First of all, let me say that of all the downtown areas that I have ever been in, Jacksonville is definitely one of the nicest. The city was extraordinarily clean last year because of the SuperBowl being here, but I had my suspicions that would change this year. Not so. Jacksonville is still an extremely well-kept, if not gigantic, downtown area. With the bridges over St. Johns and the riverwalk setting, it is a wonderful location for a conference.
Friday night was devoted entirely to honoring Dr. Vines and his ministry at Jax. It was a stirring tribute to a man who has made a significant impact in shaping the SBC as we know it today. His life was quickly retold through video montages that featured old church members and people that he had impacted in ministry. All of them talked about Dr. Vines ability to preach the word and many spoke of the impact of expository preaching on their lives. Even if you had never known anything of the man, one thing was clear. This was a preacher of the Word of God.
The music was well done as always. It was all pretty much Southern Gospel, which was no surprise, but the preparation of the choir and orchestra always astound me. They do what they do very well. The culmination of the service was a huge torch (I'm talking 50 ft.) being lit and the choir holding up lights while singing "I will carry the torch!" It ending with all the lights going off except for a few lights in the middle forming a cross.
Some initial reactions:
- One of our party remarked on the color of the hair in the auditorium. From our perch in the balcony, we did seem to have a birds-eye-view. He was trying to illustrate that there were very few young people in attendance. I do not know the ratio of young to old, but it certainly does seem to be leaning to one side. I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing, but I'll explain that later. In all fairness, I have seen a great many young men and women at this conference.
- There is a definite sense of the sensational to the music and performances. Jax is known for wowing it's attendee's with big, show-stopping numbers complete with enormous props (see giant torch above). This is not necessarily a problem, but it does seem a little garish- although my personality does play into my thoughts on this a great deal. I'll also say a little more about this later.
- I am not all that impressed with the conference seminars. It is a conference centered on instructing people on how to implement and maintain programs in the church. Very few conferences deal with actually teaching the bible, or have anything to do with finding biblical solutions to current trends and cultural problems.
- There was a lot of talk about Dr. Vines being a part of the conservative resurgence of the SBC. That is certainly a good thing, but I did wonder as we got back to the room about the sufficiency of the word in the church. This thought coupled with an obviously aging demographic for the conference got me wondering about discipleship...
All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves. Yet I think it goes without saying that there seems to be very little on the agenda this year that hasn't already had a hearing. My assumption is that we will hear very much the same kind of rhetoric and "pep-rally" preaching that we heard last year. It just seems that no one else is really bothered by that.