As a Southern Baptist I join many in anticipating the upcoming report from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF). I love our convention. I love the network we have created to get the gospel to the ends of the earth, our uncompromising stand on the truth of the Word and the greatness of the gospel, and our ability to bring together millions of believers to serve, help in times of disaster, train a generation of ministers and missionaries, and provide resources for discipleship, to name only a few.
We need to change. That sentiment has been obvious to just about every SBCer I have met in the past few years. Just a few reasons:
-We are flatlined in Baptists for 60 years while the US population has doubled
-We baptized 140,000 teens in 1972 and only 75,000 in recent years
-We are far too underrepresented in the great cities of America
-We have been more focused on what we do in our church buildings than what our churches are doing for the gospel in the communities around us.
-We are the wealthiest nation on earth and the wealthiest Christian denomination, but we are cutting back on sending missionaries which is tragic. Just read this
I could go on. But that is not the purpose of this article. Most I know respond to the need for change with excitement at the possibilities of what we could become if the gospel becomes again at the heart of all we do. A few respond by digging in their heels and defending the status quo, which in my opinion is nothing to “quo” about.
I know I need to change. The call for a Great Commission Resurgence has been personal to me. I need to be more focused on sharing Christ and am making changes in that area. I need to rethink how my family spends money, and we gave more to our church and to missions last year than ever in our lives as a family. Churches need to assess carefully how we live and how we spend. So do state conventions, and so do our national agencies. We have been blessed by remarkable prosperity for a generation, and that blessing has caused us not to be focused on how to live when resources are far less available. You know, like right now. But more austere times demand more focused goals for stewardship of our time, our talents, and our treasure, in whatever realm we serve.
One of the things we must do as well in times of dramatic change is to remember things we do well. We can add change without subtracting those things God is blessing. I see things in my beloved SBC that bring me great hope. Things like:
-A remarkable shift in desire to see churches planted. When I was in seminary church planting simply was not a priority among students. I cannot remember a single friend who aspired to be a church planter. Now there is a revolution in church planting.
-A growing awareness of the lostness of the world. Anyone can easily access information online now to see how lost our planet is. Now not only do seminarians hear in class about the need to reach the nations; laypeople in our churches can google it. Many are. And many wonder why we are not more urgent to reach them.
-A growing shift from an institutional posture and attractional evangelistic approach driven by methods to a missional posture recognizing that the US also is desperately in need of the gospel. And that simply opening our church doors a few times a week is not going to reach most of the US.
I also want to give kudos to some state conventions in the SBC I see doing some great work. I travel a lot and speak at events in many of them. I think I was in 14 state conventions last year. I am sure the following will miss some wonderful efforts being led by some of our state conventions. But here are a few examples I have seen, all of which give me hope. There are leaders at every level in SBC life who get the need to change. So while we must change, and I think dramatically in some ways, I am also grateful for those who are already seeing this.
Several state conventions recognize the need to engage younger leaders and are doing so with great effort. Examples:
-SC Baptist Convention: I am speaking at their upstate evangelism conference which has a focus on younger leaders led by David Platt, Jay Hardwick, and me.
-Similarly, The Georgia Baptist Convention is offering a Cutting Edge Conference with a similar focus. JD Greear and I along with others are leading that emphasis.
-The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma has an annual Missional Ministry Conference that is like none other I have seen in the SBC. Bob Mayfield, who leads this, gets things better than a lot I meet. This year I will be there with JD Greear and Ed Stetzer.
-I was recently at the Arkansas Baptist State Evangelism Conference where evangelism leader Sonny Tucker had the focus on reaching the next generation. He gets that we have more teens in the US this year than ever in history, and he wants to reach as many in Arkansas as possible. I spoke on reaching the coming generation (one message is up on my website now).
I could also speak of others in a variety of ways, including the stewardship models of the Southern Baptists of Virginia and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Or of my own convention the BSCNC, which is seeking to be more great commission focused with every passing year. I have loved seeing a remarkable shift from distrust and little communication between SEBTS and the state convention to a much stronger relationship, and in many ways partnership for the gospel.
Again, these are just a few examples about which I am aware. I am sure there are more. We need to change. We need dramatic, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, missionary-living change. And many get that. I still believe the greatest days for Southern Baptists are in front of us. I am grateful for leaders in churches, states, and national entities that understand our need to be more focused on the gospel.