Recently, I had the privilege of writing an article for “Outlook,” The magazine of Southeastern Seminary. The topic given to me was “what Young Leaders were doing well and not so well in pursuing a Great Commission Resurgence?” That magazine is now available, check it out here, with articles about Muslims in Amsterdam, technology and Great Commission work, Convergent Church, and 20/20 conference that featured Mahaney, Driscoll, Akin, and Brown.
So with permission from the editor I make available my article here.
“Youth,” the adage goes, “is wasted on the young.” Perhaps this aphorism is true – it is at least partly true, in that young people tend to be long on energy and creativity and short on wisdom and patience. It might even be possible, in a general way, to apply this sort of thinking to young leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention.
To be sure, young leaders bring both positive and negatives to the table. Even a term like “young leader” often carries a great deal of baggage. The definitions of “young” and “leader” are certainly debatable. However, it is necessary to think through what younger evangelical and SBC leaders are doing right and what they may be doing wrong in the pursuit of a Missional Revolution. There are a number of strengths younger leaders can bring to a Great Commission Resurgence. I do not mean to insinuate that older leaders do not possess these traits as well. I am convinced we learned most of them from our Fathers in the Faith. This list also is in no way exhaustive, but I believe it gets to the heart of positive aspects younger leaders can bring to the table.
I. Energy and Creativity- It is hard to deny that many of the younger strain are very passionate and driven. The vitality of the young is certainly a strength. Younger leaders bring a fresh perspective and usually newer methods and ideas on how to reach the culture. They can certainly challenge an established crowd think through new and exciting methods, while helping to steer them from traditionalism (in the negative sense).
II. Theological Renewal- In many of the younger leaders I perceive a hunger for theological thinking and training. This seems to be spurred by the writings of men like John Piper, John MacArthur, and Mark Dever. Many younger leaders yearn to think deeply and think well. Many also want to discern what cultural traditions may have been handed down to us that are not biblical mandates. They seek to ask the question, “What does the Bible teach?” For most, a love for thinking and theology is attached to a passion for being faithful to the authority of Scripture.
III. A Missionaries’ Mindset- Many of the younger leaders employ what can be called a missionary mindset, in that they display great concern for the souls of the lost and use their energy to share the gospel. These young leaders are prepared to go to the tough places and initiate new ministries. Although, the word “missional” is not popular in some circles, many of the young leaders believe it simply means that you should possess a missionary mentality, regardless of the context in which you find yourself. There is much to be commended in this outlook. This mentality has captivated younger men; it is driving them to be church planters nationally in difficult places and it will lead them to be church planters internationally in unreached places. It is also exciting to see that there is no dichotomy for many of them between theology and mission. They are concerned both with mission and with theological/practical preparation for that mission. In my judgment, this flows right out of the Conservative Resurgence. Programs like the “2+2 program” display this, where those who hope to be in a cross-cultural mission setting see the need to be prepared for that context. This mentality is completely consonant with a Great Commission Resurgence and makes me excited to be on a seminary campus, like Southeastern.
IV. Expectancy- At times I and others have written and lamented the decline of younger men getting involved in SBC life; I think for good reason. However, it is difficult to understand that trend when you live on the Southeastern Campus. I am surrounded by men who are passionate to be church planters nationally and internationally, and many are committed, at least for now, to being part of the Southern Baptist Convention. If the SBC is infused over the next decade with hundreds of seminarians possessing a missional attitude and serving the tough places of America and the unreached places overseas, then it will be hard to be pessimistic about the future. The younger generation is driven by this expectancy of a Great Commission Resurgence and the spreading fame of Christ. In many ways, it casts a shadow over the negatives and declining membership in SBC life. Many in this generation carry a mindset similar to William Carey, a Baptist in a previous generation, “Expect great things, attempt great things.” I, for one, think great days lie ahead because of the brothers I meet on this campus every day.
However, there is also the possibility of a downside. Some major dangers for younger leaders cast doubts as to the effectiveness they will enjoy in the future. If these pitfalls are not overcome, the above positives will serve little benefit to the young leaders.
