Saturday, June 27, 2009

The SBC -- My Report to Immanuel

What follows is my July newsletter article for the Immanuel Baptist Church "Messenger," our monthly newsletter. In it, I tried to cover the big picture of my take on the SBC that was held in Louisville, Kentucky this past week. Because of space limitations, I could not go into much detail. This is more an initial personal reflection. I hope to comment more thoroughly in coming days here on the blog.

Dear Church Family,

I have just returned from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Louisville. It is always a great week of fellowship, worship, edification, and being a part of the largest church business meeting in the world. With over 8,700 messengers registered, this was one of the larger conventions in recent years. As expected, Pastor Johnny Hunt of Woodstock, GA, will remain our president for the upcoming year, and I believe his leadership in the SBC has been overwhelmingly positive. He has demonstrated what it means to be a bridge-builder, trying to bring the various streams of life in the SBC together in a Christ-honoring, commission-furthering consensus.

The big news out of this year's convention is the launching of a Great Commission Resurgence Taskforce. This team will work for the next twelve months to bring a report back to the SBC next June on how we can work more faithfully and effectively together in advancing the cause of Christ worldwide. While that may seem obvious to some, there is a dynamic at work in SBC life that makes this step necessary in my opinion. For many years, the SBC has been a large and impersonal machine. Though there are many avenues of involvement, those paths are often hidden by layers of red tape. Older generations of SBC leaders have been content with the red tape, seeing it as a "necessary evil" when it comes to dealing with over 44,000 churches and millions of Cooperative Program dollars. A younger generation is on the scene now which sees the red tape as a hindrance to missional involvement and activity. Some common questions asked by younger SBC leaders are, "Why do state conventions keep more CP money than they forward on to our mission boards and seminaries?" and "Do we still need to have two separate mission boards (International and North American)?" The changes in our world are forcing Southern Baptists to look long and hard at whether or not we can do business as usual, or if this may be the time to take radical risks for the sake of the Gospel.

As a 35 year old pastor, I find myself swept into the camp of the younger leaders. Yet, having been involved in Baptist life for 15 years (attending 12 consecutive SBC's), I also relate to what the older voices are saying. The SBC has come too far at too great a cost to sacrifice ground on the whims of youthful zeal. Yet the status quo is becoming stagnant, and present realities must be addressed. I, for one, hope that the Taskforce will bring back a positive, practical, and powerful recommendation next June that will infuse new life into our denomination.

The best thing about being Southern Baptist is that anyone and everyone has a voice. The worst thing about being Southern Baptist is that anyone and everyone has a voice. This week, we saw the SBC at its best and at its worst. Rhetoric can become fiery and hurtful, differing viewpoints can be insensitively caricatured, and personal attacks can be unfairly launched. As long as I believe the ship is sailing in the right direction, however, though it is moving slow, I can stay on board. I am not a Southern Baptist because I was raised to be one. I chose to be Southern Baptist because we have the most biblically consistent confession of faith of any denomination in America, and more effectively engage in the task of reaching the unreached peoples of the world than any other mission force. We are not perfect, but so long as we stand on the ground of biblical authority and missional priority, those two being inseperably joined, I am convinced that God will continue blessing the work of the SBC. Thank you for sending me as your messenger to the Convention. I hope to share more thoughts about it in the future on my blog.

Pastor Russ

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