Politicians, SEND, & the SBC

Since the ERLC announced that they will be having a discussion about religious liberty with a couple of politicians at the SEND conference, we have been asked to respond. After all, we’ve been questioned, if we have concerns about the SBC pastors’ conference invitation of politician Ben Carson, shouldn’t we have concerns here? It’s a fair question. Perhaps those asking for a quick response will forgive us for our response time. In relation to the Carson post, we had months of time to wrestle with it before we sent our post to the pastors’ conference leadership. Then, we gave it another month before we posted it. While it’s tempting to do something similar with the SEND conference leadership, here are a few initial thoughts about why we aren’t as concerned with the SEND invites as we were with the other.

 

First, the goals of the conferences are different. The SBC pastors’ conference is primarily for pastors. The SEND conference has been marketed for all people. There are speakers you would invite to a conference about the mission of God that you wouldn’t invite to speak at a pastors’ conference. The SEND conference seems to be broader in scope. As a pastor, I’m taking 25 of our church members to the conference because I want them to be better equipped to live on mission. I didn’t take our people to the SBC pastors’ conference, although I as a pastor attended. NAMB and IMB, the creators of the conference, both understand that the mission of God is big enough to include all aspects of the lives of the people of God. And my people are facing the sophisticated religious liberty challenges at work—even here in the South. So a discussion on religious liberty is more appropriate with this type of conference.

 

Second, the formats and topics of the conferences are different. At the pastors’ conference, Ben Carson was going to speak in a sermonic fashion, opening his bible and talking about cultural values. The politicians at the SEND event will not be speaking in the same way, but will be interviewed specifically on religious liberty issues. They will not be opening a bible and delivering a sermon. Am I surprised the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is having a discussion on religious liberty? No. It’s one of the reasons they exist. Do I think having a politician opening up a bible and talking to us generally about its values is a good idea, especially when he has significant different theological views? No. There’s a significant difference here. Baptist21 never called for a complete disengagement from political involvement. We did, however, raise concerns about the way we were engaging politically as a denomination. We hope the SBC can be a prophetic voice that is not tied to one party, but is wed to the Kingdom of God and the mission of God. However you think that should play out, the formats and topics of these two conferences are different.

 

Third, the invitations to the conferences are different. At the pastors’ conference only one politician from one party was invited. This party—the Republican Party—is the only party that has historically received invites to SBC events. Our concern was that a close association with a political party would dilute our gospel witness. The ERLC invited candidates from both parties. Regardless of who comes, they have made an effort to engage with both parties. Whether one thinks this is enough or not, it is a different approach—one I believe that makes our previous concern harder to raise. In fact, during the pastors’ conference situation, when different parties behind the scenes asked us how pc leadership might handle the situation differently, we suggested that they could invite a politician from the Democratic Party to have a discussion on religious liberty. This is what happened with the SEND invite. There’s progress here. Whether or not there is enough progress to avoid diluting our message and mission is yet to be seen. Some B21 members are skeptical. The news that Democrats will probably not be represented at SEND is disappointing and still contributes to the perception that the SBC is tied to 1 party, but we are thankful for the effort to include both parties.

 

These are just quick points of observation. We assume that they won’t be completely agreed upon. Even among the Baptist21 brethren there are those not excited about this portion of the SEND conference. But the Southern Baptist emphasis on cooperation assumes different perspectives. The question isn’t whether we’ll disagree or not. We will. The question is whether we will disagree without being disagreeable or not. Let’s not be offended by opposing views. Let’s engage with them. Voice your own as winsomely as possible and let’s advance the kingdom of Christ together.

4 Reasons State Conventions Should Consider Making Drastic Changes

In the last two posts, I mentioned a few of reasons why I love state conventions and what I’d like to see state conventions change. But change is hard. Yet, there are a few reasons why I think at this time state conventions are in a position to make more drastic changes than they could in the past.

