This week the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Orlando, a city we boycotted a few years ago because Mickey Mouse does heroin. Or something like that. (But now we’re back, which is why this year’s convention theme is “Psych!”)
People-loving, company-boycotting, Jesus-oriented moves like that are one of the reasons why folks get out of sorts when you start talking about denominations. Let me be straight: I’m a life-long Southern Baptist. I went to a Southern Baptist church, high school, college, and seminary. My name isn’t just written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but the Lamb’s Book of LifeWay. In the words of my resident ecclesiologist, Southern Baptist is my genre. And yet I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I treat the SBC like the odd uncle who wears flip flops and black tube socks at the beach. (“Oh him? Nah. I don’t know him. He was here when I got here. Ha ha! Look at his ear hair!”)
Our church doesn’t have the name “Baptist” in our moniker, even though we are one. Although there are various reasons for that, one of the main benefits is that people are willing to give us a fair shake – something they may not do if they walked in with preconceived ideas of what we’re like (“Hey, no old hymnal smell? Well, very nice. Very nice indeed.”) For us, one part of being Baptist means that we’re associated with a tremendous network of churches that partner together to send church planters all over the globe.
The SBC isn’t all bad. Remember, Southern Baptists have given us great Vacation Bible School themes like Far Out Far East Rickshaw Rally: Racing to the Son. Let’s see the Lutherans pull of something like that, especially after all the drinking.
But still, the SBC is facing a crisis. Baptisms are off. Missions giving is off. Fashionable toupees are way off. This week, delegates from many of our 40,000 churches will gather to take care of convention business, and the biggest buzz surrounds the report of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (you can read their full report here.)
Basically, the GCR is a call for Southern Baptists to get back to their roots: share the gospel, increase missions giving, and send out more missionaries and church planters. It’s a common sense, why-wouldn’t-we-do-this approach to the mission drift and vision leak our convention has faced over the last few years.
I’m not a denominational politics guy, but I believe that the GCR is a needed step to save what could be a dying denomination. Ooops. That was too strong. It’s a needed step to save a geriatric, in-need-of-oxygen, hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn denomination.
If denominations (or any religious groups) hope to survive, here’s what must happen:
- The gospel must be elevated above familiar comfort. No longer can we hide behind our individual church by-laws, cultures, and quirks. If we’re going to be a relevant presence in a spiritually anemic culture, we have to break way out of our comfort zones. That means churches will have to be hospitals for sinners. It means we’ll have to reach people on their terms, not on ours. It means we have to go to the people and stop expecting the people to come to us.
- The gospel’s content must be protected while the context is expanded. The message of Jesus works the same in inner city Seattle as it does in rural Alabama, but the method of delivering that gospel has to fit. In the same way, churches with an average age of 50-plus will have to adapt if they want to see their grandchildren reached for Christ.
- We have to have a Kingdom-focus, not an inward-focus. The reason so many SBC churches are shutting their doors is that they’ve gotten way too intimate with their navel. It’s all about inward ministry and nothing to do with outside-the-walls ministry. When churches can see beyond their stained glass windows and look at the needs of the community, great things happen.
- We have to build bridges and stop burning them. For too long we’ve allowed denominational polity and ecclesiological fences to get in the way of forward movement. I don’t have to plant a church with another denominational group, but I can certainly partner with them to reach a city. We’ll always have doctrinal differences, and I believe some are significant. However, differences don’t have to divide us completely.
- We have to give and go. One of the huge points of GCR is giving to missions. But not only must we give, we must go…locally, nationally, globally. I’ve seen first-hand that when a church goes, they’ll automatically give. When the missions bug bites, the first symptom often shows in your feet, then your wallet. No longer can we hide behind weak missions offerings. If our people will go, our people will give.
- We have to stop the combovers. Not really. Okay, really. But this comes only after #1-5 are completed.
Again, I’m no denominational expert, and this is my own view from the pews opinion. For a much more informed endorsement of GCR, check out our lead pastor’s blog post on the subject. He’s a genuine, bona-fide, card-carrying member of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. And that card is the size of a poster board, so that the title will fit.
But at least it hides his combover.