Many of us (even myself at times), cringe when it comes to talking about the issue of diversity in the church. In this blog it is not my goal to use the guilt of the past as a bludgeon to move believers into action, but to begin a conversation that assumes that we are the generation that is capable of more than agreeing that change needs to happen. So let’s go to work for the Kingdom.
I often daydream about a scene of an unchurched person walking their dog one late Sunday morning. As this person and their pet turn right on the main road, they peacefully walk by the local church as the service is being let out. As this person and their pet walk by, the pet owner begins to notice that there is something peculiar about the scene in the church parking lot, but cannot quite put her finger on it. There are people of different ages, socio-economic status, and ethnicity in joyful community as they make their way to their vehicles. The pet owner continues on with her walk, but is often reminded about what she saw in the parking lot that day.
The closest scene that resembles my daydream is in a parking lot after a ball game when home team is victorious. But the trivial rallying point of athletics pails in comparison to the weight of the human soul being made alive in Christ, and living in biblical community (the church) with believers from all walks of life. Stated plainly, it is no task to rally diverse individuals for something external to themselves (sports, music, politics), but gathering diverse individuals into the bond of brotherhood for the sake of God’s glory strikes at the core of humanity: particularly a humanity that has been made new in Christ.
As I began my own ministry I struggled when it came time to find a church to serve. My desire was to serve an economically, generationally, and racially integrated church, but the reality was that I had two primary options, serving in a largely African American church, or in a mostly Anglo church. As I began to struggle through these issues, my heart began to long for some sort of middle ground.
Defining the “Middle Ground”
I began to promote an abstract concept of what a middle ground ought to look like, but my ideas proved to be hollow and superficial. As a result of my hollow conclusions, I began to meditate on scripture, and a fairly simple vision developed. The middle ground that I longed for was the Church, the Church in all of her intended glory, as an earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven. With that said, I do not want to over simply the issue by stating the obvious (namely, the church should look like Heaven) because believers are agreeable to such a goal, but the difficulty is developing a process for the Church to arrive there.
Step One: Candid conversations among friends
(More steps forthcoming)
An important step for the church to make toward mirroring the Kingdom of Heaven is to have candid conversations that span across cultural, socio-economic, and generational lines that are rooted in genuine relationships. Christians across this country desire unity in the body, but are afraid of having blunt conversations because the last thing they want to do is offend their brother or sister in Christ. As a result of this fear, thousands of Christians are walking around with good Kingdom intensions, but are crippled with the anxiety of the unknown.
A special note on the issue of race: By encouraging conversations across cultural, lines that have been drawn for us in generations past, I am by no means asking everyone to turn off our brain and erase our nation’s history from our minds. Our history is a part of our heritage, and its effects are real and should not be ignored. On the other hand, I encourage each of us to ponder the fact that the primary identifying mark of the believer is Christ, not race (Col. 3:1-11). As those who identify themselves with the Gospel, we are new creations and have been given the ministry of reconciling to all men and woman to Jesus Christ, crossing racial, linguistic, socio-economic, and generational barriers (2 Cor. 17-20).
In my humble opinion, there has never been a generation in this nation’s history that is more capable of having God honoring and candid discussions about Kingdom issues as those who comprise the church today. In generations of old the goal for Christians was to be blind to race and culture (treating everyone as though they were the same), but I think that is less than an ideal solution. In the current cultural milieu, the celebration of diversity does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of unity. In fact, the diversity of the body under the unifying blood of Christ is a powerful testimony to those both inside and outside of the church.
It is not our intent to lob a series of ideas into the blogosphere. We would like to model (to the best of our ability) how these steps flesh out in real life and ministry. Attached to this blog is a conversation that I had with some friends, and I pray that it would be one of many honest, Christ-centered, Kingdom minded conversations that are had across the country. Of course you do not have to cover the same issues or content that we covered, these are just issues that we thought were important (you do not have to have a moderator either). If you have any questions our suggestions about anything pertaining to these, issues please comment below and the Baptist 21 crew and I would be delighted to interact with you.
On Thursday October 22nd at 10:00 am, Southern Seminary will be hosting a panel discussion titled “Southern Baptists and the Great Commission Resurgence” during chapel. At the request of Dr. Albert Mohler, Baptist21′s very own Jonathan Akin and Nick Moore will be on the panel representing younger pastors in the SBC. Other panelists include Dr. Chuck Lawless, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern and Dr. Russell Moore, Senior Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology at Southern. Dr. Mohler will be moderating the panel discussion.
