I’m 40 years old and I can’t recall a time in my ministry without the grandstanding, name calling, and general divisiveness that regularly precedes the annual convention in each June. I, like most of the guys my age, am tired of it. I have never know the convention without the constant undercurrent of competition rather than cooperation.
It’s time for this to stop. I have heard enough judgmental name calling and backbiting in the last 20 years to last me a lifetime. I have listened to more conspiracy theories over the intentions of denominational leaders and nominees than I can remember. Most recently I have watched as we have shifted from aiming at what is right and true to being more concerned about what the news outlets will report than what the Word says.
While we move from year to year with “controversies” in our convention, the denominational reports are the same- we continue to have a less than effective impact for the Gospel in the areas where our churches are located. Just last June in Phoenix it was reported that we had the lowest number of baptisms since 1946, the lowest membership since 1990, and the lowest worship attendance since 1996. I know the culture has changed and that we are struggling to reach the next generation, but I can’t find a verse in Scripture that says those are good reasons to throw in the towel and naval gaze until Jesus comes back.
After a few phone calls this week asking me what I thought about all the stuff going on the SBC I wrote some things down. I am not the wordsmith that others pastors are. I am not the statesman, nor do I care to be, that other men are. I am not wading into the fray of who should be fired, who should preach, or who should be president. We have a system and a process in place for handling those matters and I am praying for those who are responsible. However, I do believe there are some things our pastors, ministers, and denominational leaders can do as Southern Baptists:
We need to renew our commitment to cooperate together for the sake of the Great Commission.
We need to remember that our past tensions and fights were over the authority of Scripture and the truthfulness of the Gospel, therefore let’s keep our fights over essential issues like those in the present and future.
We need to recommit to the Baptist Faith & Message as our unifying confessional document for the convention. (In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity)
We need to pray that the oldest generation of leaders in our convention will finish well. In addition, we need our older leaders to consider how they will pass the baton of leadership to the next generation for the continued advancement of the Gospel.
We need to pray that the younger generation of leaders in our convention will focus on being faithful and being fruitful. As young guys we need to recognize that greater responsibility does not equal greater satisfaction, and no matter the size of our leadership role there is still much to learn and much we haven’t done.
We need to choose our leaders from among those who live faithful to the Lord, love their wives, lead their families, and shepherd the flock that is among them. We need denominational leaders from churches that advance the gospel from where they live to the ends of the earth.
We need to view one another as partners in the Gospel, not competitors for positions. None of us deserve what we do. None of us deserve the mercy and grace of God through Christ. But, praise God we have been saved according the riches and kindness of God through Jesus Christ. It’s time we show the same kindness and grace to one another and cooperate for the sake of the Gospel.
We need to put the “Calvinism vs. Traditionalism” debates to bed. It’s embarrassing and discouraging to watch grown men who know their SBC history and who are grounded in biblical theology spit vitriol at one another over this issue. We need to admit the real issue in this debate is over leadership not theology. We need to humble ourselves before the Lord, put our hands to the plow in the field God gave us, and not look back.
We need to listen to one another, and this includes the women in our congregations. God’s roles are clear in Scripture for both the church and the home. But, the value and worth of both genders is also clear in Scripture and we must not tolerate, justify, or support any person or position that devalues our sisters in Christ.
We need to recognize that there is diversity of experience as it relates to ethnicity in our country and our churches. Just because you don’t experience racism or feel racist doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue in our country, your county, or in many churches. Our commitment should be to the end of racism and justice for the oppressed rather than defending ourselves. If you are not the problem, then be committed to the solution.
We need to fix our eyes on the founder and perfecter of our faith. We need to focus on Jesus and run the race that has been set before us with endurance. It’s time to lay aside the things that distract us. It’s time to lay aside the sin that easily entangles us. It’s time to be unified in Christ and love one another in the common pursuit of faithfulness and fruitfulness.
We need to be eager to maintain the unity we have in Christ. According to Ephesians 4 our unity is a spiritual reality in Christ that requires work. Increased unity is the result of increased spiritual maturity. The more mature we are in Christ, the more unified we will become. The more unified and mature we become, the more the body of Christ works properly. We are not working properly. We are not unified, and we may need to check our spiritual maturity. We will not work properly until we are united, and our unity is already in Christ. We must strive eagerly for unity with one another. Let’s pray for one another and with one another. Let’s encourage one another online and face to face. Let’s build one another up in love with our words and our actions.