Leading up to this year’s SBC Annual meeting some of we alums from the old SBC Outpost shared some independent conversations. (Yes, there were three iterations of SBC Outpost. I will decline comment on any single iteration and not spar with a soul over “which one was better.”)
“What are your thoughts about the GCR?,” tended to top the list of talking points. I confess to missing Marty Duren weighing in. Doubtless Ben Cole would have something to say. Alan Cross. Art Rogers. Techno wizard David Phillips offered thoughts from behind the curtain. And the Littleton “wonder twins.” (A label we received back in the day of the Lifeway Young Leader Message Boards.)
I have pointed to Michael Spencer and suggest you continue to check any commentary he offers but you might also consider Tom Ascol or Timmy Brister. Though, some would suggest these two in tandem since they serve together. There are others and you can check them out as you chase the various interwebs of your network.
Venturing a guess, here are some reflections on the GCR and the SBC that may have made the old SBC Outpost. First, we are enamored with statistics. After all the mother of the invention of the GCR, but not likely the only impetus, is the research offered by Lifeway and presented by Ed Stetzer on a number of occasions that confirmed the SBC to be in decline. Various sources played with the stats, questioned the stats, dismissed the stats until we repeated them for a second year in a row and then we capitulate to the reality that something is missing from “God’s last and only hope.” (Yes, Google it. There is a book by that title referencing the SBC. And, you should read it.)
Case number 1. Introductions to the speakers at the Pastor’s Conference. If there is a place where stats are offered to give street cred to the speaker it is here. So and so is pastor of such and such church. He has been pastor of the “great” [blank] church for z number of years. Since coming to said church they have averagedÂ 160 baptisms a year and grown in worship attendance from x to y. The simple math indicates the problem. Ten years at 160 baptisms, not counting transfer growth, exceeds the difference between x and y. The explanation for this sounds like it came straight from the strategic growth goals of a contemporary business. In order to maintain the growth trajectory we must factor in attrition so we can live with the fact that our bottom line is not affected by stated growth. (Call an older Education Minister who followed the Sunday School Growth Spiral and ask, “Who is Flake?” We may be in 2009, but these are still practices of the 1950’s.)
Case Number 2. Stetzer recently released a report noting younger people are flocking to mega-churches. Who could argue that point? But, read his Lost and Found, and the insights there do not require a mega to reach Twenty-somethings. In fact, conversations we have in our area indicate the attraction is short-lived. Tuttle is no megalopolos, less than 8000 in population with more Baptist Churches per capita than Starbuck’s in Seattle. But, we are adjacent to Oklahoma City and getting out and about chatting at various places where young people hang out reveals an air of disappointment when deep connections cannot be found because we are “one among thousands.”
Second, we will be creative when establishing the reason for the decline.
Case number 1. We are having fewer children. This is not a new mantra. Voddie Baucham has been saying this for some time. Others have echoed it but not too loudly. But, with the stats confirmed, we point to the fewer number of children being born to Southern Baptists as a reason for our decline.
Logically this is an interesting piece. I remember what was said by Southern Baptists to my father’s parents when it was noted they had eight kids. “Are you Catholic?” My grandmother, tired of the question responded, “No, just oversexed Baptists.” Mind you, this was long before Mark Drsicoll was the result of a twinkle in his parents eyes.
Here is the matter for we Southern Baptists. My friend Bruce Dane wrote his DMin dissertation on “child evangelism.” He did so more than 15 years ago when we were at SWBTS together. Talk to Bruce. He is convinced by his research we readily practice paedo-baptism. We just do not baptize our infants. Our emphasis on childhood evangelism and VBS derive from the research indicating that if we do not reach our children before they graduate high school the likelihood of a faith commitment spirals downward. We put all of our marbles, and dollars, in developing programs aimed at our children and youth. All the while fearing what it might take to reach adults. It takes longer. We must be more prepared. We may need to engage them in places we have reclused ourselves from. So, when we are having less children we would rather not admit we have not prepared ourselves to engage an adult population very well so we chide our young families to have more kids.