We want to encourage every pastor and seminary student who is in the Louisville area to make this chapel service a priority. For those of you who cannot attend, you can live stream the Southern Chapel services at www.sbts.edu. Jon and Nick, along with the rest of the panel will address important issues about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are grateful to Dr. Mohler for allowing us to be apart of the conversation, and our hope is that in a small way this panel will further the conversation about change within the SBC. Please pray for the panelists and ask God to grant them grace and wisdom.
Conclusion- Many seemed to be concerned about the future of the SBC, though they may be concerned about different things. Some are concerned that the SBC way is being lost because of a younger generation that is not “loyal” to the SBC as the past generations have been. They fear that cherished structures, programs, and the organization of cooperation itself might crumble. In response many tighten their grips on the way it has always been done. It is true that younger pastors (and some from all generations, we speak more of our peers because we know them best) do NOT have brand loyalty to the SBC. Younger pastors are convinced from the Scriptures of the primacy of the local church so they want to focus their efforts on their church and the mission God has given to it. They do want to cooperate with likeminded brothers and sisters to be a part of something bigger than themselves and to reach the nations.
So, they will cooperate with the SBC, but only as they see the SBC helping their local church fulfill its mission. They will love and be loyal to an SBC that serves local churches but they will not remain with an SBC (or individual entity) that sees the churches as servants to the denomination. Sadly, these pastors can see when denominational entities say with their lips that they are servants to the churches but their deeds betray that the reverse is true! If the SBC wants to be a vibrant network of churches turning the world upside-down with the Gospel then it needs to become less bureaucratic, leaner, and more oriented toward serving the churches. Losing brand loyalty is not a bad thing because we were never commanded to be loyal to the SBC, but rather King Jesus and His Word! We should not be about building the kingdom of the SBC. This loss of brand loyalty means that the SBC and its individual entities need to start justifying their existence to local churches, not expecting the churches to give more out of a sense of loyalty. This justification will mean showing local churches how the denominational entities are serving them and helping them in their mission. In the case of the home mission board this means local churches being aided by the board in planting other local churches.
You will notice that we have tried to use the phrase “church planting network” more than the phrase “home mission board,” and there is a reason for that. We believe that this board should have a singular focus. We have talked with ministers young and old from all parts of the country, and we often ask the question, “What is the best thing the SBC does?” Without exception every one of them mentions the IMB. Without exception none of them has mentioned NAMB (this is NOT a representative poll, just representative of the ministers that we talk to). When we probe further for why they love the IMB so much, the answer usually centers on the “singular focus” of the IMB. The IMB’s strategy is planting churches, so everything they do serves that strategy. This is also one of the strengths of the Acts 29 network. They are singular in focus. Unfortunately, our church planting network engages in lots of things that are not serving church planting, so it lacks a singular focus. Does this mean that a national church planting network should not be involved in other ministries? Maybe! What we would say is that these efforts divorced from a focus on church planting or church revitalization should be discontinued. The efforts of the church planting network should be ministries that aid planting, leaving social ministry to the local churches that are planted (or to the state conventions who then rally local churches to the social cause).
So our answer to the question, “What is one thing that will help bring about a Great Commission Resurgence?” is “a vibrant church planting network that focuses on church multiplication brought about through the local church.” This will energize young people. This will energize congregations as they seek to be on mission through the multiplication of their church. This will energize our baptisms, giving, and membership. This is what we must be about, healthy church planting. A trim network will help serve churches in this endeavor. And the promise that propels the mission is that the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, not the SBC, will triumph over Death itself.
Jon and Nathan Akin
A lean, streamlined Church Planting Network (Simple Planting) – Note: Aaron Coe, a Planter through NAMB, has helped us with the information in this section. This network must be streamlined, meaning that ideologies of the current model will have to change along with renegotiating existing relationships. We believe that this is necessary because it will help us get necessary resources to our planters and it will help us spend money on what is best, not simply what is good. It will also mean a unified strategy.
First, Change the current ideology. Church planting should probably be done less, but done better. The main focus of the church planting network should NOT be the number of churches planted each year but rather the quality of churches planted. The major problem with our current process is that we are more concerned with the number of churches we plant than we are with the health and viability of the churches we plant. Our focus should be finding the right men and helping them plant churches. The issue here is that we have a higher failure rate than some because of this ideology of planting high numbers of churches. This ideology also causes us to struggle in finding resources to support these church planters.
