The New, Young Southern Baptist: Orthodox, Connected, Unconventional

If 35 still counts as young, I am a young Southern Baptist pastor. I’m not sure it does, but whenever I’m at Southern Baptist events people are always calling me “son” and “boy.” :)

In all this talk about what a young Southern Baptist pastor is, or is not, there are 3 words that come to mind… I have not been appointed spokesmen for anybody, but I’d say these things are fairly representative of the many I interact with, and many that I see coming out of Southeastern and other great Southern Baptist seminaries:

Orthodox

We are very conservative. We believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. We believe in the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. We believe God has given complementary roles for men and women in the church and home, and that men should lead in these arenas. We know this is unpopular, but we don’t care. We believe abortion and homosexuality are sin, though Christ loves the homosexual and the abortionist just like He loves us. We think we must first preach against our own sins and secondarily those of others. We are still fairly politically conservative. However, belonging to one political party and having the right checklist of things to tick at the polls are no longer defining issues for us. We believe in expository, Gospel centered, prophetic, hard hitting, relevant, deep, culturally sensitive and counter cultural preaching. We believe that God wants to establish His church in every nation on earth, and we’re doggedly committed to international church planting. We believe Jesus is coming back and we want to get everyone, including ourselves, ready. We believe the local church is the only God-given institution in the New Testament, chosen and ordained by Him to accomplish His Kingdom work on earth. Most of us are still fairly socially conservative, believing, for example, that drinking alcohol is an unwise decision, but we don’t believe that it is sin in and of itself, and don’t want to make it a defining issue of fellowship. We want the Gospel to be our center, and we believe the Baptist Faith and Message sets an appropriate doctrinal parameter for cooperation in ministry.

We’re not angry about these things. We hold them dearly, but we’re ready to move on to winning our communities for Christ. Johnny Hunt gave a group of us a great illustration the other day. He said that in Vietnam, after a platoon had taken a hill, there was a temptation to sit back and simply maintain that occupied hill. This was disastrous, however. It disengaged you from the real battle and led you to focus on secondary matters. You are not there to occupy, you are there to take new hills.

We are grateful for those who have helped establish the orthodox faith in our churches, but we are ready to go take some new hills. There’s lots and lots and lots of lost people. We recognize that our enemy will never relent in attacking our foundation, and when opportunity arises where we need to defend our core doctrines, we will, by God’s grace, defend them just as our fathers have done.

Connected

We believe that cooperation and networking between churches are necessary for success in every generation. We learned that from the SBC. The first place we usually look for that network is fellow Southern Baptists, because they believe much like we do.

However, we recognize that denominations are not “biblical” institutions. The only institution of the New Testament is the local church. Denominations, however, are not “unbiblical,” either. They are simply networks. Denominations, in that way, are simply tools to help the local church accomplish her mission. If the tool is rusty, you have to decide whether to throw away the tool or sharpen it. That’s what we’re wondering about the Southern Baptist Convention. Many of us see that it is the most expansive, well-resourced network for the accomplishment of the worldwide Great Commission on earth. But we will not remain faithful to the Convention just because our parents were in it or because we’ve had a great 150 years. We love our Bibles and the ministry of our local churches too much for that. We will stay in the Convention if it is a functional, efficient network for accomplishing the mission given to our local churches, i.e. the planting of more churches.

In the 1970’s, when you gave $1 to the Cooperative Program of the SBC, most of it never got to the mission field, but instead got sucked into liberal agendas and institutions. That was unacceptable, and there was (thank God) a conservative resurgence that changed that. Today, however, when you give $1 to the Cooperative Program, an imbalanced proportion it gets sucked into bureaucratic costs. I suppose that is better than getting funneled into liberalism, but the point is IT IS STILL NOT MAKING IT TO THE MISSION FIELD (or to help future pastors go to seminary, etc), THE REASON(S) FOR WHICH WE GAVE IT. I think you will find fewer and fewer of us willing to fund bureaucracy out of filial loyalty. We’re grateful for our heritage, and owe the SBC a lot, but not as much as we owe Jesus and lost people (Romans 1:14). Our first loyalty is to our mission.

