Depopulating the Denomination

Tim Brister —  October 1, 2007 — 13 Comments

Baptist Press reports,

As recently as six months ago, Stetzer said he considered stepping down from denominational leadership, frustrated by “some people who just want to keep bombing the rubble.” He said he longs for a time when enough theological clarity has been offered to put a greater focus on being “missional.”

Some of you might remember this situation with the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). If not go here for the details. Stetzer is not the only one frustrated and looking for the exit sign. Unfortunately, as the younger generation sees the SBC take its focus off the Great Commission, they will continue to look elsewhere for networking and associations outside the denominational structures. Stetzer asserts,

“If the focus is going to be elsewhere, then we’re going to depopulate this denomination. We’ve already driven off much of the young leaders.”

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the outsourcing of the SBC. In that article I stated,

You see, there are many and varied things that are attracting Southern Baptists, new and old alike, to find their identity and ministry elsewhere, and there is little reason to stay and hang around. When they read about the controversy of alcohol and the fact that you cannot attend a conference without being questioned about it, they are being pushed to the periphery. When they see the triumphalistic attitudes of those leading the Convention, they are quick to be removed from their shadow. When they are told that they have to jump to certain political and bureaucratic hoops to plant churches, go on the mission field, or pastor churches, they become weary of traditions of men. When other gospel-driven church planting networks are maligned by Executive Committee members, they prefer to be maligned with them.

In order to stop the bleeding and seek to turn the tide against the outsourcing (depopulating of our denomination), I suggested three things:

1. Labor to build new bridges in the SBC. I see men like Danny Akin and David Dockery leading the way in this regard.

2. Protect and defend the bridges that still exist. I don’t see anybody doing this at this point.

3. Call out those who are burning bridges in the SBC. I don’t see anybody doing this either.

One out of three is not bad. It’s a start. But I fear the latter two require a level of courage and sacrifice that is presently nonexistent in the SBC leadership. Whoever steps up and takes that challenge deserves all of our support. Organizations know that when they lose sight of their purpose for existing, shadow purposes will rise up and supplant the original purpose for existing. The SBC originally came together for the purpose of missions and evangelism. Twenty-five years after the Conservative Resurgence, we have not seen a Great Commission Resurgence (a term used by Dr. Danny Akin). Is it not a peculiar day when a denomination that increases in membership has 90% of churches in decline with future leaders looking elsewhere to minister? Could it be that we have lost our purpose for existing? Could it be that we have lost our Baptist identity? Could it be that we have lost the gospel during the same time we have recovered the inerrancy of Scripture?

Indeed, it could.

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  • Jeremy B.

    Timmy, great word. I think you are doing a great job of fleshing out what many of us are feeling.

  • One of the comments on Steve McCoy’s blog asked, “Why do you stay?” That’s what has to stop. If we want the SBC to survive — and I would argue that it is worth trying to save — we have to decide to live with its faults long enough to try and fix them.

    Here’s the kicker — to fix this stupid alcohol thing, you have to become a tea-toatler (I’m sure I misspelled that). You can’t fix things if you don’t get into the leadership, and you can’t get into the leadership if you don’t follow their rules. You just have to remember, once you get there, why you wanted to get there in the first place.

  • Chris,

    You speak to some important things there. In another post, I hope to speak a little on the areas of disconnect that exist in SBC life. I have heard it said that some of the existing leadership saying that young folks are demanding seats at the table or requesting positions of leadership. No one I know has ever even remotely said anything to that effect. They don’t like what they see. They are marginalized to the periphery. They are loosely SBC . . .

    Before there is an interest in leadership, I think there needs to be a way to bring these folks back into the center through consensus and avoiding controversy on tertiary or nonessential matters. It is amazing how the SBC can make matters adiaphora and turn them into litmus tests of “orthodoxy.” Theological triage is supposed to help the wounded, not shoot our own. The series that Steve developed (What I Hate About Us) is indicative of the disenchantment of the young folks from the leadership in the SBC. Nobody is saying, “I want to be like ____________. I want to model my life and ministry after __________.” Rather they are looking to men like Keller, Piper, Mahaney, or Driscoll.

    You’re right. We probably will not be able to fix things from a leadership standpoint (denominationally). But our churches are autonomous and cannot be told what to do from a denominational level. Continue to faithfully teach and preach God’s Word, love your people, encourage other pastors, and work from reform at a grass roots level. I think there could be a groundswell of interest if people simply came together for the sake of our churches. Leadership in its simplest form is influence. And influence is gained not positionally but progressively through a proven ministry. Allow me to encourage you in that for the sake of the Kingdom. We are at best unworthy servants.

  • Timmy,

    I am a layman who was once the minster of students. What do you suggest the layman do? I do like Stetzer’s position of getting laymen more involved.

    I think we create all of these committees and “ministry” positions on the church to get and keep people involved. These are all extra biblical positions and most we don’t need. Why don’t we build up people who want to go and share the Gospel? It’s seems these different positions are built up to serve ourselves rather than going outside of the church. People will more quickly sign up and show up to be a “greeter” than to go out and share the Gospel. Yes, I’m generalizing, but I believe that’s an accurate statement.

    My biggest frustration is the watered down Gospel presented in light of the Theology of Glory with only a sprinkle of theology thrown in. So what is the base for the Christian life being built upon?

