Recapping the SBC 2010

I was not able to attend the SBC in Orlando this year.  But I was off from work on Tuesday and Wednesday so I was able to watch the vast majority of the proceedings.  Watching it streaming is not at all like being there and having conversations.  But a combination of watching the live stream, twitterfall, and being on the phone with people who were there or who were also watching the stream made for a fulfilling experience. Here are my thoughts

This convention was as close to a single issue convention as I have seen.  Nothing seemed to pop up and get people’s attention.  Everything revolved around the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report, and for good reason.  It represents some restructuring and hopefully streamlining that should be the proper first step towards a convention that puts more emphasis towards the great commission.

It also seems obvious from the floor debate that the convention was predominantly concerned about recommendation #3 from the committee.  This was the recommendation that I was most concerned about. I am glad the president and parliamentarian took the time to clear everything up.  The lady at the mic was right when she said it felt like we were railroaded.  I appreciate her stepping up and I appreciate the leadership for clearing things up.  There was genuine confusion and I was sitting at my house thinking that it did not seem proper.

The final language that, “designated giving to special causes is to be given as a supplement to the Cooperative Program and not as a substitute for Cooperative Program giving,” is definitely suitable to me.

One thing I know for certain is that the Great commission will have to be emphasized in our churches if we are to slow the decline of our convention.  But I believe the GCR recommendations are a step in the right direction for the convention as a whole.

There was another debate about closing the recordings from the task force for 15 years.  I would have voted with the majority, to close them.

Also, although I missed it, some guy rapped his motion

In other commentary, there was a run-off for president.  I knew I was not attending, so I didn’t study up beforehand on the nominees.  So I can’t make any judgment whatsoever about the new president, Bryant Wright.  I will simply say that I agreed with him mostly in his first press conference.

Finally I will say that Johnny Hunt was a great president, and I believe that he was uniquely qualified to do what was done with the passage of the GCR.  Because of Southern Baptists’ love and respect for Johnny, we trusted him and believed his motivations were pure as he brought together the task force.

I hope to be there in Phoenix next year.

Thoughts on the GCR from a Southern Baptist Nobody

I have written before about how I am, in many ways, an average Southern Baptist in my 30s.  This year I will not be able to attend the convention and cast my vote.  Being average and not even a messenger - that makes me an SBC nobody.  So I thought I would make my thoughts toward the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s recommendations known here on my blog.  (Although honestly, I probably would have done that even if I was going to the convention) Before you read this article you can, and probably should, read the excellent summary of the issues and the debate by Trevin Wax. It is succinct, accurate and clear.

If I were able to attend the SBC in Orlando I would vote for the GCR and I would gladly do so in the current form.

I do not like the concept of “Great Commission giving” as a recognized category.  In fact I have a strong dislike for that category.  It seems to me that Great Commission giving if officially recognized, begins to promote a society model of giving.  (I wrote much more about this in this post)  Nevertheless, I would vote for the GCR recommendation.

It is probably unfair to quote Jerry Vines out of context on what was an excellent post, (so go read it yourself) but allow me to clip just one portion that describes my feelings:

If you want to be a part of the leadership, setting the course of the SBC, you should lead in financial commitment. A man in your local church probably won’t get placed on the finance committee if he designates $50,000 a year to the music ministry (maybe led by his son!), but only gives $500 annually to the church’s unified budget. He’s free to give his money that way. But, I doubt you would give him the opportunity to make decisions affecting how the bulk of the church’s money is used.

So why would I vote for the recommendation even though I don't like the category of GC Giving?  because other than that, I support the recommendation.  I generally think the restructuring is a good thing.  I believe that the  restructuring is designed to put the priority of the denomination in the right place - on missions and seeing the nations come to Christ

Those are my thoughts on the recommendation.  As far as an actual Great Commission resurgence goes, there is but one way to see that happen.  Churches must do the will of God.  We are a convention of churches and if we are to see the nations come to Christ we need to see our neighbors come to Christ.

I’m not going to be there, but I will once again reiterate my suggestion.  Somebody should make the following motion-

Nobody can speak about the GCR (on the platform or from the floor) unless they share the gospel with three people between now and the time of the meeting in Orlando.  That way we’ll emphasize evangelism in spite of ourselves.

How do we keep speakers accountable?  We give em Dr. Reid style witnessing reports which they have to turn- in to the page at the microphone before speaking.

Making Progress

In this world there are not many things I am actually good at.  In fact the list of things I am terrible at is very long.  I am terrible at anything that takes physical coordination.  I don’t play church league softball because I bring nothing to the team (anyone can ground out to the second baseman 3 times) I am pretty much horrible at every athletic endeavor.   Although I enjoy them, I am not very good at video games.  I have a terrible singing voice, and I don’t play any instruments.  I am not particularly mechanically inclined.  (Currently I can’t even get my lawnmower to start.) I think that is probably enough examples to make my point without being depressing. Even though the list of things I am bad at is extensive, there are a few things I am quite good at.  Fortunately, I know what those few things are.  I believe one of them is that I am a gifted teacher.

I believe that because of that gifting, God has called me to a profession that allows me to use it.  I would be a sin to allow the tools I have go to waste.

