Last week, I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas, and had the opportunity to share a vision for a new line of Bible studies available from LifeWay this Fall called Bible Studies for Life. The following is an excerpt of the conversation that took place between Dr. Eric Geiger and I on this new series.
[Eric Geiger] Good afternoon. My name is Eric Geiger. We are really excited to introduce the new Bible Studies for Life to you. We’ve listened to the church and wanted to solve problems, real problems that local churches are having.
First, we believe that the new Bible Studies for Life series is going to help local churches connect the unconnected in their church. As a pastor, one of the most painful moments for me when I preach is when I look out and notice people in the congregation who are not yet connected to a group or not yet connected to a class. And we know this from research; we know that when people get connected they’re much more likely to stick. They’re more likely to serve. They give more generously. They serve more sacrificially. They share the Gospel more. And they’re cared for. They’re cared for more carefully by the Body when they’re connected to a group. And so when I preach, when you preach Pastor, when you see people in your church that are not connected it – it really breaks our heart.
Hebrews 3:13 says “Let us encourage one another daily as long as it is called today so none of us are hardened by sin’s deceit.” In other words, biblical community stops our heart from getting hardened by sin’s deceit. So all these people in our churches that are not connected to a group or to a class, we want to help them. We want to help local churches get these people connected. Dietrich Bonheoffer said this: “Sin demands to have a man by himself it withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.”
So, we believe the new Bible Studies for Life will help churches get people that are not connected, connected into groups. It’s compelling studies that will grab people’s attention. And we’re going to offer free videos with every six sessions so that a church leader can show those videos to try and grab people’s attention, to bring them into a small group.
Secondly, the studies not only help connect the unconnected, but they also help local churches strengthen families. As we’ve listened to local churches here is what we’re hearing. Pastors and church leaders are telling us that their people are going in a plethora of directions and we want to help local church leaders strengthen families. And so Bible Studies for Life Kids, Bible Studies for Life Students, and Bible Studies for Life Adults, those studies are aligned every single week around the same biblical concept so that moms and dads can more easily have discussions with their children and with their students about what the Lord is teaching them. Every single session, the children and the students, will come home with one conversation that the mother and father can have with the children or students so we can help parents have spiritual conversations every single week with their families.
And lastly, we’re hearing from church leaders that they fear that their people, their groups, their classes, are studying in a bunch of different directions and they’re unsure if all of the things they’re presenting to their people are actually making disciples. And so we built the new Bible Studies for Life on this wise discipleship framework. It has been validated by research so we can say with confidence that we’re going to disciple people with wisdom. We want to be able to say and we want you to be able to say, Pastor, as the Apostle Paul said, “I lay a foundation as an expert builder. I didn’t disciple people haphazardly but I disciple people with wisdom.” And so that’s how we designed Bible Studies for Life Kids, Students, and Adults.
I’m going to ask Dr. Ronnie Floyd to join me today. Dr. Floyd is serving as our General Editor for Bible Studies for Life. One of the reasons that we asked him to serve as our editor for this Bible study series is the commitment and the conviction that he has to lead a church. And the reason that the Lord has used him so significantly, I believe, is because he walks so closely with the Lord. When I first went into ministry, one year at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, Dr. Ronnie Floyd preached on prayer and fasting and invited our Convention to pray and fast. I was 19-years-old when the Lord called me into ministry. That message impacted me so much. I’m so grateful for his influence and I’m really honored that he’s a part of this Bible Studies for Life series.
Can you tell us why you feel the Lord led you to be a part of this Bible Studies for Life series, Dr. Floyd?
[Ronnie Floyd] Thank you, Eric, for the privilege. When I heard your heart about designing and launching a curriculum series to go from the church to the church — that encouraged me greatly. And you know, when I think about how Bible Studies for Life is being used right now already — it’s the largest curriculum series that LifeWay produces, it is right now in 30,000 churches, 150,000 small groups, and approximately 1.5 million people per week are already using this curriculum — and when we think about the opportunity to join in partnership with discipling and encouraging churches to use the Word of God to shape the lives of people, I only could say yes.