    Side thought. Is there a biblical mandate that we invite unbelievers to worship service? If so, where? As I understand it we are to go share the Gospel not go and invite people to worship service. In the SBC there is much talk about the Great Commission and we love our baptism numbers. But the Great Commission is not to go and invite people to worship a God they don’t believe in.

    Until we aren’t afraid to share the Gospel we can contextualize, re-contextualize and culturize (my word) the church experience and we’ll still have spiritual health problems. The seeker movement was a cultural engagement as it was attractional and played to the entertainment aspect of American culture. Now that’s not good enough and we need something more. As Christians we are part of the culture not outside of it. I have a post coming up soon about some of these issues. The more we try to repackage the Gospel to make it palatable the more we get torn apart. The Gospel becomes our own stumbling block.

    Thanks brother,

  • P.s. Agree or disagree with this website I think there is much there that is wrong with the SBC. No one should be untouchable because they made a name for themselves.


  • johnMark,

    As laymen, I would agree with the gist of your conclusion, namely that we should focus on living gospel-centered lives where the gospel becomes normative in our lives individually and shapes the community of believers in ministry, service, and mission. A missional church is one where every member sees themselves as accountable to the Great Commission, to live as missionaries in our own world, and engage our culture as a counter-culture community transformed by Jesus Christ. As a layman, I would spend my efforts in understanding the gospel, applying it to my own heart, using it as a hermeneutic for life, and having it encompass all my relationships and dealings with other people, both saved and lost. To unpack this more would probably exceed the attention span and interest of a comment, so I probably need to dedicate a separate article to that.

    I would also pray for the leaders of my church as well as those leading the SBC.

    Lastly, it is sad to see that blog about FBC Jax. It appears that the megachurches and flagship churches have suffered greatly, whether it is FBC Dallas, Bellevue, Germantown, Daytona Beach, West Palm Beach, and now Jax. The last time something like this happened where I somehow was tossed in the loop was at West Palm Peach. I wrote a length post expressing my thoughts on their situation which appears somewhat similar to this one. You can read that post by going here:

    There should be accountability and opportunity to address concerns or questions within their own church. I regret that they have taken it to the blogosphere and public. I know they will argue that they were left without any other recourse, but I simply don’t think the answer is going at it this way.

  • Timmy,

    What you said about laymen is good practical advice. However, when there is no outlet for you it’s very tough. When so few care about theology and such and the main goal is to just get people to come to church then what? Unless I am with my theology geek friends who don’t go to my church, for example, when at lunch, dinner, etc. no one talks about theology, missions or sharing the Gospel. I should try and be more of a catalyst.

    Yes, that FBC Jax sight isn’t the right way to go about things, but I certainly understand. Once you reach a certain status there seems to be little accountability. One easy example of this is that you can misrepresent a theological system by writing and speaking against it and that’s okay. But if you say something those very people then you are divisive because those are “good men of God who have lead many to Christ…how many have you lead to Christ? etc. etc.” is that reply. What is this Gospel Street where the church (SBC) has it’s own Wall Street? Do enough production numbers in dollars and works and you’re off the hook?



  • Timmy,
    I need to call you later. I have a new rant about the cooperative scam in Indiana.

  • johnMark,

    I, too, have been told very similar things. Those who have fought for the Conservative Resurgence are not to be held accountable for what they do or say because they have arrived at at position in the SBC where they are immune to any accountability. Denominational leaders told me they are the “untouchables.” I have touched them, and they came wanting to talk with me. Sigh.

    With the advent of blogging, a lot of good and a lot of bad has occurred. The good is that those who could so easily get away with misrepresenting theological systems, constructing straw men, promoting caricatures, and inflaming controversy with reckless rhetoric no longer have the freedom and unabated pass. They have, are, and will be addressed. The bad is that this is often handled the wrong way (as in the aforementioned blog). Early in my blogging, I did not handle it the right way, and some would argue that I still do. In any case, there has been a maturation process in the SBC with controversy, both with those starting the fights and those not willing to lay down and play dead.

  • Thomas Twitchell

    Is it countabiliity or accountability?


    Sick isn’t it, when you go to church functions and no one talks about the Faith. Scary thought. And, if you cannot feel safe among brothers in sharing the Gospel, just how do you encourage sharing it amongst strangers?

    I remember a “Dinnner for Eight” where certain topics were met with, “If were going to talk about that, we’re leaving.” Great, a dinner scheme designed to encourage fellowship shot down by political correctness. Simply amazing, that to get along you must go along. It kills any kind of true fellowship in the Spirit. If you can’t be wrong, you can’t be corrected, you know!

    And then what is left when your church turns a deaf ear and the local association protects the member churchs’ leadership, and the state association likewise is not interested in accountabiliity because of the almight trump card, local autonomy. The acccountability Scriptures go beyond the local assembly and penetrate privacy, Revelation 2. We’ve slipped to far to the autonomy side and misunderstand the broader definition of cooperation which includes open accountability. 11:1 A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
    but a just weight is his delight.

    Tom Ascol’s suggestion that something needs to be done from the convention level to address pseudo-membership attempts to secure that thread that is vital to the fabric of this tapestry called the SBC. If there is a wake up call it may be coming from without as we witness the disintegration of the Anglican Communion. Cross congregational and denominational accountability beyond the mere lip service paid to the BFM and cooperative agreements are really needed.

    The Bridges conference coming up is a good start. Let us pray then that more than a go along-get along attitude prevails and that there is serious repentence from sef-protectionism.

    Proverbs 18:1 “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
    he breaks out against all sound judgment.”

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