I love God’s word and I love apologetics.  You may recall I once posted about this love and the way that my life has progressed to where I get to teach regularly on apologetics.  Because of these 2 factors, I have for some time had a desire to become a NAMB Certified Apologetics Instructor. (CAI)  I think this is a noble attempt by the NAMB to have a certified group of apologists to recommend as it becomes more and more necessary in a culture which is moving further from being “Christian.”  This certification may turn out to be merely a stamp of approval from an organization I respect, but I believe that God has put this desire in my heart.

Part of the CAI certification process is a required course on public speaking.  It is called Dynamic Communicators workshop and it is put on by the Ken Davis Association. Next week I will post about my experience at this workshop and how I believe it has benefited me.  But in this post I want to ask my readers a favor.

Help me complete my certification.  I have completed steps 1 and 2.  All that is left is step 3.  In order to become a CAI, I must speak 30 times.  Currently I don’t have a church home so I have freedom to travel and speak in a variety of places.  (There is a church I attend regularly, but not where I am a member) Let me speak in your church.  I can do 1 lesson on apologetics or 30 if you want.  I can speak to youth or to adults.  You don’t have to pay me, I’m trying to complete my certification. (although it would be nice to get mileage if you are very far away)

If you recommend me to your pastor or to your church you will be helping me to realize a dream and to do what I believe is God’s will for my life.

I’ll conclude with just one word.


A lesson from the NC State Baptist Convention

A convention with no controversy is boring. This year I attended Tuesday only.  I had obligations on Monday that kept me away from the pastor’s conference, which I’m sure I would have enjoyed.  There was really only one major piece of business this year; amending and restructuring of the constitution.  Most of the changes were for streamlining purposes and it was not controversial.  For example, we renamed the annual session the annual "meeting." (Exciting huh?) The election of officers was completely uneventful.  Only one ballot was even necessary (CJ Bordeaux was elected as second VP), as President and first VP were unopposed.  (In slightly related news, my great-uncle, Don Mathis, was elected as president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)  Even the budget, which involved substantial cuts, only had a few comments from the floor.

Compare this to last year, when we were doing away with giving plans, or to ’07 when we were defunding the colleges as they began electing their own trustees.  Those years had a different feel to them.  In a year like this when everything is routine, we are simply going about our business controversy free.

I almost titled this post Baptists like to Argue.  At a business meeting where everything is cut and dried you begin to hear people say things like “this thing was railroaded,” or “they are just going to elect who they want.”  It’s weird; it’s almost as if we are creating controversy where there is none.  In this case I know that is it.  We in NC are too recently past the major controversies to be organized.  It ought to be a reason for celebration.  Hooray, we are controversy-free! But instead it’s boring.

I must confess, I am as guilty of this as anyone else.  I think the controversy is interesting.  I bet that next year’s SBC is the best-attended in a while.  Not just because it’s in Orlando and we can sneak out to Sea World (not Disney though ;-) ), but because of the controversy that seems to be swirling around the GCR Task Force.

That’s my two cents.  I’m glad we are not fighting, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the controversy.  Maybe next year I’ll make a motion for some controversy.  I already have one in mind.

Convention Commentary from an Average Southern Baptist

When I got home yesterday I read that Morris Chapman has announced his resignation as the head of the executive committee.  I was not shocked by this news.  Nor, I expect, was anyone else.  The real news in my mind comes as this story is added to the events of the past few months.  Chapman’s resignation combined with that of  Rankin and the ouster of Hammond means that there are 3 SBC entities with no top leader. Because of the state of the convention I thought I’d share my thoughts

In many ways I am the average under 35 Southern Baptist minister.  I have been in ministry for 12 years all in small churches.  I am seminary educated.  I have no ambition to ever preach the convention sermon, but I do want to see the Southern Baptist Convention be the best it can be. All I want is to bring glory to God in whatever position He puts me.

I obviously am a blogger, but I don’t have a wide reading.  I probably never will.  Even so, I don’t feel disenfranchised.  In fact I feel very welcome within my convention.  It’s even possible that because I’m one of the 15% of non-grey-hairs at the convention that my voice gets heard a little more.

Now that I have established my averageness as a young Southern Baptist.  I’d like to offer some commentary.

First, I don’t want to dismiss the hand of God in our entities.  As I think about individuals, I don’t want to assume that anything other than the will of God is involved in their decisions.

It seems that the takeaway from looking at the state of our convention is this: change is coming, like it or not.  The fact is, soon we will have different people in charge of both mission boards and the executive committee.

I recall Daniel Akin saying that electing the GCR task force will one day be seen as a watershed event.  At this point that is still a question mark.  The work of that body is yet to be seen. (and you can read my thoughts here) To me it seems that the real beginning of change was the 2006 convention in Greensboro.  That year the convention spoke pretty clearly about its feelings toward the status quo.  I believe that at that point many convention goers were beginning to feel disenfranchised.  The reason it worked out as it did is, I suppose, unfortunate for Ronnie Floyd.  People were feeling that the god-ol-boy network was in full force and their options were not real options.  The vote was less of a vote against Ronnie Floyd as it was a vote for the Cooperative Program.  I believe that the average Southern Baptist (e.g. me) knows that the CP is the tool that has allowed us to become the world’s greatest mission sending organization.  The candidate Ronnie Floyd, with his church's very low CP giving, demonstrated that maybe the good-ol-boy network had the network in mind rather than what is best for the convention.

