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.