Tuesday, September 29, 2009

God's Strategy for Church Growth

Last Sunday's message weighed so heavily on my heart, that I decided to summarize it in IBC's newsletter for October. Since I no longer use a typed manuscript for my sermons (I'm still not sure which way is best!), the text of my sermons on Ephesians have not appeared here on the blog. Some of you have asked for them, and I simply don't have the time to transcribe them after the fact. Who knows? Maybe in the future I will return to typed manuscripts again? Or perhaps one of my blog readers (either of the two of you) will volunteer to transcribe my sermons for the blog? (How do you spell "uh"?). But anyway, I digress. I summarized the main points of last Sunday's sermon in this brief article for our newsletter, and thought I'd share it here ...
On a recent Sunday, I spoke about "God's Church Growth Strategy" from Ephesians 4:7-16. There are many opinions about how to grow a church but God has only one way, and I believe it is contained in this passage. The first thing we notice in this passage is that God has graciously given gifts to His people. Every Christian has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (if that person is truly born-again), and the Spirit manifests Himself through us in ways that help one another grow in spiritual maturity (see 1 Cor. 12:7). These various gifts I call "blood-bought," for Jesus has provided them to His people as a result of His incarnation, death, and resurrection. We also notice in the passage that God has given spiritual leaders to the church to equip His people for service in the church through their gifts. Specifically, in the time in which we live, the passage speaks of the Pastor-Teacher (or teaching-pastor). Though many of us have ideas about the role of the pastor, this is the clearest statement in the New Testament about his role. According to Hebrews 13:17, the pastor will give account to Jesus for the spiritual condition of those to whom he ministers, therefore his primary task is to labor in word and doctrine so that the people are fed by the Word of God and equipped to exercise their gifts in the service of Christ and His church (see also 2 Tim. 5:17). Finally, this passage teaches us that when pastors shepherd the saints with the Word, and the people exercise their gifts, the body (or church) is built up from the inside out. So, how does one discover and develop his or her spiritual gifts? It happens in a context of relationships and service. As meaningful relationships are developed within the church and we begin to serve wherever there is opportunity, our brothers and sisters will "speak the truth in love" to us about how God is at work through us for the benefit of one another. As we hear the Word preached in worship and study the Scriptures for ourselves daily, we are not just encountering "empty words." These words are like a whetstone sharpening us for service. We should be reading and listening intently to discover how we may better use the gifts Christ has given us for the good of all. If we think we have nothing to offer one another in the congregation, then we take for granted what Christ has done for us, we ignore the Spirit's power at work in us, and we deny the truth of God's Word. So, I pray that each of us will begin to prayerfully seek areas that we may serve the Lord and His people in the church, and that as a result we will see God work mightily through our church for His glory. If I may serve you by helping you discover or develop your spiritual gifts, please contact me.

On Attending Conferences ...

I am probably not unusual, at least not in this sense; I like attending conferences. Some enjoy conferences where the material they will hear is all brand new and they will be exposed to ideas they have never heard or thought about before. I am not like that. I like attending conferences where I already know, believe, and agree with the information being presented. Such is the case each Spring when I attend the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (PCRT), each Summer when I attend the Southern Baptist Convention, and other occasional conferences. This year, I have been blessed to attend the "Kingdom Perspective" conference on multicultural churches and the "God Exposed" conference on expository preaching. Next year I will attend the "Together for the Gospel" conference (instead of PCRT). I do not expect to hear anything at these events that is totally new, unfamiliar, or disagreeable to me. Some may wonder, "Why bother?" During a break at the God Exposed conference last weekend, I made a list of reasons why I attend conferences like this, where I am not likely to be challenged about any existing belief or practice or change my mind about anything as a result.

1) To be a steward of the deposit already placed within me.
I am deeply grateful for the education and experiences I have had in the last fifteen years of my life and ministry. I have been well-trained in expository preaching, systematic theology, pastoral ministry, church administration, and other subjects by some of the sharpest minds on those subjects alive today (and some who are not alive today sadly). While I know that none of us are perfect, and all of us have room to gain new insights and perspectives, I attend "agreeable conferences" as a steward of the information I believe others have deposited into my life. I do not despise the information, the time, and the godly examples others have imparted to me, so I attend these conferences.