I don’t want that to sound overly cynical.  In reality I don’t believe there was some grand conspiracy to control everything in the convention.  But I do believe that people who hold influence trust their own judgment more than the convention at large.  So they simply put forth a candidate and hoped for a rubber stamp.  When that didn’t come in 06, it sent a message.

So what is the takeaway from all this.  There will be new leadership in the NAMB, the IMB, and the executive committee.  (And Rainer has only been at Lifeway about 4 years)  And so, regardless of the recommendations that come from the Great Commission task force, change is coming to our convention.

Tomorrow - My Prayer for the convention

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

An open letter to the GCR task force

This topic has been written about before by people with actual readership, but I want to make my voice known because I have had this conversation with a few pastors, and we are basically all in agreement. To the Great Commission Resurgence task force –

First of all, I realize that you are not charged with making the entire SBC become more great commission oriented.  In fact due to the structure of our denomination, churches are not subject to anything that you actually declare.  I also know that if there is to be a great commission resurgence in our denomination, it must be brought about by individuals in individual churches.

Next, I am praying for you. and Dr. Hunt. I hope that God directs your committee to truly affect the kingdom with your decisions.  I hope that the convention in Orlando is as amenable toward your work as the Louisville convention was toward your appointment.

As I understand it, you are charged with evaluating our convention structure with the goal of determining whether or not we are optimally organized to carry out the great commission.  I am on board with whatever you may choose to do. If you explain your position I would be willing to hear reasons for combining our mission organizations (although I believe it’s not a particularly good idea), or for renaming our convention, or for any number of other suggestions I just haven’t thought of yet.  I truly hope that state conventions, local associations and churches are agreeable with whatever recommendations that the annual convention in Orlando passes.

There is one exception to my previous paragraph.  I will never be able to consider currently non-cooperative program missions giving as cooperative program giving.  Planting a church, co-sponsoring a church plant, sending an individual missionary, or digging a well in Bihar India are all great things and need to be done, but those things should never be considered cooperative program dollars because they are not cooperative. I cannot even think of another way to say that.  The SBC is, by and large, a convention of small churches.  The cooperative program is the only way that our small churches can have the sending power that we have.  If we allow other giving to count as CP giving then we take the “cooperative” (and the strength) out of the cooperative program.  In that case we might as well be independent Baptists.

Also, designated money is not cooperative program money.  If money is given with the purpose of doing an end-around of the executive committee or leaving out a seminary or one of our agencies, then it is not cooperative program money.  The reason for the efficiency of the IMB and NAMB is the coordination of all our agencies, Lifeway and Guidestone included.  Maybe you will determine that the sending organizations are not efficient.  Imagine how much worse it would be if everyone designated their offerings.

For simplicity, let me summarize my position.  I support the work of the GCR task force and will prayerfully consider any recommendation you make.  However, I will not be able to support considering independent mission giving to be cooperative program giving.

I welcome any comments.  However, I am currently at M-fuge so it may take me a few days to get them moderated.

2009 SBC Recap

This is simply a recap of the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention from my point of view.  Although this was only my third convention, this one was unique for me in that it was so devotional.  Now that we have adjourned I genuinely feel revived.  There is no question that the theme from the platform was one of revival.  But I will say that for me, all this talk of the great commission has made me assess the way I relate to people and realize that I need to be more intentional about sharing the gospel.  I witness often to those in my path, but I do not go out of my way enough to put others in my path.  I really believe in a real hell and it is selfish, or lazy or hateful not to make evangelism a priority in my life even if it is inconvenient. Now to my observations from Wednesday

The first thing of the morning was the executive committee’s report on the motions from yesterday.  The majority of the motions were ruled out of order.  All the ones regarding Mark Driscoll and Acts 29 were, of course, out of order, but also the ones regarding the HCSB and anything restricting the freedom of any individual member were out of order as well.

Then it was time to pass resolutions.  We thanked Louisville for hosting and recognized the sesquicentennial of Southern Seminary.  The only resolution with any discussion at all was the one about President Obama, recognizing his historic election and praying that he would have some godly counsel.  But it passed as it was printed.

Johnny Hunt named his GCR task force in the morning session as well.  Much of that task force had already been named, though I didn’t know the entire list.  To me the only surprise was that there was just one woman.  I found that odd.  One is not even enough to be considered a token appointment.  I was also a bit curious about Ronnie Floyd being named chair.  His cooperative program number is why he lost in Greensboro so I just find it curious as well.

The Southeastern luncheon was undoubtedly the worst service I have ever received at a banquet of any kind.  This was the fault of the Kentucky Exposition center and not SEBTS.  The speech from the president was enlightening and made the banquet worth attending.  Dr Akin addressed the Mark Driscoll hullabaloo by saying that he is teaching his students to think and that they can learn to glean the useful and discard the bad.  He, of course, said a lot more than that, but that was the gist.  It was both enlightening and necessary.  He was also asked why he thought executive committee president Morris Chapman is so clearly opposed to the GCR.  His answer was that he hasn’t spoken with Chapman about it.

