The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention (Pt. 6)

#6) Southern Baptists have a hopeful future if we have the courage to rethink our Convention structure at every level, clarify our mission so that we maximize our energy and resources for the fulfilling of the Great Commission, and provide a compelling vision that inspires our people to do something great for God.

Are Southern Baptist a Great Commission people? If you listen to our rhetoric then the answer is yes. And yet, though Southern Baptist gave $12 billion last year through the local church, only 2 % ever left the borders of the United States. It takes almost 9 Southern Baptist churches to produce 1 overseas missionary and now even if we produce them, we lack the funding necessary to send them! Further, North America church planting in the unreached and underserved areas of our nation is little more than a trickle! Why we plant more churches in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee than we do in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and California is absolutely incomprehensible to me.

Recent days have convinced me of an undeniable truth. The future of the Southern Baptists will depend upon the type of leaders we choose to follow. The need of the hour is for aggressive visionary leaders who are daring and courageous, men who understand the times and are willing to attempt great things for God and believe great things from God. Why do I say this? Because many Southern Baptists are trapped in a time warp. They are aiming at a culture that went out of existence years ago. They use mid-20th century methods and pine for a nostalgic golden age. They are convinced if we would just go back “to the way things were” we would experience a spiritual renaissance that would restore the good ole days. Such a perspective is a prime example of denial and a refusal to live in the real world in which we find ourselves. We cannot go back. We are not going back. We will move forward into the future whether we like it or not. How we move ahead is the question yet to be answered. The leaders who lead us will play a significant role in that answer. Of that I am certain.

In addition, we have built bureaucracies and little kingdoms that are the primary objects of our affections, concerns and reasons for existence. We are slowly dying but refuse to admit the patient is even sick. The amount of time, energy, personnel and resources we keep at home, especially in the deep South, is hard to explain or accept for a rapidly growing number, and I fear how we will justify ourselves when we stand before our Lord. Some may say this is “dramatic rhetoric” merely designed to “fan the emotions.” Call it what you will, my concern is what will the God of heaven say about so much staying in church saturated regions in America? Jesus said, “To whom much is given much is required.” God will, no doubt, require much of Southern Baptist when He asks what we did with what He gave us to reach the nations and penetrate the lostness of this world.

Thom Rainer has challenged us to do simple church. This is good counsel. Once more I want to challenge us to do simple Convention. We must streamline our structure, clarify our identity and maximize our resources. A younger generation wants a leaner, quicker and more missional Convention that pursues the unreached and under-served in our nation and around the world, and so should we all! That is where they are going and our leadership at every level will either get on board or be left behind. In other words we will change the way we operate whether we like it or not. The Southern Baptist Convention of 2010 will not look like the SBC of 2020, and certainly not like 2030. Again, I would raise some hard questions we must consider in the immediate future. There are six.

1) Is the name “Southern Baptist Convention” best for identifying who we are and want to be in the future? I believe the answer is no.

2) Do we have unnecessary overlap and duplication in our denomination that can be corrected for greater efficiency and better stewardship? Yes.

3) Do we have a healthy and strategic structure and mechanism for planting churches in unreached and under-served areas that will thrive and survive past a few years? I am doubtful but hopeful that will change and change quickly in the near future.

4) Should we dismantle the Cooperative Program because it is dead, no longer effective and does not work? No, because such a perspective is simply untrue. Actually, in spite of a recent Baptist Press article, I cannot find anyone who thinks like this. Now, this does not mean that we should not be open to studying the Cooperative Program and making improvements if possible. Such a mindset is essential if we are to be responsible stewards of the gifts of God’s people.

5) Are we technologically savvy and up to date, living on the cutting edge of the advances being made at a rapidly increasing pace? Doubtful.

6) Are we distracted by doing many good things but not giving our full attention to the best things? No doubt. Church planting in the unreached and underserved population centers in North America, pioneer missions around the world, and theological education that permeates every sphere of our Convention is a 3-legged stool that will excite and inspires our people. It will inspire them to serve more and to give more. Of that I have no doubt.

Our mission in the future will require aggressive and intentional church planting. Rick Warren is right, “Starting new congregations is the fastest way to fulfill the Great Commission.” The churches we plant must be sound in their doctrine, contextual in their forms, and aggressive in their evangelistic and mission orientation. In order to make this work, we need a new and compelling vision for our churches, local association, state conventions, and national entities.