2) To be reminded.
All of us are forgetful. All of us are inclined to move into the direction of bad habits and ideas. Christianity is not "new" and does not depend on "newness." A conference wherein I hear "old ideas" that are already familiar and agreeable to me does much to remind me of things I have forgotten, become dull to because of overfamiliarity, or relegated to places of lesser importance because of the tyranny of the new and the urgent.

3) To be reinforced.
The truths I hold sacred are truths that are under relentless and perpetual attack by forces all around me, inside and outside of the church. In a moment of weakness, I may willingly or ignorantly shift perspective or practice if I am not careful of who and what I am being influenced by. A conference where old and agreeable truths are imparted reinforces conviction and stabilizes us against cultural forces that would separate us from foundational moorings.

4) To be broadened.
I may exaggerate when I say I expect to learn nothing new. In fact, I hope I will! But not something "brand-new." Rather, I hope to encounter a new nuance, a new perspective, a new skill, or a new angle on the old truths that will enhance my grasp or dexterity with the information or practice. This broadening, I believe, occurs most effectively in a context of familiarity. In a context where the bulk of the information presented is unfamiliar or disagreeable, defensiveness and arrogance may prevent the absorption of new information. In a context of familiarity, one is able to see the logical connection between what one already believes and does and the new information imparted.

5) To be encouraged and/or comforted.
In the faithful task of preaching and pastoral ministry, one encounters much discouragement. Often there is a strong temptation to abandon the older ways for new and more creative ways. Perhaps more often, there is a strong pull toward depression, disillusionment, and despair. Surrounding oneself with likeminded people who are older, wiser, more well-seasoned and successful with the old principles and practices is refreshing, encouraging, and comforting. Following a conference of "familiarity", I am always revived, refreshed, and reignited with passion.

6) To develop relationships.
It is easy to think, in a context of discouragement, that one is all alone. Elijah was the most powerful man of God in his generation, but in the midst of dark days, he felt isolated and alone. God met his need by reminding him of a multitude that had not bowed to Baal. When I attend conferences where my principles, practices and priorities are championed, I am always greatly encouraged to know that I am not alone. Often I travel with likeminded brothers to these events, and the time spent together is a rich opportunity for fellowship and sharing of joys and sorrows. My closest friends in ministry (both pastors and laypeople) are those I have traveled with and spent countless hours with before and after sessions, over meals, and in late night conversation about struggles and successes. In addition, I have been greatly helped in my spiritual journey by meeting new people in these conferences, or reconnecting with acquaintances over a mutual interest in the conference subject. I recall my first trip to PCRT when I ran into an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in years in the men's room. I had shared many conversations with this brother in the past, but never about our mutual interest in the subject of that conference. The reconnection with one another, I think, was a great spark to renewed and strengthened fellowship between us.

So, when I go to a conference, I go not because I am convinced I am doing everything wrong and need a new handle or a new gadget to overhaul my spiritual life or ministry. I go to be reminded, reinforced, refreshed by ideas and practices I already hold dear. And these are the reasons why.

God Exposed Conference: Notes on Session 6

Mark Dever
"Expositional Preaching: A Defense and Charge"

Preaching symbolizes that we are created by the hearing and believing of God's Word.

Egalitarian views of preachers often are part of a rejection of authority at all levels. In the Bible, there is a good, right, and proper notion of authority. Submission to that kind of authority is good. It all points us back to God's authority. To say that submission is inherently demeaning is a lie of Satan. Consider the Son's submission to the Father.

Preaching has always typified Christians. It was a scandal in the early church. Christians were considered atheists because they had no physical statue to worship. They only had words.

Preaching should be central in the service and shape the rest of the service.

The Bible is silent concerning the length of a sermon. Therefore we are free in this regard. We should not judge others in this regard. On the whole, evangelical preaching used to be longer than it is today.

In expository preaching, people will not be amazed at our insight, but at God's Word.

The "visual age" is not new. Humans have always been visually oriented. This is not the age of the eye but of the ear. Jesus didn't teach the disciples how to draw. He gave them the Spirit to write books. We desire to see with the eye, but in this world we cannot. We must hear and believe until the day when we will see.