When time for questions in the SEBTS report came up he had to answer the Driscoll / Acts 29 question again.  He was much more brief and less thorough, but said SEBTS is an open book and has nothing to hide.  He also addressed the pamphlet from the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association by saying that if you have questions ask me rather than listening to others.  He then repeated that students need to learn to think, and that having a guest speaker does not endorse every belief of that speaker.

The Theme interpretation in the evening session by Jeff Crook was the best message I heard all week.  (That is saying something too, because I’m pretty sure I heard 15 from Sunday morning through Wednesday night.)  It is a shame that there were so few people remaining by that final session.  Go to the archives and listen to it.  It was about 7:30 pm Wednesday.

The NAMB report and presentation was inspiring and moving.  It made me proud to be a former summer missionary and proud of my cooperative program gifts.  Also, Mandisa is a great singer.

I’ll conclude this with some spare thoughts that don’t fit into the recap above.

First, although last year I did not vote for Johnny Hunt, I am impressed with his leadership.  To me it is obvious that he is not one of the good ol’ boys.  He truly does not seem to be a part of the old guard.

Secondly, Twitter added a lot to the convention.  It is very interesting and enlightening to see that thoughts of others as you all experience that same thing.  It was a running commentary that included hundreds of people you didn’t know and the thoughts of the convention’s movers and shakers.  The reward for best tweet of the week undoubtedly was this one “Almohler could really use a hug today.  SBCers just come up and hug his neck” –obviously Russ Moore got his hands on Al Mohler’s phone.

Finally, one of the real fun things about the convention is seeing all the people you only rarely see.  This year I saw:

Don Mathis – Evangelist and my great-uncle Lee Merck – a pastor formerly from NSRBA Chp. James Deason – a former member of LaGrange who is now stationed at Ft. Campbell.  I wish I had taken his picture so that people from my church could see him with some hair. Stephen Wilson – My former college professor Glen Warner – Youth pastor from NSRBA Greg Taylor – Who I last saw as a part of the UK BSU 11 or so years ago Tim Burdon and family Also some of Former Pastors Rod Groff Don Embry

I’ll say this again.  I am genuinely inspired and proud of our convention now that we are headed home.  There was much more harmony than in my previous conventions, and I for one am convicted about my need to make the Great Commission central to my life and not just my ministry.  As Johnny Hunt said. Talk is cheap and passing a task force is not witnessing. (I wrote that quote down at the time but can’t find my notes so I have messed it up pretty bad.)

2009 Southern Baptist Convention - Tuesday

This is a brief recap of Tuesday June 23 at the Southern Baptist Convention. I’m pretty sure that every person has a different experience there, and some things are more emphasized depending on the crowd around you, but some things are hard to ignore. Where I was, there was one major subject of conversation and controversy.  The Great Commission Resurgence right?  Nope.  Then maybe it was the IMB report and the news of what to do about the economics that have caused us to close down certain missionary efforts.  Nope.

In fact, the number one topic by a mile was Mark Driscoll.  There was a paper published by the Missouri Baptist laymen’s association, and distributed by Truett-McConnell college that was a polemic against Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 Church Planting network.  It indicted Southeastern Seminary and Ed Stetzer and generally caused an uproar.  There were dozens of people around me reading this paper, and when time for introduction of new motions came, there were at least 5 motions taking aim at Mark Driscoll (not a Southern Baptist), Lifeway for selling his books, SEBTS, Ed Stetzer, and Alvin Reid.  I was a bit saddened by this vitriol but more than that I was surprised.  I definitely did not see this coming.  Before you judge me too harshly, I’m not saying I endorse Mark Driscoll.  In fact I have steered people away from him in the past because I know his style turns off so many.  I also am bothered by his attitude toward alcohol and I believe that overly crude language detracts from the message he is delivering about a holy God.  He is, however, orthodox, and to say Lifeway can’t sell his books because he drinks alcohol I just can’t understand.

There were some other interesting motions brought forth.  There was one wanting to rid the convention of the HCSB.  One or two aimed against president Obama on his view of abortion.  Another suggesting that Lifeway be certain that all VBS materials are made in the USA.  I found this particularly interesting in light of a question previously addressed to Thom Rainer during the Lifeway report that VBS stuff needs to be cheaper and supported for more than one year.

The Great Commission Task force was, not surprisingly, the second most significant issue of the day.  It was passed, but not before someone attempted to change it to have the NAMB and IMB do self-studies.  That amendment failed and the task-force passed overwhelmingly.  In fact I only saw 3 votes against it.

The vote to declare Broadway Baptist Church in Ft. Worth not in friendly cooperation passed virtually unanimously and without discussion.

Johnny Hunt was reelected as president by acclimation.  He will lead the GCR task force

Attendance was better than last year, no surprise.  At the time of the election of Hunt there were 8.587 messengers registered.

I also want to say something about Wade Burleson and Bart Barber, but I won’t.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the SBC without protestors.  There were a few demonstrators from PETA outside the gates.  They were dressed as animals and wearing sign that say “God loves me too.”  I think that’s what they said anyway.  It was hard to read.

Feel free to destroy me in the comments because I don’t want to tar & feather Driscoll.