We live in flat world where the internet makes “tribes” (think Seth Godin) easy to form, which makes local associations and denominational loyalty not as necessary as it used to be. But we really, really want to be connected to others who believe like we do in order to plant churches–and the Baptist Faith and Message is the best reflection of our beliefs, so we really would like for the SBC to be the primary network we can work through. We want to be connected, but if the SBC doesn’t provide that for us, we turn to any other number of available “tribes” out there.

Unconventional

What I’ve said above makes us, I guess, “unconventional.” We are conservatively orthodox and practically connected, which is, I believe, the essence of the SBC spirit given to us by our fathers. But we won’t do SBC just because it’s the “conventional” thing to do.

Furthermore, some of our ministry “style” may appear different than how our fathers did it. Sometimes we will get things wrong. We need an older generation to mentor us, guide us, correct us… but let us put the wine of the Gospel into new wineskins.

We are grateful for the 1950’s but know they are not coming back. We are called to reach people today. Why should the Gospel for this generation be put in the clothes of the previous generation? We want to take the wisdom, good tradition, and belief structure of our Southern Baptist parents and re-express it in its counter-cultural, revolutionary form for today. We may not look just like our parents, but we believe like them. We are not content to mimic the forms of God’s movement yesterday. We want to experience our own movement today.

The race we are trying to win is not ascendancy in SBC politics, but to win the lost. As Paul instructed us to, we will shed everything that weighs us down in that race (1 Cor 9:19-27). The SBC has been helpful for the cause of the Gospel in the past, we hope that it can be so for the future.

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  10Comments

  1. Bill Poore   •  

    You said,today,when you give $1 to the Cooperative Program, most of it gets sucked into bureaucratic costs.
    However,The C.P.enables many young pastors to attend a Southern Baptist Seminary at a reduced rate.If every church followed the example of President Johnny Hunt this would not be possible.I am grateful for many young pastors that I know are not attempting to “Redefine the Southern Baptist Convention.”

  2. myLIFEspeaks   •  

    well said. 35 and the name boy or son are so true. as someone who has been a part of an SBC church for 36 years, i can agree with every word written. the politics and “ladder-climbing” finally have gotten to me. i served on the staff of an SBC church for the past 15 years and have endured enough for 5 lifetimes of “junk.” threats, anger, lawsuits, my kids getting yelled at by others who thought i was “heretic” and everything else. i have had to fight to get through the red tape of “missions” more than once…struggling to know why someone on the ground in a foreign country couldn’t receive our help because they weren’t apart of our denomination. i believe so much in the BIBLICAL stance and i so wish we could put to death our stances and fights on anything outside the Biblical parameter and let Christ be exalted…but that seems more and more like a pipe dream.

    thanks for a well-written statement. i concur! it’s put up or shut up (on the BIBLE alone) time for so many of us.

    btw, we attend a non-denominational church now and the detox has been good. i still love my SBC family, but i see ministry done on a regular basis now. sometimes its good to step back and truly observe.

  3. Roger Simpson   •  

    I’ve only discovered your BtT site in the last few months. I appreciate the thoughtful discourse around here regarding the SBC and the shape that it is in.

    Yesterday, I took my wife to a health food store on the corner of NW63rd and May in Oklahoma City. When we go there we go by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma HQ building which is on May just a couple of blocks south of I-44. That building is a SIX STORY building. As we went by there, I was thinking about several comments here on BtT regarding that fact that quite a bit of CP money never gets outside the state where it is given. There were at least 50 cars in the parking lot of that building. Probably some of them were visitors and unpaid volunteers but most of them were probably on the staff of the BGCO.

    The BGCO has a number of “specialists” that assist in various ministry aspects in Oklahoma. The BGCO owns/operates a camp called Falls Creek. The BGCO has a number of homes for youth such as the “Boys Ranch”.

