Looking Back to Louisville, Part 1

As I’ve indicated over at my blog, I am moving my SBC-related blogging here to Between the Times. For better or worse, it will be all Baptist, all the time, when I am at Between the Times.

Though it’s hardly any secret that I’m a Southern Baptist, my blog has become a place where people discuss research, mission, and culture. It seems some Southern Baptists just love a good blog fight, but it seems strange to my non-SBC friends when the debate goes something like: “The IMB and NAMB need to consider the BI agenda while listening to the GCR people, not to mention the ERLC and the WMU.”

That’s not easy to translate for our Presbyterian and Wesleyan friends. Even if you know what it all means-we could all use fewer acronyms in our lives. ;-) So, you’ll be hard-pressed to find me talking SBC on my other blog. Like Al Mohler’s “Conventional Speaking” blog, this is now your one-stop-shop for “Ed on the SBC” (in addition to much better information from the other contributors).

I wanted to write about the Louisville convention, but I decided to wait until the Between the Times guys would actually let me blog. It took a lot of negotiating with our lawyers, but we nailed down a signing bonus and a five-year contract.

So, here are my belated reactions to the SBC meeting. They are not in any particular order, but here are my observations.

1. There was a definite consistent theme at the convention.

That theme was stated in the pastors conference and continued to the last session. With exceedingly few exceptions, the theme was “gospel unity expressed in mission.” You wouldn’t know that listening to some reports. According to some, we focused more on someone who was not even there than on Jesus and His mission. Those conversations were just a blip on the radar screen. An overwhelming majority of those in attendance would tell you that Southern Baptists want to unite and see a Great Commission Resurgence.

2. The convention is changing.

It appears to me that Southern Baptists are not just talking about methodological diversity, but are actually practicing what they preach. The pastors conference evidenced such as did the convention messages. (I am glad to call both David Platt and John Marshall friends, but they pastor very different churches.)

With the election of Kevin Ezell as pastors conference president, we will see more of that next year. (Having just talked to Kevin about upcoming speakers, I can say that next year will be exciting and interesting at the same time.)

3. There are still some people who want to create division.

As I said at the Baptist 21 panel, the voices of division get louder before unity appears. But we saw that those creating division are becoming increasingly seen as what they are. It was as if they were shouting, “pay attention to us!” However, the convention seemed to want to pay attention to the future-engaging in God’s global mission while uniting around that effort.

Let me encourage you that the tide is turning. And, that means we need to unite and not exclude those who would have preferred a different future. There are people to the “right” of the BFM2000, and I am glad they are a part of the family–I just want them to stop pulling to the right and instead push toward the mission. But, for those of us interested in unity under our common confession, let’s remember that they still need a place at the table.

4. Anyone can make a motion.

As you could see, anyone can make a motion. For some people, this is a bad thing. For me, it is not. I want a convention where people can speak truth in power.

Now, I do think it’s unfortunate that 10 people with an agenda can make some people think there’s a groundswell of support. In reality though, to quote Johnny Hunt, those motions get “thrown under the Southern Baptist bus.” Indeed.

However, it is this system that makes us Baptist. There would have been no Conservative Resurgence if the mics were closed. Having those mics open keeps the system accountable to the churches. And it keeps all of us honest.

Al Mohler cautioned that people should not overreact to “these motions.” I couldn’t agree more. Remember, motions are not actions. I imagine there will be more people making more motions of all kinds next year.

5. Social Networking is changing all the rules.

Blogging changed everything–until this year. From day one, all eyes were on Twitter.

When some leaders tweeted about motions, it was national news. People were even directed to the floor for the times votes would take place, again using Twitter. If you weren’t at the convention, the Twitterverse provided a front row seat.

Twitter also provided an instant barometer of how people felt about what was happening. If Tweeters didn’t like a motion from the floor, it was heard loud and clear online. And when they liked something, they raised their “voices.”

It was not too long ago when one state convention passed a motion critical of blogging and some referred to it as “Internet Pornography.” Today, the social networking revolution is gaining momentum instead of going away. The convention is “flat,” and those who are unaware or are simply kicking against the cyber-goads will soon lose their influence.

6. Extra meetings are helpful.

Over the last few years, additional meetings have been added to the “convention schedule.” From the Young Leader Initiative of 2005 to the Baptist 21 Panel this year, more meetings are being held around the convention. And though none of us want to have an extra meeting, more conversation about critical issues are good for all of us.

Each year, meetings are held at the SBC Annual Meeting by groups like the WMU and Crossover to encourage our participation. I’m glad for these meetings, because they serve as a reminder of why we meet–God’s big mission for the world.

7. We still don’t trust each other.

I have been surprised at how quickly people saw a Machiavellian plot to take over the SBC. Perhaps some are too accustomed to taking a defensive stance against all perceived change or loss to their preferred direction. I consider Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt, and Ronnie Floyd all friends. I talk with them regularly about the SBC and the future. And, I’m telling you: they are just not that devious. They are good men, but terrible connivers. But, it is interesting to hear all the conspiracy theories out there. I can tell you that they are not true-but of course, I might be part of the New World Order as well. ;-)

The men who have been elected and appointed to lead our convention are asking the right question: what are we doing and how can we do it better?