SBC Pastor's Conference day 2

Tonight another brief report from the SBC Pastor’s Conference because it’s late again and I’m tired.  The convention starts tomorrow so the only news of the day was in this article on Baptist Press.  Though I learned about it from Al Mohler. Also we learned that Mike Huckabee has changed parties.  He recently switched from PC to Mac.

I was at the conference for 5 preachers.  Here are the day’s best quotes.

Tom Elliff “If you cannot forgive, you cannot claim to be a man or woman of faith”

Michael Catt “Our preferences have overridden our principles”

“Carnal people will never care about lost people” –in reference to our need to be spirit-filled

Fred Luter Seriously, who in their right mind would try to quote Fred Luter properly?  I just felt bad for whoever was doing the captioning.

Mike Huckabee “It’s not that the job is too big but that it is too small.  They thought they would be leading a battleship but it turned out to be the love boat and making sure everyone is happy” –in reference to why so many leave the ministry

Alvin Reid “100 years from now nobody will remember Oprah”

SBC Pastor's Conference Day 1

It's late and I'm tired.  All you are getting is one quote each from the 3 speakers JD Greear "If your church died would your city be sad?"  -In reference to Dorcas

Mac Brunson "There are too many satellite buffaloes in the SBC" - This is a worthless quote without context, but I'm tired

Chuck Colson "The Great Commission is not to make converts but to make disciples"

SBC Preview

I am leaving in the morning for Louisville and the Southern Baptist Convention.  I am planning to write a blog report each night after I get home.  (Most likely the Wednesday update will not come until Thursday afternoon) I thought I would give a bit of a preview of the major things to look out for before I go.  I am sure that I won't do as good a job as some other bloggers but I have regular readers who are interested and I want you to be informed.

Elections - There is really nothing worth mentioning here.  Johnny Hunt will be reelected for the traditional second term.

The action towards Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, TX - I plan to share a meal with an executive committee member before this action takes place to get hopefully a more full understanding, but it seems to me that this is a pretty clear violation of article 3 of the constitution.  (For a little background about this click here or here or here) (Hopefully I'll one day write a post on welcoming vs affirming views)

All of the furor surrounding the GCR document - At this point no one knows exactly what will be recommended by the newly appointed task force.  I will probably not attend the "meet and greet" session on Tuesday. But almost certainly this is a lot of uproar over something that will not come to a head until next year.  Certainly there are some valid questions raised by the discussion following the GCR document's publishing. Much has been written and there are blog after blog devoted to dismantling it and looking at it point by point.  I really believe that at this year's evangelism conference we will be reminded of the importance of - wait for it - evangelism.  (That was a bit snarky I know, but in reality the Gospel is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside under the demands of church life.  If the IECS taught me anything it's that evangelism must be intentional or it will become secondary.)  Still, I believe that all of the controversial things will not really be addressed until next year's convention.  I'll have plenty of occasions to blog about that in the future

My major prediction - The Broadway baptist issue will sail through the convention with little to no controversy and will surely be the only thing you read about in any national or local newspaper.  In fact here's a preview of the CNN screen crawl "Southern Baptists, nation's largest protestant denomination, ban church for having homosexual members"  Somebody do me a favor and make a screen grab when you see that headline.

A GCR Question

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a signatory to the Great Commission Resurgence document.  When I signed it, it was about a commitment to put the Gospel and evangelism first in our Southern Baptist Churches.  When and why did it become about restructuring the convention, our mission boards, and the way we elect trustees?  I stand by my signature, although I will admit to being a bit saddened about what it has become. At the convention there will be a lot of discussion about how to count Cooperative Program money, whether or not we should combine the mission boards, and just what article IX means.

If you fill a room with a few thousand preachers (who talk for a living after all) there are plenty of people who feel the need to be heard.  So, I suggest a rule - nobody can speak about the GCR (on the platform or from the floor) unless they share the gospel with three people between now and the time we meet in Louisville.  That way we’ll emphasize evangelism in spite of ourselves.

How do we keep speakers accountable?  We give em Dr. Reid style witnessing reports which they have to turn- in to the page at the microphone before speaking.

Are Associations Still Necessary? part 2

Because this is associational emphasis week in the SBC, I began yesterday to explore the answer to the question; are Baptist Associations still necessary?  Today I intend to give my answer.  I find it interesting that the first two responses to this post at SBC Impact happen to express opposite opinions on Baptist associations. Before I answer, in the interest of full disclosure, I should let you in on my bias today.  I serve on my associational youth team, I am an associational messenger from my church, and I participate regularly in associational ministers meetings.  (I even spoke at one.)

My church is a member of a very large association.  The NSRBA has over 100 churches spanning 3 counties.  To drive from The Bridge Community Church to Union Grove Baptist Church (one end to the other) would take well over an hour.  Many of our churches are extremely rural, and some of our churches are quite urban.  All of this diversity should benefit everyone, but there are still those who feel the association is unnecessary.

As I see it, here are some of the weakpoints of the local association.