    All of the funding for these operations DOES NOT come from CP funds. Falls Creek charges those who attend the various youth camps. Also, people give money to finance huge capital campaigns. Just a few weeks ago in the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger there was a story about an anonymous gift of $1,000,000 to pay for part of the construction cost of the new “tabernacle” at Falls Creek.

    The BGCO has the “singing churchman” and the “singing churchwomen” which consists of singers from churches all over Oklahoma. They are not on the BGCO payroll but some of their costs or staffing are probably borne by the BGCO.

    The BGCO has a couple of people who do news operations including publishing the Baptist Messenger. However the Messenger does sell subscriptions and ads which pay for at least part of the cost of publishing it.

    Here are the titles of some people who are on the payroll of the BGCO that I gleaned from just one issue (April 9, 2009) of the Baptist Messenger:

    Executive Director-Treasurer

    Managing Editor

    Associate Editor

    Advertising Manager

    Senior Associate Executive Director

    Director of Stewardship/Cooperative Program/associational relations (that is all one title)

    BGCO Student Ministry and Education Specialist

    College director for Oklahoma City college campuses — OSU-OKC, Rose State, OCU and OU Heath Sciences Center. According to the article on page 5 of April 9th Messenger describing this work on OKC area college campuses it states that “the Cooperative Program not only pays his salary and program expenses [the college director] but also has made it possible to add another person for the five campuses. The CP dollar stretches farther and reaches more people than any other dollar given.”

    Also, I know that the BGCO has a “Men’s Ministry Specialist” because I know him personally

    I don’t agree that all the people that work in this building and/or for the BGCO elsewhere are “bureaucracy”. In fact, I know some of these people personally and they are doing first class work.

    I don’t know if the state conventions should cut back on ministires and manpower to beef up the seminaries and the IMB or not. That question is way over my pay grade. But I think it is obvious that running the state conventions associated with the SBC requires more than pocket change.

  4. Roger Simpson   •  

    I was not going to say anything more about CP giving and where it goes “within state boundries”. However, there are a few “major” items that should be included.

    This is a quote from last week’s Messenger [April 2, 2009], “[CP giving] . . . also provide[s] funding for the matching retirement contributions provided to qualifying ministers in the Chruch Retirement Plan, partial funding for disability and survivor protection benefits for qualifying church employees in the Church Retirement Plan and partial funding for the BGCO Regional Tax Seminars”. To some extent, the BGCO serves like a human resources department for pastors and church staff in the state of Oklahoma. The person who administers this for the BGCO is an “information services specialist”. In addition to handling matters relating to retirement and insurance for churches he also handles the compliation of the Annual Church Profile from Oklahoma.

    Also there is a “Childhood Ministry specialist” with the BGCO who does things such as set up training for VBS teachers in various places throughout the state.

    Another person at the BGCO is a “prayer and spiritual awakening specialist”

    My bottom line: don’t give me the job of trying to cut back on ‘bureaucracy’ here in Oklahoma that is ‘diverting CP dollars’ because that would be one tough job.

    I’m one BtT reader who would like to see a worked out example of eliminating ‘bureaucracy’ in the state conventions. One thing I think could be done away with is the preparation of the Annual Church Profile. Here in Oklahoma that would save less than one man-month of labor cost borne by CP gifts per year.

  5. Seminary Student   •  

    Roger,
    The BGCO actually has 100+ people on their staff. See http://www.bgco.org/5303 read through the list of titles. I don’t think J.D. is trying to pull the rug out from under State Conventions but in 2008 over 280 million dollars was kept by the State Conventions. Add those ministries to the work being done by churches and the work being done by NAMB and it is hard to argue that there is not duplication and over weight bureaucracy. According to the Joshua Project there are 2.7 billion unreached people alive today. I’m sure the BGCO and other State Conventions are doing work among some of those but my conscience can not get around the amount of money spent here in the States when so many elsewhere have absolutely no gospel access.

