Cities are so fascinating. Each one stands so uniquely with its own strengths and weaknesses. My recent travels have taken me to some of our nation’s largest urban centers. Without exception, I’m always struck by two things: the mass of people populating cities and the lack of churches reaching them. Fortunately, it seems, more believers are focusing their gospel energy on reaching these cities. As we do, we’ll need to make sure that we address the massive challenges that face us. Right now, I’ll just mention one.
Do you know how much it costs to live in the city? You’re right, it depends. But without exception, it costs a lot, a whole lot. I’ve got friends and family that have planted or are about to plant churches in New York, Chicago, Denver, and more. The of the things that they face without exception is the financial challenge. On a recent trip to Denver, I had the chance to hear about the cost of living in areas that were exploding with young people. Yet, the staggering cost of living made we wonder how any single person who didn’t make the big bucks could live there, not to mention a family. One sister in Christ pointed my attention to a couple of houses, about 1000 sq ft in size and structurally weak, and told me about the $350,000 to $400,000 price tag. Did you get that?
In order to get a place in the city, living among the people, church planters will have to drop some serious cash. Now, of course, their will be some less expensive housing options. But let’s not fool ourselves, there will be large costs and little space. Where is a church planter going to come up with $100,000 a year, give or take $25,000? How does this affect church planters with kids? How will he be able to plant an effective church if he’s always scrambling to make ends meet?
Now, I know there’s something to be said for scrambling to make things work. I get that. But I think we’d all agree that, if possible, it’d be better if the church planter could focus more on reaching lost people and establishing a church. Thankfully, Southern Baptists have made things a little bit easier. Basically, for a couple of years, Southern Baptists will pitch in $20,000 (give or take a few thousand dollars). This is helpful. Instead of having to come up with $100,000 or so, the church planter only has to come up with $80,000.
But wouldn’t it be great if we could commit money for more than a couple years? Wouldn’t it be great, if we could commit significantly more money to church planters? Instead of focusing a lot of energy, mental and physical, on providing for the family and dealing with all the pressures and anxieties that come with this, wouldn’t it be great if church planters could throw themselves more fully into the difficult work of planting a church in a pagan setting? With all the challenges that urban life and 21st century American culture present, wouldn’t we all agree that these are some of the most difficult challenges imaginably?
Does this proposed change seem obvious? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s not, of course, unprecedented. The IMB does something almost exactly like this with great effect. While many missionaries struggle, raising support, our IMB missionaries are able to deal more energetically with other burdens that wait for them in dark places throughout the world. The missionaries are given support through the IMB, which is given by Southern Baptists through the CP and Lottie Moon. The level of support is enough to live off of and graded according to cost of living in particular cities.
Listen folks, we’ve got the money. Just look at the budgets of our state conventions and agencies. The question is can Southern Baptists prioritize their monies so that they are more focused on church planting and less on good, but secondary concerns? Is it possible that Southern Baptists might be able to grade their monies, pouring more money into urban church planting in cities outside of the south? Would it be possible to take the millions and millions of dollars that we are spending on things in the south and redirect those monies towards church planters who are ready to leave momma so that pagans will praise Christ?
There are challenges to this, seemingly obvious, suggestion. Unlike the overseas mission effort, North American church planting involves NAMB, state conventions, and associations. This means that there is a lot of, to say the least, opinions involved in how this effort should go forward. There are a lot of opinions about what a church planter should be like, how much a church planter should make, etc. There are also those who would say that we should keep a good bit of money in the southern states because there are lots of lost people here too. Never mind, that those southern regions have more churches in their areas than most urban centers, outside of the south, have Christians. These challenges shouldn’t intimidate us though.
How do you think we can best address the money issue for church planting purposes? There is no doubt that this one little problem is related to a whole host of issues. More, of course, needs to be said. And you’re right, God does own the cattle on a thousand hills. But, I think it’s important for us to realize that he’s given us a lot of those cows. Recognizing the mission God’s given us, the lostness of those cities, and more, do you think God will be happy with the way that we’re spending his money?
Baptist21 would like to point our readers to two articles that deal with the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. These two articles directly pertain to the GCR and it’s need within the SBC. As always, your thoughts, opinions, and comments are welcomed below.
Our Ominous Future by Doug Baker
Two Views of the Future by Bryan Wright
Baptist21 members Jon Akin and Nick Moore were privileged to take part in a panel discussion about Southern Baptists and the Great Commission Resurgence. The panel also included Dr. Russell Moore (Vice President for Academic Administration and Dean of the School of Theology) and Dr. Chuck Lawless (Dean of the Billy Graham School) of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. GCR Task Force member and President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler moderated the GCR panel. (The Video is Below, along with the Mp3 Download)
New “B21 Forums” Page: In addition, Baptist21 would love to hear some of your thoughts about the GCR and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. So we have set up a “b21 Forums” Page. The first forums we have posted deal with the Great Commission Resurgence. Specifically, baptist21 would like to hear your thoughts on the direction the GCR Task Force should take the convention theologically and structurally. Please, if you interact on the forum, do so in a way that is edifying and consistent with who we are In Christ. SO HEAD TO THE FORUMS AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION
SBTS and B21 Panel on the GCR
For a B21 explanation of what the Gospel is, see Jon Akin’s post here.
