October 24, 2020

Avoiding Death by Nostalgia: My Denomination (The SBC) Today

The following post is completely and only my personal opinion. It is the first of two posts about my denomination. The second will examine the idea of A Great Commission Resurgence: Is It A Possible SBC Future?

Nostalgia- a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. -Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Talking with a pastor friend this afternoon, it occurred to me that my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, finds itself in the perfect storm.

In 1979, conservatives in the SBC announced a plan to wrest control of the denomination from the moderate-liberals who had brought the denomination through the turbulent 1960’s and into a new and optimistic age of Southern Baptist dominance of Baptist evangelicalism. (I’m aware that many SBC leaders on both sides of the fence deny that they are evangelicals. I was taught by the Landmark fundamentalists that we weren’t Protestants. Given the symmetrical chaos, I’ll continue using both terms.)

The conservatives, long a deplored and ridiculed caricature among leadership despite their large numbers, had found a strategy in the SBC’s constitution. The President was elected by the messengers at the convention, and then used that power in one very influential way: he nominated the committee that named trustees to the various agencies and institutions of the denomination.

The plan meant that conservatives had to go to the national convention in large numbers, nominate and elect one of their own for President, for close to fifteen years in a row.

They did it. In two decades, the moderate-liberals were displaced across the board, and eventually left the denomination completely. Seminaries were turned upside down- especially at the moderate-liberal dominated Southeastern and Southern seminaries- and mission boards, agencies and other denominational concerns were controlled by conservatives. It was an unheard of, unprecedented turnaround of an entire denomination.

At this point, one would have been judged insane to predict we would be where we are today as a convention. Conservatives were confident that unity and prosperity were theirs in the years to come.

Conservatives had made the Bible their rallying cry. “Inerrancy” was the uniting point for all SBC conservatives. So Southern Baptists began to produce young people, young pastors and young professors who were serious about putting scripture first. That’s a good thing, right?

That would mean, of course, that those influenced by the conservative resurgence put…

Scripture above denomination.

Scripture above tradition.

Scripture above custom.

Scripture above culture and habit.

Scripture above “the way Southern Baptists have always done it.”

Scripture above Southern Baptist ways of justifying what Southern Baptists do.

Such an orientation is, as the song says, “bound to be some trouble in this town.”

Southern Baptists are now a denomination where conservative leaders are watching young pastors distance themselves from everything but the most lukewarm denominational loyalties. Gone are the days when Nashville (or the state convention office) determined the programs and priorities of every SBC church. Gone are the days when the local association, the state convention and the national denomination could talk to young pastors with authority and the expectation of being heeded. Gone are the days when younger pastors and would-be church planters were eager to be identified with the SBC.

Today men like John Piper, Mark Dever, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, C.J. Mahaney, Bill Hybels, Matt Chandler and Rick Warren are providing models for ministry that appeal to the next generation of Southern Baptist pastors. These men and others wield enormous influence by their example and their determination to communicate with and develop young leaders. Given the choice of a denominational meeting or a trip to a conference sponsored by one of these men, 9Marks, or the Acts 29 Network, it’s not much of a choice for many young pastors.

Unable to face up to the loss of influence, some elements in the denomination have decided to take the once well-used lower road of “denominational loyalty.” Who are the “real Baptists?” How will we know them? Who will “walk the aisle” and announce they are 100% on board with the SBC?

A negative agenda has rapidly emerged on the part of some SBC leaders:

-Portray SBC Calvinists as hyper-calvinists, baby baptizers, anti-missionary and anti-evangelism.
-Make the use of the public invitation the test case for being evangelistic (and insist it’s a Biblical practice, not a recent historical addition.)
-Oppose efforts to report church membership statistics with integrity as an attack on church government.
-Oppose the elder model of church government in a Baptist Church.
-Emphasize “Baptist Identity,” a code phrase for rejecting almost all cooperation with non-Southern Baptists.
-Insist on conformity on secondary and non-Biblical issues as a requirement for ministry and leadership.
-Cast suspicion on the character and motives of some of the leaders listed above.
-Blame and cast suspicion on the use of new technologies which are the means these new networks of influence have connected to their audience.
-Speak about Baptist methodology and traditions as a unified, identifying whole from which no “real Baptist” would ever depart (despite all evidence that this has never been true and is less true now than ever.)

