October 20, 2020

A Great Commission Resurgence: Is It A Possible SBC Future? (Part 2 of Thoughts On My Denomination Today)

The previous post was “Avoiding Death By Nostalgia.

I have a job, a home and a paycheck every month because the Southern Baptist Convention (actually the Kentucky Baptist Convention) believes in cooperative evangelism.

I was evangelized and won to Christ by a Southern Baptist Church.

I’ve spent my life- since I was a teenager- evangelizing and discipling young people in SBC churches across Kentucky.

Most of you don’t know me and never will, but if you came to where I live and work, you’d hear me preach…and what you would hear would be evangelistic. I preach the Gospel, Southern Baptist style. I preach with zeal and emotion. I preach for conversion. I appeal and persuade. I present the Gospel explicitly and call for the response of faith and following in 90% of my messages. I’ve done that here where I serve for almost 17 years, and I do it because this ministry holds evangelism as a priority. It is a priority for me. That’s part of the SBC/KBC heritage of the ministry where I serve and has been for 110 years. I’m happy to be part of it.

I have received hundreds of invitations the last few years to become Roman Catholic. With all due respect, before we ever talk about doctrine, ecclesiology or salvation, I would have already decided that no other place could be home for because of what I perceive as a lack of emphasis on evangelism. (I can’t speak knowledgeably about actual evangelism.) If that makes me an arrogant Southern Baptist, then I guess you’ll have to think so. I don’t want Wretched Urgency, but there is no healthy Christianity without a healthy, missional, active emphasis on evangelism.

If I were driving through town with a dying friend, and I wanted to go to a worship service where there was a good chance I would hear the Gospel preached and explained in the sermon, I’d start looking for an SBC church. Oh, I know…I know….it would be a roll of the dice in these days of evangelical deterioration, but it would be like shooting fish in a barrel compared to many (not all) other denominations.

I’ve watched the SBC/KBC train laity for evangelism, emphasize evangelism, pray for evangelism, guilt trip us about evangelism, confess a lack of evangelism and do an encyclopedia of dumb stuff in the name of evangelism. Some youth camp evangelism and conference memories still can make me shudder. But there was no doubt about one thing in the midst of the madness: we believed in evangelism and we weren’t going to stop.

We believed in personal evangelism (“witnessing,”) evangelistic preaching, evangelistic crusades, evangelism resources, evangelists, door to door evangelism, youth camp evangelism, evangelistic films, evangelistic tracts, evangelism through sports, music and anything else that you could stick evangelism on.

If I ever get fired and I have the opportunity to go somewhere that there actually are some church choices, my first interest will not be liturgy or the Christian yearc. It will be “Is the church evangelistic?” My second will be “Is it missional?” My third will be “Is it a church planting church?” After that, we can talk about a lot of things, but those are the marks of a gut-level understanding of the Great Commission in my book. I’m a post-evangelical to my toes, but I don’t think Christianity is just talking Calvin in the coffee shop. It’s finding ways to do evangelism with integrity in a postmodern, postChristian world.

All of this and more are the reasons I remain Southern Baptist in spite of the nonsense, and why I find it so frustrating that at the moment thousands and thousands of younger SBCers are prepared to make evangelism, missions and discipleship in healthy churches their priority, we are having a crossroad pile-up over secondary issues and “Baptist Identity” of all things.

The SBC has long been the best example of a cooperating network of evangelical churches doing significant Kingdom work together. When that network was majoring on cooperation, evangelism, missions and new churches, the SBC’s other problems were in perspective. It was nothing less than a minor miracle that a bunch of knotheads like us could cooperate on so many things, but it happened for most of a century.

But now “Cooperation” is being defined in ways that will not sustain that network. The Cooperative Program relies on a trust of one another that is being eroded.

The SBC can’t unite around issues like the public invitation or teetotalism. No matter how strong the cultural preference or denominational tradition, we can’t unite around it any more than we could have united around segregation in the 50’s. We unite around missions and evangelism.

The leaders of our denomination can’t tell individual churches what “style” of worship and evangelism they must pursue to be real Baptists. We aren’t Rome, where every detail of worship and church life comes from outside the congregation. We believe in the work of the Spirit in every step of creating the church, and that work of the Spirit creates freedom, trust, diversity and mutual respect among those who may differ at times.

