A while back B21 let our readers know about a conference held at Union University. The Read the Bible for Life Conference at Union University on Apr 15-16 did not dissapoint! David Platt’s three plenary sessions and the panel discussion with Platt, Michael Card and George Guthrie were a buffet of spiritual nourishment to the hundreds of sunday school teachers, deacons, pastor and students who attended.
SBC 2011 made me very excited about the future of cooperative Missions in the SBC. I will not recount all the reasons; plenty have provided SBC reflections thus far that are worth reading and I would basically just repeat all of their ideas (links to those reflections are below). Though I will say, upon leaving this year’s convention, although there were a few silly moments, I came away excited because the major emphasis for the week was Mission. The dominant themes of this year’s convention were how to mobilize churches in working internationally with unengaged people groups (find out more about IMB’s Call2Embrace), and towards church planting in major population centers in North America (find out more about SendNA). Elliff, president of the IMB, said in his report that this whole convention has been “one long sermon” about engaging the unreached around the world. The Pastor’s Conference (Check out the sermons from the PC Here), led by Vance Pittman, also focused on these emphases. To commemorate this emphasis on Mission, both mission boards held commissioning services during their reports and it was a great privilege to see those who seek to plant churches nationally and internationally recognized before the gathered messengers. This is one of the major privileges we have as a convention—supporting men and women who are giving their lives over to God’s Mission.
In addition, this year’s SBC once again featured some outside meetings (like 9Marks @ 9 and our Baptist21 panel, that we hope was useful) during the downtimes of the convention business that were fruitful and opportunities to connect with like-minded brothers and sisters. All in all, it was an enjoyable and exciting few days.
So below, I would like to provide links to reflections of the week for further reading. But I also want to highlight two articles worth reading that have been written since our time together in Phoenix that will be very helpful for our readers concerned for the future of the SBC.
Articles of Note:
We may have to admit it – the Southern Baptist Convention is getting smaller.
If you measure it in purely empirical terms, the SBC is in decline. We just finished gathering in Phoenix for our smallest annual meeting since World War II. Not only that, but almost all of our denominational statistics are headed downhill, from our cumulative baptisms to the number of regular attenders in our churches. And we have lower amounts being given to the Cooperative Program. Annie and Lottie are struggling. Not good.
And how about this newsflash – the SBC is probably already smaller than we care to admit. Kevin Ezell’s “you have heard it said, but I say to you” speech in Phoenix revealed that the North American Mission Board and its state convention partners had planted about half as many churches in 2010 as are normally claimed. The self-reported ACP numbers of our churches are also suspect. Those reports are available to the press, bloggers, and potential future employers of pastors. Does anyone doubt that pastors feel pressure to pad the stats? So the SBC isn’t just getting smaller – it is highly likely we already are smaller than we think.
Let’s face it – there are a lot of things against us as a denomination. The culture is becoming more hardened to the Gospel. The bad economy is hurting our people and our churches financially. We have 40-something thousand churches in the SBC, but we all know that many of those churches are very weak or dying.
And we are certainly an aging denomination. Our congregations are aging, as are many of our buildings, our programs, our strategies, and our most visible leaders. Many of the mega-churches that have been our flagships for the past 30 years have quietly plateaued. There are numerous non-denominational churches and mini-denominations that have sprung up in suburbia everywhere – younger, more agile, cooler, and basically baptistic but not in name or affiliation. These churches and organizations siphon off some of our best leaders and most faithful people. Sometimes it just seems like the SBC is tired.
In spite of our challenges, I have to say that I am more encouraged about our future as a missional enterprise than I have been my entire adult life. Our mini-meeting in Phoenix actually served to advance my growing optimism about the SBC. Here are some reasons why:
Church planting and unevangelized, unreached people groups are on the front burner in a fresh way. This is why I want my church to give to the CP. Our common commitment to the Great Commission and our shared strategy for pushing back lostness in cities and among peoples around the world is why the CP is the best place for churches to invest missions dollars.
Outstanding new leadership. New leadership at the Executive Committee, the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board are breathing new life and vision into our cooperative efforts. Our ability to select and attract Frank Page, Kevin Ezell, and Tom Elliff are a testimony to both the strength of our denominational talent pool and the wisdom of our trustee system.
Our commitment to expand beyond our “whiteness.” According to Ed Stetzer, head of LifeWay Research, by 2050 there will be no majority race in the United States. The demographics will push us beyond the rural, white South and into neighborhoods where we have previously been irrelevant. The affirmation of the Executive Committee report on ethnic diversity, passage of the resolution “On Immigration and the Gospel,” and the election of our first black vice president are positive steps.
