I am no influential voice within the SBC. I am an ordinary SBC pastor. My church is not significant and we have many weak areas of ministry. My thoughts are limited. Obviously, I have not been in any back room discussions or present for any significant open discussions about the details of where the GCR plans to take us.
But, like any and every Southern Baptist, I have a few thoughts. For the sake of my own conscience, to stimulate my own thinking a bit more, and to conduct this discussion within my own circles, I offer the following thoughts.
What Concerns Me About the Future of the SBC.
Character. I met Adrian Rodgers once. He was gracious to conduct an informal question and answer session while at The Master’s Seminary in the late 90’s. I had an opportunity to ask a question of the one who was the first president of the Conservative Resurgence and the first SBC president I sat under (1988). I asked Dr. Rodgers, “What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the future of the SBC?” He didn’t even pause to consider it. He quickly answered, “Character. Personal character among the new generations of leaders.” I cannot possibly know the details that were obviously in his mind, but he went on to express a deep concern over the personal and ministry character of the new breed of leaders coming into positions of authority in the Convention.
I suppose if character was the chief concern of the Apostle Paul for leadership (i.e., 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), it should obviously rank up at the top of concerns for the future of the SBC. If the direction of the Convention is determined and promoted by people who lust for position, acclaim, influence, status, recognition, a platform, etc., I can foresee a multitude of pastors and churches leave to become involved in something reflecting more full of Christlikeness, tired of the suits and hair-do’s positioning themselves for denominational power. GCR will fail if it is run by leaders who have attained their place of responsibility simply because it is their turn at the podium.
Theology. Something more substantive and significant needs to emerge from GCR than what has pervaded the Convention in the recent past. The rallying cry of innerancy was worth the fight, in my estimation. But it was far from thorough. Biblical authority and sufficiency also need to be championed and fought for as well. While I view myself as Calvinistic in terms of my soteriology, I’m not suggesting that the only substantive theological conversations can be held under the banner of Calvinism. But neither must Calvinists be kept from the table by mischaracterizations and demonization. Nor should those with a more Arminian bent be excluded from the discussion or the platform.
The emptiness of easy believism, baptizing anything that moves, sit-com-topical preaching, Billy Graham-sounding dialects, managerial maneuvering, mega-church idolatry, and pastoral posturing for image are caricatures that have widespread roots of reality in Southern Baptist life and they are roots that belie a theological problem. A new generation, whether Calvinistic or not, is not interested in what is sterotypically Southern Baptist and finds no real necessity in keeping it propped up without significant biblical warrant. If there is not a serious-minded, robust, and thorough theological bent, GCR will be nothing more than a power play and a new SBC programatic emphasis.
Leadership. Much has been said about the greying of the SBC. Newer generations have enjoyed the resurgence in many of the seminaries but are feeling no need or loyalty to the denomination that has sustained them. While many reasons exist for this, one has to be that newer generations of leaders (unless they happen to be related to the existing generation of leaders) are simply not being invited to the table. This is true not merely on a national level, but state-wide, and locally. I think church planting, theological education, missionary funding, and disaster relief are significant reasons to stay involved in the Convention. They are issues that every generation is going to try and find a cooperative way to achieve. However, if younger pastors are not invited to the table in significant ways, they will find no need to remain a part. I understand the volatility and arrogance of youth. I’ve expressed it in too many ways throughout my young ministry. However, I have seen little mechanism or desire among many in denominational power to invest in younger pastors that will fuel future SBC leadership in a significant and widespread manner.
Emphasis. If our goal is simply to promote the same old Lottie Moon-like programs yet in new ways, and for more months, the Convention will (and should fail). Motivation to call congregations to sacrifice for a programatic emphasis is not going to catch fire among new churches or existing churches with new leadership. New believers coming out of unchurched backgrounds, having no familial traditions of Easter’s emphasis being replaced by raising money for Annie, are not going to be motivated for church planting simply because we add another month to the goal setting and offering collections.
Theologically generic (neutered) Sunday School material will not motivate more participation, simply because it is produced by a Southern Baptist entity. Sunday School, for the sake of promoting a religious tradition known as Sunday School, isn’t going to fly much longer.
Significant church planting, praying for, and rescuing the persecuted, thorough evangelization for genuine conversion, significant spiritual fellowship, personal and corporate accountability, biblically rich public worship, significant expositions of Scripture, involvement in the community for gospel-centered reasons and not merely attendance building, will motivate more to be involved.
So, I am praying for the GCR Task force. I don’t know what they are planning, thinking, or discussing. I am hopeful. I voted for the task force to be created. I’m thankful for many of the people involved. But I have concerns also. May God bring about significant, substantive changes for His glory and the increase of His kingdom through the ministry of the church.