There are limits to the wisdom of the denomination. Programs “handed down,” to churches from the home office are no longer going to be automatically accepted as the best route for a church in its own mission.

Individual congregations need the freedom to express their mission, message and theology within the generous bounds of the Baptist Faith and Message and local/state/national cooperation. No one needs to be taunted for not being a “real Baptist” because they have an innovative name or go about their message in ways appropriate for them. Baptist freedom has never been more important. We are in a time of maximum options around core confessionalism. Violating that trust by dictating universal Baptist practice, even rhetorically, is a losing proposition.

The leaders of our movement can’t vilify and misrepresent those who relate to historic Baptist beliefs like evangelical Calvinism. Hundreds of Calvinistic Southern Baptists are preaching the Gospel and serving as missionaries now. They are not baby baptizers, church splitters and despisers of missions. You can’t declare war on Bible-believing members of your own family. You can’t deal in untruths and impress those who care about truth.

Our denomination can’t act like we have nothing to learn from those outside the SBC family when we are experiencing our worst numerical showing in decades. We weren’t as hot as we thought we were. We aren’t now. We need to put up our arrogance. If you asked all members of SBC churches to show up for a census, does anyone think we could find 8 million? I’d be thrilled to know where 5 million are.

There are mistakes younger, dissatisfied SBCers must avoid. It would be foolish beyond words to see younger leaders cast off the Cooperative Program in favor of independent missionary funding models. The list of benefits we’ve all experienced from cooperation is long. I went to seminary for pennies compared to many people. Many who read this blog have received church planting assistance and sponsorship from the SBC.

It would be tragic to see our seminaries become anything less than innovative hubs of missional training for all evangelicals. A further decline in the SBC will hurt our missionaries, mission boards, seminaries and valuable resources. Many of us are in favor of eliminating the fat and waste in SBC/state programs, but the resources that our denomination offers the wider cause of the Kingdom are unprecedented in Christian history. They shouldn’t be thrown overboard to go back to the mistakes of independent anti-missionary Baptists of the past.

It would be ridiculous to see all that the SBC has stood for as a cooperative network be deserted for the comfort of hanging out with theological like-minds. Our churches were built on the cooperative ideal and any pastor or leader who recommends ending that legacy has made a weighty- and wrong- decision, in my view.

If you are a younger leader who has avoided denominational ties and meetings, I completely understand. I went to dozens of SBC meetings in the 1980s. I haven’t attended one since 1992. But if you are standing for evangelism with integrity, healthy churches, theological seriousness and church planting, YOU should stand up and say: “I don’t know about the rest of you, but this is what our denomination is about. I’m not leaving until the rest of you figure it out.”

Don’t be deceived by events like the John 3:16 Conference or the recent Baptist Identity rhetoric: the FUTURE of the SBC lies with a Great Commission Resurgence, a new commitment to cooperation and a relentless emphasis on the things that matter in the Kingdom.

No, a Great Commission Resurgence is a vital future for the SBC, not only for our priorities as a missionary and evangelistic force, but because it is that Great Commission task and the trust of the cooperative funding mechanism that created who we are as contemporary Southern Baptists. Whatever isn’t working in Baptist life, we can’t forget that the ideal of cooperation for missions was always an incredible blessing to us and to the world.

When our churches, leaders, denomination and people see the same worthy goal and support one another beyond our differences in secondary matters, age, style, feelings about being Baptist or local strategy, we demonstrate that our history was not a wasted exercise.


  1. You stay right where you are and continue to grow His Kingdom!

  2. @imonk: I’ve been SBC all my life. I’d leave if God led me to, but if not, I am happy here.

    I’ve been SBC all my life too, but as I shared with you in an e-mail last December, I know that God is leading me elsewhere. This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, and I’ve said many prayers and shed many tears over the past 4 months. This coming Sunday I have to inform the Sunday School class that I teach that I’m going to be stepping down, and I well up with tears just thinking about it. But I know I’m doing what God wants me to do because he’s given me peace about the decision, and my spiritual life has been energized to a degree I haven’t thought possible.

