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.