By Jerry Pierce & Tammi Ledbetter
PHOENIX (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright broke with tradition following his re-election to a second term June 14 as he asked SBC entity leaders Frank Page, Kevin Ezell and Tom Elliff to join him in the customary president’s news conference.
Wright thanked “the people of the convention who felt led for me to serve in this role another year” and noted that Page as Executive Committee president, Elliff as International Mission Board president and Ezell as North American Mission Board president all took office within the past year, marking a historic change of leadership in the SBC.
Wright called for unified support of the three colleagues: “As your president, I am asking Southern Baptists to join me in covering these men in prayer and support as we enter a new era of leadership.”
The annual meeting in Phoenix marked an opportunity for renewed focus on unity rooted in “love for the Lord and in carrying out His Great Commission together,” Wright said. “Unity is a byproduct of being in the will of God and on mission together.”
Noting two crucial challenges before the convention — planting churches in unreached North American areas and engaging unreached people groups internationally — Wright called on Baptist Press and state papers to keep those two issues in front of Southern Baptists.
Wright also asked churches to keep their state conventions informed of new church plants and people groups they engage with the Gospel, “so we can publish reports about what God has accomplished through our churches as we work together.”
Wright said: “The Spirit of the Lord is moving in a unique way in these days, and we hope Southern Baptists will lead the way in building up the Kingdom of God to fulfill our Great Commission.”
Rebekah Kim, who, with her husband Paul, ministers on the Harvard University campus in Boston, asked Elliff about the increased cooperation between the International and North American mission boards approved by messengers June 14. Elliff said he and Ezell would have initiated a greater cooperation between the two boards anyway because they are friends.
“Those of us at the International Mission Board cannot wait to receive the benefit of the expertise the North American Mission Board will bring to our table in terms of church planting,” Elliff said. “And I’m glad that when people give their Cooperative Program dollars, they know they don’t have to separate them up or worry about giving more to the one than to the other. They know they can trust that these agencies are working together.”
In turn, Ezell said he was reading Elliff’s book on prayer last year as he was finishing his tenure as Pastors’ Conference president. He walked off the stage after the Orlando meeting, and checked the voice messages on his phone. The first one was from Elliff.
“I consider him a mentor …,” Ezell said. “We would do this anyway.”
Asked how the four men’s peacemaking personalities would influence Southern Baptists generally, Page replied: “We’re pastors. We’ve learned in church what it takes to get along and what it takes to not get along. And we’re committed to dialoging in the way Christ wants us to. We had enough of church members not doing that, and we’ve seen what happens when disagreements or even differences of opinion or differences of emphasis are dealt with in a Christlike way versus a non-Christlike way. So I hope we are setting examples.”
Page also fielded two questions about the emphasis on ethnic diversity in the SBC, noting that two decades ago Time magazine identified Southern Baptists as the most ethnically diverse denomination. Even so, “we’ve got a long way to go,” Page said.
Some ethnic Southern Baptists have been “reluctant to step up to the plate” in leadership roles, Page added, while others have not participated heavily in the Cooperative Program, and yet others have not felt like “full partners” in a Anglo-dominant convention.
Calling the 2011 meeting a watershed time, Page said, “I think Southern Baptists have taken a bold step to say we do care about every ethnicity, every group, and we want to move past just saying nice things, to full involvement.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor and Tammi Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.