    I think God has done with me all he wants in the SBC context for the time being, and he’s moving me on to a new context. I’ve been visiting a Lutheran church, and I’m very comfortable there, but I’ve made no firm decisions yet. Maybe God wants me to try to inject some evangelistic fervor into a Church that has let evangelism slide as a priority. 🙂

  3. anonymous says

    In one sense it would be good to establish Baptist identity in the churches. In a younger baptist church that was not tee-totaling, I could drink a beer or taste a wine now and then with my (yes, rather calvinist) pastor’s knowledge and approval. I didn’t find out that my identity wasn’t really Baptist until I applied to the IMB. After sending in all my (and my wife’s) medical records and resumes and hours of application process, a medical risk was identified — had consumed alcohol in the 6 months prior to applying.

    I explained that my pastor knew and I was willing to abstain, only to find that my “lifestyle” was not a fit. Ironically, if I had drunk against my conscience or as an exception, I could have repented. But because my view was that drinking is not prohibited in the Bible (though drunkenness is) there was no hope for me. Actually, there was a hope. I was told I could wait for a whole year and if I had abstained and if I had also experienced a change in my convictions on this matter, I could begin the application process again. I didn’t anticipate that my convictions would change, so we found other means and went.

    So, teaching membership classes at SBC churches and sincerely adhering to the BFM-2000 will not make you a baptist, my friends. Nor will it establish your alleged “Baptist Identity” before a representative of the IMB.

    I still run into IMB missionaries and so many of them are great people doing excellent ministry. People like them are why I was drawn to the SBC.

  4. Just an observation about the SBC and its current and future decline. While the church may still be about evangelism and discipleship, too many of the men and women in the pews are not. Evangelism, the natural sharing of your faith with your friends and family has become a relic of the past in too many believers lives. Now it’s delegated to the pastor who may try something new or still try to preach ’em down the aisle. The truth is that almost no one is led to belief in Christ through preaching alone. For many of us…even for most people I know…that process came through personal interaction with another believer who loved and cared about them. Church centric evangelism does not work because non-believers have no interest in coming. It never worked as well as it seems in our memory.

  5. Michael, you said this:

    “There are mistakes younger, dissatisfied SBCers must avoid. It would be foolish beyond words to see younger leaders cast off the Cooperative Program in favor of independent missionary funding models. The list of benefits we’ve all experienced from cooperation is long. I went to seminary for pennies compared to many people. Many who read this blog have received church planting assistance and sponsorship from the SBC.”

    I agree that cooperation is good and that the CP has been a great thing. But, the work is not being done. Instead of seeing more people reached, we are seeing less. If a Southern Baptist church wants to initiate their own work in partnership with other churches and bypass the middle man, isn’t that a good thing? It seems that on some levels, we are afraid to tell our churches to do anything besides CP, even if they find ways to do far more with far less money. This perspective that everything needs to be funneled through a central office seems to slow down the spreading of the gospel rather than speed it up. Again, I’m all for cooperation and I think that the concept of the CP is a good thing, but the overall program seems to be broken and way to centralized. Those in the system benefit, but it is difficult for work to be done outside of the system. Local churches should be able to pick up the slack there.

  6. Alan:

    The situation is plain:

    1) The CP doesn’t stop any church from doing whatever it chooses to do. Church planting, its own schools, etc.

    2) The CP commits a church to supporting some things they might not support otherwise while supporting a lot of things no church can do alone.

    That’s the choice. Our guys go to seminary for much less than others because of the CP. Some churches care about that deeply. Others don’t.

    I don’t like paying the salaries of consultants and program pushers. But I like paying all the salaries of missionaries and church planters.

    That’s the deal.

    A “cafeteria style” CP would be the end of the CP. And once its gone, Southern Baptists will be a people united by pretty much nothing that doesn’t unite us with a bunch of other people now.



  7. @imonk: 1) The CP doesn’t stop any church from doing whatever it chooses to do. Church planting, its own schools, etc.

    I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on this point. There’s only so much money to go around, so churches aren’t in the position of sending money to the CP AND doing church planting, schools, etc.