1. Pride and Ageism (The following section is borrowed heavily from Scott Wilson’s article at Baptist21entitled “Is there Ageism in the SBC?“) - Pride and Ageism go hand in hand. All men struggle with pride, but especially younger men. There is a tendency to buck authority and accountability, and thus the danger of being driven by fame. There is a temptation to view your new and fresh ideas as the only ways to “do” ministry, while casting a negative glance at the work of older pastors, men who have been serving faithfully for decades. I am afraid that we are in danger of being myopic, something some young leaders accuse of the older generation of. If we see our “way” of ministry as “the” way, then we risk placing our preferences and ministries on equal footing with scriptural authority, much like we sometimes claim of the traditional methods. We carry the danger of being “ageists”, seeing older ministers as irrelevant and bothersome. We must avoid our culture’s tendency to cast a negative eye on our elders; this is a place for us to be counter-cultural. I think Scott Wilson said it best when he said, “has our generation become so arrogant that we think we have nothing to learn from those who have been in ministry for forty years, while we have been in ministry for two? We have only just begun to suffer for Christ; they have much to teach us, if only we would humble ourselves long enough to listen. Young believers and young pastors need to seek out older mentors, realizing their need to learn and grow. ”
2. Follow through- A danger accompanying younger energy and creativity is a lack of reliability or work ethic. Once the freshness “wears” off, will the younger generation have “stick-to-itiveness” in their ministries, or will they walk away and fade away into obscurity?
3. Capitulation to Culture- In an attempt to be missional, the danger is that we will take on the irredeemable qualities of the ambient culture. In an attempt to be relevant to culture, there is a danger for the young leaders to surrender those biblical truths and spiritual formation that separate us as followers of Christ. Some sectors of the Emerging Church already evidence this capitulation. Some men who are labeled as “culturally relevant” and in touch with the postmodern ethos have abandoned orthodoxy. We also see this in some so-called “Younger Evangelical Leaders.” At times, because of pride, they play to an audience that they should not “play to” when it comes to social issues that have never been consonant with Scripture. Either that, or they seek to be so culturally relevant that they let precious truths of the faith slide. If we do capitulate to culture, we will not be “relevant” to culture. A Great Commission Resurgence is relevant because it gets to the deepest need of mankind. We must not become driven by cultural relevance. Instead, we must be compelled by the authority of Scripture and a hope to see the glory of Christ invade this world. Otherwise, we will cease to be “relevant”.
4. Isolationist Attitude- In some sectors of younger leaders there also seems to be an isolationist mentality that says, “I will go plant my own church and do my own thing.” They are suspicious of accountability, do not like the methods of others in a convention, and are unhappy with some other (often minor) aspects in a convention. This results in a number of them leaving. The exodus of young leaders from the convention is potentially damaging to a Great Commission Resurgence, and these younger leaders will not be as effective in pursuing a Great Commission Resurgence on their own as they thought. The younger generation needs to step up and be men; we do not need to abandon cooperation because some in a convention criticize us, do not invite us to speak, or because the convention has imperfections. Instead, we must realize that we will be stronger together and more effective through cooperation. A Great Commission Resurgence is not to be undertaken alone. We do not need to “stick our noses up” toward the very convention that paid for our education, in many cases delivered to us the gospel, and taught us to trust the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Instead, we should be prepared to do the hard work of being involved and then let our voice be heard. This will not happen overnight. However, as a band of brothers who are like-minded, let’s stay, serve, and then speak. Instead of leaving, younger leaders should pursue the benefit of cooperation toward the end of a Great Commission Resurgence.
5. Neglect of the Spiritual Disciplines- Finally, I think many of these failures occur because we neglect spiritual formation. We are so indoctrinated with being on mission that we forget the immense importance of “the character” of the man on mission. It is not enough to be on mission and relevant to the culture if we are not grounded enough to recognize what is redeemable and what is irredeemable in the ambient culture. This takes a man of great discernment, and sadly, many of my younger generation cannot be categorized as possessing this discernment. We are younger and that simply means we still lack much of the wisdom and maturity of older brothers in Christ. If we are so concerned with culture that we neglect protecting our own souls, we will not be the missionaries we are called to be.
In the end, a Great Commission Resurgence, a Missional Revolution, whatever you want to label it, is the goal. It is the natural outgrowth of the Conservative Resurgence launched in 1979. The goal is the fame of Christ spread to the peoples of all nations. Younger leaders must seek to avoid the pitfalls that come from being young; we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture, its disciplines, and the counsel of older, godly brothers. We must continue to pursue a missionary mentality, understand the danger of a life lived apart from Christ, and we must not back down from being passionate about sharing the glories of Christ for the fame of Christ. What I am hoping for, especially among our Southern Baptist brethren, is a multitude of foot soldiers in a Great Commission Resurgence, an army set to war for the fame of Christ, even as we pray the prayer of the saints throughout the ages, “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”
On February 6, 2009, at just after four o’clock in the morning, my wife and I welcomed into the world our first child, a baby boy named Silas. Naturally, this was one of the most joy-filled moments of our lives and one we will always remember. Just minutes after Silas’ birth, however, our joy was marred with a mixture of fear and sadness. Silas’ face turned blue and it became evident he was not breathing properly. The hospital staff rushed him to another room for emergency care as we were left to wonder what was happening. We soon learned that Silas was born with a condition called Pierre-Robin Sequence (PRS). Without getting into the specifics of the condition in too much detail, PRS is a combination of a recessed chin, a cleft palate, and a tongue that tends to fall backward over the affected child’s airway. This causes breathing and feeding problems, which often require various surgeries to allow the child to breathe and feed adequately.