A nice shift would be if we only have three capable planters in a given year, only plant three churches. This way we can support churches that will be viable in ten years instead of extinct. Our resources are ultimately wasted if we invest tons of money in churches that will fold up the tent within 10 years, which unfortunately happens too often! The ideology should be find the right men (or teams), however many or few they are, and help them with an abundance of resources to plant healthy, vibrant, self-sustaining, reproducing churches. In the long haul, if we are planting a small amount of healthy, reproducible churches then it will create a multiplication effect. Let us resolve to plant a smaller number of vibrant churches with the right men (teams) for the jobs. We must have a focus on planting healthy churches, and not just more churches.
Second, invest the necessary resources to aid the planters (teams). We mentioned above that the lack of resources hinders many of our church planters. We cannot give a planter a measly salary, send them to a major (expensive) city, and say, “okay, have at it”. As Danny Akin said, in this case they are “DOA.” Here is more from the above quoted Western Recorder interview, “He decried the low funding levels for a new church start and declared a church planter is “dead on arrival” when he is funded at a decreasing level for three years at a starting salary of just $20,000. Baptist State Convention of North Carolina church planters start even lower, at $14,000. “I’ve got news for you,” he said. “You put all that together, and I’m going to be hard pressed to take care of my family for one year.” Instead of giving measly support, we should find the chosen and give them great support that ensures they can last.
Third and directly related to a shift in ideology, we should also consider supporting teams that plant more than just a lead man. This has not traditionally been one of our strategies. This is more than likely tied to our concern with the number of churches we plant in a given year as mentioned above. This must change. Team planting seems to be much more prudent than a single unit plant and some would argue more biblical. This will help in areas of early strength, accountability, planning, etc. We must support more effectively those we are sending into areas that are tough, including many of our major cities. If we do not, we should not be shocked when living in relative poverty, being isolated, and the trials of church planting discourage them. We must resolve to use “Annie” for the sake of our planters. In addition to being prudent, team plants enjoy greater success.
Fourth, we need to eliminate bureaucratic hoops, duplication, and competing strategies. NAMB must find a way to overcome the challenge of moving from a state-convention entangled, bureaucratic agency to a church-focused, streamlined church planting machine. Let us be clear. We’re not saying that state conventions and NAMB should not have any cooperative agreements. That’s impossible. NAMB and state conventions need to operate with one another to prevent overlap. But, we do mean that the current ways that NAMB and the states operate will not do. In fact, we believe, that this step is necessary to a viable existence. These agreements may have served us well in the past, but they need to be re-thought for our future. We hope that state conventions will be very much involved in church planting. But we hope that the interaction between NAMB and state conventions would be healthy and mutually beneficial.
In order to be less bureaucratic and more focused on church planting this home mission board/church planting network should employ its own home missionaries/church planters and not be as bogged down with ties to existing state conventions. An outstanding article entitled “Moment Critical for NAMB” by Calvin Wittman helps us think through what this might look like. We commend it to you, and we believe this move might be a necessity. The red tape and the entanglement with the state conventions must be altered. NAMB on the whole, unlike the IMB, does not employ its missionaries and planters. They are instead employed by and supported through agreements between NAMB and the State Conventions. The State Conventions are then in cooperation with the associations. That means that funding for these planters has to go through several layers to even get to the field: from HQ in Atlanta to the state office to the association and then to the missionary/church. So this means “executive” level salaries at 3 or 4 different levels in order to administrate ministry in one church or area. According to NAMB employees this creates all sorts of issues.
First, there are often times disagreements between NAMB, the state convention and the local association as to how ministry in that particular area should be done. So, the missionary is in an awkward political position trying to determine with whom he should “side.” Second, this creates often times greater loyalty to one entity over another depending on which entity hired you. Third, these tensions lead to NOT having a unified approach to ministry in a particular area. One example might be reaching college students in a city. One entity may utilize a church-based strategy that empowers local churches to reach college students, whereas another entity might utilize a parachurch campus based approach to reaching college students. Too many bosses. Too many chefs in the kitchen. Sometimes the bosses utilize strategies that work against one another.
However, what we propose for this church planting network is setting up regions within the US (which could cut down on the number of executive level salaries necessary to carry on the work of the board). They would employ planters and have a unified strategy (church planting) in that region. The regional coordinator would work with churches in the planting process.
