Aspect 4(b): A Mission Focused on This Nation (Multi-Faceted, All-Encompassing, Church-Centered)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Our mission must be multi-faceted:

In addition to proclaiming the gospel from inside of the four walls of a church building and in addition to community outreach programs and door-to-door visitations, we must continually remind ourselves and our congregations that everything we do matters to God. Drawing upon Martin Luther’s concept of vocatio, we must teach that every believer has the privilege and responsibility of bringing glory to God in each of his callings: family, church, workplace, and community. The workplace, in particular, is an oft-neglected calling in which we are given an almost unparalleled opportunity to bring God glory and to love one’s neighbor.[1]

Further, God has given us the ability and responsibility to work out our faith in the various spheres of culture, including especially the arts (e.g. literature, music, movies, visual art), the sciences (e.g. biology, physics, chemistry, sociology, anthropology, psychology) and the public square (e.g. law, politics, economics, journalism, moral philosophy). For the gospel-minded Chrsitian, there is no room for indifference or hostility towards these aspects of human culture. We are not given the option of abdicating our responsibility to glorify God across every square inch of his good creation.[2] Instead, we are called to engage the culture arising from the society in which we live and minister, critiquing and developing it according to God’s word. In so doing, we sow the seed of the gospel throughout every dimension of our cultural context, providing a sign of God’s Kingdom.

Our mission must be all-encompassing

Not only is our task cross-cultural and multi-dimensional, but it also stretches across the geographic and demographic spectrum. We must reach both the small towns and the great cities of the United States. While evangelicals and Baptists have been fairly successful in the South, we have been less successful in the great cities of the northeast and the west. We recognize the strategic nature of urban involvement and seek to heighten Southern Baptist involvement in the largest, least churched, and most influential American cities. Urban centers such as New York, Washington, D. C., Boston, and Los Angeles are the nerve centers of North American socio-cultural activity, having massive influence on our continent and across the globe, and yet they are among the least churched cities in America.

We must reach both the down-and-out and the cultural elite. Southern Baptist churches have been fairly effective at reaching the upper and lower middle classes in the Bible Belt, but often we have not reached the cultural elite or the poor and disenfranchised. In reaching those who are “down and out,” we must be prepared to build churches that intentionally minister in the inner cities, are willing to embrace those with HIV, and are happy to include those who may never be able financially to contribute in a significant way to the church. When we minister to these men and women, we recognize that they are God’s image-bearers and deserve our love and attention every bit as much as anyone else.[3] In reaching those who are the cultural elite, we must intentionally reach out to artists, scientists, philosophers, moral and political movers, and others. In so doing, we are “swimming upstream,” ministering to those who in turn might have the most ability to influence our society and culture for the sake of the gospel.

We must build churches that do serious-minded student ministry, both for youth and college students. It will be a good day indeed when an increasing number of our churches’ student ministries are known more for sound doctrine and genuine cultural savvy than they are for cutesy Bible studies and superficial cultural gimmickry.[4] Moreover, we pray that the day comes when more of us seek, consciously and consistently, to win our nation’s college campuses to Christ. In the classrooms of our American universities sit the students who are the future of our nation and in many cases the future of our churches, as well as international students who are the future of their nations and of their nation’s churches. We must make student ministry a priority in our churches, even during those times when it seems not to bear spiritual fruit and even during those times when it does not make sense financially.

Our mission must center on church renewal, church planting, and cooperation:

Our mission will not succeed without healthy churches. This requires, first and foremost, an emphasis on church renewal. We must always be renewing and reforming. This is the only way to ensure that our churches are sound in their doctrine, consistent in their evangelism, intentional in crossing cultural and linguistic boundaries, and contextual in their cultural forms. It is only from the wombs of healthy churches that we might see a church planting movement that is capable of reaching our own country. It is only healthy churches who will faithfully and meaningfully proclaim the gospel of our Lord and build churches across cultures and sub-cultures, languages and races, vocations and dimensions of culture, cities and suburbs, rich and poor, young and old.[5]

Second, our mission requires aggressive and intentional cooperation in church planting. The churches we plant must be sound in their doctrinal orientation, contextual in their cultural forms, and aggressive in their evangelistic and mission orientation. In order to make this work, we need renewed commitment from our churches, local associations, and state conventions. For local associations, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that their existence matters. In days gone by, local associations provided local churches with mission resources and advice that are now being provided by other institutions, networks, and people. For some state conventions, this provides an opportunity to return to their roots and stem the tide of churches that are bypassing these conventions, refusing to give money to what they consider to be inefficient bureaucracies.[6]

Third, our mission will not fare well if it is not cooperative. This includes local church cooperation with other churches, local associations, state conventions, seminaries, and agencies. The daunting nature of our task demands that if any of the above associations is unwilling to fulfill their missional calling, then healthy churches will seek other ways to cooperate in order to fulfill the calling God has given them. It is the hope and prayer of the churches of our convention that the associations, conventions, seminaries, and agencies that we now have will prove to be sufficiently willing and able to take on this God-given calling.[7]


[1] The best brief introduction to Luther’s treatment of calling is Gene Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).