 

  1. The nature of training and networking has changed too much not to make drastic changes – Over the course of the last couple of decades, growth in technology and the number of events offered has changed the nature of training and networking. It is no longer the case that pastors see state conventions as a primary way to get trained and network. Technology has changed the way we connect, grow, find encouragement, and all the rest. With the advent of social media, many of us are more connected with friends around the world than we are locally. Sure, we go to the local meetings, we have coffee, but the deep relational connection happens where it happens most naturally. This connection, or at the very least, and training usually takes place outside of our geographical area. Because of this, most pastors are getting trained by people all over the world without leaving their home. If state conventions never offered another event, it probably would not have any impact on most SBC pastors. The fact is they have other events that they go to or watch online that serve their needs in a way state-sponsored events used to before the dawn of the internet. Events are everywhere. With technology, our relationships are everywhere. It’s time for a change.
  1. The nature of SBC loyalty has changed too much not to make drastic changes – Southern Baptists are reaching less lost people and having less babies. This means fewer and fewer people are growing up in the SBC system. With fewer people in the system, fewer people feel a natural loyalty to the SBC. This means SBC institutions like state conventions will need to do a better job casting a compelling vision if they want to attract and keep pastors on board. Loyalty to the SBC is rare. Without drastic changes from state conventions, it will become more rare. This isn’t horrible news though. After all, pastors that pass through a system designed to advance the gospel shouldn’t lead to blind loyalty, it should lead to greater gospel advancement. We shouldn’t be offended by questions about the effectiveness of a system in advancing the great commission by people who have benefited greatly from a system designed to teach them to advance the great commission. It’s evidence that the system worked. If we produced status quo leaders, we may end up with big budgets, but we’d have little impact. The lack of “SBC for SBC sake” loyalty is more and more present. This reality shouldn’t scare us, it should propel us to make drastic changes for the kingdom.
  1. The length of this conversation is too long not to make drastic changes – When you talk to leaders who were young pastors during the conservative resurgence, about state convention allocations, they often try to encourage you with the fact that they used to have the same conversations. Because of this, they want us to know they “get” where we are coming from. While it is a kind gesture, it is also a scary reality. We’ve all had the conversation with the college student that lasts forever and seemingly got nowhere. Not many of us want to have that same conversation the next day. In a similar way, why should we believe that our conversation with state conventions will be any different than the one that’s taken place over the past couple of decades? That one only ended up in .06% to 12.45% budget changes. We’ve been talking long enough. In order to gain confidence among young leaders, a little more action is needed.
  1. The nature of the mission is too urgent not to make drastic changes – It is so hard to wrap our minds around the fact that tens of millions of babies have been aborted in our country legally. We live in a country that makes Moses’ Pharaoh and Jesus’ Herod seem moderately pro-life. Similarly, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the fact that thousands of people groups have no gospel witness in their midst. We live in a world where people will live their whole lives without ever hearing the gospel in their language. Surely, we should all feel a sense of urgency to want to change that fact. State conventions can help make a difference in the advancement of the gospel by thinking through their ministries and budgets while listening to the voiceless people in these unreached people groups. Heaven and hell are at stake. The gospel makes the difference. The mission is too urgent not to make drastic changes.

 

I love the SBC. I’m all in with the SBC. That’s why I hope and pray the SBC will make drastic changes for the sake of the kingdom.

 

4 Ways I Wish State Conventions Would Change

As mentioned in the last post, over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to talk to non-SBC pastors about moving their church to cooperate with the SBC for the advancement of the gospel. Not all of them have locked arms with us, but several have. Inevitably, in every conversation—no matter the state—the largest stumbling block to partnering with Southern Baptists is the state convention. In the last post, I mentioned a few of reasons why I love state conventions. In this post, I’ll mention a few ways people—who I agree with—wish state conventions would change. Every pastor I’ve ever talked with about this has voiced these concerns. Perhaps they’ll stir some helpful conversations.

