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:
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.
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.
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.