[Eric Geiger] And one of the things that we’ve talked about, that I know has resonated with you, is as we designed this material we really didn’t want it to come from this big, tall building in Nashville. We really wanted it to come from the heart of local churches. And we tell our team all the time at LifeWay that when the Lord returns — no matter what your view of eschatology is — LifeWay doesn’t exist anymore but the bride of Christ does. And so we want to be the servants, the behind the scenes servants and really allow local church leaders to be the heroes.
So talk to us about your observations as we designed this curriculum, as we designed this new Bible Studies for Life series, about how it really is coming from the church.
[Ronnie Floyd] Well, I’ll tell you Dr. Geiger, one of the things that really encouraged me right up front was that you said, “Ronnie, we’re going to – together with your help and your leadership – we’re going to bring together an advisory team from the church that’s going to tell us how this curriculum needs to be designed.” And let me tell you, we designed this curriculum series, the scope and sequence of it, over three years. We listened to people from all sizes of churches, all kinds of leaders from scholars to local church pastors and ladies in ministry. We heard from all walks, even leading student pastors and ministers of education. And as we gathered there in that particular meeting in Nashville, it was quite amazing.
Your team had already done a lot of work. There was all kind of things on the board already that they saw from their perspective. And within a few hours, your team came back together after listening to us and said, “You know what? We’re going to remember what we did but we’re going to start from scratch again. We have heard you.”
Therefore, I want to assure all of us as Southern Baptists that the Bible Studies for Life series comes from the church to the church. That is very, very important.
We have put together all kinds of leaders, all kinds of pastors, all kinds of people from the church to say to you, we’re going to make a difference for Jesus Christ.
[Eric Geiger] Awesome. Thanks so much – one of the things that I’ve really admired so much from you as I’ve watched your sermons and listened to your sermons is your ability to take the timeless and true, the sacred, infallible, pure, faultless Word of God and apply it to people right where they are — apply it to their life. And that’s the heartbeat behind Bible Studies for Life.
Talk to us about that idea, “where the Bible meets life.”
[Ronnie Floyd] We were in that process of trying to come up with a theme where we could connect all the dots of the lessons, series by series – every one of the series lasts six weeks, some are designed around books of the Bible, some are designed around various themes like stewardship or the Great Commission, or even one of those weeks could go to various social issues, moral issues, or something on our hearts. So I want Southern Baptists to understand this is not about just running after a feel good moment or just designing something that will connect with somebody’s life. Oh no, no, we started from the Word of God and we listened to people and we designed the series around the issues. So thank you for the privilege. This is where the Bible meets life.
On Friday, June 7, I attended the annual Walmart Stockholders’ Meeting and on Tuesday-Wednesday, June 11-12, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Let’s compare the two briefly:
Walmart Southern Baptist Convention
Estimated 15,000 attendees Estimated 5,000 attendees in Houston
Estimated Mtg Time: 3.50 hours Estimated Mtg Time: 19 hours
Largest company in world Largest evangelical denomination in N.A.
The comparisons could be endless, but the above observations are sufficient.
Now a personal word to all of my Southern Baptist friends, I am fully aware Walmart is a corporate community, while the Southern Baptist Convention is a convention of churches intended to be a spiritual force globally.
My goal in this post is NOT to make the Southern Baptist Convention like Walmart; my goal is to give you a few personal observations that we may consider in any conversation about the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.
One other point of clarification: I am a Pastor highly involved and engaged in Southern Baptist life. I am not sitting on the sideline, being critical of who we are, what we do, and where we are going. My church is highly committed to who we are and what we do as Southern Baptists supporting it with time, money, prayer, and focus.
Five Lessons Walmart Could Teach The Southern Baptist Convention About Our Annual Meeting
1. Culture Counts
The culture of Walmart is built around its associates — its employees. The company and culture is not built upon the key leaders, but its 2.2 million employees. Their commitments to serving their customers, respecting all individuals, and striving for excellence exudes in their stockholders’ meeting.
