Why We Are Still a Part of the SBC

Last week I spent 3 days in Houston, TX, at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference and Convention. The SBC is always a great time of year, as I get to reconnect with old friends and hear about what God has for our future.

I’m often asked, “Why even bother with something like the SBC? Aren’t the days of denominations over? Can’t we be just as effective on our own? Why deal with all the red tape, bureaucracy, and the sometimes crazy people who claim to speak in the SBC’s name?”Cooperating with the SBC offers a fair number of challenges: we are not a perfect people by a long shot. For many, the easiest solution seems to be to sever ties and just do your own thing and not deal with the baggage. But cooperating together for the mission of God, however challenging, is biblical, expedient, and personally beneficial.

Recently I read Tim Keller’s Center Church, in which he discusses the interplay between movements and institutions. He points out something that is easy to ignore, that both need each other. It’s easy to see how institutions without movements quickly die (and, by “movement,” I mean that sense of shared excitement, led by charismatic leaders with a compelling vision) quickly die. What we often forget, however, is that movements without institutions lack both staying power and the teeth to accomplish their agenda.

For example, we at the Summit Church are involved in several church planting networks. Many of them are genuine movements, led by charismatic visionaries who compel a lot of enthusiasm and engender a lot of support. Yet very few of them churn our more than 100 new church planters a year (and that’s being generous).

In contrast, last year SBC seminaries graduated nearly 2,000 students. Even if you wanted to eliminate half of those (as under-qualified or not headed into pastoral ministry), that still leaves 1,000 qualified graduates every year.

Together, as Southern Baptists, we have nearly 5,000 missionaries serving overseas, in almost every nation in the world. Because of our cooperation, they have the training structures, care structures, and a multi-million dollar budget to support them.

We have a gospel-centered, culturally-savvy presence in Washington (though housed in Nashville) called the ERLC (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), led now by my friend Russell Moore, that speaks out on issues of truth and justice in our culture. These are just a few of the things for us to be excited about in our partnership with other Baptist churches.

So yes, it is easier for us to be involved in a movement without the messiness of institutions, but it is not nearly as effective.

In the end, our final allegiance is not to the SBC, but to Christ. The SBC is not what we live and die for. And what various members of the SBC say is not always representative of how we, as a local church body, feel. But we’re glad to stand together with like-minded brothers and sisters in unity, dreaming collectively about the shared future that God has promised his church.

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  1 Comment

  1. Rick Patrick   •  

    JD,

    The tone of this article is almost apologetic for affiliating with the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest missionary sending body in world history and the largest Protestant denomination in America. I’m not sure why we need to be so defensive. If someone is predisposed to dislike us, for whatever reason, I’m not sure I want to be seen as begging them to give us a chance.

    I realize the audience to which you are writing may consist of those who are ready to wash their hands of any denominational affiliation, but it seems to me that the tone we strike here almost says, “Please stay with this old, broken down denominational system. It may be messy and imperfect and crazy and wrong headed and clumsy and old-fashioned and full of red tape and organizational bureaucracy, but by golly, it’s worth it.”

    Frankly, I think this sells the SBC short. No one is holding their feet to the fire. If they don’t want to be part of the greatest denomination on earth, why invite them to join us with an appeal that sounds like they would be doing us some kind of favor to affiliate?

    I appreciate that you are encouraging people to be a part of the SBC. I just don’t think the appeal you are using casts our denomination in the most favorable light. Pastors and churches should be HONORED to partner with the SBC. They should not feel like they are settling, like they are condescending to join us through some act of mercy on their part. I believe a better approach would be to brand the SBC using such amazing and exciting terms that they come to see such a partnership as a tremendous privilege and an extraordinary joy.

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