How strange is it to see Baptist Press almost completely ignore the fact that Mark Driscoll has set the pace for evangelism and church planting in an area where Baptists have never succeeded in favor of running an article casting doubt on Driscoll’s character because of old criticisms from non-Southern Baptists like John Macarthur and Barney Fife-esque discernment police bloggers?

Is this the denomination of Bold Mission Thrust? Don’t pay attention to a guy who once said “crap” in a sermon, even if he has planted the largest evangelical church movement in the Pacific northwest?

How strange is it that younger SBCers will go all over the country to multiple conferences about the Gospel, serious theology, healthy churches and church planting, but will avoid denominational meetings whenever possible?

How strange is it that a 49 year old pastor feels like the youngest person at the SBC’s ever-shrinking national meeting?

Why is it a collective of mostly Calvinists who are having Advance ’09? A Conference on the Resurgence of the local church? Why doesn’t the SBC do this kind of national meeting?

Why does Baptist Press promote political and culture war causes more than our own Southern Baptist missions efforts? When did political partisanship become an acceptable journalistic priority from the voice of our denomination? When did the SBC go on record saying America is a Christian nation and we must vote to insure it remains so? Where in our statement of faith is this advocated?

Brave and reasonable voices like Tom Ascol, Ed Stetzer and Danny Akin have pointed to a model of missional church planting and theological integrity within broad evangelical ecumenism and Kingdom priorities as the way forward for Baptists. The Great Commission Resurgence team is talking evangelism, while the Baptist Identity team is talking purification and survival.

The statistical realities of the coming evangelical collapse will likely cut deep into Southern Baptist ranks. The SBC is the “grayest” of the major denominations, with the largest percentage of members over the age of 70. Funding for SBC missions has become precarious and unpredictable. Loyalty to the denomination’s missions programs still holds a chain of cooperation together, but more and more churches are asking why they are funding second and third level denominational work in their states and associations. Younger pastors increasingly need a reason to send money to denominational headquarters rather than to a church plant with their own people or to missions projects and ministries they personally support. Southern Baptists have always excelled at building the trust on which cooperative missions grew and flourished, but something is shifting among younger leaders. The call to support the Cooperative Program and cooperative missions is being met with a more skeptical attitude, not because of a lack of interest in missions and evangelism, but because of a loss of confidence in the denomination.

All sides agree that Southern Baptist baptisms are declining. Theories of why aren’t hard to come by. Past SBC President Frank Page said openly that the next quarter century would see thousands of churches fold because of aging congregations and declining conversions. Recent numbers indicate that with a decline in ethnic baptisms, the SBC is barely holding the line in growth and is below the line in conversion evangelism. The unthinkable for many Baptists is here: The SBC is in decline. We are no longer the denomination we thought we were. Mormons and the non-religious are rapidly outpacing us.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who can feel the uncertainty among SBC churches and people. There is an unease about who we are, where we are and what we are supposed to do. The signals are no longer clear and the terrain is no longer familiar. Dr. Chuck Kelley at New Orleans Seminary outlined one response: return to the map of the 1960s and 70s. Reinstitute church based programs and return to the methodology of our past golden era. In other words, when lost, drive back to where you weren’t lost. The problem is, we will never find that exit or that highway again. Change has made renewal by retreat impossible.

The SBC is the largest, most evangelistic and most mission minded of America’s evangelical denominations. It has fought a long and costly battle to affirm the Bible as its authority and to place Biblically committed leaders at the helm.

The SBC knows what Christianity is about: missions, evangelism and church planting by committed, baptized disciples of Jesus. It has more resources and equipment than any other denomination to carry out the Great Commission.

At moments, the SBC shows incredible promise, such as Ken Hemphill’s teaching on the Kingdom of God or Ed Stetzer’s drumbeat for new, missional churches aimed at conversion evangelism . Thom Ranier’s vision of simple and essential church is outstanding. At other times the SBC looks and sounds like a denomination flirting with “Death by Nostalgia.”

