The 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference, contrary to some misinformation, is scheduled to occur June 13–14 in Nashville, but it will take on a different style.
“There will be a Pastors Conference; it has not been suspended. The Pastors Conference will be led by our two mission entities: the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board,” explained Pastors Conference President David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando.
Uth, in an interview with TAB Media’s Jennifer Davis Rash, said the recorded Zoom video interview “gives me a chance to get the truth out there because there have been a lot of things that have been misunderstood and certainly misrepresented.”
The theme for the 2021 Pastors Conference is Together on Mission, a theme intended to rally Southern Baptists around the mission of being “Great Commission people,” he said.
Controversy in 2020
This year’s Pastors Conference follows a contentious response to last year’s event, with many questioning Uth’s lineup of speakers, which included one Southern Baptist pastor who some considered to be “a little too aggressive in evangelism,” as well as a woman speaker who, along with her husband, serves as a pastor in a California church. The Pastors Conference, launched in 1951, has had women speak in the past, Uth said, “but the word didn’t get out. But this time it did.”
The controversy led to a weighty decision.
“The Executive Committee made a decision that they were going to demand of us that we change our program or they would withhold the opportunity [for the Pastors Conference] to use the facility” where the event would be held.
Uth believes such a demand was “unprecedented. I think it was the first time they’ve ever done something like that.” In response, Uth called on his church members and pastors across the nation to 40 days of prayer as part of the decision-making process.
“Before the 40 days were over, COVID hit,” and the SBC annual meeting as well as the Pastors Conference were both canceled, he explained.
The Pastors Conference controversy “wasn’t the start of the problem,” Uth said. It simply revealed division within the SBC.
“The theme of the conference last year was going to be Love One Another. What I experienced and what I saw happening would be the opposite of Love One Another,” he said.
Such a response “let me know we really have some issues right now that have taken us away from the mission. I’m not even sure the mission was on the radar.”
Uth’s one-year term as president of the SBC Pastors Conference was extended another year, giving the megachurch pastor another crack at planning the annual event.
Circumstances surrounding the planned 2020 event, he determined, “threatened a sense of unity” among Southern Baptists, with many people calling for uniformity. “We’ve never been a convention of uniformity,” he said, but the convention has long been unified in its mission.
“We need to come together; we need to celebrate who we are as Southern Baptists and Great Commission Baptists. We need to rally around our mission,” he said.
IMB and NAMB involved in planning
He called on Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB, and Paul Chitwood, president of IMB, to “encourage pastors to come back to the mission, rally around the mission,” and the idea of using NAMB’s Send Conference format as the Pastors Conference program was birthed.
The newly designed 2021 Pastors Conference will “unite us around our mission of taking the gospel to the world,” he hopes. The program, although planned and executed by the two Southern Baptist missions boards, will include a time for Pastors Conference business and officer election. What will happen in 2022 related to the program of the Pastors Conference will be up to the next president, Uth noted.
Still, Pastors Conference leaders need clarification and structural guidance moving forward, Uth said.
“We have to reevaluate the protocol of the Pastors Conference and … how it’s supposed to operate alongside the convention. We need documents that define what the Pastors Conference is and how it should operate. I don’t want any president in the future to have to go through what I went through,” Uth said.
One specific question that needs to be answered, Uth said, is, “Does the Pastors Conference have freedom, or is it under the jurisdiction of the Executive Committee? If it’s under the jurisdiction, then they need to plan it. If they’re going to question everything on it, then they need to plan it. … I feel like we’ve got way too much ambiguity. It’s going to help us if we can nail some of that down and clarify exactly how Pastors Conference exists alongside the convention.”
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