Chuck Quarles: The Value of Christian Education to Churches

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[Editor's Note: Dr. Charles Quarles is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern, author of numerous scholarly and popular level books on the NT, and a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti SocietasHe is also an experienced pastor, missionary, and theological educator, and so an able guide on the topic of Christian education. The following is part 2 of two parts on the true value of Christian education.]

In a previous post, I discussed the value of Christian education for students and parents. Churches often invest in Christian education, too. Southern Baptists contribute through the Cooperative Program to support Baptist colleges and seminaries. Increasingly churches are asking whether this is a wise investment. How much does Christian education really contribute to the mission of the church? Should churches consider decreasing or even dropping contributions to educational institutions in order to have more for local ministries or international missions?

I would argue that Christian education is a very wise investment for local churches. Christian education is of enormous value for the kingdom of God and the mission of the church. Students who attend public universities are four times more likely to stop attending church than those who attend authentic Christian colleges. Students who attend public universities are seven times more likely to stop praying consistently than students who attend authentic Christian colleges. Churches that do not encourage their youth to attend Christian colleges will likely suffer the heartbreak of seeing a sharp decline in the numbers of educated young adults that participate in church ministries.

Even if such young adults remain in the church, they may ultimately have a negative impact on the church’s health. A March 29, 2005 Washington Post article revealed that 72% of college professors view themselves as “liberal,” 84% support abortion, and 67% view homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. (Consider how much these numbers may have increased in nine years.) One rarely sits at the feet of such instructors for four years or more without being influenced by their ideologies in overt or subtle ways. Unless the church strongly promotes Christian education, the young adults who receive this dangerous tutelage will form the primary pool of future spiritual leaders for our churches. These young adults will carry the intellectual and philosophical influences of their educational background into their Sunday school classrooms, the deacons’ meeting, and committee discussions and potentially infect others with non-Christian views.

Students who attend authentic Christian colleges typically grow in their Christian commitment at five times the rate of students who attend other schools. They have a Christian worldview and a good foundation of biblical knowledge that equips them to serve Christ through their churches as well as through their professions. One can hardly estimate the sweeping impact that a Christian physician, attorney, public school teacher, journalist, or businessman may have on the kingdom of God in a local community when these influential believers view their profession as a divine calling and mission.

One of the great concerns related to the future of several of our Southern states is the notorious “brain drain” on our population. Bright educated young professionals are abandoning struggling states in unprecedented numbers as they seek higher salaries and greater potential for advancement in other states. However, the feared brain drain can also have a devastating effect on local churches. If Christian parents and churches entrust our best and brightest students to secular universities and they are schooled in unbiblical ideologies, the church risks losing its rich intellectual tradition. The church will be poorly equipped to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith to a culture that is increasingly hostile toward our deeply cherished Christian convictions.

It may surprise many to discover that education is such a vital part of our Baptist heritage that one entire article of the Baptist Faith and Message is actually devoted to discussing the importance of this endeavor. Article XII. Education states:

Christianity is the faith of enlightenment and intelligence. In Jesus Christ abide all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. All sound learning is, therefore, a part of our Christian heritage. . . . [T]he cause of education in the Kingdom of Christ is co-ordinate with the causes of missions and general benevolence.

Christian schools prepare outstanding Christian leaders for a variety of professions in which they have unique opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who better to share the gospel with a teacher or attorney than a respected colleague who views his vocation as his calling and seeks to use it to glorify Christ at every opportunity? Christian education is thus a helpful strategy for assisting the church in fulfilling the Great Commission. That’s why our confession insists that just as the church supports the causes of local and international missions, education “should receive along with these the liberal support of the churches.”

When our churches affirm this historic Baptist confession, we are also acknowledging the value of Christian education and pledging our commitment to support this cause with generous gifts and fervent prayers. The need has never been greater and the ministry more strategic than now.

The College at Southeastern seeks to provide the sort of high-quality Christian education about which Dr. Quarles writes. For more info on the programs, faculty, and tuition costs for The College, check out the website and/or contact admissions

 

The Future of the Cooperative Program

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I love the Cooperative Program because I have seen it at work. My first paycheck as a Southern Baptist pastor consisted of combined funds from my church, the local Baptist association, the state convention, and the Home Mission Board (now NAMB). Cooperative Program funds made it financially possible for me to earn three degrees at a Baptist university and seminary. As an employee of two Southern Baptist seminaries and the International Mission Board, I have seen the Cooperative Program at work every day. Students and missionaries are engaging lostness around the world, and the Cooperative Program makes that possible.