What is “Death by Nostalgia?” It is the failure to recognize that what succeeded for us before didn’t succeed because we were always right or were always better than others. In the postwar South, the SBC’s brand of revivalism and evangelism worked. Our Sunday schools were the best. Our preaching was on target. Even our heritage of fundamentalism and racism didn’t stop our growth.

But today, the world and the culture in America have changed dramatically. Southern Baptists are viewed negatively by younger Americans. Rick Warren changed the game of evangelical church growth. Mark Driscoll and others have changed it again. A new generation of leaders wants unity around the Gospel, not around the denomination. They want the structures we support to SERVE the church, not dictate to the church. They want to embrace technology and allow for diversity. They want a Great Commission denomination, and not a denomination constantly defining loyalty.

“Death by Nostalgia” is wishing the world was like it was in the 1970’s and we could just assume that we were right. The 1970’s came and went, conservatives ascended and now they have a generation of Bible loving, Gospel centered, missional minded young leaders making up their minds if they are going to stick with the SBC or cast their loyalties elsewhere.

I’m just one Southern Baptist. As long as Baptists are majoring on the Gospel, I’m on the bus. But we have to admit that we have been arrogant and we have neglected crucial aspects of our denominational strength. All was not won for future generations when the conservatives took control. We’ve become functionally unevangelistic in many places because our past methodologies- door to door visitation, revivals, church based ministries- no longer are effective. There are many churches where moralism and legalism are heard and the Gospel is obscured. We have insisted on matters of unity that aren’t matters of unity. We’ve pushed our confession to its limits. We’ve treated younger leaders like they had to pass a loyalty test to get in the door. Many of our churches have looked the other way while change happened all around them and then blamed the pastor for the fact the church wasn’t growing.

After such a great victory as the conservative resurgence, and with some great unity on so many issues, why is the SBC on the verge of losing thousands of young leaders and younger prospective leaders and members?

As most of my readers know, my essay “The Great Evangelical Collapse” was discussed and responded to all over America, and even England and Africa. I noted today one omission. One denomination has, in its media, ignored it completely- which is perfectly fine with me, of course, but I do find it a bit odd.

Do I even need to tell you which one?

Southern Baptists are at a Crossroads generation. It’s a time for wisdom, repentance, loving the Gospel and uniting around the mission. God moves and time moves. We must take his hand, and humbly become a Great Commission network for the 21st century.


  1. ProdigalSarah says

    My sisters and I grew up in a Southern Baptist church during the 60s and early 70s. We left the church as teens, and while all three of us eventually came back to Christ, none of us are Baptists.

    My older sister was most interested in theology but her questions to the pastor were usually met with “Satan put that question into your mind.” After about a ten-year break with all things religious she did find her way back, but definitely not to the Baptist church.

    I live within walking distance of two Southern Baptist churches. The one is huge and everything is carefully orchestrated. I wonder if megachurches could exist if they were not personality driven. It’s like Broadway spectacle for Sunday morning and the pastor and soloists are the stars. This church is definitely the place to be seen if you’re running for political office or selling used cars.

    The other church is tiny and very gray. I guess these are the ones that don’t care for spectacle. But they seem to spend an awful lot of time bashing Catholics.

    Neither held the slightest appeal to this former Baptist.

    A while back I visited friends who live in a tiny town/village. This town is so tiny that they could all fit into the sanctuary of their Baptist church. I thoroughly enjoyed their Wednesday night prayer service and reflected on how much this church binds the community together. If I lived in that town I would go to that church. Their young pastor seemed very reasonable. The music was traditional hymns. The preaching was sound. And before we left I knew about everything going on in town through prayer requests. Why do churches like this seem so rare? Do megachurches leave too little room for these churches?

  2. Just to add one more line to the chorus.

    There is a fountain filled with blood
    Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
    And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
    Lose all their guilty stains.
    Lose all their guilty stains,
    Lose all their guilty stains;
    And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
    Lose all their guilty stains.