I wonder when we will trust more and gossip less.

8. Everyone wants to talk about young leaders now.

Well, I say, “Welcome to the party, but where were you five years ago?”

It is interesting to me that when Jimmy Draper started this young leader initiative a few years back, he was actually opposed by some of those same people now alarmed about the lack of young leaders. Back then, there was a “debate” if we were really losing young leaders. But then there was the next convention. And the next. And the truth became harder to deny. Now, when young leaders show up, it’s big news.

There were two main criticisms of Jimmy Draper. The first was that he was the wrong person to do this; the seminaries should. But, Jimmy pressed on and pointed out that most young SBC pastors were not in seminary. But, still some complained that LifeWay was the wrong agency doing it the wrong way.

Second, it was that Jimmy connected with some of the wrong young leaders. I’ll leave it to your collective wisdom exactly who are the special, perfect, right young leaders. Chances are that we will all come up with different lists. Jimmy took some risks, involving some people I would not, but he is a good man and it was still a worthwhile agenda. As one of our statesmen, he said what only he could: we are losing the next generation. He was right then. And, now it appears that everyone agrees. Thanks, Jimmy, for telling us when it was not popular. I believe that will be a key part of your legacy.

9. The word “missional” sure gets used a lot.

I still remember when I used “missional” in a sermon at Southern Seminary. Someone asked me if I was mispronouncing the work “missions.” People just did not use the word. Although Baptist Press quotes me as the first SBC user of the term, it was actually Francis Dubose, but he did so before the days of searchable hypertext.

Now, people throw around the word “missional” like opinions at a Baptist business meeting. Sometimes I wish they would not use it, but mainly I am just glad we are thinking more about joining God on His mission and living on mission in our settings.

10. I am hopeful about the future.

People ask me, “Does it bother you that they criticize research/missiological thinking/church planting/etc. regularly in certain publications?” And, the answer is, “No.” I say this, because things are changing.

I have attended the SBC every year since 1998. (I should get an attendance pin or something.) I was encouraged by the election of Frank Page and honored that he would ask me to speak at his first convention, but still unsure where things were headed.

This year, I was more hopeful than ever. The convention is turning. In tomorrow’s post I will share what I think needs to happen next.racer mobile game

Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future

This week Crossway has published a new collection of essays titled Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future. David Dockery edited the volume, which is substantially (though not entirely) based upon the two Baptist Identity Conferences held at Union University in 2004 and 2007. You can still listen to the audio presentations from those conferences by clicking here and here.

The contributors to Southern Baptist Identity include Dockery, Al Mohler, Stan Norman, Greg Wills, Timothy George, Russ Moore, Paige Patterson, James Leo Garrett, Morris Chapman, Ed Stetzer, Jim Shaddix, Thom Rainer, Mike Day, Richard Land, Nathan Finn, and Danny Akin. Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds recently conducted a helpful interview with Dockery. The book will be available for purchase at the SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville.

On The GCR Declaration, Part 6

This is the final article in a series on the GCR Declaration in anticipation of next week’s SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. As you read, please remember that while Between the Times is a group blog that includes a number of Southeastern Seminary professors, these articles (and every article I write) represent my own personal opinions. I speak only for myself, so please avoid imputing my views to any of my fellow contributors unless they have publicly spoken/written about these matters and you can cite their agreement. The comments are open, but because of the large volume of blogging I will be engaging in this week you will understand if I choose not to interact with many comments.

Article IX: A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure

Judging by the reactions on all sides, you would think this is the only thing in the GCR statement. There are people who have been energized by this article. There are people who have been horrified by this article. There are some who think this is the most important section of the GCR Declaration. There are others who think this section needs to be cut. I have saved my engagement with this article for last, for two reasons. First, it is the article that has generated the most buzz. Second, I want to be absolutely clear about my convictions–and one major concern–related to this section of the GCR Declaration.

Let me begin by saying I think the SBC needs to be reevaluated and possibly restructured. I am not sure that Covenant for a New Century went far enough, though I think it began moving us in the right direction. I also believe that the various autonomous layers of our denomination that cooperate with the SBC (like state conventions) also need to be reevaluated and in some cases possibly restructured. I agree with the GCR Declaration when it says, “Some of our convention structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them. We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present”.

Second, I realize that every layer of our denomination is autonomous and that the SBC can only make decisions about the SBC. If President Hunt’s taskforce is approved and if that taskforce recommends a restructuring, such recommendations, if implemented, will only affect the SBC. State conventions and local associations may or may not follow suit. Only a majority vote of the messengers to multiple annual meetings in each layer can bring change to that layer. But that didn’t stop us from pursuing a Conservative Resurgence, did it? I think a Great Commission Resurgence is worth the same effort. If enough churches want to see changes, you can bet that every layer of the denomination will start changing. It’s that simple.