Like many others, though, I am concerned about the future of the Cooperative Program. Here are the thoughts of one loyal Southern Baptist.

First, something must change. I’m sure that statement sounds simplistic, but even those of us who love the Cooperative Program must admit the direction we have been heading is not a positive one. I see glimmers of hope, but glimmers will not suffice when churches are still plateaued, cities are still unreached, and 1.7 billion people still have little access to the gospel.

Second, all Southern Baptists, beginning with me, must make sure we are wise stewards of the dollars God gives us. I must budget well and spend wisely in my home, prioritizing funds for God’s work. So must my local church, the local Baptist association, and my state convention. So, too, must the Southern Baptist organizations for which I work. None of us should be threatened by an honest call to prioritize the Great Commission in our spending.

Third, we must admit what approaches to promoting the Cooperative Program will not suffice; that is, we must recognize that some approaches by themselves will not fix the problem. Seminary classes—and I write as a seminary dean—will not by themselves produce Cooperative Program advocates. Denominational programs by themselves will not work. State convention and associational promotions by themselves will not accomplish the task. Frankly, many of those who need to hear the call to Cooperative Program support have already tuned out denominational voices.

I make no claim that this proposal is the answer, but I do believe it is one answer: we who have been have seen the Cooperative Program at work must intentionally teach others about its value. I am not talking about pastors “preaching” the CP to a congregation, or state convention leaders promoting the Program to convention attendees. I am speaking of individuals who strategically invest in other individuals, guiding them to see the value of the CP and challenging them to get on board—a type of “Great Commission mentoring,” if you will.

And, there are many of us who could take on this challenge. Every Southern Baptist educated at a Southern Baptist seminary has been the recipient of Cooperative Program funds. Those of us who have volunteered alongside International Mission Board missionaries have seen the value of cooperative giving. Many state convention employees, associational directors of mission, and church planters have received Cooperative Program funds through the North American Mission Board. If you have met a young leader who is investing his life in a major city to plant a church, you have likely seen those funds at work. Many of us—like me—would not have had a livable wage as a young pastor were it not for Southern Baptists giving through the CP. Even now, the young people in our churches can receive an education and fulfill their ministries because of the Cooperative Program.

We have an obligation to share with others the gift we have received. The needs of the nations demand our attention. You may have your own plan, but here is mine:

  1. I will take some responsibility for a lack of commitment to the Cooperative Program. As a pastor, I assumed too much—that everyone would automatically know about and support the CP simply because the CP was a portion of our budget.
  2. I will choose five young church leaders and invest the time and energy necessary to introduce them strategically to the Cooperative Program. My plan is to begin with three seminary students and two local pastors.
  3. I will tell them how much the CP has contributed to my life. I am privileged to do what I do because Southern Baptists have given through the years.
  4. I will connect them with Convention leaders, state leaders, associational leaders, missionaries, church planters, and pastors who receive CP support. I want these five young leaders to see the CP as faces and ministries—not as a program.
  5. I will willingly hear and respond to any concerns and questions these young leaders may have. The Cooperative Program is not perfect, and young minds can help us strengthen it.
  6. I will not be defensive, but I will challenge these leaders to support the CP even while we work together to make it stronger.
  7. I will pray weekly for our Convention and state leaders responsible for promoting the Cooperative Program, as well as for the young leaders I am teaching.
  8. I will expect these leaders then to tell others about the Cooperative Program.

This proposal will not fix everything, but it is a starting point. It is something I can do to encourage support for the Cooperative Program. One to one. Person to person. Pastor to pastor. Face to face. Changed life to changed life, for the sake of those who have not heard the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

What to Expect at the Houston Convention

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Next week, the Southern Baptist Convention will gather for its annual meeting in Houston. We will conduct business, hear reports from our various ministries, adopt resolutions about various topics, and listen to sermons and “preachy addresses” from some of the better-known preachers among us. I’m particularly excited about that last point, since my friend and boss, Danny Akin, is preaching the Convention sermon this year. We’ll also spend time hanging out with friends that we rarely see outside of the Annual Meeting. (Don’t let anyone fool you–this is the highlight for almost everyone in attendance.) I this post, I want to offer my thoughts about what to expect at the Houston Convention.

First, there is Calvinism. Over the past year, much of the chatter in the SBC has focused on this issue, especially on the internet. (This is all some blogs seem to talk about.) SBC president Fred Luter has offered his thoughts on the debate. Other SBC leaders chimed in from time to time, including Dr. Akin. Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, formed an advisory committee to help him think about how Southern Baptists on all sides of the Calvinism discussion can better cooperate together to advance the gospel. Late last week, the committee released their report, titled “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension.”

