Several years ago I gave my parents a gift that I think they enjoyed as much or more than anything I ever gave them. I wrote each of them a letter thanking them for what they did right as my Mom and Dad. In a world where it is commonplace for people to talk about everything their parents did wrong, I wanted my parents to know how much they got right. I recall how very much they appreciated those letters. In fact, shortly after my father passed away last year, I found that letter among my Dad’s possessions in the briefcase where he had placed all his significant documents we were to need upon his death. Of all the things he possessed, most of the things he treasured were in that briefcase, and among them was a simply letter of thanksgiving from a grateful son.
There continues to be considerable talk about what is wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention. I think that is the case for the simple reason that there are many things wrong with the SBC. I know that some would like to attribute blame for this state of affairs to one group or another, suggesting that there really are no serious problems with the Convention, except that there are critical people who keep stirring the proverbial pot with their critical attitudes. But there are many of us who talk seriously these days about the difficulties facing our beloved Convention, precisely because we love the SBC and we care deeply about her future.
I am not alone in thinking this. In fact, one of my most vivid memories is the last occasion that I spoke to Adrian Rogers, a man whose love for the SBC is unquestioned, and a man for whom I have the deepest respect. On that occasion he and Mrs. Rogers asked me and my wife Kathleen to join them at their breakfast table. We were not far into conversation when he looked at me across the table and said, “David, you spend all your time with our seminarians. Is the Southern Baptist Convention really going to be okay in the future? Are there going to be good leaders in the generation to come?”
His question was born not out of criticism, but out of love for the convention. I think that most who ask such questions today do so with the same motivation. And I think we are foolish not to ask and seek honest answers to such questions. In two future blogs I plan to do just that – to reflect on what I think are two serious matters facing the SBC. But before I do that, I want to reflect on the answer I gave to Dr. and Mrs. Rogers that morning. I offer the same answer today that I gave then, and I am even more convinced today than I was on that Spring morning that there is much about which to be hopeful in the SBC. In a way, this blog is like the letter I sent to my Dad. It isn’t that there aren’t concerns to be raised about the SBC. There are, and I will consider those at a later date. But for now, I want to remember what is right with the SBC.
It is my great joy to serve at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. In my role at Southeastern I have the unique opportunity to meet the men and women sent by our SBC churches for training to serve our Lord in ministry around the globe. These men and women come to Southeastern from varied backgrounds, they are from diverse age groups, and they are preparing for many different kinds of ministry. What gives me such hope for our convention is the consistent quality of these people. They are committed to Christ, they are humble and teachable, and they understand the realities of God’s mission in His world, His Kingdom, and His desire to see the nations worship Him.
These disciples of Jesus who study at Southeastern are willing to go anywhere, to go at any time, and to do anything for the sake of the gospel. When I speak in these terms I am not saying that we have a few or even some students of this caliber. I am saying that this is typical of the students who come to us. Over the past decade I have watched these students study, learn, and mature, and I have been at this long enough to see many of them enter fields of service in many different places.
I think of men like Dan Main and Jerry Lewis who faithfully pastor Great Commission churches that take seriously the call to make disciples in their fields of service. I think of a young lady like Bethany Hadaway who invests her life in making disciples through her gifts in counseling. These young leaders are helping to grow healthy Southern Baptist churches, and for this we should give thanks.
There are church planters leading Great Commission churches in places like New England, Montana, and the great cities of our nation. These men, and many others throughout North America, are committed to leading churches to reach not only more people, but to reach more people by forming churches that produce reproducing churches. We see more and more students who are interested in pursuing this kind of work, and for this we should give thanks as well.
Then there are those who serve in international fields. Their names cannot be mentioned, but their faithfulness must not go unnoticed. They serve in hard fields, some in places where until now there has been no gospel witness. These families labor in difficult circumstances, not only due to the underdeveloped places in which they live, but often due to the open hostility to the gospel itself. And yet they carry on day after day, faithfully serving Christ. We should also be grateful for these faithful servants.
I am under no illusion that this phenomena is occurring only at Southeastern. It is because I know of similar movements at other institutions, including our Baptist colleges, that I am so optimistic about the SBC. Likewise, I see movements among Southern Baptist students on public university campuses, where our young people are answering the call to bring the gospel to their campuses and display a passion for the mission of God around the world that is inspiring. I am encouraged also by Southern Baptists who in their later years of life take seriously the call to spend whatever days God gives them in ministry literally around the globe.
In reply to Dr. Rogers’ question at breakfast that morning, I said I didn’t think the SBC would be just okay in the future; I stated that I was completely optimistic about the future of the SBC for the simple fact that God is raising up so many men and women who are faithfully committed to Christ and His Kingdom. I believe I was right to give that answer at that time, and I remain convinced that the future of the SBC is bright. This is not to say that there are not clear and present dangers facing our convention. But it is to say that I believe we can avoid those dangers, and watch God work powerfully through the laborers He is sending to fields of harvest.
That we have faithful leaders serving in established churches to mature them and see them carry on faithful gospel ministry is part of what’s right with the SBC. That there are faithful leaders pursuing the work of church planting throughout North America to produce reproducing churches is part of what’s right with the SBC. That there are faithful leaders going to the ends of the earth with the gospel so that the nations can worship the Lamb of God is part of what’s right with the SBC. In this we see the beginning of what some have called a “Great Commission Resurgence” in our midst, and that is part of what is right with the SBC.
Our Convention has its share of problems, and we must not fail to address those matters wisely. At the same time, we will do well to remember what is right, and to thank God for what He has done in our past and what He is doing today. That He is calling out so many faithful laborers is an occasion for praise, and it is fitting for us to have a genuine, reasoned optimism about our future. Whatever concerns we have about our Convention must be set within the context of the reality of what is right with the SBC.