    Bill,
    I am thankful for young pastor who are trying to reform and fine tune the SBC. We have been plateaued for years and according to LifeWay are now in decline. Or read Frank Page in the “Incredible Shrinking Church.” Why not be open to reassessment?

  6. I concur with your observations. Thanks for putting some of my feelings into writing. I have a varied background in Baptist life and have been a Southern Baptist for 25 years (I am 45 and an SEBTS grad) and went through the resurgence without understanding it all at the time. There are times that I am proud to call myself part of the SBC; there are times when I look at the current state of the SBC and wonder why it is this way.

    Church-work, church-politics and convention bureaucracy have my stomach turned at the moment. I can’t believe how much money and energy is wasted on ‘good’ programs and not used for the ‘best.’ The ‘best’ being winning the lost to Christ. The goal of the church and the denomination should be to equip the saints for the work of the ministry… (I read that somewhere). The money that comes into the church should be used for that purpose and to GO into the world to win the lost. Many of the dollars spent go toward ‘stuff’ and do not further the cause of Christ. It is time for many more to wake up to this reality.

    I am excited about the future with Christ, but unsure of the future of local associations and possibly the future of denominations. One-hundred years or more ago, these organizations were critical to the survival of the church and the people. Today, these are mostly holes in the ground into which we pour money for salaries and programs that have very little eternal ROI.

    BTW, I am not mad, and I am currently not doing anything about these issues either. I have just observed them and agree with this article… and am praying for an answer… Lord Jesus, come quickly…

  7. J. Michael Palmer   •  

    I have been a pastor for over thirty years and I share J.D.’s sentiment. For far too long I have seen churches and their leaders not want to change for all the wrong reasons. That spirit has infected many at various levels today, denominationally as well as congregationally. A new day is upon us whether we like it or not. I am stretched by what I see happening. Some of the things I like, some I am uncomfortable with. I am sorting out what is cultural, what is tradition, what is my flesh, and what is biblical and missional. I thank God for pastors like yourself that are attempting to embrace the future while attempting to respect and glean from the past in a biblical tradition. Stick with the “stuff”.

  8. Roger Simpson   •  

    JD, I fell out of my chair when I read you blog regarding “bureaucracy” in state conventions. However, you won’t be getting a letter from my personal injury lawyer as I didn’t sustain any spinal damage during my fall. :)

    I think I pay attention and keep my ear on the rail but this is the first time I’ve heard of the idea of cutting out some of the layers of SBC organization.

    Now that I’ve had a chance reflect on this, I acknowledge that some re-org is both inevitable and desirable. However, this transition is not going to be a walk in the park because of the impact on affected workers.

    I don’t think it is written in stone that we have to have a four-layer organizational structure in SBC life: (a) local church, (b) associations, (c) state conventions, and (d) national operations (NAMB, IMB, Seminaries, executive committee). To me, the number one item is the local church. Number two is nationwide stuff such as the NAMB, IMB and the seminaries since many (most?) local churches could not duplicate these operations.

    Whatever happens, I think we all agree that the idea of pooled giving via the CP is a core element of equipping missionaries in the SBC. Some non-SBC Baptist church denominations require potential mission candidates to “raise their own support” which can take several years. We can’t regress by going to any type of “granular” funding model.

    Over time, churches will evaluate how to fund missions based upon a cost/benefit analysis between the alternatives that are available. I’m a little slow, but I have to concede your point. Namely, that the CP option will no longer be “competitive” if is “overloaded” with tons of overhead.

    We will probably see what is now under the CP umbrella tend go in two separate directions over time: (a) missions operations such as the IMB and NAMB as well as the seminaries will probably continue to be financed by the CP; (b) other things such as retreats / camps / seminars, youth residential homes, and financial help for low income retired pastors will be financed a-la-carte from churches or using user fees.

  9. Shawn Ames   •  

    J.D.,

    Well said. Provocative, balanced and insightful. Thanks for challenging the status-quo and keep up the good work.

  10. Pingback: The Southern Baptist Convention- Concerns, Critical Issues, and Observations. « Matt Capps Blog

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