[2] Among the most helpful books treating Christianity and culture are D. A. Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), Michael S. Horton, Where in the World is the Church? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002) and T. M. Moore, Culture Matters (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007). Carson’s text is a meta-level theological treatise on the Christian’s place in culture, while Horton’s text is a popular level, practical treatment of the church’s role in its cultural context. Moore’s monograph is a concise, intermediate level manifesto for Christian cultural engagement. David Dockery’s treatment of Christian Higher Education exemplifies the outworking of our faith across the various dimensions of culture. David Dockery, Renewing Minds: Serving Church and Society through Christian Higher Education (Nashville: B&H, 2008).

[3] In the gospels, we learn that the most “religious” people, the Pharisees, were able only to attract people just like them. They circled the world in order to find one convert. But Jesus attracted all kinds of people: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc. Jesus, not the Pharisees, must be our model.

[4] This is not to degrade the solid student ministries in many of our churches. There is a revival of interest, in our churches, for theologically sound and culturally savvy student ministry.

[5] Many resources are available to help pastors and their congregation work toward church health, of which we mention the following three. First, IX Marks ministries offers a website, a journal, and more than a few books on the topic of church health: http://blog.9marks.org/. Second, Thom Rainer has authored more than a few books dealing with church health and growth. Thom S. Rainer, The Book of Church Growth (Nashville: B&H, 1993); Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Nashville: B&H, 2006); Thom S. Rainer and Daniel L. Akin, Vibrant Church (Lifeway, 2008). Third, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson’s recently published Comeback Churches, a study of 300 revitalized churches. Stetzer and Dodson, Comeback Churches (Nashville: B&H, 2007).

[6] Daniel Akin, “Axioms for a Great Commission Resurgence,” 16-18. Manuscript of sermon preached April 16, 2009, Binkley Chapel, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Manuscript available at http://apps.sebts.edu/president/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/acts-1-4-8-axioms-for-a-great-commission-resurgence-tt2.pdf.

[7] If the associations and state conventions prove unwilling or unable to invest their resources in church planting and renewal, many of our best churches will bypass those associations and conventions and form informal partnerships of their own. We do not wish to see this happen.

Why I am Southern Baptist

As I sit in Asia working with some of our IMB missionaries, I am blessed to see the work we do together. And, honestly, everyone here sees the importance of our denominational cooperation for the purpose of global missions. (You can follow along on our trip here.)

But, right now, things seem to be a bit “in flux” back home. So, perhaps I can add a little encouragement today as I sit with a group of missionaries talking about how to engage this context in evangelism and church planting. Seeing this ministry in action, it seems a good time to share why I am a Southern Baptist and maybe encourage you to be involved in that partnership as well.

In my role, one of the more common questions I am asked is, “Why are you in a denomination?” After all, many of the conferences where I speak are sponsored by non-denominational groups and are attended by non-denominational church leaders. It turns out that I am an anomaly at events like the National Outreach Convention and the Catalyst Conference, at least in terms of the scheduled speakers. Last I checked, I am the only speaker with a denominational business card.

So, they ask me, “Why go denominational?” and, with more volume and incredulity, “Why Southern Baptist?”

Besides the preference for some to remain non-denominational, there are those who believe denominations are passé, that we are moving into a post-denominational era. So, they ask, “Why remain in a denomination at all? Why not be a part of the wave of change?”

These are good questions, so let me answer them here with five reasons why I am Southern Baptist. I will share more of this at the upcoming Union University conference and in a forthcoming article in Christianity Today (on denominationalism in general).

Here are the reasons I am a Southern Baptist. I hope they encourage you to be a part of our family of churches committed to reaching the world through cooperative missions.

1) Theology

I am an inerrantist, complementarian, cooperating Baptist, and fit in my denomination. If I found things in the Bible I could not believe, thought I could throw water on a baby and call it baptism, or preferred total church independence without denominational cooperation, I would be in the wrong spot. I am here by informed choice.

Unlike many in my denomination, I did not grow up “in the system.” I came to Christ in another denomination-one moving from orthodoxy to liberalism. So, I looked around to find who most closely matched my convictions of inerrancy. At the time, the Southern Baptist Convention had undergone a return to biblical inerrancy and sufficiency. It was the people that I felt the greatest affinity with as a group. So I joined up. (Well, I didn’t exactly join up, but I joined a church that was joined up…ah, you know what I mean.)

2) Conservative

No denomination is perfect. But choosing a denomination is the chance to choose your problems as well as your strengths. Coming into the SBC as a young man, I didn’t know everything but I knew enough to know I belonged.

If you read my writings, you know that at heart: I’m just a God-loving, Bible-thumping, Christ’s blood-preaching, Baptist. Sure, I wrap it all in missiological jargon but I’m really just a conservative theologian who loves God, His people, His Word, and the lost of the world. Being a conservative in doctrine and flexible in my method, I find a comfortable home with the SBC.

Now, we are Baptists which means we like to disagree. As the joke goes, we’re tempted to think Matthew 18:20 reads, “where two or more are gathered, there will be three or more opinions.” But I am glad to know that our disagreements are not on the core issues. In the doctrinal issues of the atonement and the Scripture’s authority along with the cultural issues of active missions and the need for justice, we are all on the same team.