My wife and I knew something about the condition before Silas’ birth because my nephew, now five years old, was also diagnosed with PRS at his birth. Naturally, being familiar with the condition didn’t take away all our anxiety because we knew all-too-well what my sister’s family experienced during those early days in caring for their son.
Just hours after Silas’ birth, both he and my wife were transferred from the hospital where he was born to another hospital in the area better equipped to handle his condition. There Silas remained in the NCCU (neonatal critical care unit) for nearly a month. In his last days in the hospital he was moved to a different floor. All-in-all, we were in the hospital for 33 days before being released. At 12-days-old Silas had a surgery on his jaw, called a “mandibular distraction,” to move his jaw forward and free his airway. In the days following, feeding specialists were brought in to help him learn to take milk with a special bottle. While a couple of additional surgeries are still in Silas’ future, we were released from the hospital back in March and have been enjoying our first days at home with our bright-eyed baby boy.
I have been reflecting of late about all the things the Lord has taught me through this experience with Silas. I remember one day in particular when I was sitting in the NCCU looking at my son. He was situated in a plastic crib and hooked up to numerous monitors. He was one of six babies in his pod. A blue curtain hung on either side of his crib partitioning off his spot in the pod from the babies on his left and right. This was life for Silas during his first month . . . life between the curtains.
As I sat there looking at him, I was reminded that every believer in Christ is also living, in a sense, between the curtains. In accepting Christ as Savior, we have passed through the first curtain into God’s presence. This first curtain was torn for us at Calvary. Because of the blood of Christ we have access in prayer to enter (with confidence) into the very throne room of God (Heb 10:19-20)! This is an unspeakable joy that I think we reflect on far too little. The saints of the OT period were not permitted into the Holy of Holies, which represented the special presence of the Lord God among His people, unless they happened to be one particular man, and even he could only go in on one particular day each year. Yet the NT says not only that we can enter the presence of God, but also that God dwells within us (1 Cor 3:16)! We cannot just go into the temple—we are the temple! The first curtain has indeed fallen, and what a joy this truth should be to us!
Yet for believers in this life, there is a second curtain which still remains. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that we see now only in part, but then, in heaven, we will see God face-to-face. Now we know only in part, but then, in heaven, we will know more fully, even as we are known fully by our God. On this side of the second curtain we have questions. It comes with the territory. Among the questions that haunt us, perhaps the question “Why?” troubles us the most. We have a partial answer to the “why” question between the curtains, just like we have partial vision and a partial knowledge of God. We know, for example, that we experience evil in this world (both moral evil and natural disasters) because all of creation was marred by the fall and yearns for the coming redemption (e.g., Rom 8:19ff). We know that though we experience evil in this fallen world we have a God who is sovereign over all things, who is using everything, both the good and the bad, to conform us into the image of Christ (Rom 8:28-30). We know that trials are necessary to form patience within us (James 1:3-4). And we know many other things about trials and suffering from the pages of Scripture as well.
But in life ‘between the curtains’ we do not know everything do we? When a trial comes our way, we know basic truths and God’s basic objective in our life (i.e. to make us more like Christ) but we do not know exactly why God allowed that particular trial to enter our life or to affect someone we love. Sometimes God will choose to reveal his purposes to us, but often, we will not know . . . God did not intend for us to know . . . not on this side of the 2nd curtain. Sometimes God puts us in a place where all we can do is trust Him, even when we don’t understand what he is doing. Have you ever been in that place? Are you there now?
You see, life between the curtains is a good place to be, but as we all know, it can be a hard place as well. It is a good place because—if we are between the curtains, then we have passed beyond the first curtain into God’s presence. (Let us never forget how many in our world have not experienced the unspeakable riches we currently possess in Christ.) It is a good place because—God is with us between the curtains no matter what we go through (Heb 13:5). It is a good place because—we are confident God always has a purpose in our suffering, even when we don’t know exactly what that purpose is.