 

  1. I’d love for state conventions to send more money out of their respective states, especially state conventions in the Southeast – State conventions have strategic needs. With rare exception, state conventions use their money to fund good ministries. Yet, there seems to be an obvious greater need outside of most states and, certainly, outside of our country. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than this: there are thousands of people groups in the world who will live and die just like us without ever hearing the name of Jesus. That reality should be more intolerable to us as the presence of legalized abortion in our country. At the very least, it would seem that in light of this reality money allocation would be slanted towards reaching the unreached people groups. But this isn’t the case. In fact, it is unusual for a state convention even to get to a 50-50 CP split. When you juxtapose the fact that the greatest need is outside of our states and country with the fact that the greatest portion of our giving stays inside of our states and country, it’s hard not to want to see this changed. But where do you change it? Perhaps you could remove some of those poorly attended events, since so many other events are around these days? Perhaps you could defund those universities that are teaching things contrary to your confession? Perhaps you could kill a few well-intentioned but ineffective ministries? Whatever it is, surely we can cut some good ministries in our states so that a first ministry can be created overseas.

 

  1. I’d love for state conventions to treat the local church as primary in the advancement of the kingdom, not the state convention – I don’t know of anyone who would argue against the primary of the local church in theory, but it’s rare to find a convention whose practices align with this statement practically. One of the best examples of absence of this view is the way “missions giving” is discussed. Some folks come really close to equating a church’s commitment to “missions” with the percentage they give to the Cooperative Program. These folks tend to ask local churches to increase their CP giving percentage if they want to see state’s do the same. There are at least a few problems with this thinking. First of all, it fails to understand the nature of the local church-denomination relationship. State conventions don’t send money to local churches; local churches send money to state conventions. Local churches don’t send money to state conventions because they are required to, but because they choose too. That means state conventions work for churches; churches don’t work for state conventions. Secondly, it fails to understand the nature of stewardship. Local churches are stewards of God’s money (just like state conventions, of course). If a local church believes that an organization—whether it is a state convention or something else—is not using money in the most effective way possible, then it doesn’t make sense to send more to it. Local churches don’t exist to keep state conventions’ budgets up, they exist to advance the Great Commission. This budget example is just one of several examples. Perhaps state conventions could have executive directors that continue to be local church pastors. While this hasn’t been the pattern, other networks have shown us it is possible. Between the technological advances that allow for greater connectivity and new statewide traveling scenarios, it seems we are in a time when this could happen. The primacy of the local church is hard to keep in view when the primary audience for an executive director is a trustee board. Is it possible? Sure. But allowing executive directors to keep one foot in the local church while serving a family of churches seems like a biblical win. In short, greater responsiveness to the desires of the local church would help signal a better understanding of the church-denomination relationship.

 

  1. I’d love for state conventions to stop drawing the line where the Bible doesn’t – When you partner together to advance the gospel, inevitably, you have to set up requirements to receive the benefits of that partnership. Southern Baptists have traditionally required those who benefit from their benefits—whether as a church planter or convention employee—to abstain from alcohol. I have friends who consume alcohol and many who don’t. Both groups agree that drunkenness is sin, that alcohol consumption can go really bad really quickly, that the Bible still permits it, and that it can be a sign of God’s blessing. Both groups also ask me why we’ve chosen to draw a line in the sand that the Scriptures don’t. I usually give the answers I mentioned above and a few more. But it does seem a bit odd to me that if Jesus, Paul, & Timothy wanted to plant a church through our state conventions, they would get red-flagged in our system because of their views and actions concerning alcohol. If Jesus, Paul, and Timothy get red-flagged in our system, our system probably needs to be red-flagged. There are enough challenges to gospel cooperation when we let Scripture alone determine the parameters, much less when we go beyond it. Let’s stop drawing the line where the Bible doesn’t.