  8. K. Bryan:

    I don’t understand that Bryan. A church can send $100 to the cp if they want. They can reduce/increase and vary as they choose. It’s not a per diem like in so many denominations. I was in a church that gave 25% for years. Now they give around 12%. That’s not a sin, because the church is doing much more in their own community.

    But I’m not a paid shill for the CP, even though we get 4-6% of our funding from KBC CP funds. I believe in it and think it is a key to much of what we’ve done right. If we lose it, we’ll lose missionaries, schools and church plants. We will regret it.

    But to each his own conviction.



  9. aaron arledge says

    Bob Sacamento wrote

    “The number of five point Calvinists in my state convention is currently in the low double digits. As best as I can tell, every single one of them is splitting their churches.”

    Personality quarks and bad leadership is shared by many Pastors in the SBC. The ones that are are unashamed of their Calvinistic theology and have these quarks get their Calvinism blamed and not their horrible leadership practices. When a pastor that is not claiming to be a Calvinist splits a church there is no easy group to lump him into.
    I know many Calvinist starting churches and growing established ones. I think you would be very surprised to know who some pastors are of mega churches who are very reformed in their theology.

  10. Bob:

    I want to echo aaron. The sweetest pastors I know are founders conference guys, but the SBC is full of mean pastors and mean chuches. (Sorry, but look at the average pastorate numbers.) Issues of Pastoral authority- which are usually the agenda of the Fundamentalists, not just the Calvinists- are the problem.

    I do know one major Calvinistic split. Sad, but better for everyone and had nothing to do with Calvinism. I also know of several non-Calvinists under attack for being Calvinists because they quoted Piper. :-/

    It’s a lot of problems from a lot of places.

    peace on ya


  11. I don’t know a lot about the SBC but I do know that believers in this denomination are very strong in evangelism. It’s one of the strongest, or at least has this image. I have great respect for baptist leaders because of their love for the Lord, and for their love for others, and for their desire to see others to come to know the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior. I will pray for the SBC.

    Peace and blessings,

  12. Alan – “If a Southern Baptist church wants to initiate their own work in partnership with other churches and bypass the middle man, isn’t that a good thing?” No, it really is not a good thing.

    In America, we have an underlying culture of populism that always assumes that things are better done at home than with some executive somewhere else. But, that is not even close to reality and the reasons would be too many to list. But, among them are:

    1. Most local groups of churches are unable to get a balanced focus on needs. They are unlikely to know either local or global situations that may require money to go from a place in Kentucky to a place in Colorado. They are much more likely to go with the “country-of-the-month” as far as missions go, rather than with a joint planning that will prevent overlapping missionaries in one area and scarce missionaries in another.

    2. Most local groups will end up hiring, guess what, a manager or a “minister of evangelism” to oversee the contribution of the group of churches and to make sure that evangelism really happens. But, at worst one can end up multiplying managers, and headquarters, and newsletters to the point where resources are wasted rather than most efficiently used.

    3. In America we love to speak as though anything below 100% efficiency (and perfection) means that we must now stop supporting the “institutional” structure. Be serious! There is no such thing as 100% efficiency. Secular companies that try to push for that actually end up lowering productivity because no human being can maintain that type of pace. Yes, there will be some waste, but less in the long-haul than with multiple overlapping local efforts.

    4. Having been a missionary, and a local church pastor, I can tell you that I was treated better, with regards to pay and benefits by the “institutional” mission that sent me out than by some of the local churches with which I have been involved. The mission used appropriate tables and comparisons with other missions and churches to determine appropriate and fair funding levels, insurance coverages, etc. The local churches consistently complain about expensive pastors, even those who make more money a year than the pastor gets to see, and try to keep benefits at significantly lower levels than they would accept in their own jobs. I happen to be at a good local mission now, and the Antiochians have a, yes, national set of standards for clergy pay.

    5. We love to talk about those “national” programs and teaching materials that do not work. Hmm, guess what? Few local congregations in the USA do much of anything that works, whether they use a national programs or not. Consider that the problem may not be the national program, necessarily. That does not mean that all national programs are good, but it does mean that with or without national programs, local churches are, by and large, not growing.

    OK, I will end my mini-rant here, by reiterating that local is not necessarily good and national is not necessarily bad.

