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This is a guest post from seminary student and first-time SBC messenger, Meredith Cooper. She shares her first impressions of the Southern Baptist Convention as someone who had never attended before. For all of you who have never been, this is what you can expect.

Last week, I attended the Southern Baptist Convention for the first time. While I am not new to the SBC—I grew up in an SBC church and now attend an SBC seminary—I did not consider myself immersed in the denomination until last year when I became a full-time employee of the seminary. As I learned more about the inner workings and politics of our denomination, I have to admit that my perception was less than positive. There were various reasons, ranging from sheer lack of interest in anything political to focusing on the wrong things to simple misunderstanding. However, attending the annual meeting last week put things in perspective, and these are some things I learned.

We are blessed with good leaders.

We have great leaders in Frank Page, David Platt, Russ Moore, Kevin Ezell, Thom Rainer, our seminary presidents, and others. These men sacrifice a lot to lead our convention. They are kept busy, often away from their families, and they deal with a lot of criticism from both outside and inside our denomination. These men work really hard to lead our denomination well. This, of course, does not mean that we should place them on a pedestal. Like the rest of us, they are fallen, sinful, and they put their pants on the same way we do. While we do not necessarily need to agree with everything they do or say, we should respect and pray for them.  I believe the Lord has raised and equipped these men to take on these roles. We should both support and keep them accountable as they attempt these difficult tasks.

There is more encouragement than discouragement.

A friend who has attended the convention before told me that it was the most encouraged and discouraged she has ever felt at the same time. After sitting in on the business meetings at this year’s convention, I understood what she meant. Because the convention allows for any messenger to offer comments and questions at a microphone (provided there is time for them to do so), things can get interesting. There were some things said with which I wholeheartedly disagreed and by which I was discouraged. However, these were in the minority. As a whole, the denomination made some great decisions that move us in the right direction. I left encouraged by our denomination as they unified around some important issues. In a room of 7,000+ messengers from local churches all across the country, it is impossible that all of these will agree with each other and there will unfortunately be some who speak out of anger or fear. If we focus on those, however, it will be easy to become jaded. Yes, some speak out publicly whose opinions do not line up with biblical principles. It can be disheartening to hear people speak out of anger, fear, judgment, arrogance, etc. However, these are just individuals. They do not represent the collective heart of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it is the collective group of people who make the decisions. At this year’s convention, those who spoke brashly were not supported by the whole. Instead, the majority of messengers chose to support motions and resolutions that will move our denomination in a positive direction. Let’s choose to focus on the majority and the good. It far outweighed the bad.

It is important for us to be involved.

It is easy to be disinterested in the business affairs of the Southern Baptist Convention. Whether it comes from from laziness, apathy, embarrassment, ignorance, etc, many of us—especially in our generation— are not very involved in SBC life as a whole. I certainly was not very involved. However, after attending and participating in the convention, I realized the importance of what goes on during those business meetings and the part I play in them. As a messenger from my local church, I had a responsibility to represent it well by voting on resolutions and motions that will impact our entire denomination. As part of the “younger” generation, I now see the importance of involvement in the denomination as a whole. One day, some of us will be leaders. We should take advantage of the time we have now to learn from those who are currently leading, who have wisdom and years of experience. There is not a cooperation of churches quite like the Southern Baptist Convention and it is a great thing to be a part of. We need to take responsibility for being involved now, so that we can be equipped to participate and lead in it later.