    Some of us have left (though not given up) on that denomination for theological conviction yet still hope that God has not finished reaching people through it. I am a pastor of a “transitioning church plant.” Read we bombed like Hiroshima on the first attempt at replanting a dying emergent church in favor of a contemporary SBC church that moved from one town to another. I have become convicted in the last few months that covenant theology best explains scripture and church history over dispensationalism. So for honesty sake I’m leaving the SBC, but thats another story. I got baptized in a SBC church, I went to a SBC seminary, and I gave a decade of my life and service in various ministries in SBC churches. I love the SBC, including all the hypocritical sinners that are leading the denomination away from engaging culture and lost people for Christ! Why? Because God loves sinners. Because I’m a sinner! Christ commands me to love other sinners. Those who are SBCers should remember that in most every church (and denomination) there are both wheats and tares (Matthew 13). When the wheat acts like the tares love them in spite of it, when they revile you for it love them more, and maybe God shall look at the remnant and save the SBC because of those righteous men standing in the gap. Maybe just maybe the current SBC needs to die. Maybe that is the only way God will raise her up. All the while remember:

    There is a fountain filled with blood
    Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
    And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
    Lose all their guilty stains.
    Lose all their guilty stains,
    Lose all their guilty stains;
    And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
    Lose all their guilty stains.

  3. Crack ! ! drip, drip drip.

    That is my heart breaking (once again) for the SBC. I consider all of them brothers and sisters, even though we cannot share communion.

    I am extremely thankful for the good Bible foundation that I recieved there. I want to import the desire for outreach, to be more of a community.

    I remember the CR, and supported it at the time. I was hanging around seminary students at the time, and had a good feeling for what they were being taught.

    Can they go back, NO. (But if someone figures out how, then I know of some Catholics who would go back before Vatican 2. GRIN )

    I wish I had some answers/insight/wisdom. All I can do is to hurt.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Nostalgia- a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. -Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

    “A dying culture tolerates the Present, rejects the Future, and clings to the glories of a mythologized Past.”
    — I think I read that in a Reader’s Digest somewhere in the Sixties

    As most of my readers know, my essay “The Great Evangelical Collapse” was discussed and responded to all over America, and even England and Africa. I noted today one omission. One denomination has, in its media, ignored it completely- which is perfectly fine with me, of course, but I do find it a bit odd.

    Do I even need to tell you which one?

    doubleplusungood ref doubleplusunevent.
    doubleplusungood ref doubleplusunperson.

  5. I am not a Baptist of any kind. I believe in Believers Baptism, but this broad outline reflects most denominations and the problems they have cause by themselves.

    The structures in my own denomination are broken structures that were never fully serviceable if you examine them properly. Christianity has become complacent and comfortable in its own culture – not very different from what a certain Luther experienced and battled with.

    All Christians need to rediscover BEING Christian rather than looking and talking like one. Postmodern people want to see the theory become practice – we/they don’t see it. We have selective Holiness – not unique to anyone by the way, and we suffer from Respectable Christianity. Jesus was not part of an institution, he was the beginning of a movement and we have seen many who tried to change things from within. Luther, Wesley, William Booth – all were isolated from the parent andforced into things they did not want because of the institution perpetuating itself. Keep up the work!

  6. This pretty much confirms in long form the feeling I had when I said to a friend of mine the other day that I don’t know for sure where I’ll end up regarding church, but I’m all but certain that I won’t be returning to the Pentecostal/Charismatic ranks and I won’t be a Baptist.

  7. Larry Geiger says

    The battle is being won. Jesus Christ will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

    The past century saw a titanic spiritual battle between the doctrines of the Bible and the doctrines of this world. Sometimes it seemed as if the world was winning. Many churches threw their Bibles out and went looking for “other gods”. It seems as though the Methodists and Episcopalians went this way.

    In a battle like this warriors get chewed up as on any battle field. The battle is still being waged in Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Baptist churches everywhere. Christians read the scriptures and dearly want the promises laid out before them, all the while knowing that they’re not going to have them in this world.