9 Marks of Expository Preaching
1) Preach consecutively through books
2) Preach the whole Bible (Don't hide anything or hold back on anything addressed in Scripture)
3) Preaching should be "connected." Show how the text fits within the message of the whole Bible.
4) Preaching should be centered on the gospel. The whole gospel should be presented in every sermon.
5) Exposition is theological.
6) Exposition is critical of idols and false worldviews.
7) Exposition should be evangelistic, calling people to faith and modeling for the congregation how to speak to non-Christians.
8) Preaching must be applied. Not JUST the work of the Holy Spirit. We can't do it for them, but we can help them.
9) Preaching must be integrated, worked out in my own heart and life.

Audio: http://apps.sebts.edu/chmessages/resource_2551/God_Exposed_Session_6.mp3

God Exposed Conference: Notes on Session 5

Thabiti Anyabwile
"Will it Preach? Exposition in Non-White Contexts" (Nehemiah 8)

African American expositors are criticized from within their cultural context with statements like, "You preach like a white man," or "that was teaching, not preaching."

Objections to exposition in some cultural contexts include:
1) Exposition is culturally inappropriate
----- One African American preaching scholar said that exposition in an African American context may lead Christians to become pathologically disoriented requiring institutional care. In other words, exposition will make you crazy. (Source?)
2) Cultural styles
----- Hooping, Howling, and Whining. In those contexts, exposition is considered irrelevant.
3) Exposition is too intellectual

In Neh 8:1-8, the people responded to the activity of God by holding an expository preaching conference.

When God needed to awaken His people, He sent preachers. When preaching awakened, it was expository.

Weeping and celebration are seen in vv9-12 as results of exposition. If there is weeping and celebrating without exposition, what's creating that effect?

The people of Nehemiah 8 were not upper-class white scholars. They were poor Jewish exiles.

Exposition is trans-cultural. Are you or are you not part of a new humanity and new culture? What part does THAT culture play? We are a Word-people.

Exposition frees us stylistically. Clarity is trans-cultural and diminishes the importance of style.

Exposition is relevant because it is God's Word.

Your intellect as a preacher has a benefit for your hearers as you make the word clear so their intellect as hearers can be developed.

Your fundamental task is to stand in the gap and expose this God by expounding the Word. Don't be reduced to a slave holding a fan and feeding people the grapes they want. Their itching ears may desire politics, moralism, therapy, prosperity, etc., but we make them happy by showing them God.

Audio: http://apps.sebts.edu/chmessages/resource_2549/God_Exposed_Session_5.mp3

God Exposed Conference: Notes on Session 4

C. J. Mahaney
"Expository Faithfulness" (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Timothy's reception and initial reading of 2 Timothy - A moment of historic transition in the early church

Timothy's ministry in Ephesus was difficult and soon he would have to endure it without his father in the faith, but he would have this letter.

Apart from a godly example, your preaching is the most effective way to serve and lead your church

Never assume that those you serve have sufficient knowledge of the Gospel. Assume they need a fresh reminder

Never address another subject without connecting it to the gospel

Never be more passionate about any other subject than the gospel.

Lloyd-Jones - "The traveler through the biblical landscape gets lost if they lose sight of the hill called Calvary." Our people must know that there will be a sighting.

We must be committed to being UNORIGINAL.

Faithfulness to the message requires priority, content, and pastoral discernment and skill (reprove, rebuke, exhort)

You cannot pastor or preach without patience regardless of your precision with the text. Preaching is easier than practicing patience. Lack of patience will show up in your preaching. When I'm impatient with others, I've forgotten God's patience with me.

Sanctification is a very slow process, not an event. It is not ordinarily affected by a single sermon or even your best series. If someone thinks it happens that way, we need to teach them to protect them from disillusionment.

Your expectations of your people should be:
1) Be grateful they even come back.
2) Don't expect them to comprehend quickly what has taken you years.

All Christians will suffer to some degree. Pastors will endure additional suffering. It is inevitable, so prepare for it, don't be surprised by it, understand the sanctifying purpose of God through it, and glorify God in it.

If you address the lost in every message, they will come back and know that you will be addressing them in the message.

