Thoughts on the SBC, Part 6: 5 Declarations and Next Steps
As we approach the Annual Meeting of the SBC, I hope you’ll join me in thinking about how we can best engage the issues at hand. Take a moment and read Part 1: Service, Part 2: Prayer, Part 3: Fasting Together, Part 4: Our Missional Purpose, and Part 5: Active Participation.
The local church accomplishes the work of God’s Kingdom. We will not find our convention or any denomination within the pages of the New Testament. Denominations, conventions, and networks are good inventions that help local churches cooperate for their global task of making disciples but they are not the end goal. As we prepare for the SBC gathering next week, it is evident to many (from social media, blogs, and various articles) that there are necessary steps to take if our convention would continue to hold relevance for God’s mission in the world.
The SBC needs to emphasize a few declarations and take a few next steps.
1. Repent of the sins among us.
The subject of mass repentance is sticky. But I would dare state that disputing rampant sin is a foolish course. We must not obscure the truth and we have no responsibility to confess someone else’s sin. But there is plenty enough sin to go around. If I may be so bold, there are some obvious sins for which we need to seek a system-wide repentance.
Sexism aimed at demeaning women is present. They have endured sexual assaults, abuses, and sickening advances. Active racism keeps believers of color out of leadership positions and our churches. Passive racism simply never considers the incredible and inestimable worth that believer of color can bring to the leadership we need. Power-mongering attitudes and actions lust for denominational authority and positions. Covering up apathy toward the mission of God is hardly disputable. We’ve allowed convention entities, SBC-related institutions, and local churches to operate in a protectionist mode. In doing so, we create an Evangelical Amish mentality unconcerned with the fate of lost souls.
Next step: Yes, there is plenty enough sin for all of us to join in a chorus of repentance.
2. Commit to reworking a system that has allowed sin to persist and hide.
The last few months have been a devastating series of headlines among our entities and local churches. One after another, resignations and terminations have occurred because of immorality by leaders. We must face the difficult circumstance that something has gone horribly wrong. The time requires leaders in all of our SBC-related institutions and local churches to find our collective backbone. We need a ruthless evaluation regarding how we allow leaders to operate and what institutions are doing to guide leaders toward holiness.
Next step: Our boards and institutional and entity leaders need to act immediately (and some have already done so) to ensure that their organizations are a place that breeds holiness rather than cover sin.
3. Bring an end to hero-worship and platform-maneuvering.
People placed on pedestals are sure to disappoint. The recent series of personal and ministry implosions is a convincing argument that we have feet of clay. Hero-making blinds us to the potential faults in someone’s thinking and can make us lap-dogs when they abuse their power. Collectively, we must be a convention that would choose serving one another over pontificating about our accomplishments. We need to clearly value ministry over political machinating. After all, the “glory” of denominational power is not worth the effort. We must not allow this moment to degenerate into mere political machinating of positioning ourselves to inherit the keys to the convention. We need to value all of our leaders for how God is working in us.
Next step: Seek out qualified and honorable leaders throughout the rank and file churches of the SBC to serve in key leadership positions.
4. Declare disciple-making by local churches as our priority.The ACP numbers tell us the truth. For me, the most alarming among them is the 10% decline in baptisms over the course of one year. We have declined in this one key area for eight out of the last ten years. Our baptism numbers are the lowest they have been for most of our lifetimes. The entities of our convention should renew their focus on serving the church in her work of local and global disciple making. It is a call for local associations, state conventions, NAMB, IMB, LifeWay, WMU, ERLC, Executive Committee, our six seminaries, Guidestone, and all colleges and universities associated with the SBC. Each institution must prioritize the work of the Body of Christ as expressed through local churches.
Next step: Each entity leader should evaluate and initiate work in their organization that actively equips the local church for disciple-making; as opposed to simply ensuring the preservation of the entity.
5. State that our standards for unity are adherence to The Baptist Faith and Message along with participation in The Cooperative Program.
The vitriol volleyed at one another is, at best, embarrassing. At worst, the lack of unity is sinful. We must decide that the BF&M and the CP are the tools for unity for our Convention. When a fellow believer differs with you on a point of doctrine but it still falls within the BF&M, then relate with grace and unity. If a church gives to the CP but at a different level than your church, then respond with joy and unity. Doctrinal labels, methodology differences, age, and SBC lineage have created camps for people to hide. The “I am of Paul” vs “I am of Apollos” days should have ended around AD 56 but our sin allows them to persist. We must rally together as a unified family with the God’s glory as our purpose, the Great Commission as our work, and the Great Commandment as our heartbeat.
Next step: Act with organizational, convention, and local unity toward those who agree with the BF&M and participate in the CP.
I will be in Dallas for the SBC Annual Meeting. If you’re there as well, I hope we can meet and talk. Even if we disagree about issues and voting. Maybe especially if we disagree. We face a key moment to align our hearts with the Father, lift up the name of Jesus, and be filled with the Spirit. I pray that we will seize it.