Thus far, it seems that most of the responses to the Calvinism report have been positive. For what it’s worth, I was highly encouraged by the balance, clarity, and charity of the document. You can expect Dr. Page to address Calvinism in his Executive Committee report. It could also come up at other points in the program such as resolutions, motions, sermons, or the Q&A following ministry reports. I would expect Calvinism to be directly addressed by several SBC leaders, in the hopes that it doesn’t have to come up as often in future Convention meetings. Most folks seem ready to move on.

Second, there is the transition at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). Richard Land retired this past week after a quarter century of leading this ministry and its predecessor, the Christian Life Commission. In the age of 24-hour network news, Dr. Land has been the public face of the SBC for most Americans. His successor is Russ Moore, former vice president and academic dean at Southern Seminary. I expect some sort of formal passing of the baton at the SBC as Southern Baptists honor Dr. Land for his leadership and perhaps hear some initial thoughts from Dr. Moore as he begins to carve out his vision for cultural engagement and advocacy of religious liberty. If you haven’t heard, Dr. Land is now president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC.

Third, there is the re-election of Dr. Luter as Convention president. As most readers know, last year Dr. Luter became the first African American and only the second ethnic minority to be elected as SBC president. He will almost certainly not be opposed as he runs for the traditional second term as president. You don’t mess with history. There will likely already be some chatter in the Convention hallways and at the restaurants about who will run for the Convention presidency in Baltimore in 2014. Feel free to offer your suggestions for the next president in the comments.

Fourth, there are the cultural issues. I’m anticipating Southern Baptists will discuss and, in some cases, directly address several cultural issues via reports and resolutions. One issue that looms large is homosexual marriage, arguably the most hotly debated “social issue” in America right now. Another perennial topic is abortion, which will likely be addressed in light of the Gosnell trial. The potential threat posed by new healthcare laws to religious liberty will almost certainly come up. So will the revised membership policy recently adopted by the Boy Scouts of America, a topic I’ve addressed elsewhere. Other possible topics include immigration reform, the morality of unmanned drone strikes, and the way Southern Baptists and other evangelicals should think of Mormonism.

Fifth, there is the Cooperative Program (CP) and the larger question of missions giving. It is no secret that Cooperative Program giving is in the midst of a steady decline. According to recent reports, the average church now designates 5.9% to the CP. Last year, Frank Page issued a “1% Challenge,” calling upon local churches to increase their giving by one percentage point in their 2013 budgets. The early reports seem positive, but most folks I talk to are still nervous about the future of the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptist entities and state conventions are scrambling to re-educate uninformed Southern Baptists about the CP while assuring others who are concerned about the Cooperative Program that it remains the best strategy for funding our denominational ministries.

The future of the Cooperative Program was, of course, a hotly contested issue within the larger discussion of the Great Commission Resurgence, a movement that some interpreted as being anti-CP or at least tepid toward the Cooperative Program. It would be fair to say that Southern Baptists are still divided about the GCR, especially those in certain state conventions. I expect there to be some candid, but potentially hopeful discussion of the present state and future prospects of the CP at this year’s Annual Meeting. You can read my thoughts on CP giving in a post titled “Is the Cooperative Program Worthy of Sacrifice?” I co-authored that essay with my friend Micah Fries.

Finally, there is the name debate. Last year, Southern Baptists voted by about 53% to approve “Great Commission Baptists” as an alternate designation for the SBC. The idea was that churches, especially those outside of the Deep South and Southwest, could distance themselves from the name Southern Baptist if that name is deemed a hindrance to outreach. It would be difficult for me to exaggerate my own ambivalence about this particular debate. (Just being honest.) Apparently, lots of other folks are also ambivalent, since thus far we haven’t witnessed mass numbers of  churches rushing to change their name to Great Commission Baptists. However, for some folks, this is a REALLY BIG DEAL, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an attempt by some messengers to reverse last year’s vote.

If you are at the SBC Annual Meeting, drop by the Southeastern Seminary booth to learn more about how SEBTS is equipping students to serve our churches and fulfill the Great Commission. I will be at the booth off and on throughout the day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; I hope to see some of you there. Also, there is still time to sign up for the SEBTS Alumni & Friends Luncheon at the SBC on Wednesday. Our speakers at this year’s luncheon include our own Dr. Akin and Johnny Hunt, a distinguished SEBTS alum and past president of the SBC.