LifeWay recently hit us with the latest report on Southern Baptist Decline and Ed Stetzer wrote, Will Southern Baptist’s Ignore the Ongoing Decline?. The article offered five response’s to the continued decline.
I want to offer a sixth option with two divergent paths. First of all, read Ed’s article to see where Southern Baptists are heading. To quote from the article,
Despite adding 162 churches across 42 state conventions, total membership slid from 16,228,438 in 2008 to 16,160,088 in 2009, a net loss of 68,350 members. The decline has occurred in spite of an increase of 7,539 baptisms year over year. The Annual Church profiles revealed a tiny (.36%) rise in total number of churches and a .37% increase in primary worship attendance.
In response to this irrefutable downward trend of the mammoth Southern Baptist denomination, Stetzer offers four ridiculous options which include denial and blaming of other factions including blaming the lost themselves. His fifth option is posited as the only viable choice. His fifth choice is stated below.
We are a denomination in decline. Some don’t like to admit it. But, the decline of SBC membership is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of math. And, if trends continue, it won’t end soon. Expect to hear “membership decline” more times than “membership growth” over the next few years.
The 5th and final option, and really the only option for us to really impact the world, is a serious self-examination as to whether how we make disciples is rooted in Scripture and delivering the gospel effectively to our mission field. We can scarcely hope to impact the world if we do not approach the gospel and kingdom of God in the same way that Christ did.
Do we value the kingdom as He did? Do we love sinners as He loved them? Do we serve as He served? Do we remind our neighbors of Jesus and tell them of His gospel?
If we cannot answer in the affirmative to these questions, then we will continue on the present path. If we can or will embrace these concepts (and others), then we can trust that God will work through us to affect a move of gospel influence across North America and the world.
Now I want to offer a sixth option with two divergent paths. Our choice is Willing Rebirth, or Rebirth By Splintering. Yes as Ed states we must do serious self-examination. But self-examination is only profitable if it leads to the correct result. In essence, the GCR Task Force is a group of visionary leaders who engaged in some serious self-examination on behalf of all of us. They have given Southern Baptists as a whole the opportunity to join them in that process of personal assessment. Now they are offering some solutions that move us, as I see it, in the correct direction. And would the work of the GCR Task Force ever have occurred through our existing SBC structure? Absolutely not. There is no question in my mind that Johnny Hunt was absolutely correct in pulling together this task force for this purpose. However, there is no way that the existing proposal gets us all the way to where we need to be in order to reverse the downward trend.
Reforming the SBC is not enough to reverse the spiraling trend. The GCR task force recommendation is a kind and gentle prodding in the direction of reform. I suspect that the GCR task force wisely ascertained that if they proposed complete overhaul of the denomination, the result would be utter upheaval and failure of their recommendations. But I assume that they know this proposal is just the beginning of what is really needed to turn away from our declining posture. We need an SBC rebirth, not merely reform.
Remember your own salvation. If you turned to Christ as an adult you may remember this more clearly. Remember your miserable lifestyle before following Christ, and remember the revolution that Christ brought about in your life. He radically turned the old creature into a new one. He took your old nature and transformed you into a new creature in Christ. You have been radically reborn, yet you have the same physical body. Your spiritual rebirth transcends the physical dimension into the eternal. You and I Have Been Amazingly Reborn.
The Southern Baptist Convention needs to be completely reborn and the GCR Task Force is offering a plan which sets us up for either reform or rebirth. It is up to us to choose which one it will be.
Southern Baptists may chose the easier path of reform. Unfortunately, like salvation, we cannot be reborn partially or incompletely (reform). Rebirth is total and complete but at the same time salvation is an ongoing process of sanctification.
After spiritual rebirth, we practice the symbol of physical immersion. Complete and total immersion in water signifies the death to the old and the birth of the new in Christ. We don’t merely dip a hand or foot in the water. We dip our entire body.