  • Big churches don’t participate – this is obviously not a hard and fast rule, but during my 12 years of ministry in 3 different associations there are very few big church pastors who feel the need to be active in the association.   I’ve never been in leadership of a church that averaged more than 150 in Sunday school so I can’t speak with certainty, but my thought on why large churches don’t participate on an associational level is that they don’t need the resources that the associations can provide
  • The flat world means that small churches now have less need for what associations can provide – The training, resources in the form of media, curriculums and technology, guidance, and even the financial assistance available through associations can all be procured elsewhere
  • Some associations are just not good – There are associations with poor leadership who do nothing, or who pander to every complaining pastor.  There are associations that take in churches that are cast-offs from other associations because of theology or disagreements.  And there are associations which make no effort to impact their local area for Christ

Despite those problems, I still feel that associations are viable and worthy of continuing into the 21st century. Here are just a few things that associations offer.

  • Fellowship for pastors – Pastors, as God-called leaders of their congregations, need someone with which to fellowship.  Obviously they need to be a part of their church’s community, but occasionally there needs to be someone outside the church who shares the same sense of calling with which to discuss common issues and decision making.  I realize that this could be done apart from the association, but the association makes this easy, and you will find a distinct lack of this sort of fellowship when you move to independent church situations.  (Youth ministers also, are notoriously poor at this type of fellowship.)
  • Vision for the community – This is where local associations can truly thrive.  Associations are broader in their ministry scope than local churches are.  But much more focused than a state convention could hope to be.  And even in an association as diverse as the NSRBA, the association can have a vision of ministry for greater Fayetteville that no single church should be concerned with.  This should guide where church plants are needed, and where specific ministries can best be focused.  This is a function that the state convention could never hope to carry out.  (Also, state conventions have a tendency to focus outside themselves and look to inter-state partnerships and even international partnerships for ministry opportunities.)
  • Cooperating allows for greater ministry – This is the entire concept behind the cooperative program.  (I’ll add here that associational money is not CP money.)  The simple fact is that we can do more together than we could ever do alone.
  • Cooperative local ministries – There are many worthy ministries that would be too large a task for any one church to carry out.  For example, in the NSRBA we have a ministry to the workers at the Cumberland Co. fair.  One church may be able to provide bottled water, lunches, and some counseling, but this ministry also provides a dental bus and lasts the duration of the fair.  That would be a huge burden for even a very large church.  Without a dentist and a few hygienists in membership it would not even be possible.  There are also ministries to migrant workers, a Christmas toy store for needy families, and two thrift store / food pantry ministries.  These things would simply not be possible by any single church.

The state convention could simply not do any of those things.  Fellowship with a group too large is not possible.  It could never see the need for ministry at the local level, and even if it did, coordinating thousands of churches would be too difficult.

My conclusion is that the local Baptist association is still very useful and will serve a Great Commission function into the 21st century.

Are Associations Still Necessary? part 1

This is Associational Emphasis week in the Southern Baptist Convention.  So I thought I would write a couple of posts dealing with the following question: Is the Baptist association still needed? The logo for associational emphasis week

One of the things being brought to our attention as Southern Baptists with the Great Commission Resurgence is the inefficient spending of cooperative program funds.  Specifically, people have a problem with the duplication of efforts.  This is a valid concern.  It is both an issue of good stewardship and responsibility.  And let’s just be honest, is there really a need for church growth experts, or evangelism trainers, or church resource specialists at the state, SBC and associational level?  I recommend listening to the most recent Insight Podcast which is an interview with Johnny Hunt.  In part 1, the host quotes Dr. Mike Day from the Mid-South Baptist Association.  Dr. Day relays an example of the same function being performed by the three levels.  This is just a real-life example of why the question should be asked.  Are associations necessary?

The most significant reason why there would be a change in the need for associations would be because the world is flat.  Allow me to explain what I mean by the flat world.  The flat world concept comes from William Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat.  The thesis of the book is that technologically and politically we have reached a point in which a place on the other side of the country or the other side of the world can be reached instantly.  We have globalized nearly everything and the distance between us has shrunk to a negligible amount.

So what dies this have to do with Baptist associations?   In order to answer his question, I’ll need to explain what the purpose of a Baptist association is and how it works. The Baptist association is a gathering of cooperating churches to do ministry on a local level.  Interestingly, because of the strongly held Baptist view of church autonomy, this is the same definition for a state convention or the SBC.  (They are just different geographically)  This connection of churches cooperate to carry out ministry on a local level and to help one another with training, resources, and historically, even finances.

This is the same definition of the SBC and the state Baptist conventions.  With the flat world making distance less significant, that explains the duplication of functions.  Many people feel that the weakest of the 3 levels is the local association.  Hence my question.

Now that the explanation is out of the way, tomorrow I plan to actually answer the question, are associations still necessary.

Before I get there, I would like to hear from you in the comments.  Do you think the local association is still needed?  Even though the world is flat?  Even though many of the same functions are performed on the state and SBC level?

A Lesson in Argumentation

I don't really know why I keep the Associated Baptist press in my news feed, but I do. Today this lovely gem appeared: Opinion: A pop quiz for biblical literalists - By Miguel De La Torre

I suppose De La Torre, has probably heard of the Straw Man argument.  But maybe all my readers have not.  I will quote directly from wikipedia here, because it is as clear as what I could say.

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.[1] To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

The article I cited above is a perfect example of this.  De La Torre obviously believes that inerrantists are to dumb to understand hermeneutics.

