It’s been quite a long time since I blogged anything about the Southern Baptist Convention. Early blog readers will remember the days when SBC issues were a regular item here. It is not so much that I am uninterested in what is taking place in the SBC as much as it is a desire for me to be more of a contributor in what I do than simply what I say as a commentator. Having said that, I hope the stuff I am writing now about the gospel, mission, church planting, etc. would be considered edifying to anyone, but especially to my Southern Baptist folk.
But alas, this is the week of the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I am unfortunately not in Phoenix, AZ where the mass of polo shirts and comb overs are converging. Given the significance of this week in SBC life, I thought I’d post ten (random) personal thoughts about the SBC for what it’s worth.
1. For the most part, the days of serious and heated debates are over. People are not debating about private prayer languages, Calvinism, alcohol, and eldership like they used to. You can still find discussions taking place today, but they don’t carry weight and significance like in years past. The issues won’t be going away, but it is refreshing to see us focus the greater part of our attention planting churches and getting the gospel to the nations. I think the enormity of the GCR conversation did much to change that.
2. I am very encouraged by the new leadership in the SBC. The changes that have taken place at NAMB under the leadership of Kevin Ezell and his senior team are courageous and necessary, and I am really looking forward to the unfolding of their vision (Send North America). Though I don’t know much about Tom Eliff, there is no one out there who has said one negative thing about this man, and in the SBC world, that puts you in a class of your own. From what I understand, the IMB is in good hands under his leadership. And though I have not always agreed with Frank Page, head of the executive committee of the SBC, I have already seen positive changes, in particular with the direction and focus of Baptist Press. Finally, the current president of the SBC, Bryant Wright, seems to have quietly led the convention through a transitionary time after the reception of the GCR proposal. All these things are positive signs for the future of the SBC.
3. Through there are still various camps with differences, several of them have demonstrated willingness to learn and even partner with one another. The Building Bridges Conference several years ago was a forerunner to this. Some of the key leaders encouraging this kind of togetherness are men like Mark Dever, Danny Akin, Johnny Hunt, Tom Ascol, Ed Stetzer, and Thom Rainer. There are still some who would rather point out differences than areas of agreement, but these men focusing on affirming first-tier doctrines related to the gospel and our call to the Great Commission are influencing the SBC in the right direction.
4. The day has come when the young leaders in my generation are starting to play a prominent role in the SBC. Some of the men are intricately connected to the SBC, such as David Platt, Nathan Finn, Aaron Coe, J.D. Greear, Trevin Wax, Baptist 21 brothers, and Nathan Lino, while there are others who are nominally Southern Baptist, such as Matt Chandler, Darrin Patrick, and Daniel Montgomery. Several of these guys I consider personal friends, and I’m looking forward to seeing how God is going to use them for greater kingdom purpose within and beyond the SBC.
5. As the younger generation rises in influence, I believe the conversation will change more from debating issues like Calvinism and worship styles to more praxis-oriented issues related to church and mission. I think my generation raised on divisive rhetoric are tired of the debates and want to live out their faith, personalizing mission (being “missional”) and centering their attention on things like church planting and revitalization. Conferences are being replaced with bootcamps, and the younger generation are not looking for another “baptist battle” as much as a new city to win for Jesus.
6. The implementation of the GCR will continue to face challenges on the state and associational level. This is a sad reality, and perhaps why networks are so appealing and gaining so much influence. They carry none of the bureaucratic overhead and are capable of avoid mission drift through over-centralization and self-justifcation. The real battle for the GCR is, and will continue to, take place on a grassroots level.
7. The structures of identity of Southern Baptists by and large have been broken. By that I mean, we used to be known for the programs and practices almost universally adopted across the convention, such as Sunday School, R.A.’s/G.A.’s, “discipleship training” hour, “revival” services, WMU, and even seminary training could be considered a thing of the past. What I hear more of now are missional communities instead of Sunday School, family-based ministry instead of children’s programs, theology weekends instead of revival services, and church-based residency centers instead of seminary training. While some of the new alternatives exist within the SBC, many of them don’t; therefore, there will be new structures of identity within the SBC, and whether that will be doctrinal distinctives, philosophies of ministry and mission, and gospel consensus remains to be seen.
8. Southern Baptists still have incredible influence in the evangelical world, and I hope that greater understanding and partnership can take place within conservative, confessional evangelicals. We have the best missionary sending agency in the world with the best means of funding them (Cooperative Program). We have some of the best seminaries in the world with world-class scholars. B&H Publishing in recent years has published some really helpful, theologically rich books, and LifeWay executive team is continuing to leverage their influence to impact and edify Christians.
9. There are many reasons to be proud as a Southern Baptist, but there is much work to do, especially where it matters the most–local churches. We are still a convention of churches that refuses to tell the truth when it comes to membership. We are still in dire need of the recovery of the gospel, especially in South. While there are encouraging signs of local church reformation and revitalization, the landscape of the SBC is changing dramatically, and the next decade will be a defining time in the history of the SBC in relation to ecclesiology, missiology, and gospel centrality.
10. I believe the best Southern Baptists are those who don’t spend their time and energy talking about the SBC but focus their life on Jesus Christ. The SBC is not the hope of the world. Jesus is. The SBC may not be around 100 years from now, but the kingdom of God is eternal. Those who spend their lives in the politics, debates, and other peripheral issues may gain attention in the blogosphere and domain of bureaucratic conference rooms, but the future of the SBC does not belong to those wearing pajamas our suits. Rather, it belongs to those with a towel and basin, following Jesus on mission–serving, loving, and giving their lives away. I want to be found in that number because I love Jesus, because I believe in the local church, and because I am grateful to be called a Southern Baptist.