Timothy George is correct, “the exchanging of one bureaucracy for another bureaucracy does not a revolution or reformation make.” For a revolution, for a revival, to occur we need to kill and bury all sacred cows; we need to be willing to put on the altar for sacrifice our dreams, goals, ministries and entities if doing so will further the Great Commission. For me personally, that would include the dismantling and closing of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary if that would further the goals of world evangelization. For me to think any other way would be hypocritical.

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  14Comments

  1. Michael   •  

    While I DO agree that there needs to be more churches planted in areas like Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and California this does not mean that church plants are not needed in places like Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. The reason I am pushing back is because I am a church planter in TN. The reason being – this is where God sent us. We prayed long and hard about where God would have us to plant. We wanted to go to under served places like Northern California or Rhode Island. But simply put again – TN is where God sent us. What we need is for us all to understand that we have been sent and God who may send us to unlikely places – places where churches of all kinds can be found on virtually every corner yet only around 20% of the population attends one of these churches on a regular basis.

  2. Matt Surber   •  

    Amen and Amen! I pray that during this pivotal time in our conventions history that we have the courage and faith to make the hard decisions. If the convention refuses to move forward, it will lose a third of its cooperating churches in the next 3 years. Young pastors are watching and waiting to see how things unfold this year. I pray for obedience and wisdom for the SBC and its leadership!

  3. Stephen Roberts   •  

    I have been watching church planting in the south for some time now. Often I wonder why. But then I go on church on Sunday and am reminded why. The south’s culture is changing too. Most churches still have a “come and see” mentality to growth rather than a “go and tell”. And if they do have a “go and tell” it is just the pastor’s job on Tuesday evenings. I do think some guys are quick to plant in the south, they do it for reasons other than a clear calling. In some ways it might be easier in some places. There is at least the residue of a Christian subculture left, but not for long. I think our youth ministries in a big way is at fault. We have intertained our students into apathy. They don’t see the connection between a robust biblical theological driven worldview and commitment to Jesus and real life. Their parents’ generation failed to walk with Jesus but yet played the part. So out there is a big group of dechurched college students who will not return to church as they know it. On the other hand what needs to take place here in the south is revitalization of local churches. Here’s the problem, if you read most psstoral ministry listings in a given job post or in the state Baptist newspaper you will find a rural church that runs forty five to seventy five wanting a PhD with 5-10 years experience and then pay them 15,000 a year. Most churches don’t know what they need in a pastor, they essentially want somebody to preach, marry them and bury them. Not all are like that but on average that’s what you see. They are missing out on the young guys coming out of seminary or even college trained and ready to roll. Many of whom although maybe not having been a pastor but while in seminary did an internship or served faithfully as a volunteer in a local church. All this to say church planting is still needed in the south but I would ask a guy wanting to plant why not revitalization.

  4. Stephen Roberts   •  

    sorry intertained should be entertained. no wonder I can’t make a descent grade on a paper.

  5. Ricardo Martinez   •  

    I’ve been thinking of some new names for the SBC:

    Baptist Church of America or BOA.

    Baptists of the United States & Territories or BUST

    United States Baptists or USB

    Any other suggestions?

  6. Doug   •  

    The fact that the name “Rick Warren” and “sound doctrine” appear in the same paragraph here is an example of one of the primary reasons that the brightest, most theologically minded, Christ-centered, and mission minded men that I have known in my years in ministry are either leaving the SBC or are completely apathetic towards it. While we join you in cheering those who have set a pattern of expositional preaching that we should emulate, it is the “seeker” pastors who get the spotlight at many of our conferences and these same pastors whom we feature in our retreats are the ones who cause our young up-and-coming leaders to roll their eyes and not take the SBC seriously. And these young men couldn’t care less about how technologically savvy and up to date we are when we are so theologically backwards. They ask “It is really serving to expand the kingdom to have multiple site churches propogating impotent doctrine?” What we need and what we crave is for SBC leadership to stand up for the Gospel and to preach it unashamedly, for our conferences to be immersed in Scripture rather than in church growth principles, to know that when we are among other pastors we are among those who seek to honor God rather than entertain man. I took 4 college students to the Banner of Truth Pastors Conference last year proving that they are willing to sit under strong, solid Bible teaching- even when there are no videos or rock band! And they will be the first to tell you that they long for a new generation of Benjamin Keaches and Adoniram Judsons who will lead us in reaching the lost while understanding that it is the Gospel that is the power unto salvation not a sermon series entitled “God on Sex.” Maybe these young men will be those leaders, I pray that is so. But while I’m confident that they will lead others in the future, I’m not as confident that they will choose to do so as part of the SBC. As someone who has grown up SBC and pastored three SBC church plants, this breaks my heart, but I can’t say that I don’t understand.

