I composed this post on two plane rides in one weekend. It’s just a few thoughts that have been swirling in my head and heart provoked by some recent articles I have read from southern baptist leaders and some conversations Dad and others and I have had over the past few months. Here goes…
My dad has been a southern baptist pastor for almost 50 years. That is my heritage. I’ll admit, I’ve thought a lot about disassociating from southern baptists for various reasons since my college days, but I continue to be compelled to learn from and walk with southern baptist friends and leaders. I am especially thankful for the southern baptist leader that my dad has been. I so respect him and his heart to listen to God and love others. I am also thankful for his heart to love and lead southern baptist leaders, as he has done with the New Orleans Baptist Seminary for nearly 30 years.
Now, I network with and learn from others leaders who are not southern baptist. I certainly am enriched by those relationships, but I must say that my most influential relationships have been with southern baptist pastors and leaders who have generously poured into my life.
I guess I caught my love for the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) particularly from my dad. It might better be described as a love-hate relationship. That’s probably true for many of us involved with southern baptist sub-culture. Like the SBC or not, I believe in and am passionate about three specific core values that southern baptists have held for a long time now.
1 – Teach the Bible. 2 – Associate autonomously. 3 – Serve cooperatively.
Dr. Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Seminary, should he proud of me for remembering one of the key stories he told his students in evangelism class. The story was set in 1906. I don’t remember the guy’s name, but I do remember what he boldly stood for and reminded the convention crowd of that day. He reminded them, in the midst of a season of Biblical wavering and power grabs, that the convention was founded on these basic core values I’ve mentioned above. Mainly the Bible and autonomy.
When it comes to teaching the Bible, we will never lack for something to teach. God has preserved a letter of His great love for and interaction with us. We have plenty to learn from and share from within it. And we must surrender all of our systems of theology and preferential thinking to the premises of His living Word. Jesus called Himself truth, and as the embodiment of that living Word, His truth should shape our values, theology, and ministry practices.
Associating autonomously is to me one of the most distinct characteristics of the SBC. Technically, we are not a hierarchical denomination like all others. We are instead a lot of local expressions of the church who relate together to love the culture we live among. At least ideally.
The cooperative program was founded with a cooperative spirit. That spirit has not always prevailed, admittedly. However, it remains the heart and hope of those who see the beauty of SBC ministry throughout our nation and our world.
I believe in and am passionate about these central values of the SBC. I know I am not alone. I believe they still matter.
We live in an interesting time as southern baptists. It is an SBC day of both great commision resurgence and inwardly-focused churches, visionary leaders and power struggles, open dialogue and alleged cover-ups, theological debates and individual-slandering, missional-emphasis and mission-board turmoil. I guess it’s nothing new. New or rerun, these core values remain as important today as ever.
As someone interested in remaining faithful to learning and living the ways of Jesus alongside fellow southern baptists, I want to make two suggestions to the current leadership of the SBC. I am sharing this at an important time as those leaders look to reorganize and reprioritize. I really have no idea whether anyone in leadership will ever see this post. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to write it. If these suggestions are worth considering, I pray they will be helpful. If not, they probably won’t be read anyway.
1st suggestion_MENTOR YOUNG LEADERS AT ALL TIMES SO THEY CAN TAKE THE BATON FROM YOU AT ANY TIME NECESSARY.
There is a Biblical mandate to make disciples. It’s not just for the pastors and convention leaders. It’s for every follower of Christ. It does, however, certainly include the convention leader. I’ve asked a few folks who are considered “convention leaders” if they would say that it is a common occurrence for convention leaders to be actively discipling young leaders for the purpose of readying them to take convention leadership when the time would arise. The answer has been no across the board.
If we truly have a heart to resurge the great commission and foster a cooperative spirit, then that would of course include daily discipling the next generation of leaders and in turn handing off leadership to them over time rather than when our position comes to an end.
Does the leader of the executive committee have several young leaders he is mentoring for convention leadership? Does the head of the state convention? The president of the Seminary? IMB? NAMB? The local association? The local church pastor? If not, we all should.
If not, then how seriously do we really take the great commission?
It has been said lately that God does not need the SBC. That is true. However, men who follow God continue to give energy and continue to sacrifice family time to lead the SBC. If they see the SBC as a vital part of the mission and movement of God that Jesus called His church, but they don’t mentor the next generation of leaders to take their place, one would wonder how much they really value the convention’s role in the resurgence of the great commission.
I’m not trying to be critical here. Just making a suggestion. Put your money where your mouth is. Bring on young leaders to learn from you and give input to you. Give the chance to lead and learn and fail and succeed, coaching them along the way. This is a must if you hope for the SBC and the Cooperative Program to continue to stay strong into the future.
2nd suggestion_DECENTRALIZE LEADERSHIP TO MAXIMIZE IMPACT.
Autonomy still matters. If it does, lead like it. Lead like Jesus. He had the guts to hand off a global mission to a bunch of diverse, seemingly ill-prepared, got-my-own-ideas-about-this-kingdom stuff men. And the movement called “church” continues.
A serious question looms. Why, among current leadership, does there seem to be a sense of needing to control ideals and strategies and partnerships? It’s as if the movement that continues will be lost unless it is protected by the right men. It’s as if the way to move the SBC forward lies in preserving what was fought so hard for in the 80s to protect. This makes no sense, because preserving life does not beget new life. Giving life does. Preserving something’s current existence leads to stagnancy. Stagnancy will not spur on the restorative mission of the great commission. Resurgence does not happen when controlling SBC development is the focus. Releasing instead of retaining does.
After all, I didn’t think that the movement of convention organizations determined the direction of the SBC. I thought the movement of the local church did. I didn’t think convention leaders, in their committees, had any power other than the power that is present when they give themselves away to serve and resource local churches and local leaders engaged in the very powerful ministries that happen in their local communities. Or am I to understand autonomy differently.
Jesus decentralized. And current leadership must, as well. After all, Jesus’ movement is not dependent on the preferences of one specific group of religious leaders. It’s much bigger than that. Much bigger than them. And as convention leadership does what convention leadership was originally intended to do – relate, serve, dream with, support, trust, decentralize – then and only then will they get in on the movement, too. Cause it’s happening.
The bride of Christ continues to be the beauty the Groom adorned her to be among our world. She is not waiting for one or two or three groups to declare her beautiful or correct or sound or on the right mission. And while convention leaders too often centralize efforts in order to act on a power that was never intended to be theirs in the first place, the decentralized movement of the church moves onward and outward without them.
If someone who is a convention leader actually reads this, I hope you will hear these suggestions from a heart that cares about the future involvement of the SBC in this movement Jesus called church, not from a haggler criticizing a group of men with whom my own Father associates. I am grateful to those men and for the leadership they provide.
And thanks, Dad. Thanks for all the people you have mentored and released through the years. The evidence is HUGE. Since Mom and Dad were in the accident back in April, the response has overwhelmingly indicated a resurgence of great commission followers and leaders who have poured out love to the man and his wife who so freely poured out all they had into those young leaders.
May we all join the original surgence. And may the convention leaders pour into those involved and serve those already carrying out the great commission in their local contexts.