    Each one of you that has come or gone or been hurt, is in the battle. But the battle is not yours. It is the Lord’s. Praise God.

  8. Nice analysis, Michael.

  9. son of adam says

    Growing up, I heard the label “Southern Baptist” in my parents’ house more than “Christian”. It seemed more important to be Southern Baptist than “a follower of Jesus”. And I should know. My father told me. He was a SBC pastor for over 40 years. Working out my salvation from that has taken a long time.

  10. I don’t typically comment on blogs, but I feel like I should voice a couple of things. I agree wholeheartedly with this article and all of its points, but it seems to me that it follows the stream of many others in the baptist blogging world. Many are screaming “Fire!”, but I hear very few sirens on the way to help. Now I think part 2 of this series will answer this, but I think we need to be careful about screaming “Fire!”, if we are not willing to bring a little water to help put it out. Let’s not just lament the problems of the SBC; frankly, they’re pretty easy to spot. It’s not hard to see the fire, the real need is to put it out before the house burns down. To continue the analogy, if the firefighters (previous generation) won’t come with sirens blaring, then we need to fight the fire ourselves.

    To that end, there are men that have stepped up to take the lead. Akin, Stetzer, and others have put their respective Baptist neck’s on the line for the Gospel and the denomination. They show us that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. As a young (under 30) baptist minister and seminary graduate, I feel much of this tension, but get tired of hearing people complain about it while offering little by way of alternative (except leaving). More posts about how to lead from the middle of the pack (see http://www.baptisttwentyone.com/ for great examples) and the men that are doing it (church planters, replanters, etc.). Tell the stories of Chandler, Greear, Platt, etc. These are the men that, so we’re told, don’t get a seat at the table b/c they are young, but have fought the fight anyway. Now, they have gotten someone’s attention and their profile is increasing. Hopefully, this is a trend that will continue.

    Keep up the good work and keep pressing on!

  11. Ky boy but not now says

    “As a young (under 30) baptist minister and seminary graduate, I feel much of this tension, but get tired of hearing people complain about it while offering little by way of alternative (except leaving).”

    When you yell fire, take pictures, videos, and put together a presentation and the response from your pastors and the SBC in general is “what fire” and if you don’t shut up maybe you need some church discipline…, well maybe some of us felt we were being shown the door.

    This doesn’t sound like your church but it is how it is in more and more SBC churches. Likely a majority by now.

  12. The best article on the issue I’ve read yet. I was born, re-born and educated as a Southern Baptist. I am one of those resurgent young leaders, a proven church planter with a biblical and missional pulse. Like legions of my contemporaries, I see the days of my participation with the SBC coming to an end for exactly the reasons you recite. We are on the verge of jumping off this sinking ship dragged down by its traditionalism, legalism and landmarkism. The great sucking sound the denomination is hearing is the brightest and most gifted leaders–loyal to the gospel and the authority of Scripture–finding another place to call home. Easier to birth a baby than raise the dead. If the denomination returns quickly to the gospel and the Scriptures, it may avert its own demise. If it does not, it no longer deserves to exist.

  13. Ken Shelton says

    I am not surprised by anything you have written. I am also frustrated with the SBC and with the local church that I attend.

    I believe that the church has got to get back to simply teaching God’s Word, with out convention help, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.

    When the SBC changed their “Faith and Statement” and explained that the reason for changing was to adjust to the current issues, I found myself floundering as to why I was in a SBC church. I have been a Sunday School Director and a Deacon and have resigned both because I could no longer agree with the leadership of the church. I still teach a Class on Sundays and two bible studies in homes but will no longer participate in the leadership.

    If it gets to the point that I believe that our local fellowship is not in line with God’s Word or If God calls me to another ministry, then I will change. But the direction of the SBC overall should not be a major concern for any of us. What should be of great concern is whether I, as an individual, am being obedient to God.

    You and I can not control what the convention does or does not do. I wish I could, but only God can.

  14. Scott Eaton:

    Programs that assume the lost will come to programs inside the church walls. Aside from children’s and some youth programs, I know of no adult or young adult outreach based in the church building that is effective.