Third, contrary to some of the rhetoric you may have heard, any restructuring would most certainly be about the Great Commission if it was done well and for the right reasons. While the Great Commission was given to the churches, in our polity the local churches have entrusted some of their “Great Commission responsibilities” to different denominational layers on the assumption that those layers would help the churches pursue the task more effectively. To the degree that any of our denominational parachurch ministries are not helping our churches in these responsibilities, they are a Great Commission liability. We have an obligation–for the sake of effective gospel proclamation–to examine everything we do and see if we can do it better.

Fourth, I have no specific recommendations about what any potential restructuring should look like. I leave such decisions to wiser people. But I know there are weak spots. To cite just one example, in our North American church planting in particular there is way too much overlap, as numerous others have already alluded (including President Hunt and Dr. Akin). We have to rethink how we presently do church planting because we don’t do it very well. As one particularly bright (and well-known) younger Southern Baptist said in a recent meeting I attended, “Most of the guys I know believe that ACTS 29 is a resource and NAMB is just a hoop you have to jump through”. I know naming ACTS 29 just sent some readers into cardiac arrest, but rest assured that this young man wasn’t thinking about Calvinism, alcohol, wearing jeans and flip-flops to corporate worship, or cussing in the pulpit when he made that comment. He was thinking about how ineffective our denominational parachurch ministries are when it comes to planting churches. He could have compared NAMB (and many state conventions) to a dozen other church planting agencies and the verdict would have been the same.

Fifth, I think that whatever reevaluation and restructuring may take place applies just as much to me and my institution as it does to you and yours. Let me say loud and clear that if a restructured SBC means I don’t get to be a professor, I will gladly find a local church to serve or will apply for the mission field. God called me to the gospel ministry before he led me to become a professor. And since I hope and pray it is God’s will for us to embrace a more “simple” denominational structure, I trust that if I must go then that is also his will and he will lead me to wherever he wants me to be.

Finally, please know that I am a big fan, in principle, of state conventions and local associations. All state conventions do some things well and some state conventions do most things well. Certain state convention ministries like summer youth camps, Baptist papers, and Christian liberal arts education continue to have a considerable influence on our wider denomination. And who isn’t glad that most state conventions have programs to help connect ministers with open staff positions in local churches? State conventions provide some valuable services. I particularly appreciate some of the smaller state conventions that put a majority of their financial resources into evangelism, church planting, and church revitalization because they are located in what we used to call “pioneer” areas. So rest assured that I do not want to see state conventions go away.

But many state conventions, especially the larger ones that are in regions where the SBC has always been numerically strong, have acquired large bureaucracies as their number of programs has proliferated. Being somewhat familiar with several state conventions, I am convinced that almost all of the “big” conventions (and some of the “smaller” ones) have at least some superfluous programs and initiatives that need to be cut. Some of these programs do little more than perpetuate the bureaucratization of the state conventions.

Let me give one real-life example: no state convention should employ an individual or individuals whose sole job is to figure out how to convince autonomous churches to give more money to the Cooperative Program. I have talked to Southern Baptists in three different states who have told me that the fact such a position even exists in their conventions demonstrates why churches refuse to send a higher percentage of their CP money through the state convention. Two of the brothers who told me this are part of megachurches that greatly irk the state convention bureaucrats because they don’t give the “right amount” to the CP. But for these churches, their choice is a matter of good stewardship.

Thank God for state conventions, but some of them need to go on a diet so that they can get healthier, live longer, and accomplish more for the sake of the kingdom.

As for associations, they have the potential to be the most fruitful layer of our denominational life because they are the layer “closest” to the local church. I know a handful of directors of missions who are some of my heroes because of the way they are serving their churches and advancing the gospel in their respective regions. But as a general rule, since the mid-20th century associations have been little more than the local arm of the bureaucracy. I don’t want to say too much more at the risk that I engage in overgeneralization. Let me just say this: I am sorely disappointed that the very layer that could be the most helpful to our churches is often the layer that is most irrelevant.

Before closing, remember that I said earlier in this article that I did have one major concern about Article IX. I confess it is a very different concern than those voiced by opponents of any type of reevaluation and restructuring. I am very concerned that we will embrace a restructuring and substitute it for the rest of the agenda. I fear we will wake up around 2013 or 2014 and have a “leaner” denomination but will have not grown in our love for God and neighbor, not renewed our commitment to gospel-centeredness, not been honest about some of the problems in our churches, not become more missional, not stopped fighting over secondary and tertiary issues, and not honored our Lord Jesus Christ in the process. I am deathly afraid that five years from now we will be nothing more than a streamlined version of who we are right now. This is what I pray against. I think a restructuring could be of benefit to our denomination, but I do not want to see a restructuring at the expense of the other nine articles. It’s not worth it.

I could say much more, but it’s time to close out this series of articles. I will be in Louisville from Sunday through Thursday. I plan to be at most of the Pastor’s Conference, the Baptist 21 Panel Discussion, the two Nine Marks at Nine events, and of course the Convention itself. I’ll also be in and out of the SEBTS booth a good bit. If you’ve never seen me before, I’m the stocky dude with the bowtie and the beard. I hope you’ll introduce yourself. And even if you don’t, I hope you will join me in praying (and voting!) for a Great Commission Resurgence among the people called Southern Baptist.game online mobile