#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.