    Meanwhile, the Missouri Baptist convention saw fit to go to the mat over a “Theology pub.”


  15. Clint,

    I too am a young SBC pastor (32). And I agree whole-heartedly that there are many problems, especially at the denominational level. But I wouldn’t go as far as to say the average SBC church on the ground has abandoned the gospel.

    I think it is also good to remember, and I say this without accusation towards you particulary, that there are a lot of folks, yes older, in these SBC churches who have tithed and given sacrificially for years to build up the local churhces and all the denominational things that come with that. And while we can and should respectfully examine and challenge those things that should be changed, we must do so with respect towards those who are, if nothing else, our elders by age.

    My experience, and I’m on the opposite end wanting to move to a more ancient pattern, is that too often what a new young pastor or minister calls obstinate, landmarkism, fundementalism, and obstructionism, is more likely to be a lot of parishoners very reasonalbly, and very legitimatly questions as to why…

    a) the way we have worshiped in proven patterns for years has been chunked over night b/c you (the pastor) read some book or went to some confernce

    b) why are we being regulated to some early morning service and being made to feel like second class church members and stubborn sheep just b/c we might like a little doxology and a hymn or two and not so much “everybody stand up and swoon to Jesus your boyfriend” type stuff

    You can move a congregation in a direction you feel led, in fact leadership is what a pastor should be doing, but it has to be incremental and it has to be reasoned, and it has to be explained in a respectful way.

  16. Imonk,

    Good point, I saw a Soul Seekers club in a local establishment last night while eating with my family, that has subs and such but a lively weekend crowd if you know what I mean. I thought that sounds like a good idea. Get them where they are.

    I think one of the best evangelistic outreach things I have done lately was when I hosted our yearly St. Patricks day meal with our group of friends and I let one guy bring in his Irish beer to have with his meal. He was shocked that a baptist minister would do that. I told him that drunkeness and drinking were two totally different things. This led to a deeper discusion of the scriptures and his basic resposne was very typical of a non-Christian. He said…

    “I have not went back to a lot of churches b/c they seem more interested in telling me I’m a bad person b/c I drink a beer after I cut grass than they do anything else.”

    He has a wife and two young children that need to hear the gospel. Not 20th century social activism.

  17. I found that I was unable to change anything in my local church because I was the naive guy with no experience and no title in my name.

    Here is an exchange with a former pastor and dear friend: “You believe in Elders? What are you kidding? Did you know that you are in the vast minority of SBC preachers?”

    It didn’t matter if what I said was true or not. I got the “Bless his heart” look a lot.

  18. Here’s what I wish would happen:

    I think the SBC should buy prime time advertising for a week to get out one message: All Southern Baptists report via phone, email, mail or showing up somewhere.

    How many would there be?

    My guess…..5 million. Maybe.

    Delusions feed on other delusions.

  19. Here is an exchange with a former pastor and dear friend: “You believe in Elders? What are you kidding? Did you know that you are in the vast minority of SBC preachers?”

    It didn’t matter if what I said was true or not. I got the “Bless his heart” look a lot.

    So here’s a question..

    How exactly is this mentality all that different than what governs the Roman Catholic Church today? Am I the only one dumbstruck by the irony here?

  20. Oh we have functioning RCs all over the SBC. Every man and his Bible a Pope isn’t too far wrong at times. And the sense of authoritative tradition is exactly what’s got things stirred up over issues like alcohol. The young leaders simply won’t buy into the tradition aspect of this. All that’s missing is the bishops hat.

  21. iMonk:

    This sounds like a military reserve callup rehearsal. SBC “Mobilization” Exercise 09, what would you call it? “Operation (fill in the blank)” sounds like a good way to clean up your prayer chains in the process.

  22. I am case and point of someone who left the SBC as a result of what you post reports. I wasn’t looking to leave the SBC. But I was okay doing so because I felt God lead me to a church made up of disenfranchised former SBCers who wanted to be free from the Southern Baptist ways of doing things.

    As I came on board as their pastor I found great freedom to lead as God led us.