The new movement among young leaders. Organized networks such as 9Marks and Baptist 21 are intentionally connecting and mobilizing young Southern Baptists. The church planting surge among Southern Baptists is being spearheaded by guys in their 20’s and 30’s. And don’t forget that the Conservative Resurgence was led by pastors in their 30’s and 40’s – Vines, Patterson, Hawkins, Stanley, Rogers and Pressler were young when they made their mark. This new youth movement has to happen or we are dead.
An explicitly competitive posture. The SBC and its agencies are repositioning themselves to compete in a world where other attractive opportunities for church cooperation abound. We are going to have to continually persuade new generations that the CP is the most effective place to invest missions dollars. The rising cohort of Southern Baptist churches and leaders will not cooperate out of loyalty or guilt. They will respond to compelling vision.
So what if at the end of all of these changes the SBC is still smaller? Smaller doesn’t have to equal decline in effectiveness. A leaner, younger, more agile, more focused, more diverse denomination will continue to make a huge impact for Christ. And I still believe that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We can do more for King Jesus together than any of us could do on our own. That is why I am more motivated than ever to participate in the Great Commission work of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Jimmy Scroggins is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach. He was a member of the 2011 SBC Resolutions Committee.
Martha Myers laid it all on the line for King Jesus and the people of Yemen. She served them for 24 years as a doctor, and over her 24 years there the hospital ministered to nearly 1 million people. She sacrificed personally for many of her patients, including giving away her savings account to pay for someone’s kidney transplant.
She knew it was dangerous there, after all she had already been kidnapped before, but not being there was more dangerous for her. One time when she was faced with the possibility of not going back she said it would kill her not to go back to Yemen.
On December 30th of 2002 three workers at the Baptist hospital in Yemen were shot and killed, including Martha who was 57. She had treated the killer’s wife for infertility. When the gunner was asked why he killed these workers he said that after the way Martha had been so kind to his wife he knew she had to be stopped because if she wasn’t she would bring all of Yemen to Jesus!
Martha was buried among the people she had served for over two decades. She didn’t want her body to go back to America. She wanted to be buried in Yemen, and during her funeral, hundreds of Yemeni people stood outside the fence, beside the graveyard, to honor her.
One man approached an SBC worker and said, “Our government doesn’t care about us, and our religion doesn’t care about us, but you Baptists have always cared about us!”
One of those killed was the hospital administrator Bill Koehn. After his death, his wife said, “They’ve seen us live Christ. Now, they’ve seen us die in Christ. The Church must grow!” And, it has!
Almost 6 years after the shooting in 2008, a local believer, who had prayed to receive Jesus with Martha, decided to start travelling the trails where she had worked. He wanted to talk to the people she had touched and cared for. He wanted to see if there were more like him, people she had led to Christ. He wanted to see if there were some who would be open to hearing the gospel.
In the last few years, many people have come to Christ, and some of them remember Martha. The harvest is beginning! Her life was cut short in 2002 but her ministry and impact were not. It lives on. She, being dead, still speaks. Her life is counting for eternity. Almost a decade after her death, she is still impacting Yemeni people for Jesus!
For the task of the Great Commission to be completed we need churches and Christians who will lay it on the line like Martha Myers. We need people who won’t waste their lives on the fleeting comforts of this age. We need a generation of people like Martha who recognize life is short, eternity is long, and Jesus is the difference.
Will we join the movement? Will we choose to not waste our lives? Will we count the glorification of Christ’s Name as more precious than our lives? Martha and the multitude of Yemeni believers who will surround the King’s throne in eternity would say to you and me, “The un-wasted life is worth it!”
To read more about Martha and other SBC missionary martyrs please read the Book Lives Given Not Taken by Erich Bridges & Jerry Rankin.
Here is a special video presentation from this year’s SBC telling some of this story and reminding us to take the cross to the peoples of the world.
During the IMB report at this year’s SBC all SBC churches were challenged to embrace one of the 3800 unreached unengaged peoples of the world. You can watch the IMB report. Click on Wednesday Afternoon and scroll down to International Mission Board Report.
You can get more information about how your church can embrace one of these people groups here.
Baptist21 would like to provide SBC attendees with a guide to the proceedings of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention. Throughout the attached guide, Baptist21 provides descriptions of key items on the schedule that we believe you will not want to miss.
In addition, make sure to register for the B21 Lunch Panel to be held during the Tuesday lunch of the SBC.
As we continue to prepare for the B21 Panel at the SBC next Tuesday, we would like to hear from you! What kinds of questions would you like John Piper, David Platt, Kevin Ezell, Albert Mohler, and Danny Akin to answer? You can submit the questions you have by leaving them in the comment field below. Please tell us which panelist the question is for and your question.
If you have not signed up for our panel yet, you can register here.
We look forward to reading your questions!
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