Amazingly, this has built a highly contagious culture, overflowing with enthusiasm, authenticity, and honesty. Walmart believes the biggest difference they can make is how they treat each customer. In fact, a statement was made, “Making the customer #1 is living the culture out loud.” Stated another way, “The biggest difference is how you treat every customer.”
Culture matters at Walmart, and their stockholders’ meeting is all about building upon their culture. Excitement and enthusiasm began before the meeting and continued afterwards. In the words of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, “Happy, Happy, Happy!” That is what I felt and saw everywhere at the Walmart stockholders’ meeting.
2. Mission Matters
The Walmart mission matters and is illustrated continually: “We save people money so they can live better.” They value a one-cent saving to their customers, never minimizing it. This statement is like a trotline through their culture. Everything leads to it and everything flows from it.
3. Simple Story
Walmart has many sub-tribes that comprise the one large tribe. While each has a sub-culture of their own, they all connect with the big Walmart story. While Sam’s Club, Walmart International, Walmart USA, and Walmart Global e-Commerce, all have distinctives, each operate with one story, the Walmart story. Their own stories connect with the overall Walmart Story.
4. Innovation Ignites
Walmart celebrates innovation, doing new things or doing them in a new way. Again, anything that helps promote the mission, “To save people money so they can live better,” is not condemned, but celebrated! When this kind of innovation is celebrated, it ignites more innovation!
5. Effectiveness Excels
The Walmart meeting was effective and when it was over, it bred an effectiveness that excelled! The associates who attended from all over the world along with the stockholders in attendance departed fired up and excited about Walmart and what the company is doing. Whether the story was told via video or in person, it was effective.
Their use of technology was incredible. The unexpected absolutely engaged the crowd, no body in attendance wanted to miss a single thing! The unexpected included Les Miserables’ star Hugh Jackman serving as Master of Ceremonies, Tom Cruise sounding off the Walmart values, and Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson entertaining. Intermingled were reports from their key leaders, each done within eight minutes. The President over all of Walmart gave approximately a 15-minute presentation. The introductions of the key leaders of Walmart were done by who else but their associates, most of whom were hourly employees. Their believability to those in attendance literally made you leave believing their story and mission are imperative to the American free enterprise.
I Wanted to Join
If they had given a public invitation at the conclusion of that meeting, I would have wanted to walk down the aisle and joined Walmart! Yes, their meeting was that believable and effective. The atmosphere was electric. No one left early — everyone was on time and stayed until the end of the meeting. If you had been late, you would have missed something and if you had left early, oh, no one would ever want to do that at a Walmart meeting.
Yes, We Could Go To School
Our Southern Baptist Convention could go to school and learn some things from Walmart to improve our annual meeting. Honestly, I am concerned with our numbers from this year. I would never have thought we would have had just over 5,000 messengers in Houston. In fact, I would have guessed somewhere around 8,000 messengers. There may be several things we can blame the low attendance on, and some may be valid reasons.
Yet, I believe the bigger questions are: Why are several thousands not attending? What are their reasons for not attending? Why do they not see a value in attending? What can we do to improve the convention to engage a greater attendance? Why are we losing all generations and their commitment to this important meeting?
I fully understand we have reporting and business to do, but how can we do it more effectively, in a way that engages thousands. In today’s world, I do believe we could reduce our annual meeting to one day, with all other meetings leading up to that day, never competing with it.
Again, I know we are not Walmart and I do not desire us to be so. Yet, we should continually be evaluating how we conduct our time together annually, in order to more effectively communicate our story as the Southern Baptist Convention. We have a great story to tell and my desire is for all generations to know that story.
These are just a few thoughts from one Pastor, who loves to learn and grow personally and do whatever is necessary to engage more people in our mission. And yes, I do have a few thoughts about what it could be in the future. Perhaps more later.
Yours for the Great Commission,
Ronnie W. Floyd