Fulfilling your ministry involves persevering until the task is complete, regardless of success or the lack thereof, regardless of suffering. Do it all today, wake up tomorrow and do it all again, and every day thereafter.

Awareness of God's presence and the final day of reckoning will transform our ministry and our souls.

Discouragement over a sermon usually reveals that I was intending to impress rather than to serve.

On the final day we will never be more aware of our sin, more amazed at grace, and more grateful for the cross.

On the last day we will not be standing before our critics. We will stand before God, who has every right to condemn us but will reward us.

Audio here: http://apps.sebts.edu/chmessages/resource_2547/God_Exposed_Session_4.mp3

God Exposed Conference: Notes on Session 3

Michael McKinley
"The Centrality of the Word" (Luke 10:38-42)

The story of Mary/Martha launched 1000 mediocre books for women.

One thing necessary - listening to Him. The listening, not the feet, is key.

Sitting at his feet is not leisure and rest but listening.

This story means, for preachers, that we must devote ouselves to teaching & preaching Gods Word.

Luther - if I had a chance to hear God speak in person, I'd run my feet bloody to get there. But you have Him speaking in the church.

Our highest calling - faithfully study, prepare, deliver

Before you preach you must spend time listening to Him.

M Henry - those who teach by their doctrine must also teach by their life. Otherwise they pull down w/ one hand what they build up w/ the other.

Our task is not particularly glamorous; there's not much applause.

Church's #1 need is for pastors to teach them the word so they can hear God speak. Do they understand this? We have to teach them that they need us to teach them.

Tell your people they can sit at His feet and listen. They don't have to run around trying to earn God's love.

There is a danger that Quiet Times and note taking can become Martha tasks

Audio here: http://apps.sebts.edu/chmessages/resource_2546/God_Exposed_Session_3.mp3

God Exposed Conference: Notes on Session 2

Danny Akin
"The Preacher on Preaching" (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14)

What you say is more impt than how you say it. But how you say it has never been more impt.

Theological exposition - explaining text and doctrines it touches

Good preachers listen to great preachers

Many mistakenly think they are expositors because they open the Bible, read it, and make some comments about it.

Use of notes - do what works for you. Some are masters w/o notes; some are disasters.

Dullness can be a danger to truth. It is a sin to be boring.

Content and delivery is not either/or

Audio here: http://apps.sebts.edu/chmessages/resource_2545/God_Exposed_Session_2.mp3

God Exposed Conference: Notes on Session 1

Mark Dever: "The Power of God's Word" (Mark 4:26-34)

Things happen beyond our ability when we preach.

Dever's vision 15 years ago @CHBC - Christ's Kingdom is absolutely victorious. He may choose to shut us down; I may shepherd this flock to the grave but His kingdom is victorious and He has invited me to participate in it.

If you think you can be filled w/ the Spirit w/out being filled w/ the Word you better check to see what spirit is filling you.

We are tempted to think of ourselves as children of other influences. True Christians are the result of God giving life through His Word.

Appearances can be deceiving. Never confuse size w/ significance. Don't be discouraged by small things. Be careful of being influenced by large things.

Audio of this message is available here: http://apps.sebts.edu/chmessages/resource_2543/God_Exposed_Session_1.mp3

Ephesians 4:7-16 -- God's Church Growth Strategy

This message is one of the most pressing concerns of my heart, and I believe that it, like some others in this Ephesians series, is one of the most important and relevant messages I have ever proclaimed. Thanks be to God for His Word, His Spirit, and His calling to make His truth known. I pray you will hear His truth conveyed in this message. Audio for this message is available here: http://ibcgso.org/MP3s/eph%204%207%2016.mp3

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Cooperative Program: How Southern Baptists Fund Missions

Often I am asked by those outside of or new to Southern Baptist life about how our church goes about supporting missions. Sometimes, those who have been long-time members of Southern Baptist Churches have heard about the "Cooperative Program" but don't really understand what it is or how it works. So, in an attempt to answer some of these questions, without providing a history of the Cooperative Program and its predecessors, I will seek herein to describe what the Cooperative Program is and how it has enabled Southern Baptists to support a wide array of mission activities since its inception in 1925.