    I am still grateful for my training at SEBTS and 8 years on staff at a great SBC church. However, I hope I never limit myself to working in, with and through any particular denomination (or even lack thereof) in the life of our church. Great article!

  23. In the town where I grew up there are two vibrant and thriving Baptist churches.
    One started as a small traditional Baptist church in a converted bait house.
    This church is now one of the largest mega churches in the country and while still in cooperation with the SBC it does not tout the fact and has Baptist nowhere in its name or literature etc.
    The other is the old First Baptist Church.
    They have stuck proudly and stubbornly to the Baptist name and traditions.
    They have to buy a new block every year or so to expand the parking lot.
    I’m not exactly sure what the lesson is here but I find it interesting.

  24. Amen imonk! Another home run with bases loaded imo.

    As a young SBC minister as well (only 24, associate) I find great frustration in the decline. So many churches in our association are on the verge of folding. What is left in many is not worth fighting for. I am starting to really fear that much of the SBC and evangelicalism is being put to death not so much by nostalgia as by the insanity syndrome.

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and over again, though it obviously ain’t working, and expecting different results.

    It’s what drives too much of program driven evangelical religion.

    I’m not advocating rampant pragmatism, (which is probably just as much a part of the problem), but I think the reason that SBC’ers are turning to Warren, Driscoll, and Piper is because it WORKS. They have proved it. I went to an associational meeting the other day and was the youngest person there by 30 years. The moderinzed worship band that led us was gracious enough to perform all hymns and the whole darned group still barely sang and scowled the whole time. What’s wrong with this picture? Are we really excited by and experiencing reality through the Gospel and Christ as the foundation of life? SOMEBODY SHOW ME WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE!

    That’s what the younger generation is crying out for.

  25. I left the SBC over a decade ago, first in my heart and then with my feet. Yes, I was ordained in an SBC church and was associate in that same church, but looking at it, you couldn’t tell it was SBC. We were in the association, but we had nothing to do with almost anything the denomination did.

    I am now in a church associated with Great Commission Ministries, and while they are not perfect, they are more interested in the Gospel than any kind of denomination. We have more missionaries in field (rather long or short term) than any SBC church I was ever in supported.

    Since being out of SBC for a number of years, I had lost track of what was going on in the denomination, and though I lean conservative theologically (as well as politically), I think the conservatives in the denomination went way too far as evidenced by SWBTS’s apparent relegation of women to subservient status.

    I’m involved in the “culture war”, but realize that is not the main focus of Christians. Paul did not win disciples for Christ by taking on Caesar and the Roman Senate. He won disciples by leading them to Christ and the rest took care of itself.

    One thing that really struck me at an early age and has made me not want to associate myself with SBC any longer was an incident when I was a teenager. We had a family that had been baptized in a different type of Baptist church want to join ours. When they came forward and the pastor asked us to essentially vote on letting them join (a practice I abhor), one of the deacons stood up and strenuously objected because they were baptized outside our denomination. He demanded that they be re-baptized. The family left and never came back. Looking back on that, it was probably my first disenchantment with the SBC. I could just see Jesus weeping over that!

    Who said in the Bible that only an ordained minister can baptize?

    Who said that only the pastor, with the aid of the deacons can administer the Lord’s Supper?

    Who said that only members of your denomination can take the elements?

    Who said that women could not be missionaries or evangelists? Hello? Anyone remember Lottie Moon?

    Yep, arrogance, hubris and the idea that only the SBC can spread the Gospel is why I left, never to return.

  26. Wendell: A sad story.

    In a bit of fairness, some of your list were practices that are not part of universal SBC practices.

    Most SBC churches that I know are open communion. Only a minority would limit to the congregation.



  27. To add to EROPPER —-

    “Scripture above the True Headship of Jesus Christ…….Check

    Scripture above any real moving of the Holy

    Scripture above any true Community and the Body working through the tough issues together……..check”

    —- Scripture above any serious call to intentional, daily discipleship to, and following after, the real Man named Jesus Christ as Master. This comes from someone formerly in the ranks of the SBC. It is one reason I left, and hopefully provides an alternative to the situation posed by your final question, EROPPER.

