Being “Young” and Southern Baptist?
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Here’s another rerun of a recent post by JD about the SBC:
Recently my friend Ed Stetzer released a Lifeway study
showing that the Southern Baptist Convention actually declined in
membership in the past year. Ed (together with Southern Baptist
president Frank Page) caution Southern Baptists that this probably
reflects a drift of the “younger” generation of Southern Baptists away
from the SBC. Ed’s research is convincing… he shows that this is a 50
year trend, not just a one year blip. Ed ends the article with a very
penetrating question, “Now is the moment for us to hone our vision and
take on a bigger
battle—we must battle to build upon our Conservative Resurgence and
make it a Great Commission Resurgence… If we don’t, why did we bother
with the Conservative Resurgence in the first place?”
missionally with the Southern Baptist Convention because we believe
unified effort between Gospel-loving churches increases our
effectiveness in church planting, leadership training, and public
witness. The blessing and curse of my generation seems to be an
independent, can-do spirit when it comes to mission. I just finished
reading Stephen Neill’s A History of Christian Missions, and
one of the points he makes is that though Protestants have historically
been extremely zealous for missions, we often have charged into
unreached areas like Lone Rangers with no sense of who else was doing
what for the cause of Christ there. Because of our lack of cooperation,
we have often repeated easily avoidable mistakes and caused unnecessary
chaos in the fields they we are trying to reach. Therefore we (the
Summit Church), through the SBC, want to link up with missional, like
minded churches for the purpose of mission. Ed’s call is a timely one and one that I believe we absolutely must heed.
I do know some “younger” Southern Baptists who have left the
Convention, or, having stayed, involve themselves in it only minimally.
I’ll try to make this short and to the point:
- Misplaced focus on priorities other than the Gospel.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is our statement of belief, and its
beauty is that it is specific enough to define us as a Gospel-faithful
people, and broad enough to tolerate acceptable diversity among us.
“Southern Baptist” should not indicate a style of worship or a
political platform or interpretation about issues of Christian freedom
or a stance on the finer theological points of Calvinism or even one’s
position on minor spiritual gifts. The Convention exists for a shared
mission around the Gospel. When minor things (such as the ones I
listed) become major things, then the mission itself becomes minor.
When that happens, many Gospel-loving people look to better
organizations to facilitate their cooperation in mission. We need to
renew our commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 as the
substance of our unity.
- Failure to distinguish between necessary cultural adaptation and real worldliness: In
an attempt to separate Christian witness from the pollution of the
world, some Southern Baptists have mistaken a cultural preference for
faithfulness to the Gospel. We have assumed that faithfulness to the
Gospel meant a certain style of music, a certain tradition of worship,
a certain method of evangelism, even a certain tone of voice and a
certain coiffed hairstyle. Most Southern Baptist churches are a
beautiful blend of the 16th and 17th centuries. The tragedy in this is
that in those places where we absolutely SHOULD NOT look like the
world–specifically how we treat money, power, and outsiders, we look
just like the world–like Samson, we have not only failed to “overcome”
the Philistine culture, we have absorbed their values and look just
like them in the places we are supposed to be distinct. Many younger
Southern Baptists have seen that in order to reach their culture they
were going to have to change some of their methods and traditions. No
doubt they (and I) have made mistakes in attempting this, but some
older Southern Baptists have mistakenly insisted that we hold on to
some things that have nothing to do with the Gospel. If given the
choice between effective Gospel ministry and Southern Baptist
traditions which have nothing to do with the essence of the Gospel,
many younger pastors will choose (correctly) the Gospel.
- Bad parachurchism: OK, I totally made that term
up. But here’s what I mean: there is good parachurch and bad
parachurch. GOOD parachurch ministries FACILITATE the ministry of the
church. A good parachurch ministry attempts to be a resource to the
local church through which the church can do her ministry more effectively. BAD parachurch takes ministry from a local church and does it for her. Bad parachurch says, “Give us money and people and we’ll do ministry for you.”
SBC was born out of the “good parachurch” model: the agencies of the
Convention facilitated the ministries of local churches. Local churches
led in the ministry, the Convention served the initiatives of those churches—
but it was the local churches that took the lead and got things done.
Over time, it appears that some parts of the SBC have shifted into ‘bad
parachurch’ mode. They expect the local churches to turn over resources
so the agencies can do the work. Burgeoning bureaucracies were created
that basically duplicated what was to be happening in the local church.
We, the local church, are to give our money and be happy with the
results, and scolded for not giving properly.
Some missional churches are not actively participating in the Convention because they don’t see the SBC helping them
(that is, the local church) fulfill the call God has given to that
local church to plant churches. Sure, sometimes “younger” pastors don’t
give because they are arrogant, shortsighted and don’t see the value of
cooperation. Often, however, it’s because they are not convinced
the SBC is best channel for fulfilling their calling to reproduce and
multiply. And this is, in part, because they see the Convention taking ministry initiative away from the churches.(Of
course, there are some things local churches can’t do
effectively… for example, most churches cannot house a an
academically credentialed seminary… and for that we
are happy to turn over the role to a Convention agency. We should not,
however, relinquish the responsibility to raise up and train
Many of these new churches are simply not going to give to the SBC
out of a sense of loyalty. They are going to give to the SBC when they
see that this is the most effective way of accomplishing the call
placed on them to plant churches and transform their cities. Many
“younger” pastors are more committed to the call of God to plant
churches than they are to the Convention, and this, in my opinion, is
not a bad thing. When the Convention reveals that it is the best
investment for assisting the local churches in training leaders,
planting churches, and doing the work of God in the world, that is when
many of the “younger” pastors will give their money and involvement to
the work of the SBC.
We, the Summit Church, give
somewhere around 21% of our budget outside of our church to
evangelism, community ministry, and church planting work. We give a
significant portion of that to the Convention because we do see the
value in cooperation
and shared resources. We know that whenever you cooperate not
everything will be done exactly as we like it, and we are ok with that.
We send out most of our teams under the direction of the IMB and try to
give generously to the IMB for that purpose.
We also recognize, however, that the Summit Church will answer to God personally for His command on us to
multiply and grow, and so we prudently evaluate how effectively the
money we give to church planting efforts is helping us to fulfill OUR
calling to plant churches. We are more committed to the call of
God on us than to a “denominational giving program.” As the Convention helps us fulfill our calling, we will participate in it.
I do believe that as the SBC refocuses itself on the priority of the
Gospel, majoring on it and not on other minor (though important)
things, and that as it continually realigns itself to catalyze the work
of local churches, we will see more “younger” Southern Baptists happy
to remain a part of this great mission organization.