  7. Bruce Ashford   •  

    Doug, I just now finished reading your sarcastic rant. I’ve got a few comments in response.

    First, you state that sound doctrine should drive all that we think and do, and that young pastors need to sit under strong, solid Bible teaching. Amen.

    Second, you push back on Akin for mentioning Rick Warren in the same paragraph as “sound doctrine.” It appears that your main point is that younger pastors are not interested in “seeker” methodology or “technological savvy.” OK, great. Agreed. But Akin’s post didn’t imply anything different than that. He quoted one of Warren’s statements that is on target.

    Third, later in the post you state, “it is the Gospel that is the power unto salvation not a sermon series entitled ‘God on Sex’.” This appears to be another smart-alec swipe at Akin who wrote a book by the same title. But again, nothing in this post undermines the truth that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

    Fourth, while there are a couple of good points buried in the midst of your bloviations, you undermine those points by your tone and by your misrepresentations of the author.

    Fifth, you take a shot at “multiple site churches propogating impotent doctrine” and mention that you and your 4 college students went to a nice Banner of Truth conference where they didn’t have bands or videos. OK. Great. Banner of Truth has made some fantastic contributions to the Kingdom. But I’ll point out that my church (The Summit Church) is a multiple site church that does not promulgate “impotent doctrine,” although it does make some use of video and worship bands. Our pastor, JD Greear, offers a sound theological exposition every week while 1,400 college students listen and learn. They don’t need to go to a Banner of Truth conference to get their exposition. They get it from our pastor, at our church. JD is a reformed theological expositor who pastors a multi-site church that does not preach “impotent” doctrine, and who has yet learned a couple of things from Rick Warren…

  8. Paul Stohler   •  

    You say, “Because many Southern Baptists are trapped in a time warp. They are aiming at a culture that went out of existence years ago. They use mid-20th century methods and pine for a nostalgic golden age. They are convinced if we would just go back ‘to the way things we’re we would experience a spiritual renaissance that would restore the good ole days.”

    Once again those are pretty broad strokes. Who are “they” and what are some specific examples of these methods? If these are such great problems, shouldn’t we have more specifics?

  9. Doug   •  

    Bruce,

    I certainly had no intention on crafting a “sarcastic rant” and apologize that it came off that way. I didn’t feel, and it didn’t seem, sarcastic as I penned it and as I now re-read it, I still don’t see it as such. Often times these comment threads are more hazardous than e-mails because not only do you not see my face or hear my voice as I type (by which you may better judge my heart in the matter), there is a hyper concern for brevity which sometimes causes things to come across harsher than intended.

    My comments were in no way a swipe at Dr. Akin and I apologize if he took it that way- I had no idea he had written a book called “God on Sex” by the way.

    I was simply trying to give voice to the frustrations of the young men that I minister to and which I believe are shared by many.

    I don’t believe that I misrepresented Dr. Akin because I was not representing him at all. I was simply using the fact that Warren’s name and the phrase “solid doctrine” were in the same paragraph as a spring board to share my thoughts. The two in juxstoposition simply compelled me to opine.

    Again, I had no idea that Akin put out a book called “God on Sex.” I came up with the title out of my head and it was intended to be a comment on the popularity of the sex-centered sermon series that seem to be all the rage and which are advertised using tawdry imagery which is unbefitting the church of God. I don’t believe that I exaggerate when I say that I think we ought to be weeping over the fact that schools are taking the churches which meet within them to task for producing materials to promote their sex sermons which the school boards deem inappropriate and which they do not want to their schools to be associated with- one principal actually went as far as calling the families of his school to apologize for the materials they had been mailed by the church that met in his school.

    I didn’t imply that Akin believed that young pastors are interested in seeker methodologies. My point was that the seeker movement still seems to hold sway at Southern Baptist promoted conferences- at least the ones that make their way to my mailbox- and the younger generation just doesn’t get it. They long for the church to return to solid biblical exposition – a faith worth holding on to- and whether or not it is couched in technological wizardry is of no consequence if they are getting the truth.

    Lastly, I never mentioned JD nor your church and am sorry that you felt that you had to get on the defensive. While I disagree with the multi-site model, I am glad that he promotes solid doctrine and that your students don’t need to go to a conference to get it. Which is really getting to my point. They shouldn’t have to.