Ideally, each Southern Baptist Church determines a percentage of its undesignated offerings to be given to the Cooperative Program. This money is sent to the Baptist State Convention (in the case of our church, the North Carolina Baptist State Convention). The State Convention keeps a percentage of the money which it distributes to its own ministries and mission efforts, and then sends the rest to the Southern Baptist Convention where it is distributed to the various SBC causes.

In the case of North Carolina Baptists, a typical Cooperative Program gift (that has not been allocated to an "alternate giving plan" or negatively excluded in any way, as the State allows), is divided with 66 percent remaining in the hands of the Baptist State Convention, while 34 percent is forwarded to the SBC.

The State Convention allocates funds based on the following percentages (based on the 2009 NC CP Budget allocations):
12.5% for Higher Education (institutional and scholarship funding for Wingate, Campbell, Chowan, Gardner-Webb Universities, and Mars Hill College)
9.66% for Christian Social Services (Baptist Children's Homes, Ministry for Aging Adults, and NC Baptist Hospital's School of Pastoral Care)
1.07% for the Biblical Recorder, the news outlet for NC Baptists
0.28% for the NC Baptist Foundation
8.91% for the Convention and General Board Operations
1.16% for Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute
4.86% for Administration and Convention Relations
2.51% for Public Relations and Resource Development
4.00% for Business Services
4.86% for Mission Growth and Evangelism
3.65% for Church Planting
6.78% for Congregational Services
5.76% for Special Reserves for NC Baptist Ministers (Ministers Emergency Reserve and Supplemental Annuity Contributions)
34% to the Southern Baptist Convention

The percentage that is forwarded to Southern Baptists is then divided up as follows:
50% to the International Mission Board
22.79% to the North American Mission Board (serving the USA and Canada)
21.92% to the six SBC Seminaries (Southern Baptist [KY], Southeastern [NC], Southwestern [TX], Golden Gate [CA], Midwestern [MO], New Orleans [LA])
0.24% to the SBC Library and Historical Archives
1.65% to the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission
3.4% for Convention Operating Expenses

If a church's budget is $225,000 and designates 6% to the Cooperative Program ($13,500), here is how that church's money will be allocated over a year:
$8,910 will be retained by the State Convention
$4,590 will be sent to the Southern Baptist Convention

Of the money kept by the State Convention, it will be allocated on this example as follows:
$1687.50 for Higher Education
$1304.10 for Christian Social Services
$144.45 for the Biblical Recorder
$37.80 for the NC Baptist Foundation
$1201.85 for the Convention and General Board Operations
$156.60 for Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute
$656.10 for Convention and General Board Operations
$338.85 for Public Relations and Resource Development
$540 for Business Services
$656.10 for Mission Growth and Evangelism
$492.75 for Church Planting
$915.30 for Congregational Services
$777.60 for Special Reserves for NC Baptist Ministers (Ministers Emergency Reserve and Supplemental Annuity Contributions)

Of the funds sent to the Southern Baptist Convention, they will be disbursed as follows:
$2295 for the International Mission Board
$1046.06 to the North American Mission Board
$1006.13 to the six SBC Seminaries
$11.02 to the SBC Library and Historical Archives
$75.74 to the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission
$156.06 for Convention Operating Expenses

To bring it down to an individual level, consider a church member who gives $5,000 annually to his church, which then gives 6% to the CP as stated above. $300 of that member's gifts will be sent to the Cooperative Program. It will then be distributed as follows:

$198 would remain in the State Convention, while $102 would be forwarded to the SBC.

That member's money kept in State would be allocated as follows:

$37.50 for Higher Education (institutional and scholarship funding for Wingate, Campbell, Chowan, Gardner-Webb Universities, and Mars Hill College)
$28.98 for Christian Social Services (Baptist Children's Homes, Ministry for Aging Adults, and NC Baptist Hospital's School of Pastoral Care)
$3.21 for the Biblical Recorder, the news outlet for NC Baptists
$0.84 for the NC Baptist Foundation
$26.73 for the Convention and General Board Operations
$3.48 for Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute
$14.58 for Administration and Convention Relations
$7.53 for Public Relations and Resource Development
$12 for Business Services
$14.58 for Mission Growth and Evangelism
$10.95 for Church Planting
$20.34 for Congregational Services
$17.28 for Special Reserves for NC Baptist Ministers