Congratulations sir, you have destroyed a position that nobody actually holds.

Great Commission ressurgence needed

I am frustrated as I write this, so the tone may not be what I am hoping for.  It may come across as a polemic rather than an illustration about the need for a great commission resurgence within the SBC. I’ll begin with some context.  Just over a year ago, the city of Fayetteville’s Dogwood festival passed a ban on all booths that promoted “religious or political views.”  Effectively this shut out all churches from the festival.

So last year the churches of greater Fayetteville made a big deal about not being allowed into the Dogwood festival.  We even held a political action rally.  This rally did not exclusively address the Dogwood Festival, but that decision was the impetus for the rally.

In response to the outrage, the board, rightly in my opinion, reversed the decision.

Political action working, right?  Yep.  We got the desired result, churches are now allowed at the festival.

Obviously then, this year, there were many churches there representing Christ, giving out free water (rather than selling beer) and telling people the life changing message that Jesus saves.  Right?  Wrong.

Three churches participated. They include, the largest church in town, a small Presbyterian church (PCA), and one church that was apparently fundraising.

There are 100 churches in the Baptist association which encompasses Fayetteville.  Many of these churches were represented at the political action rally last year.  Now let’s do the math, 100 churches in the association, zero churches participate in the festival after they hear our voice and change their policy.  That number, again, was zero.  Now, to be fair, not all 100 were at the rally, but many were.

Here’s the question; does that make us look inept, or hypocritical, or like we only want to cause trouble?  I’m afraid it sends the message that we have no time to witness because we are too busy complaining about people who will not let us witness.

To me it definitely says that we are not nearly as concerned about the gospel as we pretend to be.

By the way, my church was at the rally but not at the festival, so I am not merely casting stones.  Actually I want someone to tell me why I'm wrong to think this way.  I believe in political action, I’m glad the board reversed its decision, and I don’t expect every church in Fayetteville to be there.  I do, however, believe that we put way too much energy into fixing social issues and not nearly as much effort into spreading the gospel, even though it is the greatest message that could ever be told.

I believe that this is the perfect example of the need for a great commission resurgence. We need to have churches that focus on what's really important, the gospel.  It seems that we are currently out of whack.

(BTW - I really wanted to post this comic here because it is funny and goes with the last line.  But usage rights cost $25, which is ridiculous whenever you can just follow this link and see it for free.)

Yet another post about the SBC's declining numbers

This is the fourth and final in this series of posts all on the same topic - the bad news that came to Southern Baptists last week. I am a Southern Baptist who is proud of my denomination.  I am proud of our stance on scripture and our history as the only denomination to come back from liberalism.  (Just think how far our decline would be if we had progressed in denying the Scriptures.)  I actually enjoy the convention itself.  The business and the preaching is enjoyable to me. I want to see the convention grow, but I only have control over one Southern Baptist - myself.  Likewise, I only have influence in one Southern Baptist Church - LaGrange Park.

So today I am sharing with you a portion of my newsletter article I wrote for May 2009.

Last May I reported to you that the Southern Baptist Convention baptized fewer people for the third straight year, that number is now 4 straight years and for the second year in a row we saw a decline in overall membership.  I would like to offer you a challenge.  Let's not let LaGrange Park be a part of this trend. We are already well on our way to baptizing more people than we did last year, but it will still be a difficult task.  We can, however, accomplish this goal, which is certainly God's will, if we make sharing our faith with our friends, coworkers, schoolmates and family a priority.

This is my prayer:

Father, would you give our church a burning desire to share our faith?  Convict us of the need to live differently from the world (Rom 12:2), to tell others why we have the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15), and to be winsome and encouraging to the lost world around us.  Burden us the way you burdened Jeremiah (Jer 20:9) because we know that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11) Thank you for the gift that is salvation, and let us not take it for granted.

What I will do in light of the SBC's declining numbers

Yesterday I put together a list of things I would not do in light of the declining numbers in the Southern Baptist Convention.  Today, a list of things I will do. I will witness

I will be faithful those whom God has given me to minister to

I will be proud of my convention

I will affirm the Baptist Faith and Message

I will be a proud signatory to the Great Commission Resurgence statement

I will realize that my message is being pushed further into the fringes of society

I will be willing to speak the truth in love even if it hurts a bit

I will be willing to speak the truth in love even if it hurts a lot

I will attend the SBC as long as my church allows and I can afford it (anybody need to share a hotel in Louisville?)

I will pray before I vote for convention leadership rather than simply voting for the pastor from the largest church

I will share my faith

I will honor those who helped bring the convention to where it is

I will continue believe that the Bible is true in all that it declares

I will pray for the convention leadership

I will listen to those who are wiser than me

I will remember that the gospel is not just about the afterlife but that it instantly makes life better

I will tell others about what Christ did for me

I will encourage other under-40s to participate in denominational life

I will encourage my state convention to pass as much money on to the SBC as possible

I will continue to support the CP

I will remember that God is in control

I will make the gospel central to my message

I don't have any plans to make any further comments beyond this list, but if you want something clarified just ask.  Also feel free to add to this list in the comments

What I will not do in light of the SBC's declining numbers

As I was thinking about what I can do to improve my declining denomination I also thought about the reactions that I would probably read and hear from others.  So I decided to put together this list of things I will not do because of the bad news of last week. I will not panic