But life between the curtains is also a hard place, and there are times in our lives when this truth is brought before our eyes with particular clarity. The difficult period following Silas’ birth was one of those times for my wife and me and our extended family. It was a hard time—between the curtains. You see, we all instinctively think that things like what happened to Silas shouldn’t happen. And we are right to think so. Why should a little child have to undergo a surgery, or two, or three? Or worse, why should a baby die, like one of the baby girls we met while Silas was in the NCCU? These things shouldn’t happen, and in God’s original plan, they wouldn’t have happened. To borrow from the title of Plantinga’s book on the doctrine of sin, this world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.” We realize that pain and suffering and death are a part of life here between the curtains; we know whose fault that is and we accept it. But there is a part of us that yearns for life beyond the 2nd curtain. And this is right too. After all, this is not our home. We were made for a better country, a heavenly one, where there are no neonatal critical care units, no morgues, no diseases, and no tears. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that God lets us experience trials between the curtains; it creates in us a sense of yearning for the time when God will set everything right, the way it should be. That is life beyond the 2nd curtain—life with a full vision of the risen Christ!
So as I watch my son endure at least two more surgeries in the coming year, I will trust the God who made him and has a plan for him. I know the Lord will see our family through this time and that He has us in the palm of His ever-caring hand. But every stitch, every tube, every monitor, and every night in the hospital will be one more reminder that life between the curtains is not life the way it was supposed to be. And my heart will yearn, as yours does, for the life that is to come—life beyond the curtains . . . life without curtains.
Over a week ago Baptist21, along with several other blogs, posted the video and manuscript of Danny Akin’s address “12 Axioms of a Great Commission Resugence in the SBC.” Since then the address has received wide coverage and response around the blogosphere. Well the Great Commission Resurgence agenda is moving forward again. Today there is an exciting announcement of a new site, greatcommissionresurgence.com, and a declaration entitled, “Toward a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Declaration,” to be signed by all Southern Baptists who are in agreement. Baptist21 would highly encourage you to be one of the first to sign this document and check out this new site.
This idea for a Great Commission Resurgence seems to be gaining much momentum, here are some of the blogs that are covering Akin’s initial address:
Wake Up Call for Southern Baptists Mark Marshall
It is often times easy to take “swings” at the SBC and in many cases rightly so. A convention of imperfect churches will always be imperfect. Yes, we have many warts, and this causes many to focus attention on the blemishes. Sadly, those imperfections often blind us to the really good things that Southern Baptists are doing. Not only are these negatives leading to criticism, they are also leading many to question whether or not they should remain (or ever become in the first place) Southern Baptist. The logic is that “I have one life to live for Jesus, and I need to make the most of my time in ministering for him, so I’d rather go somewhere that is flourishing and less ‘politically embattled.’” This logic is not without wisdom. We do indeed have one life (a short one) to minister in the tasks assigned by the King. So, the question that we need to ask ourselves is, “Why am I a Southern Baptist (or why should I become a Southern Baptist)?”
Honestly, we became Southern Baptists by birth (not that we were members at birth!). Many generations of Akins have been Southern Baptist, and we were born into the home of a Southern Baptist minister. While this is NOT the main reason that we remain Southern Baptist, it should not be overlooked because it is significant. Obviously the answer to the posed question should never be, “I am Southern Baptist because my momma and daddy were.” BUT, the faithful lives and effective service of believing moms, dads, and grandparents should play a role. The younger generation is quick to dismiss tradition (and many times rightfully so!). But, there is a trail of blood, sweat, and tears of faithful men and women (including especially faithful, lay family members) that led up to where we are. In our past, men and women have taken great pains to get the Gospel to us. There were people faithfully witnessing, discipling, educating, raising families to know Jesus, etc. before we were born. They were trying to be “missional” in culture before we (or they) ever heard that word (not that there were not times of withdrawal and fundamentalist sectarianism). This is significant because we are connected to something. More than that we are connected to “someones,” a people! Why we are Southern Baptist now will be answered differently than the question, “How did you become a Southern Baptist?” But, the answer to the latter question drives the answer to the first. As far as we can trace it back, we became Southern Baptist because our Southern Baptist minister dad led us to faith in Jesus when we started asking questions about the Bible. We started asking questions about the Bible because we were attending a Southern Baptist church where a Southern Baptist Pastor, raised in a Southern Baptist Church by Southern Baptist parents and trained in a Southern Baptist school, preached the Gospel to us. We were at that church because our dad was reared by Southern Baptist parents who led him to Jesus, and our mom was reared and saved in a Baptist Children’s Home because of the faithful giving of Southern Baptist men and women. Before that, we had Southern Baptist grandparents who faithfully shared Jesus with their children because their Southern Baptist parents had done the same with them. That’s why we became Southern Baptist. Tradition may not be everything, but we have been saved by Jesus because we are connected with a people.