That member's SBC portion would be distributed in the following way:
$51 to the International Mission Board
$23.25 to the North American Mission Board
$22.36 to the six SBC Seminaries
$0.24 to the SBC Library and Historical Archives
$1.68 to the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission
$3.47 for Convention Operating Expenses

My hope in setting this information forth is three-fold. First, by seeing how money is distributed, I would hope that church members would be encouraged to see their wide and diverse investment in Kingdom work that is carried out simply by making undesignated contributions to his or her local church. Perhaps, seeing this information may even challenge church members to consider giving more, seeing that their money is being used to fund such significant ministries and mission activities. Second, by examining these figures, perhaps individual churches would be encouraged at the efficiency and effectiveness of the Cooperative Program and consider increasing the allocated percentage of their budgets for Cooperative Program giving. An increase of even one percent can make a large difference in the funding that reaches the ends of the earth through CP giving. Finally, by seeing how these funds are allocated within State Conventions and the SBC, I would hope that messengers to the State Convention meetings would be emboldened to ask their Convention leadership to give away as much or more money as they keep in-State. The unreached peoples of the world and the future of our churches here in the USA depend on more money reaching our mission boards and seminaries.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Future of the SBC

These have been eventful days in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). When we met in June in Louisville, I think every messenger left with a sense of anticipation that we are on the verge of major changes in our denomination. I, for one, had a sense of curious expectancy at what the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force would be doing over the next twelve months and what recommendations they would bring to Orlando. The realistic side of me (which is often very pessimistic) believed deep down that most of their forthcoming recommendations would amount to hollow rhetoric with no substantive change in the direction of the SBC. There were just too many seemingly insurmountable obstacles for there to be a significant overhaul in the way the SBC operates, regardless of how much those changes were needed. Oh how things have changed over the last 90 days.

The first major post-convention event came with the dismissal of Geoff Hammond as President of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Though it seems that we rank-and-file Southern Baptists may never know all of the reasons behind this controversial decision, we have to accept that it has happened in the providence of God, and NAMB's future is now in the hands of its trustees. What recommendations will they bring? Who will succeed Hammond at the helm? Will anyone be willing to step into that position after so much turmoil at NAMB in the last 10-15 years? Will NAMB be able to prove that it is still a viable arm of missions for the SBC? I do not know the answers to any of these questions.

The second major post-convention event came with the somewhat unexpected announcement of Jerry Rankin's retirement as President of the International Mission Board (IMB). I will say up-front that I love Jerry Rankin. I was so blessed when he accepted my invitation to speak here in our church when the SBC was in Greensboro in 2006. I believe that history will show that God used him in ways that have yet to be fully realized in bringing the unreached peoples of the world to Jesus. But now the future of the IMB is uncertain, though not as uncertain as that of NAMB. The IMB has always been, and will continue to be, the backbone of SBC cooperation. Through the IMB, Southern Baptists are fully funding the work of over 5,000 missionaries serving around the world in some of the most strategic places and roles. Recent restructuring at the IMB may prove to only increase the effectiveness of this agency.

However, with the leadership positions of both SBC mission agencies now vacant (Rankin's retirement is not effective until mid-2010), the table appears to be set for the GCR Task Force to propose a radical change in how Southern Baptists do missions. I remember sitting in Binkley Chapel at Southeastern Seminary when I heard Alvin Reid say that the day may be approaching when Southern Baptists see the need for only one unified mission board. At the time I thought that it was a radical and far-fetched notion that would never transpire in my lifetime. At this point, I view it as not only a possibility but a probability. What would it look like? How would it function? How would the emphasis be divided between the USA and international efforts? At this point, any attempts to answer those questions would be merely speculative.