3) Cooperation

I do not disparage those who choose to remain independent of a denomination. But, I believe that the old saying is a true saying: “We can do more together than we can do alone.” The theory behind the SBC is that we cooperate on multiple levels. Now, I know we don’t always do a good job but the opportunity comes with multiple levels of influence (local, state, national and international) for those who will embrace it.

As a church planter, I worked alongside local associations, state conventions, our North American Mission Board, and the national convention. It is a family of churches who have a tremendous reach and tremendous resources. Sure every family has a few crazy uncles who eat all the apple pie at family reunions, but all-in-all, we get along pretty well. In fact, we get along very well for a denomination of 50,000 churches and congregations, over 1000 local associations, 42 state conventions, six seminaries, the largest domestic mission agency on our continent (NAMB), the largest Protestant denominational mission agency in history (IMB), and one of the largest Christian publishing houses in the world.

I am proud to stand on a history of cooperating churches that constantly renew their commitment to Christ, the Great Commission, and finding new ways to care for the needy of our world. It is a system where you can find what you need and give as much as you want. Because, the key to cooperation is to both give and take. That is why I mentioned the importance of the Cooperative Program at the Baptist 21 panel. Where I am right now, I see the importance of the CP.

Which leads me to my fourth point.

4) The Cooperative Program

As I travel around the world (as I am right now in Asia), I meet church planters and various missionaries from many denominations. But few outside of the SBC workers are able to stay on the field year-round. They wish they had our Cooperative Program to fund their work rather than spending valuable time raising funds from partners back home.

Recently, we have had some intensive conversations about its inner workings. Is it at times inefficient? Yes. But a compelling and historically validated argument can be made that it would be less efficient if we did not have the CP and every church did its own individual strategy without cooperating with other churches. More than just the mere pooling of cash, the Cooperative Program allows for a further reach than all of our churches could hope to do one at a time.

By being in the SBC, I can give away resources to people whom I will never meet to reach places I will never go and give the Gospel to the lost who are beyond my reach. The Cooperative Program is a genius invention.

5) Fellowship

Did I mention the crazy uncle at your family reunion? Sometimes he’s the one that shows up and sometimes he is… you. But whoever is the difficult one in the room or the life of the party, our denomination finds a way to pursue God’s mission and pursue it together.

I tell a lot of self-deprecating humor on the part of our denomination. I think we need to laugh at ourselves at times. Things are not perfect, but we can grow through them and figure them out as a family.

And, I am not here because I need to be. I am here because I believe in what we can be.

Yes, meetings can be a challenge and organizations can get sidetracked. When we get together, it makes for classic “iron sharpening iron” moments. But when we go out together, I don’t believe any force can stop us.

The fellowship achieved through our denomination provides for both encouragement and accountability. When churches are hurting, fellow churches can come alongside of them. And when churches fall astray, we can call on them in love to return to faithful relationship with Christ. Our fellowship can be abused but more often than not, our pastors and leaders find ways to enjoy one another’s company as they minister to one another.

Being a part of our denomination-or any denomination-has its challenges. Operating a large organization for spiritual purposes is complicated. And, I know our denomination pretty well and have compared it with many others. At the end of the day, we may need to fix and re-prioritize some things, but the SBC is a tool that God is using in powerful ways in the states and around the world. And, that is part of why I believe God has called me to be a part of our SBC family of churches.

Looking Back to Louisville, Part 2

Looking Back to Louisville, Part 2

What needs to happen next?

Let me share some thoughts about the future. I think there are some things we should consider as we look toward the future.

1. We need to pray for the Great Commission Task Force. This is a big deal. Their findings and recommendations to the SBC potentially will have a great impact on our future.

2. We need to pray for the 2010 convention in Orlando. It will be a key moment. Will we elect a president who wants to unite us around the common confession and mission? Or will other agendas emerge?

3. We need to affirm and welcome more than just young missional Calvinists who preach verse-by-verse. I am glad that you guys are acceptable now, but I still think we need those contemporary church pastors and emerging church leaders who affirm our confession to be a part of the cooperation. I hope you reformed types will help us out and welcome them.

4. We need to get more colorful. We have made great strides in the SBC, but our leadership is still WAY too pale. If almost 20 percent of our churches are non-Anglo, it’s time for that to be reflected in our annual meeting and at our entities.

5. We need to engage more small church pastors. The average SBC church is small (less than 100 members). We need their voice because, well, they are “us.” The SBC is a convention made up primarily of small rural churches in the South and we would do well not to forget that.

6. We need to reach out to people who are outside of the South. The rest of North America is becoming more secularized with each passing year. Our disciple-making passion for the metropolitan areas in the rest of the country must increase.

7. We need church planting to become more than a current fad. If we truly want to reach North American and the world for Christ, church planting must become a stated element of our strategy and not just the first in a series of new millennium trends.

8. We need to seek a revived church that can be used by God for the next great awakening in our culture. Nothing short of a collective return by His people is worth our time and worthy of His gospel mission.

Just a few thoughts– see you next year in Orlando.