  13. by far the most clear and straightforward statement i’ve heard from you on your support of the SBC and why you continue to stay there. i had always really wondered why you continued to stay. i had just assumed you were stubborn and a sucker for punishment. thanks for sharing.

  14. Fr. Ernesto,

    >“If a Southern Baptist church wants to initiate their own work in partnership with other churches and bypass the middle man, isn’t that a good thing?” No, it really is not a good thing.

    You won’t be surprised that I disagree with this statement, but I am surprised you didn’t at least say “may not be as good a thing as it first appears.”

    Or at least note that a Southern Baptist church or group of churches would be virtue of that very fact approach this matter differently from hierarchical churches.

    How a church or group of churches approach church planting certainly ought to be evaluated on what they do, not simply ruled bad on principle because they are doing it differently.

    I’m puzzled.



  15. iMonk, my experience is from the viewpoint of the overseas missionary who had to go and raise the money in contrast with the SBC missionaries I met who did not have to raise the money and got to simply visit a reasonable number of churches to share with them what they did, why they did it, and how they did it.

    I was overseas with precisely the type of mission that requires the missionary to raise his/her own support, despite the fact that it was a “denominational” mission. My experience was of months of furlough spent on the road, of times of separation from the family so that our children could have a stable school during our furlough while I raised the money, and of an inability to either really relax or to do the type of studying that a missionary needs to do during a furlough in order to be ready for his/her next term.

    My other experience is of times spent watching our budget overseas as churches and individuals dropped out because they had had a “budget shortfall” or because they had not counted the cost of three to four years of support. And, the hidden secret, of watching churches and individuals drop out during our first term because we were not doing enough exciting things. Mind you, the first term of a long-term missionary is often a learning term, when they go to language school, then are seconded to a senior missionary in order to learn their paces. But, there is little understanding of that or patience with that in local churches. However, there is an understanding of that and patience with that in a more national program, such as the SBC foreign mission program.

    By our third term, I was field director for southern Peru in our mission. During that time, I was riding a mule into indigenous areas of Peru. A school was started as well as an orphanage. Churches were planted in new untouched areas. (I was directly responsible for that.) And the money poured in. But, I never forgot the first two terms, when our life was hardscrabble and at the mercy of inconsistent local churches and donors. No, I would have loved to have been supported by a national program.

    As a result, I have few good things to say about that type of mission support. I am very much in favor of programs such as the SBC Cooperative program in foreign missions precisely because it interposes a layer between the missionary and the local church and keeps the missionary from the “tender mercies” of a local church that has little understanding of what it really takes to be and what is really needed by a foreign missionary.

    So, do I have a harsh view of local churches “bypassing the middle man?” Yes. That middle man of a national program–among the SBC missionaries I met–was the buffer that prevented missionary mistreatment.

    The issue is not hierarchical in the least, nor was I trying to speak from a hierarchical viewpoint. Rather, I was speaking from the viewpoint of the missionary who was at the mercy of the local church, a mercy which was not too merciful.

  16. I join you in deploring the failure of individual churches to stand by missionaries.

    In church planting, it should go without saying that a church initiated plant should have a high level of investment, a continuing relationship and a covenantal status with a church for X amount of time. (5 years for example.)

    If a church starts a work and starves or deserts it, they have done a very bad thing.

    And the same with networks. Church plants need to be loved. They need infusions of people, resources and support.

    I see some significant differences between church planting and missionary support. But that’s another day.



  17. Imonk,

    Balance is the key. Evangelism, missions, prayer, doctrine, fellowship, discipleship. I do not think 90% evangelism is the key? People then see that we want them to join our club, rather than know Christ through the Word and Spirit.

    Thanks for the thought provoking conversation.

  18. Luke,

    I am a preacher at a school where most of the students are not Christians. I said that 90% of my messages contain a clear evangelisitic invitation. (Not altar call) I don’t preach to Christians that aren’t there and it’s not a church. When I am at a church, I preach primarily to Christians.

    Evangelism is a quality of God and the Gospel. A Christian cannot talk about Jesus and the Gospel without evangelistic implications.

    I’m not sure what you meant by 90% evangelism, but I needed to clear that up. My ministry is evangelistic by commission.


