Observations from the 2023 SBC

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  • I was on a panel in which the question was asked, “How will you talk to your congregation about this SBC meeting?” Other pastors shared the systematic ways they discuss SBC life with their church families. 

    The happenings in the Southern Baptist Convention are not a regular part of my congregation’s discussions. But I would like to comment on what I experienced at this year’s SBC. That is the point and purpose of this article. 

    SBC New Orleans 

    Bart Barber, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, won reelection as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. To watch him lead the convention, you would soon understand why. Barber moderated with grace and wisdom. I think the convention is in good hands under his leadership for another year. 

    All in all, I left the 2023 SBC hopeful and encouraged. Sure, there were things said and done we should not be proud of. So it is with every family. Imagine how much more that is the case when more than 12,000 family members get together to have difficult conversations on important subjects. 

    Beyond the people factor, we must not neglect the reality of spiritual warfare. The SBC is the largest missionary sending, church planting, theological training, relief providing, and gospel-proclaiming Protestant denomination in America. Satan would do whatever is necessary to halt the good work the SBC is doing to advance the kingdom of God. Watch and pray. 

    Most of my meals were on the go – before, between, or after meetings. But I did not have a bad meal at any restaurant I visited in New Orleans. No, not one!  

    SBC Pastors Conference

    The Southern Baptist Convention begins each year with a pastor’s conference. Daniel Dickerson, a young, non-megachurch pastor, led this year’s conference. He led the conference well, powerful messages were delivered, and hundreds of pastors were edified and encouraged. 

    The theme of the conference was “The Beatitudes of the Pastor.” It was my privilege to give the final message Monday evening from Matthew 5:10-12. I am grateful and humbled by the opportunity to serve fellow pastors through the ministry of the word. 

    NAMB & IMB 

    Why bother with the SBC? That question is answered when you hear reports from the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board. 

    Since 2010, NAMB has planted 10,000 churches in North America. Eighty-six percent of these church plants survived to become stable congregations. The bulk of these new churches are non-white. Within a few years, there will be no majority ethnic group in the SBC. 

    The IMB commissioned 79 new missionaries. Some were introduced behind screens to protect the identities of missionary families who are going to places where it is illegal to preach the gospel or where their safety will be in jeopardy. 

    SBC Seminaries

    The six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention are at the top of the list of the strongest and largest seminaries in the world. Each seminary president reported on their respective academic institutions’ ongoing health and strength. The critical role SBC seminaries play in training the next generation of Christian leaders is unquestionable and undeniable. 

    After the convention, the New Orleans Baptist Seminary dedicated its new student life center named after Dr. Fred Luter, longtime pastor of Franklyn Avenue Baptist Church, a senior sage of New Orleans religious life, and the first Black president of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

    Sexual Abuse

    A third church was dismissed for hiring a pastor guilty of sexual absuse.

    During the 2022 SBC, the messengers (voting representatives of affiliated churches) voted to start a task force to help the SBC respond better to cases of sexual abuse in local churches. That task force was affirmed and given more time to do its work. It also launched a new website that will serve as a database to inform churches of convicted or credibly accused ministers. I pray this helps to protect local churches from spiritual predators. 

    Women in Ministry 

    The biggest news from the 2023 SBC is the expulsion of two congregations for having women in pastoral roles. The news received greater attention because one of the churches was Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. 

    The SBC took steps to clarify and confirm its theological position that the office of pastor is reserved for qualified men. And that no SBC-affiliated churches should appoint, affirm, or employ women in any pastoral roles. 

    These acts may seem controversial to some. But it should surprise anyone that the SBC is complementarian. And it is dishonest to act like complementarian is not a biblical teaching. 

    Complementarianism teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of the church. And Christ exercises his authority over the church through a plurality of godly, qualified men. This has been the biblical and historic position of the church, including (especially, maybe) Baptist churches. 

    Those who have changed their beliefs about whether women may serve in pastoral roles (egalitarians) embrace a new normal in the Christian church. If they are not humble and honest, they should not condemn those who do not affirm women pastors, even if they vehemently disagree. 

    “Whatever is not of faith is sin,” wrote Paul (Romans 14:23). It is wrong to go against your doctrinal convictions for any reason. Thus, I think it is good, right, and wise that the SBC draw a line in the same and be clear about where it stands on this matter. To reach the world we live in, we need a clear theology of biblical manhood and womanhood, which also includes a biblical understanding of the role of men and women in local church ministry. 

    While I applaud the SBC for affirming its biblical teaching and practices; however, I am saddened by how it went down. As a young pastor in California, I was helped in many ways by the ministry of Rick Warren and Saddleback Church. That disagreements resulted in such a public divorce is no reason to celebrate. May the Lord bless us to go forward in truth and love.


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.