 

  1. I’d love for state conventions to change their funding expectations – Most state conventions desire to see every church in their state give 10% of their budget to the Cooperative Program. If you are really “serious” and “wise” about kingdom advancement, you will lead your church to give 10% of your annual budget to the CP. If you don’t give that much, you’re not considered really “on board.” In fact, if you give a lower percentage while doing incredible missions work, people might oppose your appointment to SBC positions. This certainly was the case for David Platt and Kevin Ezell. Both men led their churches to give incredible amounts of money, energy, and time to advancing the gospel in America and to the ends of the earth. Both men were opposed by many when they were named presidents of NAMB and the IMB because of their “low” CP giving record. At the very best, this is silly. Both men are the right men for the job. Similarly, if you want to plant a church with the financial help of a state convention, then you will typically have to agree to give 10% of our offerings to the CP. Of course, the funds you receive from the state convention are nowhere near what you need to start a church. You have to get funds from lots of churches and networks to get a church plant funded. What ends up happening is these church plants, over the course of a few years, often give the denomination more money than they have received. That doesn’t make sense of this whole “let’s do more together than we can apart.” What if could change the CP expectations? Other networks require less from the church plants. What if we required church plants to give 10% of their budget towards missions—whether they gave it through the CP or some of it to CP and some of it to their own first church plant. Out of the number of pastors I’ve talked to about this, I’ve never had one that 10% to CP was anywhere close to reality.

 

I love state conventions. We give to the CP. I go to the state convention. And I’d love to see these changes made. I know it will be difficult to do so and that some would consider these drastic changes. But I think there are a few key reasons why leaders who are able should consider making these drastic changes. I’ll mention them in the following post.

 

4 Things I Love About State Conventions

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to talk to several non-SBC pastors about partnering with the SBC for the advancement of the gospel. Not all of them have locked arms with us, but several have. In just about every conversation—no matter the state—the largest stumbling block to partnering with Southern Baptists is the state convention. Many times, it is the reason why a like-minded pastor will not partner with the SBC.

I know that state conventions, like any organization, need to make improvements. I’ll mention a few suggestions in the following post. But I also think state conventions give us a number of reasons to love what they’re doing. So I thought I’d mention a few of the things I’ve told those non-SBC pastors.

 

  1. I love that state conventions are steadfastly organized for the advancement of the gospel – State conventions represent an attempt by the people of God to do more together for the kingdom of Christ than they can apart. Decades ago our fathers and mothers in Christ looked at the overwhelmingly large task of spreading the gospel and decided to partner together. I love this. I love it for the picture of unity and stewardship that it is. Organizations who have been on mission for decades in a world that seems to becoming darker and darker spiritually, should be recognized and celebrated.
  1. I love that state conventions have systems already in place and working for gospel advancement – If state conventions didn’t exist, we’d still try to find ways for our churches to partner together. In order to create the necessary systems and infrastructure, we’d have to use tons of money, energy, and time—all in a way that was pleasing enough to all people involved to move forward. That’s not easy. As a church planter who had to create (is creating) a lot of new systems, I appreciate the work it took to put everything in place that state conventions have like never before. I love pre-existing, time tested systems that are already in place and proven. Churches have been planted, conferences have been had, leaders have been trained, people in need have been helped, orphans have found homes, and so much more.
  1. I love that state conventions are filled with people who love Jesus and the advancement of his kingdom – The tendency of all our broken hearts is to think the best of our intentions and the worst about the intentions of the people with whom we disagree. I’ve certainly seen this in the way people talk about people in state conventions. I have known several state convention employees over my lifetime—Gary and Tammy Ledbetter, Lewis McMullen, Dan Ferrill, and my father and grandpa, immediately come to mind—and I admire their love for Jesus and passion to see the kingdom advance.
  1. I love that state conventions are willing to make difficult changes for the advancement of the gospel – State conventions have a reputation amongst many younger pastors for being keepers of a status quo that isn’t worth keeping. While there may be some validity to these concerns (I’ll address them later), I want to make sure people know that state conventions do make some difficult changes. I think about the way my Dad chose to remove a layer of management at the Indiana Baptist Convention when he was the executive director. That wasn’t easy. Those people had families, aspirations, and a heart to spread the gospel like the rest of us. It wasn’t easy, but he made the decision for the advancement of the gospel. I also think about how Randy Davis has led the Tennessee Baptist Convention to downsize their property in order to be better stewards of funds given to them. I think about how Randy Davis walked off the platform at the TBC annual convention to speak in favor of moving to a 50-50 CP split. Those are courageous moves for the advancement of the gospel. While we won’t always agree on which, how, and when decisions should be made, I love that I see some movement in this direction.