This week, a third post-convention event of monumental proportions has taken place with the announcement of the retirement of Morris Chapman, President of the SBC Executive Committee (XCom). As I understand it, the XCom acts on behalf of the Convention between annual sessions and serves as the chief promoter and guardian of the Cooperative Program (CP). For those outside of Baptist life, and those within who have not been properly oriented, the CP is the formula used for the distribution of funds between Baptist entities to ensure cooperation and to eliminate competition between them. It is really a marvel to behold, and has been the lifeline of SBC funding since its inception in 1925. It is probably no stretch to say that the CP saved the SBC from ruin in 1925. However, the CP has fallen on hard times in recent years. Disproportionate distributions between State Conventions and the SBC (some states keep upwards of 65% of CP money in-state, forwarding only 1/3 of it to the work of the IMB, NAMB, and SBC Seminaries), the increase in "special offerings" promoted among churches, and the tendency of churches to personalize mission giving through more designated channels, have caused the CP to reach a plateau. Something about the CP will have to change if it is to remain the lifeline of Baptist funding. Chapman's retirement could open the door for those changes to occur.

Additionally, in recent Conventions, Chapman's reports have become increasingly divisive. I was not in the room during his most controversial report in 2009, having adjourned to the Exhibit Hall to speak with a colleague in higher education. When I returned, my companions who heard the report were outraged at the comments Chapman had directed at Calvinists in the SBC and a few other statements in his address. The last thing Southern Baptists need in this day is an infight about Calvinism and anti-Calvinism (no serious Southern Baptist can be rightly called an Arminian) led by one of our own leaders! Though Chapman has served Southern Baptists well, and been an important figure in our recent history (his election as SBC President may well have been the end of the war between Conservatives and Moderates in the SBC), his retirement opens the door for a new leader at the XCom, or perhaps even more radical changes. I hear fellow pastors questioning the need for the XCom, and even questioning the viability of the CP in our day.

There is much uncertainty about what the future holds for the SBC. Several things are now certain. First of all, and most importantly, our future is in God's hands. We must look to Him, seek Him, humble ourselves before Him, and trust Him. He does not need the SBC. We are not "God's last and only hope" as one zealous voice spouted long ago. The Christian Church existed, advanced, and thrived for 1800 years before the SBC came into being, and can do so after our demise. God is gracious to use the likes of us in such powerful ways as He has in our history, and we must be good stewards of the trust He has placed upon us.

Another certainty is that major changes WILL be recommended in Orlando in June, 2010 concerning the SBC Mission Boards. Whether these will include a unified board or substantial changes to the function of the existing boards, only God knows. But change is on the horizon, and vacancies at the top of both boards will only accelerate that change.

Another certainty is that the CP WILL undergo a massive overhaul. This may come in any number of ways, but it will happen. As it happens, State Conventions will have a difficult task of proving to Southern Baptists that they continue to deserve so large a slice of the Baptist money-pie. I also expect other changes related to the allocation of CP funding at the SBC level. Some entities may disappear all together or be lumped into others.

Finally, some younger Southern Baptists have pleaded for the opportunity to be heard. It seems that their voices are being heard louder than ever now, and the open offices at the tops of three important SBC entities may offer opportunities for fresh voices in Baptist life. This presents a bit of a dilemma for me personally. I think that the best fit for all three of these positions (assuming they will ALL be filled) are pastors who have led biblical and gospel-centered churches or missionaries who have been faithful through many years of experience and perhaps hardship. But, that means that those individuals will be removed from those churches in order to serve the denomination, and I am not sure that is a good thing. I am sure that it is better than the alternative of having other individuals serving those positions. I am also confident that the best people for those positions will probably not be chosen because they will not seek them. I have "ideal" future-presidents of the IMB and XCom. I do not have one in mind for NAMB because I am not sure what to think of NAMB's future and I am certain that no one in their right mind would want to take that position. Both men I have in mind for the IMB and XCom are great pastors in great churches. I do not believe they would (or should) step aside from those positions for a job in the denominational hierarchy.

Change has been demanded. Change will occur. No one likes change except babies with dirty diapers. I believe in five years we may look back on these days as being the most significant days in Southern Baptist history. But will they be significant for positive or negative reasons? God knows the answer, and Southern Baptists must look to Him now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Psalm 2: A message from Phillip Cole

Pastor Cole of Water of Life Community Church preached here at Immanuel this past Sunday, and delivered this message on Psalm 2. Hope you enjoy hearing it. Click here to stream, right-click to download.