You should know. We have great pre-school and children’s teachers. Our VBS is scheduled for a couple of weeks out. We take our youth to camp and have a full-time youth minister. We invest in ways most do. We baptize children. We baptize youth. We baptize adults.
The notion our problem is procreation seems to deny the larger population along with its shifts and the need for transformed lives trusting/following Jesus. We passed a resolution on adoption. We encourage foster care. Watch the news and learn of the countless children orphaned and abandoned around the world. The cost is high. But, it was Jesus who pointed up Kingdom values and what it means to “count the cost.”
Case number 2. Southern Baptists are, well, southern. Alan Cross has done a series on the hindrances of a “southern theology” and its missiological implications. That is, what we have tried to do is export our culture as we have taken our gospel message across the country and in many instances around the world. Such a move actually thwarts the very kind of ethnic diversity we say we long for. Even more than exporting southern culture, we have not owned the ways in which our theology capitulates to a southern culture. We worry about contextualization and its ill-effects. Let’s get honest about the ways our Southern Baptist theology reflects “southern sensibilities.”
I am glad Johnny Hunt acknowledged his ethnic heritage. I am glad the President of the BGCO is Native American. How does the GCR Taks Force reflect diversity? One woman? One person with Asian heritage. Where we come from that is termed “tokenism.” No African-Americnas? No Dwight McKissic? No, Hispanic-Americans? I do not know the ethnicity of all members of the Task Force, but I am aware of most of them. In a document that suggests we do better, how did we do in the make-up of this group?
Third, we are missing the edge. Consider the make-up of the GCR Task Force.
Case Number 1. Geographically Florida is well represented. Throw in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee and you would not have to question the aforementioned “southern-ness” of our Convention even in this 21st Century. Maybe we are not a national convention. Maybe we are a regional convention some of the rest of our states “get” to participate in.
Case number 2. Even more, consider we are suggesting our hope lies in mega-church pastors and agency employees. Take no offense, but where is the edge. Invite Les Puryear who has expressed a passion for our small churches. Are we afraid the large-esse of the SBC would eliminate wisdom from a small church pastor. Young people may be flocking to megas, but Ed loves small churches and the reality is there are plenty of small churches doing an efficient job who may well be able to ask the hard questions being called for when it comes to financial stewardship and strategic planning.
Who is the systems thinker in the group? Maybe there is one, but would there have been a laymen or laywoman skilled at systems thinking to help. I know, I know. If we just love Jesus enough, focus on sharing the gospel, these systems will take care of themselves. We said that. We proved that wrong.
Back to Marty Duren. Why not ask him to serve on the GCR Task Force? He pastors a medium size church in the south. Few have written more effectively about the SBC for the past few years. I know. He would decline. But, Marty represents the edge, and the edge is missing from the GCR Task Force.
Finally, save the embarrassing series of motions and the “What was that Morris?,” I am hopeful. I tried to track the Baptist21 event at Sojourn. Al Mohler may have said one of the most important things. “Hold us accountable.” If we are not spending your money in a manner that is consistent with your conviction, don’t send your money. Now we are talking. After all, the one thing that has also gotten everyone’s attention is money. Sidelined missionaries and the economic downturn may be the greater “invention” of the GCR in the SBC.
Maybe we will really learn to cooperate rather than reduplicate. I believe it was a speaker at the Baptist Identity conference at Union University who noted the ways associations, state conventions, and entities all provide the same training but do not work well together to offer it. Territorial practice is not cooperative in nature.
So, when we come to the place of agreeing we can work and learn from Acts 29, as Mohler suggested, we may well cut some budget dollars allocated for SBC Ambassador Bobby Welch to re-create the SBC’s version of the BWA and put that money to better use – maybe put more missionaries on the field.
I am certian there are other ways to see this thing through. Everyone with an Internet connection and a keyboard will offer their thoughts over the next 12 months. I simply wanted to conjecture on what it might look like if the old SBC Outpost weighed in on the GCR and the SBC.