Every problem that we face in our churches is a manifestation of an inadequate understanding and practice of the gospel. Giving problems? You’ve got a gospel problem. Can’t get enough people to sign up for that short term mission trip? Gospel problem. Apathy toward your community? Gospel problem.
The Apostle Paul saw problems in the church as gospel problems. The gospel wasn’t a simple three-step formula that was on par with saying “Abracadabra” to get people their Get-Outta-Hell-Free Card. Instead, it was the “principle article of all Christian doctrine” (Luther), and was something his readers could never move beyond. As Tim Keller puts it, “The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth…The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom. We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-3) and are renewed (Col.1:6).” Therefore, the Christian is either living out the gospel well, or living it out poorly.
The problem is that our churches are full of the “fuzzy gospel” and we have got to kill it. You know what the “fuzzy gospel” is, don’t you? It’s an understanding of the gospel that is imprecise, cloudy, and lazy. It has a vague notion that for some reason Jesus died, and for some reason I don’t have to go to Hell now, and the details aren’t all that important. The “fuzzy gospel” follower leaves the details to the professionals, meanwhile viewing the gospel as something for unbelievers that is tacked onto the end of a sermon.
Of course, it would be silly of me (and demonstrate my own lack of understanding of the gospel) to act like “everyone else” doesn’t have it figured out. Everyday I misunderstand the gospel. When I’m impatient with my wife, it reflects that I’ve forgotten the patience God shows to me despite my sin. When I am slow to forgive my friend, it demonstrates that I think that his sin is somehow less forgivable than the daily sin I commit against my Savior. And when I’m too quick to assume that I “get” the gospel and others don’t, it means that I’ve forgotten the many years of my life that I rejected the gospel, and those following years where I viewed it as nothing more than my punched ticket to Heaven. God has been so gracious to me, and I pray that I would always demonstrate that same graciousness to others.
However, this grace does not equate permitting gospel-laziness but rather compels us to challenge others in gospel-growth. Now you may be saying, “my people aren’t seminary trained and if I used the words propitiation, imputation, or justification in a sermon they’ll think I’m speaking in tongues.” I say all this for the opposite reason, actually. I say it because I believe in the person sitting in the pew, and that they’re capable of great things, and they’re waiting, whether they realize it or not, for someone to take them seriously enough to teach them the gospel with the same specificity as Scripture does.
After all, they’re experts in plenty of other stuff—you’ve probably got churches full of men and women that can tell you Adrian Peterson’s number of rushing yards his sophomore year of high school or the various Vera Bradley patterns of the last decade. Now let’s help them become experts in what is supposed to be the most important thing in their lives—the gospel. To steal a line from Matt Chandler, we must encourage people to become “experts in the gospel.” This nonchalant, flippant attitude toward it has got to stop, and we have got to kill the “fuzzy gospel” in our churches.
Is there anything else in this world that people can attend on a weekly basis for years of their lives, yet still not have a grasp of the most foundational principles of the event? Can you imagine someone having season tickets to see Georgia football play for the past five years, attend every game without fail, and yet when the team comes out for warm-ups they say to the person next to them, “I love it when they come out on the court like that. I sure hope they score more runs than Florida tonight”? It seems unlikely, but not so if we were investigating the church. We’ve got congregations full of lifelong attendees who don’t understand the very foundation of the faith.
And if we have churches full of people who don’t understand the gospel, we shouldn’t be surprised when evangelism methods fail, discipleship is non-existent, and people are fighting over what type of tables we’ll buy for the new fellowship hall. We don’t have to search for why people won’t tithe, care about missions, or have their heart break for their community. These are all gospel problems. If the gospel is the most important thing we could possibly understand within the Christian faith, and we have churches full of people who don’t really understand it, then we shouldn’t be surprised when our churches are perpetually ineffective.
The next post will discuss practical ways to kill the “fuzzy gospel” in our local churches.
What is essential to a Great Commission Resurgence? This question faces the SBC and the vitality of its future. Dr. Mark Liederbach has an answer to that question that every SBC leader and Pastor needs to hear. His answer, Gospel-Centered Discipleship. In fact, he says, “Thus a Great Commission Resurgence that doesn’t emphasize a resurgence in discipleship is no Great Commission Resurgence at all… I’ve been stunned by the lack of life on life discipleship that I have seen.”
Liederbach, a man who grew up Roman Catholic, is an ethics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He received degrees from James Madison University, Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D from the University of Virginia. He is a student favorite on campus known for doing exactly what he is calling on from Southern Baptists, providing Gospel-Centered Discipleship.
To begin his sermon he asks a penetrating question, “Would your church be able to continue on and replace the staff and run effectively and efficiently (if all the leadership in the church died simultaneously)without having a search committee look outside the congregation, could you replace the leadership in your church because of the way you are training people in your church?”
Below is his sermon addressing these crucial issues entitled, “The Great Commission Resurgence and Gospel-Centered Discipleship.” It is a must listen for all future disciple-makers.
Here are other resources from b21 with Mark Liederbach:
B21 Panel @ 9marks event – Liederbach joins Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mark Dever, and J.D. Greear.
Coming Soon: Baptist21 wants to hear our reader’s thoughts on the GCR and the future the task force should plot for Southern Baptists. So early next week, we will be putting up the video from the GCR panel @ SBTS and a message board to encourage conversation about this important topic. We hope you will join in the conversation.
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