An Open Letter to Young Southern Baptists

Today we are publishing a guest post by Dr. Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Lawless has pastored Southern Baptist churches in Ohio and is the author of several books, including Membership Matters and Discipled Warriors. In addition to his duties at Southern, he also serves as president of The Lawless Group, a church consulting firm. You can read his blog at Biblical Church Growth, where this material was originally published earlier today. We are grateful to Dr. Lawless for granting us permission to reprint his encouraging “open letter” at Between the Times.

An Open Letter to Young Southern Baptists

I have always used my blog to address issues related to biblical church growth, and I have intentionally spoken to evangelicals in general rather than my own Southern Baptist denomination. For this post, though, I am changing my pattern.

Over twenty-five years ago, I began serving as pastor of a Southern Baptist church in Ohio. I was young and energetic – ready to take on the world, but knowing far too little about the denomination in which I served. I am grateful for a few older Southern Baptists who encouraged me to get involved, including inviting me to attend my first Southern Baptist Convention (1985-the largest and perhaps most controversial Convention ever).

I find it hard to admit, but I am now becoming one of the older Southern Baptists. In that role, I offer these encouragements to younger Southern Baptists.

Know that many of us realize that we have much room for improvement.
We grieve when we see our baptismal numbers, and we know that our record of making disciples is not good. Many of us are praying for a Great Commission resurgence. We are also concerned that too few of you believe that attending the SBC is important. We fear that many of you will simply drop out of denominational life. Please know that we are not ignorant of the issues that concern you in a denomination that you believe is increasingly irrelevant.

Do review the history of this denomination.
We have much work to do as a denomination, but we have also experienced God’s blessing. More missionaries are serving on the mission field. More students are attending seminaries affiliated with the SBC. Your generation has the potential to be a great blessing. Remember, though, that others sacrificed much to lead this denomination to a renewed commitment to the Word. These leaders deserve respect, and we ignore their passion for continued doctrinal integrity only at our peril. To be Southern Baptist is still a commitment to the Word, to biblical doctrine, and to a unique way to support North American and international missions.

Do not give up on the SBC.
Despite our denominational malaise, what we do together remains stronger than what most of our churches can do alone. We need you as part of this team. We need your churches to be involved. We need your creativity and your passion. We need your honest input when meetings are boring and discussions seem irrelevant to the task of the gospel. We need your unique commitment to reaching the world for Christ. You, your church, and the SBC lose if you simply walk away without patiently trying to make a difference.

Continue to support the Cooperative Program even while you seek your role in the denomination.
Tell us your concerns, but do not pull away from the Cooperative Program that supports more than 10,000 missionaries in North America and around the world. Help us to address issues that all of us recognize as significant, but continue CP giving that reduces the seminary tuition of thousands of students. Talk to us when you see current structures and processes as outdated, but remember that many good people and programs are still dependent on your Cooperative Program giving. Be kingdom-minded enough to give even when the immediate benefits for you and your church are not always obvious.

Stay focused on the entirety of the Great Commission.
I am grateful for young pastors who want to strengthen churches that are weak, and I applaud efforts to make membership meaningful again in SBC churches. My concern is that we will focus so much on fixing troubled churches that evangelism remains neglected. Do refocus our churches on strong discipleship, but never allow evangelism to be a “back burner” task. When God begins to change lives through our ministries, some of our other concerns may not seem so important.

Pray humbly for Southern Baptist Convention leaders.
From pastoring a local church to leading a denominational agency, the tasks involved in SBC life are not easy. No one can please all sixteen million Southern Baptists, each one with an opinion to express and a willingness to articulate it (whether or not he has actually been involved in his local church). The Internet has provided a means to critique others, even without first speaking with the brother involved. I confess that I have spent too much time reading posts and too little time praying for those who lead us. That omission will be corrected beginning today.

Young Southern Baptist, I believe in you. I want you involved in SBC life, trusting that you affirm our clear stand on the Word of God, choose to live a God-honoring life, and are committed to the Great Commission. Be both patient and persistent with us, modeling humility for us in all that you do. All of us want to see God do a mighty work through this denomination.game angry racer

Theologically-Driven Missiology, Part 1: A Southern Baptist Moment

Perhaps the most significant issue facing evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, today is a disconnect between doctrine and practice, between theology and missiology. Our tendency is to affirm Christian Scripture as being inspired by God and without error, and then to ignore Christian Scripture in forming our strategies and methods. It is as if we are saying that “what” we believe about God is important, but “how” we practice is not. We think that we can “bank on” inerrancy and then do whatever we’d like.

In a recent paper, “Will We Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’?-Future Mission in Historical Perspective,” David Hesselgrave laments the current disconnect between theology and missiology, and traces it back to the Edinburgh conference of 1910. At that conference, Chairman John R. Mott and other organizers made the decision to restrict the conference discussion to matters of strategy and policy, ruling out discussion of doctrinal issues.

For Mott, the issue of doctrine was “divisive,” and thus to be avoided, but for Hesselgrave, doctrine is the life-blood of the church and her mission. The Edinburgh planners “should have insisted on including doctrinal discussion both when planning and when guiding conference proceedings.” And again, “I believe that only on very rare occasions and with more precautions than were evident in 1910 do representatives of mission agencies have the prerogative of ruling divine revelation out of order in order to pursue their own objectives, however noble.

Hesselgrave is right and his paper’s thesis, while focused on missiology, is easily applicable to other disciplines and areas of church practice-including preaching, evangelism, church growth, church planting, contextualization, and pastoral counseling.

It is the contention of this post, and the others to follow in this series, that we must avoid such a disconnect between doctrine and practice, between theology and missiology. We must build a theologically-driven missiology, one in which doctrine and practice are riveted together.

