Aug 16, 2010

Thoughts from a younger SBC pastor (part 1)

I just got through reading two great posts by Ed Stetzer over at Between the Times.  His two articles were about his reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando.  I would highly encourage you to read them here and here.  I think Stetzer is right on target with his observations about the growing loss of presence at the SBC among younger leaders.  His points accurately reflect much of what I have felt and have observed talking to other young leaders I know, some of whom have come through my ministry or I have met in my doctoral work at NOBTS.

I attended this year's SBC in Orlando. It was my first time at the SBC since 1996 when it was in Atlanta.  I have watched with interest some the past years to the online streams, but until I became a senior pastor last summer, I had no real compelling interest in going.  I think that statement describes a lot of the people my age and younger - no compelling interest.  This year's compelling interest that motivated my attendance and many others was the debate over the Great Commission Resurgence.  I had my own feelings about the GCR and had trusted leaders on both sides of the debate.  Many of the pastors in my own state and association were not in favor of it.  There were many reasons given, much of which I thought sounded like "old school politics" rather than New Testament practices.  I was torn even on my way to Orlando because I saw the pros and cons on both sides of the aisle.  In the weeks leading up to the SBC, I told many of my friends and mentors that one of my biggest concerns if the GCR didn't pass was that we would lose many of the rising young leaders in the SBC.  As I attended the convention, that concern was even more validated. 

I have been a Southern Baptist since I was saved at age 17.  I have attended a SBC church since I was in cradle roll. I listened to my pastor growing up inform me about the conservative resurgence and the battles that were being fought to get liberalism out of the SBC.  I attended an SBC seminary and benefited from the support of the Cooperative Program.  I have a strong personal fondness for men like Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, and many others who have handed me a conservatively sound SBC. 

However, the more I grew, the more I became concerned that much of the denomination I love seemed out of touch with what I saw being the relevant issues of the day.  I was tired of seeing the SBC known only as the "cranky people who are boycotting Disney" even if the reason for the Disney boycott was a valid one.  In recent years, it seemed like the SBC was becoming more known for self-preserving the "good ol' boys club" than really listening to the young leaders that were coming up.  I have also been concerned because of the divide over the "Young, Restless, and Reformed" crowd.  It seemed like those who had been a part of the SBC for so many years were so quick to dismiss this growing group of young leaders like they were over-caffeinated teenagers "who will learn someday."  I was troubled that some of those who had gained power seemed to be using that power to quell tertiary issues instead of listening to some of these young leaders passion for real missional change.  I am saddened when someone from the floor of the SBC will make a recommendation to ban Mark Dricoll's books from Lifeway as though he were Richard Dawkins  or Madelyn Murray O'Hair.  I understand that you may not agree with some of his theology, his occasional tendency to push the envelope of crassness, or the fact that he's become the poster-child for the young, reformed, missional movement.  The fact is - ACTS 29 has done as much if not more to be a church planting machine in the last decade than the politically engorged machine of the North American Mission Board.  That statement is not meant to denigrate NAMB, but to point out that while our mission agency has been mired in leadership turmoil, others have found successful ways to plant New Testament churches.  Stetzer and many others have said often the last few years how many times they have seen sharp, young pastors with a heart to plant a church who have tried to work with NAMB and the State Associations only to be bogged down and turned away.  As a result, they have turned to or founded other organizations that are now setting the trends in church planting while the SBC is now "resurging" to focus more on it.

These are just a few of my thoughts about the SBC I love and the time it is in.  I don't believe that all the younger pastors are right.  I think many of the younger pastors would do well to remember that we do stand on some significant shoulders.  I heard someone I admire say recently "all the heroes of the younger pastors are themselves" meaning that maybe we don't have the affinity or have taken to time to show the respect for those who have gone before us.  The impulsiveness of youth always makes us think we can do it better.  Right now, I am in a transitional phase.  I am about to turn 42.  I am no longer a younger evangelical.  I am not in the old guard yet.  But, I will be closely watching both groups and trying to be a bridge-builder as much as possible.