence" about sexual misconduct and abuse.
But Gaines, pastor of Memphis, Tenn.-area Bellevue Baptist Church, told Baptist Press causes for encouragement in the convention are greater than causes for discouragement. He has called Southern Baptists to fast and pray for 21 days preceding the June 12-13 annual meeting in Dallas.
"In one week, thousands of Southern Baptists will begin gathering in Dallas for our annual meeting," Gaines said in written comments. "The past two months have been tough for our convention. Several leaders have resigned or have been terminated from key positions of leadership. This shocked us, but it did not shock the Lord. I believe God has allowed all of this to happen to drive us to our knees. He is calling us to repent of any sin in our lives and seek His face in humility and faith. And if we will humble ourselves and pray, I believe God will be glorified in and through us as we gather in Dallas."
Gaines provided BP 14 examples of the encouraging messages which have "inundated" him from people "fasting and praying" leading up to the annual meeting. Among the messages:
• "During these days of intense spiritual warfare, plow ahead with great hope!"
• "It's been a challenging week. The Lord is still on His throne (Isaiah 6)."
• "God is bigger than all these things. This moment is not a crisis to Him."
"I'm convinced," Gaines said, "that God is humbling Southern Baptists and reminding us that we are nothing without Him. God is annihilating any pride we might have regarding ourselves or anything related to the SBC. He is reminding us that He does not need the SBC; rather, the SBC needs Him! We must humble ourselves, cry out in repentance and seek His face so He will restore us and use us for His glory in the years ahead.
"I also believe the Lord is going to come upon us powerfully in Dallas. If we will unite in fasting and prayer, and maintain a spirit of brokenness, humility and repentance, God will rest upon us. What the enemy has meant for evil, God will mean for good so that many will be saved (cf. Genesis 50:20)," Gaines said.
'A unity in prayer'
Elmore, prayer strategist for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a curator of the prayer room at this year's SBC annual meeting, told BP Southern Baptists of all stripes seem to "hold a common consensus that we need to pray" in response to circumstances in the convention.
"I believe that common consensus is initiated by the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of His people," Elmore said, "calling us to a unity in prayer." Such unity "seems to be the prelude in history to what God has done in mighty acts."
SBC annual meeting attendees are invited to gather in the prayer room as part of their ongoing cry to God, Elmore said. The prayer room will be located at the back of hall F in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and is open to all.
A multiplicity of small prayer groups developing in local churches Elmore has visited "are not on anybody's radar, but God is calling them to prayer and using them," he said, noting the social media hashtag #sbcam18 includes an increasing number of calls to prayer.
'The most demanding of challenges'
Norman, president of Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge, Ark., told BP the desire to pray amid a confluence of trying circumstances is similar to what Southern Baptists have experienced on past occasions before they saw God overcome challenges and win spiritual victories.
At least 43 SBC Annuals since 1845 made reference to prayer and fasting among Southern Baptists.
In the Reconstruction South, Southern Baptists "made significant church and personal sacrifices" to continue supporting home and foreign missions despite "the shattered economy," Norman said in written comments. When "a post-Civil War financial panic" left Southern Seminary unable to fund its endowment, God answered co-founder John Broadus' prayer to "provide a single donor whose means and generosity would set the school immediately on solvent ground."
Similarly, Southern Baptists have seen God work amid theological challenges and amid the need "to honestly and squarely confront our racist past."
Southern Baptists "now have been confronted with how we have not affirmed, supported, protected, encouraged, equipped and loved our sisters in Christ as the Lord intends for us to do," Norman said. "In many instances, we have hurt our sisters. This is painful, humiliating, embarrassing and convicting; and yet, as we have in the past when our backs are against the wall, we must confess, repent and seek reconciliation."
Baptists should not regard all the challenges in SBC history that spurred prayer "as equal in importance," Norman said.
Still, "it is in these times when we as Baptists, in submission to the lordship of Christ and in obedience to His Word, have humbled ourselves, repented of our sins and sought the face of God," Norman said. "We are a resilient people who have demonstrated the gracious blessings of God to empower and enable us to overcome the most demanding of challenges."
Gaines concluded, "I pray that when we leave Dallas at the close of Wednesday, June 13th, we will all be saying, 'Look what the Lord has done!'" (BP)