 

These are a few of the reasons I love state conventions. These are a few of the reasons why some non-SBC pastors have become SBC pastors. While I’ll mention a few changes I’d love to see, I want to be sure that I celebrate the grace of God evidence in their midst.

 

What would you add to this list?

 

How Do You Preach Christ From The Proverbs?

The heart of Baptist 21 beats to a Christ-centered rhythm. We love Jesus and we long to see “all things united in him” (Eph 1:10). This longing to see all things united to Jesus, of course, includes the way Scripture is read. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. That’s why we are excited to see the publication of Jon Akin’s Preaching Christ From Proverbs.” Please read the excerpt below and grab a copy of the book:

​Several years ago I received the golden opportunity of going to dinner with a scholar who is basically the yoda of Christocentric interpretation. Other students and seminary professors were there as well, and after dinner, our host indicated that we could now ask questions of this renowned scholar. I was in the process of doing my doctoral studies on the Christocentric interpretation of Proverbs, so I was extremely excited because not only was this man a guru on the topic of Christ-centered interpretation, but he had done extensive work on Proverbs and the Wisdom Literature of the Bible. So, when it was my turn I asked, “I get the big picture stuff about how Proverbs points us to Jesus, who is the wisdom of God. But, as a Pastor trying to do expository preaching, how do you week-in-and-week-out preach Christ from the Proverbs? Practically, what does it look like in the details of the text?” He sat still for several seconds, and then he replied, “Well, it seems to me that in 1 Corinthians that Paul calls Jesus ‘the Wisdom of God,’” and then he nodded his head and said, “next question.”

​Needless to say, I walked away from that encounter still confused about how to preach Christ from the Proverbs. Proverbs is an interesting book when it comes to how preachers approach the task of preaching it. Lots of preachers love preaching Proverbs because they love the practical, earthy advice about daily life in the book. These pastors desire to give practical how-to sermons to their people with tips on how to manage your money, or be a better spouse, or control your tongue. Many pastors love Proverbs because they feel it avoids “deep” theology and gives people what they really need, practical tips for daily living.

​However, other preachers see Proverbs as a challenge and shy away from preaching it. The expositor is leery of Proverbs because it does not lend itself to verse-by-verse preaching. After chapter 9, the book seems random and A.D.D. Proverbs also presents challenges to the gospel-centered preacher because it seems moralistic. The very reason that drives some preachers to love it, it’s earthy tone, causes other preachers to avoid it because they do not want to give a new legalism with a set of tips (aka rules) on how to be a good Christian. To gospel-centered preachers it seems that Proverbs is about moral or practical tips for living daily life that are abstracted from Christ. Are the Proverbs simply the Israelite version of “Dear Abby?” Is Proverbs simply about giving practical advice that we are to follow? Where is Christ in all of this?

​As we look to the Bible, we see quite clearly that Proverbs is not about skill for living life abstracted from Christ. Instead, the Bible says that the point of Proverbs, just like all of the OT Scriptures, is to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim3:15). And, the Bible says that Proverbs is profitable “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). So, according to Paul, the purpose of Proverbs is to save and sanctify those who hear it. Those who hear the Proverbs will be saved by Jesus and made like Him!

​And yet, many preachers are skeptical toward preaching Christ-centered sermons in Proverbs. One of the popular places for opponents of Christocentric preaching to look for evidence that one cannot preach Christ from all of the OT is Proverbs! They claim that attempts to preach Christ from Proverbs are contrived and do not deal appropriately with the text. So, the question remains, “Can we preach Christ from the Proverbs?” If so, how?

Jon’s new book, Preaching Christ From Proverbs,” will “explain how a preacher can preach Christ from the Proverbs in such a way that our unbelieving hearers will place saving faith in Jesus and our believing hearers will be made like Him. It will walk through the main features of Proverbs and explain how to preach the Proverbs in a Christ-centered way.” You can get this important work here.