Convention sermon: Inserra says ‘cloud of witnesses’ should spur Southern Baptists to gospel endurance


INDIANAPOLIS — Dean Inserra said “football nerds” like him watch with great interest every February as football players showcase what they can do at the NFL Combine, which takes place in Indianapolis just down the street from where Southern Baptists held this year’s annual meeting.

“One of the events during the Combine that fans pay attention to is the 40-yard dash,” said Inserra, pastor of City Church Tallahassee in Florida, as he preached the convention sermon Wednesday, June 12. “The athlete competing for his NFL future runs as fast as he can for 40 yards alone, not racing anyone or anything but the timer clock, trying to run the fastest 40-yard dash of his life in front of watching pro scouts from all 32 NFL teams.”

But it doesn’t matter how hard they try — it’s almost guaranteed they will never run their best possible 40-yard dash, Inserra said.

He said it’s because they’re running alone.

“Running with someone in the lane next to you causes you to have to keep up, and it pushes you all the way to the finish line,” he said.

The knowledge and awareness of someone beside them pushes runners to race harder and faster than they would on their own, Inserra said.

That’s the picture in Hebrews 12:1–3, he said — the large crowd of witnesses running ahead of and alongside followers of Christ reminds the original audience “and us that we are not alone.”

“Their races are already completed, and their instruction, teachings and, yes, even mistakes remind, encourage and push us to run our race as well and to not get entangled by sin as the enemy is so committed to get us off track,” Inserra said.

The passage also offers the reminder that the race of faith isn’t a 40-yard dash — it’s one that has to be run with endurance, he said.

“How blessed are we as Southern Baptists to run in such a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us? Those who have held the line for the Bible, the truth of the gospel and the priority of the Great Commission,” he said. “My generation of pastors in the SBC was born on theological third base, and we are well aware that we did not hit a triple. Thank you, those who have gone before.”

Inserra went on to quote the wisdom of many SBC leaders in that “cloud” who have already passed on, leaders like Basil Manly Jr., who was instrumental in forming the first Southern Baptist seminary.

“He wrote that if we want to be mighty in God’s work, we’ve got to be mighty in God’s Word,” Inserra said.

A recent addition to the cloud — Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, before his death in 2023 — wrote that “when believers use erasers where the Bible uses permanent ink, we get blurred lines, blurred theology and errant application.”

Inserra also quoted Bertha Smith, Billy Graham, Annie Armstrong and others and said:

“Yes, it is to Christ that the cloud points us as we run our races together. We are to glance at the cloud running alongside of us and remember they are flawed, all of them.” 

In Hebrews 11, men like Moses, Samson and David need the grace of God just as much as believers today, Inserra said. “And that’s the point. They went forward by faith because those witnesses are not just pointing us somewhere but to Someone, and His name is Jesus Christ.”

As he continued to walk through the “SBC cloud,” he shared thoughts from past leaders like Adrian Rogers and W.A. Criswell, and he challenged Southern Baptists to hold fast to God’s word and be urgent in His mission.

“I believe if we run our race rightly and faithfully, we will see health in two areas of our churches and our convention as a whole,” Inserra said.

He said author and pastor Ray Ortlund has “written very well” about those two things — strong gospel doctrine and strong gospel culture. 

“Jesus fully embodied both,” Inserra said. “When we run our race toward Jesus, we believe strong doctrine and healthy culture are the exact same road.”

A negative gospel culture can make Southern Baptists weary and lead them to become bitter and lose hope, he said. “How can it not when there’s constant infighting? … It does something to you.”

He said the next generation of pastors, seminary students, church planters and missionaries “don’t want to be part of a fuzzy gospel doctrine or a lack of gospel culture.”

“I am not really concerned about whether or not the world is watching. I’m much more concerned about if our own young people, the future, will think this effort is worth it,” Inserra said of the SBC.

He said he himself gets tired sometimes in Southern Baptist life, but ultimately it is worth it because of Christ and because of the cloud. Christ and His mission are worth it, he said.

“Even though God doesn’t need the SBC to accomplish his redemptive purposes around the world, He’s allowed us by His hand and power to be the greatest missionary force when the race of faith is focused on Jesus and paved with gospel culture and gospel doctrine,” Inserra said.

The urgency for the Great Commission must be a normal thing again, he said. “The SBC is in a season of being weary. We may have won the battle for the Bible, but let’s not lose our joy on the side streets.”

Southern Baptists can be united together as long as the path of Christ leads them, he said. “Let’s keep running our race.”


This story first appeared in The Baptist Paper.