I will not abandon the convention (unless it abandons me)

I will not change the message of the gospel for the sake of growth

I will not assume that my gospel presentation is the only successful method

I will not look to secular gurus of business growth to learn how to grow the church

I will not teach a lesson in which I do not include a gospel presentation

I will not blame the Calvinists

I will not deny one word of Scripture even if it becomes very unpopular

I will not think that becoming more worldly makes me a more effective evangelist

I will not bury my head in the sand and pretend that there is no problem

I will not take joy in the shrinking denomination

I will not assume that a shrinking SBC is a sign of the end times

I will not give more credit to Satan than he deserves

I will not blame everything on Johnny Hunt or Frank Page or Al Mohler

I will not stop giving to the Cooperative Program

I will not go to Catalyst or any other conference in place of the Southern Baptist Convention (I may go, but not instead of the SBC)

I will not assume that my way is the only way to do church

I will not lead my church by surveys or popularity contests but with Christian discernment and the Scriptures

I will not strive for a greater "voice" within the convention.  I will be faithful to those God has called me to minister to

I will not heap undue criticism on those leaders of another generation (older or younger than me)

I will not be hopeless

Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

Tomorrow - What I will do in light of the SBC's declining numbers.

More News That Bothers Me

Longtime readers of this blog will remember a post from last April 23rd called News That Bothers Me.  Everything I said in that post still applies to this year and I won't rehash it.  Just follow the link and read it again for a refresher.

Here is the bad news.  With the publishing of the newest ACP is is official, The Southern Baptist convention baptized fewer people for the fourth consecutive year, and for the second year in a row overall membership has declined.  This is very bad news and it really bothers me.  What follows is a bit of commentary on the subject.

I do not want to overanalyze the convention, but I do want to maybe diagnose it based on what I know.

I will begin with a bit of optimism.  I am very encouraged by the movement towards a great commission resurgence.  I suggest all Southern Baptists go to the website and read the resolution.  Sign it if you are so inclined.

Secondly I'll say this, I am sure that there are no churches that purposefully avoid evangelism.  Every SBC church I know anything about would say that evangelism is a key tenet of the faith; that evangelism is necessary.  I believe that what happens is that there are a lot of necessary functions of the church, and it is easy to get distracted by finances, politics, and internal issues so that we find ourselves dealing with these things rather than witnessing.

I also believe that most preaching is gospel preaching.  I believe that the message of hope in Christ rings from most SBC pulpits on any given Sunday.  Admittedly however, Churches have less impact within their communities than they once did.

Why then do I think the convention is declining?

I believe that, at the core, this problem is really a youth problem.  I am not just saying that because I am a youth minister.  What I mean is that there is a problem with the graying of congregations.  When a church has less youth and children it will baptize fewer people.  It's that simple.

Who do we blame for this graying of the church?  We certainly don't blame the children who cannot come to children's church when parents won't bring them.  Do we blame those young parents?  Maybe we blame the young parents' parents.  They obviously didn't instill in them the importance of passing on the faith to the next generation.  Maybe we blame the church and its old-fashionedness, or its out-of-touchness.  Maybe we blame the publishers of the hymn books.  Don't they know that hymns are too boring to be worthy of worshiping the 21st century God?  Maybe we blame all the hypocrites.  You people should be ashamed of yourselves. :-)

I said last week that I think a worldview problem is responsible, in large part, for the lack of evangelism.  People have accepted the idea that there can be no claim to religious truth.  Acceptance of this world view has lead to the graying of churches.  Why pass on what you believe about the world and salvation to come if it is no more true than whatever your children decide to believe?  When parents fail to teach their children about God they teach them that God doesn't matter.

Although the culture is shifting further from Christianity, one thing I'm sure of is that the basic problem is not a failure to relate to culture.  In fact I believe that we have just the opposite problem.  We are far too worldly and far too culture-driven.  Do you honestly think the people in the 50% of SBC churches that baptized no one in the last year would not be able to have a conversation about American Idol or CSI: Montpelier with their lost co-workers?  Look at the books on your shelves, or the DVDs you have.  Are they products of the out of touch church?  Not likely.  They are almost certainly products of the culture we live in.  And they almost certainly teach messages that you would disagree with.

Another thing I'm sure of is that the problem is not that the message of Christianity is irrelevant.  In fact, the message is inherently relevant.  There simply is nothing more important to the lives of people than the peace, hope and purpose that comes from knowing Christ. What was our President's campaign slogan?  One four-letter word - HOPE.  That message was incredible powerful and popular.  That fact should tell us something.  People are looking for hope.  Christianity, or rather, Christ offers real hope that won't fade.  Hope in the government is pointless and will ultimately fail, but the hope from our salvation is real.

Do I have any solutions for the depressing news at the beginning of this post?  The same ones I had last year.

Take this test.

  • Do I know somebody who doesn't know Jesus?
  • Do I know somebody who doesn't know Jesus that I haven't witnessed to?
  • Do I love this person?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are officially part of the reason for this news story. I have been deeply convicted lately that I don't witness enough. And I wanted to share.

BTW: If you are reading this and don't know Jesus please read here or here

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.