We remain committed Baptists because we think that Baptist distinctives above any other denomination’s theological distinctives, are the most biblically faithful. This is a conviction based on reading and studying the New Testament. We are strong advocates of Regenerate Church Membership, which John Hammett, a professor of theology at SEBTS (and others) calls “The” Baptist Mark of the Church. This mark then flows into all the others such as Believer’s Baptism, Congregational Government, Local Church Autonomy, and the Priesthood of the Believers. So we choose to be Baptist because we think Baptist distinctives are the most biblical (and we will point to this in our vision series).
But why do we choose to be Southern Baptist? Given that we believe Baptist distinctives most accurately reflect the New Testament Church we believe the following reasons warrant, with all of the imperfections of the SBC and need for reform, being Southern Baptist. Not only do we think being SBC is warranted, we believe it is the best place to cooperate together to do ALL that King Jesus commands in the world! So, “Why are we and why do we think you should be a part of the SBC?”
a second part to this blog will be posted in the coming days…
Jon and Nathan Akin
Baptist21 is grateful and honored to make three announcements about the upcoming b21 panel:
1. Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church has agreed to be part of the b21 panel at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville.
2. Albert Mohler has also agreed to be part of the b21 panel.
3. In addition, we are excited to announce that there will be books from some of the panel members given away to all attendees of this event.
Leading up to the event, Baptist21 has sent around to those participating on the panel a questionnaire that will highlight some of the topics to be discussed at this event. Below are Dever’s answers as well as information about the event.
Interview with Pastor Mark Dever
1. What is the best thing about being a part of the SBC? International Mission Board
2. Why do you think young, cross-centered ministers who accept baptist theology might not want to be a part of the SBC? Perhaps because of me. Also, perhaps because of the nominalism, the pride, and the cultural conservatism that distorts too many people’s understanding of God’s inerrant Word.
3. How and why did you come to the SBC? I was born into it. I reaffirmed it in seminary due to its baptistic and reformed roots. I’ve come to appreciate its emphasis on missions. I love the way it unlocks the resources of thousands of churches and helps our congregation to fulfill the Great Commission.
4. How can we honor our heritage while continuing to move forward? Preach the Gospel.
5. What are the three most important things that need to change, for the SBC to grow in our gospel mission? How would you do them, if it were up to you? There are so many things. We need to re-center our pastoring around expositional preaching. We need a renewed understanding of God’s sovereignty and of our utter dependence on Him and on His work in Christ. And we need to be crystal clear on the Gospel and on the church (including membership and discipline).
All of these must be pursued with great patience, perseverance, and much prayer.
My simplest answer to this would be, “By God’s ordinary means of grace.” That is, by the right preaching of the Word of God and the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The most important, relevant, provocative, and evangelistic things about us and our congregation’s life are never those things which are unique to our context and congregation, but are always those things which we have in common with every true church around the world, from Jesus’ time till our own.
For more information about IX marks check out their facebook page.
Information about the b21 panel @ the SBC
When is the b21 panel? June 23rd 11:45am-1:45pm (during a break at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville). This will be shortly after the President’s address to the convention. We highly encourage you to attend Pastor Hunt’s address which promises to address some of the topics to be discussed by the panel.
Note about the event: There will be a $5 cover charge at the door; this $5 dollars will include a meal and books from some of the panel members. Sign up ASAP so that we can begin to prepare adequate arrangements and please blog about this event to stir up interest.
Where is the b21 panel to be held? Sojourn Community Church, 930 Mary St. Louisville, KY 40204 (about 5 minutes from where the convention will be held)
What is the b21 panel? It is a forum discussion about the present and future of the SBC. Each panel member will briefly address a key issue in SBC life, and this will be immediately followed by Question/Answer time.
What will the b21 panel discuss? The benefits of cooperation, the great things the SBC is doing, changes the SBC needs, how we can involve younger leaders, how we can move forward, and others.
Who will be part of the b21 panel? Daniel Akin from SEBTS, R. Albert Mohler from SBTS, Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Ed Stetzer from Lifeway (see his promo for the event here), and Daniel Montgomery from Sojourn Community Church. The Baptist 21 guys will be moderating the event.
Why have this event? Many in the SBC see a great need for a directional change, but are also very excited about the things that the SBC does well. This event will celebrate what we are doing well and discuss possible areas of change.
Thank you for taking the time to visit our site and we certainly pray that you will make an effort to be a part of the b21 panel at this year’s convention.
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