This missiology will be in conversation with the social sciences, which are useful as humble handmaidens for the gospel. However its starting point, trajectory, and parameters are determined by Christian Scripture. Problems arise when this is not the case. A faulty doctrine of God will lead us to a wrong definition of “success.” A poor hermeneutic will lead to an aberrant understanding of God’s mission and of our mission. A faulty soteriology neuters our attempts at evangelism and discipleship. And so forth and so on.

In the posts that follow this one, I will take the classical loci of Christian theology and give examples of how each one may be brought to bear upon the church’s practice in general, and upon missiology in particular. An examination of the doctrines of revelation, God, Christ, the Spirit, Creation, Man, the Church, and the End Times bear fruit for the church’s practice, and are fruitful for reflection in connection with all aspects of the church’s mission.

David Hesselgrave is correct that evangelicals, who are defined by their belief in the Divine inspiration of Christian Scripture, often contradict that very belief by ignoring it in matters of practice. We proclaim the inspiration of Scripture while at the same time undermining it in our strategies and methods. Southern Baptists are not exempt from this ironic state of affairs, and it is our charge under the Lord to work against this trend. We must consciously, carefully, and consistently proceed in such a manner that theology takes the “driver’s seat” in our missiology.

If we will do so, there is no limit to the way that we will be able to bring glory to our God. God will not have to plow around us in order to advance His kingdom. Instead, He will be able to employ the great resources He has given us-ecclesiological, financial, missional-toward that same end.

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[Note: The excerpts from David Hesselgrave are taken from an unpublished version of his essay, “Will We Correct the ‘Edinburgh Error’?-Future Mission in Historical Perspective.”]_gamesmmo online mobilonline for mobile

Some Thoughts on a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention

For well over a year now, some of us have been talking about the need for a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Sermons have been preached, addresses have been given, articles have been authored, and blog posts have been devoted to this topic. In Indianapolis, I heard several different recognized SBC leaders use this terminology from the Convention platform. And I find that encouraging.

The Conservative Resurgence came to an end over the course of the 1990s. It actually happened in several stages. First, with the formation of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991, moderate Southern Baptists began to disengage from the Convention in increasing numbers, a trend that actually began as early as 1988 when the Southern Baptist Alliance was formed (now Alliance of Baptists). Second, the Covenant for a New Century was approved in 1995 and implemented in 1997, leading to a bureaucratic restructuring of the denomination. Third, the Baptist Faith and Message was amended in 1998 so as to reflect conservative gender and family views. Finally, a substantial revision of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 2000, marking the symbolic end to the Conservative Resurgence.

A Great Commission Resurgence needs to build upon the theological foundation of the Conservative Resurgence. Our agencies, boards, and seminaries are now led by conservative administrators who are accountable to conservative trustees. We have embraced a thoroughly conservative confession of faith. LifeWay is producing conservative curricula and developing conservative programs for use in our churches. Our future pastors and missionaries are being taught conservative theology in our seminaries and a growing number of state Baptist colleges. Our professors are pursuing conservative scholarship that is often relevant to what happens in local churches. Our missionaries are planting conservative churches in our Jerusalem, our Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. The time is ripe for all of these things to come together in a Great Commission Resurgence.

A Great Commission Resurgence needs to include at least three components. First, we must reemphasize–and in some cases recover–the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must never tire of telling the world of all that God has done on our behalf through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hopeless sinners have been adopted as cherished sons of the Father. Hateful rebels have been transformed into loving subjects of the True King. The dead have been made alive in Christ. And those of us who have been captivated by this gospel are called to live cross-centered lives that bear the fruit of the gospel as the Holy Spirit conforms us more and more to the image of Jesus Christ. Our Great Commission Resurgence must coincide with a Gospel Resurgence among the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Second, we must recognize that God is a missional God and that the church is His missional people. God has been at work from before the foundation of the world to redeem a people unto Himself (Eph. 1:3-14). He has revealed Himself to sinners progressively throughout redemptive history, culminating the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-4). He has made provision on our behalf through the person and work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20), today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2), and all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:13). God is on mission to claim ruined sinners as His own and to make us into what we were really created to be.

God accomplished his missional purposes through his missional people, the church. The church is the community of the redeemed (Acts 2:37-47). We are the means that God is using to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). We partipate in God’s mission by preaching the gospel to the nations (Rom. 10:14-17). By God’s grace, that preaching will be effective and one day the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). There will be men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation who have turned from their sin, cast themselves upon Christ’s mercies, and become citizens of that kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10, 7:9). And we long for that day.

Third, because we long for that day, we commit now to labor on behalf of that day. In other words, we put the above theological concepts into action and apply them to our own lives and churches as we live what we believe and actively join God in His missional work. We pray for the lost, our hearts broken on behalf of those who do not yet know Christ. We share the gospel with our lost friends and neighbors, baptizing those who believe in the name of the Triune God. We strengthen existing churches and plant new churches, knowing that our churches exist as kingdom outposts and mission-sending agencies in the context God has placed them. We contextualize the good news in ways that commend Christ to every type of culture. We give sacrificially from our resources, knowing that their are gospel riches that far exceed the things of this world. And we not only do these things in North America, but we do carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, heralding Christ everywhere men do not know His name. When Southern Baptists do these things with greater passion than we can now imagine, we will be in the midst of a Great Commission Resurgence.

The Southern Baptist Convention now stands at a crossroads. We can rest on past victories and become self-satisfied, arrogant, or insular. We can shoot at each other over secondary matters, try to out-Baptist each other, or pursue our own intradenominational fiefdoms. Or we can allow our love of the gospel, our commitment to Scripture, and our historic identity as missionary Baptists to ignite in us a love for the lost and a heart for the nations. And God will get the glory.

The time is now. The choice is ours. I pray we choose wisely. games mobi