If a lost sinner can be reformed rather than reborn, then maybe I’ll buy the same argument for the SBC. Granted, the analogy breaks down for many reasons. But my point is this, I’m not buying the assumption that we can tweak this ship and it will stop up the leaks. If this vehicle is to take us to the next 150 years, it needs the same Biblical imperative as the old SBC, but today we need to rebuild the ship with the latest structural engineering, the most advanced technology, and the latest materials available to mankind.
Does anyone remember seeing the old foot long, half pound cell phones? We don’t need to keep using them do we? Let’s use iphones and PDAs. The SBC needs to trade in our old outdated cell phones to at least get the updated free phone that comes with the renewal plan.
So, what does total rebirth look like for the SBC? Good question and it is the question that our new leaders must address together – how can the SBC be born again?
Another blogger recently wrote, I am in favor of the GCR final report because it kicks the can down the road a little further on having the conversation in our churches that we need to have. I don’t see how we can go backwards from here.
I agree that the GCR gets the can further down the road, but, remember someone must keep kicking the can. The GCR proposal is just the first kick. And, it actually can go backwards from here. Someone can kick this can the wrong direction. It would not be the first time for that to happen.
Rebirth will require that over the coming years we must willingly raze (utterly destroy) some of the vestiges of our old life. That’s right, death to the old. The truth is that the people most willing to destroy the old are those who will experience the least amount of loss. These people, are perhaps the best ones to build a new structure. New leaders are needed who respect the traditions but who have no ties to the old way of carrying out the vision.
Those with the most to lose are those who get fed by the SBC machine. People like me who get paid by the existing system must choose to place our own security on the altar. We will either choose temporal well-being (and fight for partial reform), or we will choose personal financial uncertainty (and at our own peril, fight for total rebirth.) That’s right, total rebirth could mean the end of the IMB, NAMB, The Executive, as we know them. I pray that it doesn’t but if that is what God requires, so be it. It could mean the end of some other Southern Baptist icons that we think are at the heart of who we are. Wow! Did I really say that?
Total Rebirth means that anything short of throwing out the Bible is to be placed in the Lord’s hands, on his altar to either preserve or set aside for the birth of a new creation.
I’m ready for rebirth, because we as Southern Baptists are on our way to becoming Johnson Avenue Baptist Church (name changed to protect the innocent.) JABC was a great church in her day. But after 120 years she gradually declined and her remaining members tried to hold on to the property, sustain the building, and to meagerly pay a retired pastor. The goal became, “I just want my church to be around long enough to bury me when I die.” Eventually the last two members sold the property and a Wendy’s restaurant is now sitting on the once glorious property of the Johnson Avenue Baptist Church. The only monument which hails the glories of JABC is a sign which reads, $1 Menu Daily.
So this sixth choice is our best option – lay everything, I mean everything short of Scripture on the altar and be reborn. Then we can let God rebuild us into His new creation. Honestly, that is not a frightening proposition. It is an awesome place to find oneself – in God’s hands to reshape us as He pleases.
There is a second part to this option of rebirth, and this is where the paths diverge. This is the one I don’t really want to mention or see materialize. However, if we don’t willingly allow self-sacrifice to bring new life to this cooperative body of Baptists, then…
…a different kind of rebirth will occur.
It could be a rebirth into dozens of splintering groups. Perhaps a significantly large group of young leaders will form a new group that can start fresh and birth a new SBC. Maybe they can throw out the geographical nomenclature and be global rather than Southern. Perhaps they will become something other than a convention? Perhaps they won’t have “boards” at all? Perhaps they will not be able to afford six seminaries or even to sustain fully-funded missionaries? Perhaps they will not have three different headquarters in three different cities? Maybe they will all share one administrative plan for staffing and logistics? Maybe they will start from scratch and build a new mechanism that will take them on a century and a half journey of new growth reaching the neglected, the lost and the least reached.
But we’ve been down that painful road so many times. Do we really want that?
So my choice, is Willing and Purposeful Rebirth, rather than a spiraling, splintering rebirth.
I’m not proposing this second kind of rebirth. I’m just saying, if we aren’t willing to die on the altar…