One of the biggest factors in the upheaval at NAMB seems to be that NAMB cannot operate effectively in its current structure without state convention buy-in. So a trim and more efficient church planting network that lacks much of this red tape is necessary. In some ways it is harder for NAMB to succeed than IMB because NAMB has so many more hoops. So NAMB has done it like this: they get an idea, put it before the states, and then form committees made up of the state convention people, ostensibly to get their input, but in reality more to get their commitment. This leads sometimes to stalling creativity and the death of good ideas. There is a catch 22 though because NAMB must have state buy-in to be successful. It seems that this is the system NAMB has created, and it needs to be replaced. This will take tough calls, but a leaner entity could be a better church planting network.
Jon and Nathan Akin
Part 4 of this series will be some concluding thoughts
The Primacy of the Local Church should also help the mission board make church planting its primary concern (maybe only concern). The main focus of a home mission board should be the planting of churches. It should be a church planting network. Why? Jesus promised that He would build His church (Matt. 16:18), not just save individual people. When the Church at Antioch sent Paul out to accomplish the Great Commission he went planting churches not just evangelizing individuals disconnected from a community of believers. Christ is purchasing and building a people who are in community with one another (Acts 2:42-47). The local church is the manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom community on earth. So, the local church is the body commissioned by King Jesus with the task of carrying the Gospel forward. This is done as the Gospel is declared with our lips and displayed with our actions. The primary way that the Gospel is to be displayed is in the way in which believers within local churches demonstrate the cross-love of Jesus of Nazareth as they take care of one another (cf. John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:10-23). This will mean meeting the needs of those in the family of faith first of all, but also displaying mercy to those in the larger community. The Church is the community commissioned to take care of the needs of people (not the government), both chief needs (salvation) and felt needs (mercy ministry). The Church is commissioned with discipling and training its people, more so than seminaries or bible colleges. Finally, the Church is the chosen vehicle that demonstrates to the Prince of the Power of the Air that his rule has ended. Therefore, to be of utmost effectiveness, a home mission board should be about planting these “outposts of the Kingdom”. Why do we say all this about the church? Because the Church will most effectively meet the problems in our cities and country. So, it is our job to plant as many of them as we can to address the great need of the world. If we plant healthy, vibrant churches we will experience better missions, better mercy ministries, better discipleship, better church planting, resurgence of baptisms, and more ministers called out. A great article to read about the church and parachurch ministry is an article by Russell Moore entitled, “Jesus Didn’t Die for Your Campus Ministry.”
The Primacy of the Local Church will set in place a Church-focused Strategy. Here is the strategy, “Find the churches who are already planting healthy churches and let them set the pace.” The main strategy of this church planting network should be to find churches that are planting well, support them, and teach others to follow their pattern. The mission board should find those churches that have the vision to do this and have a track record of doing it well. There are many examples here to follow. One pattern could be that of FBC Woodstock and Pastor Johnny Hunt. They pick strategic areas that need churches and they bring in men who they think are capable of planting and they train them on site for nearly six months. They train additional staff for a couple of months and they encourage people to go with the church planting team and make up the church’s initial core group. They then send them out with great financial resources. These churches have proven to be successful. Here is what Danny Akin said about them in an interview in 2008 with the Western Recorder, “First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., which has started three churches in the Las Vegas, Nev., area and funded them initially with $500,000 each. Each church now runs more than 1,000 members.” This is a model to emulate. The church planting network should come along side of a church like Woodstock by: 1) giving them the resources necessary to do this on an even greater scale and 2) helping them model this for other churches. For churches that are smaller, they could emulate churches like Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC (here is a baptist21 podcast with Open Door’s Pastor Dwayne Milioni). So far Open Door has planted 3 churches with 3 more in the works very soon. All of them are viable and the plants are even looking themselves to plant other churches. Open Door has planted on a small scale because of resource limitations, but if they were to be aided by a church planting network they could send many more out. For very small churches, this church planting network could help them form “networks” or associations with other local churches in which they pool money together and help each other plant churches. The main call of the board should be to come along side all these churches and help them plant. Churches that for whatever reason feel that they absolutely cannot plant but still have a passion to see churches planted in order to reach North America would still be able to give to the church planting network to be a part of something greater than themselves through the Cooperative Program.
Jon and Nathan Akin
Part 3 of this series will deal with streamlining this church planting network
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