  19. Michael…

    Have you read any of Clay Shirky’s writings? He is a secular blogger focusing on the the impact of communication technology on our culture. While he is writing on a different topic from yours, there are some powerful parallels when you apply his thinking to the issues of the church (lower ‘c’) that you explore. If you are interested, here is a link to an article on his blog that explores the desperate cry to ‘save’ print media. His critique could be applied to the parallel desperate cry of many to save the ‘c’hurch as it has been known for the past generations (death by nostalgia??)


    In any case, thanks for the time you obviously take in your insightful commentary. Grace and peace!


  20. The best way to disciple someone is by doing evangelism. It is why I think EE is the best discipleship ministry out there. When you train someone in EE you are with them week in and week out in the battlefield. And it is a battle. When churches get active intentionally attempting to reach the lost in their community the enemy takes notice. Spiritual warfare is heightened. Prayer is needed, so the disciple learns prayer as well as scripture memorization, and an outline to share the gospel. On the job training eliminates the fear of the unknown, which is why so many Christians never share the gospel. If you are going out every week you meet many people and learn true compassion for the lost. I had a woman who I was training who could not stop crying after we went to a teen/coffee shop. It affected her so much she was unable to continue training. Much of the hatred for SBC churches is spiritual warfare as well since it is a denomination focused on sharing the gospel. Let us not eat each other up. To quote Adrian Rogers, “hypocrites in the church, do tell”. People criticize “churches” for not making disciples. Do you have a disciple? Who is you man or woman whom you have taken aside to train? Get to it.

  21. Another good post.

    Being a cradle Southern Baptist now 48 years of age and still possessed of an apparently congenitally permanent SBC loyalty, I realize that my ability to comprehend how the SBC is viewed by outsiders is certaily impaired. This impairment also weakens my ability to explain to young theologically conservative leaders who have a passion for evangelism and church-planting why they should consider doing their work wihin a Southern Baptist context. That’s where people like Ed Stetzer and Matt Chandler give me hope for the SBC. Each of these men chose as adult ministers to join the SBC. I can’t help it. It gives me hope.

  22. In the real world (corporate, public, or private sector), the assessment of your blog would be:

    As a “harvested” Christian (reached as an adult, not raised in church), I remain in a small minority. Most churches have less than 3% of their membership that fit that category. A great many things contribute to the inward focus of the typical American church of any denomination. Even those describing themselves as evangelistic long ago defaulted to “raising” Christians. That view will ensure Frank Page’s prediction last May that by 2030, that the number of SBC churches will shrink from the current 44,000 to only about 20,000.

    Planting churches is a fine thing, but much less than “the” answer. Squandering half the existing bodies is inexcusable.

    Here’s a thought:

    1. INREACH – Can we reach the 50% or so of our members that are unregenerate, without “rooting out” those tares? Actually, some churches are having great success in doing so. There is at least one very effective practice that costs nothing and is appropriate for any size church.

    2. FOUNDATIONAL DISCIPLESHIP – Is it possible to teach an entire congregation the essentials of historic Christianity? Certainly. Write them down and post/study/teach them.

    3. REAL CORPORATE EVANGELISM – Is it possible to ensure that every lost church visitor hear a complete presentation of GOD’S plan of salvation, directly from His Word?…..and simultaneaously ensure that every member is equipped and prepared to share that at a moment’s notice? YEP.

    One thing is for sure. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we will keep getting what we have been getting. E-mail me an address and I will send you a copy of a book being distributed to the SBC pastors of 16 states (to date), by their state convention. Kentucky is not on board yet, hence you haven’t received one.

    Frank Fears

  23. All I can say is WOW and AMEN. The resurgence will surely come from people who have the same feeling and commitment. I do. And I think this is the true liberalism and conservatism and biblical approach that Baptists established in 1787, when the Separate and Regular Baptists united. I thank God for Southern Baptists – not because I think they are perfect – they are not! But they are out their trying to do what they can in the midst of their shortcomings and sufferings. Let us learn more about what the Bible says about Love as well as correctness. In this day of PC when we are about to be read out of the public arena and have our freedom of speech taken from us by the perjorative idea that to speak against some sins or falsehoods is tantamount to hate speech, we need to reach out to one another as the writer of this blog has done with his spirit of gratitude.