  10. Stephen Roberts   •  

    Good word Dr. Ashford…while Doug is passionate about doctrine he misses how to communicate that doctrine to a lost world. We can and should preach expositional sermons but have to at least be speaking to someone other than ourselves. Would I do church like Rick Warren likely not, but hey I’m not in Southern Cali. If I were there I would love to learn some things from Warren.

  11. Doug   •  

    Bruce

    I wrote a longer response but it has not yet appeared on my browser, so, just in case it got lost, here is a brief response to your comments:

    1) First, I had no idea that Dr. Akin wrote a book called “God on Sex” and, thus, my usage of that name was in no way a comment on him- it was simply commenting on the current trend of doing sermon series on sex using tawdry advertising to get people to come hear it.
    2) I don’t know JD or your church- I’m sorry I put you on the defensive, and while I don’t agree with multi-site churches, I’m glad to hear that he is preaching truth.
    3) I don’t feel I misreprented Dr. Akin because I never represented him in the first place. When I saw Warren’s name, I simply felt compelled to opine and used it as a spring board. I didn’t imply anything concering Akin in anything I wrote.
    4) Comment threads can be tricky because you may read a certain “tone” in my voice that wasn’t there. I did not intend to come across as sarcastic, didn’t think that I did, but apologize that it came across that way.

  12. Bruce Ashford   •  

    Doug,

    Brother, I am sorry I misread your comments. After having read your reply, I think I can say that I agree with your main contentions. Thank you for reading our posts and for joining the conversation. Merry Christmas.

    Blessings,
    Bruce

  13. Doug   •  

    Bruce,

    Thank you. And I’ll be more careful with my comments in the future. Merry Christmas.

    Stephen,

    You say that I don’t understand how to communicate to a lost world. I’ll try to avoid being defensive in my reply, but, as I mentioned, I am now working on my third church plant and have been doing church planting for the last 12 years. Communicating to the lost is pretty much required in my line of work. Over the years, I have noticed a change in my approach however. In my first plant, I was green and pretty much did whatever the church growth books that were handed to me said to do. I always tried to be faithful in my preaching, but what it was couched in (the Sunday morning service, the evangelistic events) were “anything goes.” I felt that numbers are king and whatever it takes to get them is legit- the end justifies the means. But as I have grown in maturity in my faith and experience, I have found that those methodologies that I once found exciting and “cutting edge” now strike me as empty at best and down right dishonoring to God in some cases. I wince thinking of the things I did on Sunday mornings in the name of being “seeker sensitive.” Jokes, funny videos, skits, puppet shows, I did them all. In retrospect I now see what I didn’t then – a lack of faith in the power of the Word of God. I believed the Word and preached it, but felt that it needed my help in creating the right setting and mood, it needed my help to make it relevant and exciting. Now I try to get out of the way and let the Word do the work and I am finding a generation of college students who have been hungering for this and who are weary of all the techniques that are being tried out on them…they tell me – “spare the videos, give us the Word” which I am more than happy to do. My experience in ministry now is full of a deeper joy than I have ever experienced because it has a greater depth to it and I no longer wonder if whether what I did on Sunday morning went “over the line.” And now I mourn over the things I hear going on in the church today- such as one popular seeker pastor calling those in his church who want to go deeper in the Word “jackasses”- look it up on Youtube to see for yourself. My desire is for the SBC to be full of churches of depth and growth and God’s name be glorified through them.

  14. kamatu   •  

    Greetings, I’m afraid I’m going to have to concur with Doug that mentioning Rick Warren and “sound doctrine” together strikes a sour note for me. I don’t really care that Rick Warren did say something like that, I’m sure that a number of other sources could have been used. A ten second quick search the Bible resulted in four references from Paul……

    Stephen Roberts also has salient points on pastor qualifications and education of the youth (and adults IMO). Do any of us need much help to make a list of “issues” in the SBC that result from ignorance?

    One problem I’d call on the issue of “too much” church planting in the South and not more overseas comes from the funding issues I think. It is much easier to get support from a church fifty miles away than it is from halfway around the world. So, I’m back from an overseas trip and unable to get official sanction to raise money to get a bit of support for the people I worked with. Why?

    Well, my church already had a program going on to give additional support to famine relief in India, then it was Lottie Moon time and now it is support for a local ministry. Maybe I should have tried to schedule the full timer to come speak at my church, but I was under the impression he and his wife already had a busy schedule several hours away from me between trying to visit family and do a bit of “advertising” among local groups.

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