  28. You make a lot of good points and you seem to have good insight. I agree that the SBC needs to change if it is going to remain (?) useful for the Kingdom. I would like to add one thing to the discussion. I am a seminary student and have seen alot of this controversy from that angle. It is not pretty. I, like others, am revolted by the idea of what the SBC has become and the direction in which it is headed. However, I think that my generation (20 somethings) might have a near-sighted view. I see this particularly in the area of missions. If we abandon the denominational model of international missions through the IMB, it will not be a positive thing. If Pastors/Churches decide to pull their money out of the denomination and into Church Plants and other things that their church is directly involved in and the IMB merely becomes an agency who helps churches go on mission trips then much will be lost. Career missionaries spend many years of studying the scriptures, language, and culture that cannot be learned overnight. Career missionaries also have developed key relationships with people in the target communities. Career missionaries and the IMB have vast experience in dealing with issues surrounding cross-cultural ministry. Should the churches relationship with the IMB be tweaked? Probably. Nonetheless, there is a great wealth of know-how, experience and wisdom that will be lost if the IMB is abandoned as a catalytic agency.

    While I am often tempted to leave the SBC (either functionally or or officially), I think that the consequences of leaving should also be considered.

  29. Christopher Lake says

    As a Southern Baptist by conviction (although not currently a member of an SBC church, because there is not one near me that aligns with my theological distinctives), the denomination and its churches *have* to allow their thinking and practice to be challenged and shaped by the Bible. If they think they are already doing so near-perfectly, then they have already lost the battle for the *healthy* future of the denomination.

    SBC churches and leaders also *have* to be humble enough to not only admit, but actually embrace, the fact that they can learn much from Christians of other denominations (and “non-denominations”). That is, they must do these things if they want to the SBC to survive and flourish.

    The healthiest denominational churches that I have seen are the ones which are willing to let their “traditions” be challenged and shaped (or reshaped) by the Bible. This takes humility, expressed in a willingness to admit that we might have been wrong (or at least unwise) about some cherished practices, even wrong for a very long time.

    The above subject is one in light of which it seems *especially absurd* for non-Calvinistic Baptists to accuse the Calvinistic ones of being “baby baptizers.” It is precisely “non-Calvinistic Baptists,” over the last forty years or so, who have *encouraged* the baptism of younger and younger children! By contrast, Calvinistic Baptists (at least in my knowledge and experience) tend to be wary of baptizing anyone who is not at least an older adolescent.

    In the vein of learning from other Christians, the healthiest SBC church I have ever been a part of had a bookstall full of challenging and helpful resources, many of which were written by Presbyterians. At the same time, this church had a vigorous doctrine of believer’s baptism and a lively, warm practice of congregational church government which were *not* in danger of being overturned by Presbyterianism! 🙂

    Learning and growing need not mean selling out one’s legitimate, Bible-based theological and ecclesiological convictions. However, learning and growing *do* mean that one must be humble, open-hearted, and at least to a certain degree, open-minded toward one’s brothers and sisters in other denominations. If the SBC is to have a lengthy *and* healthy future, it *must* grow in this area.

  30. Monk:

    First time to read your blog. You have a good description here of where the SBC is.

    The big question is whether organizations like the IMB, NAMB, the Seminaries etc. are better funded by being agencies of the denomination, or whether they are better funded as stand alone agencies. If they would be funded better as stand alone agencies, they should be let go. If there is more support through denominational funding, then the SBC still has a good reason for existing.

    I don’t much care for “Great Commission Resurgence” as a term.

    I think that what is called for is for the younger guys (if they like the IMB and other agencies) to catch a vision for being able to shape the SBC in the coming years. I am surprised that so many young guys who are starting churches, taking risks etc., will simply fold up and walk away because the annual meetings are not up to snuff or because they have been lectured by people who don’t matter.

    So, I do think that some of these younger leaders should be encouraged to stick it out and to participate. That’s how changes are made. Change is not made by leaving. Change is also not made by diagnosing the problem, alone.

    Also, I think that the denomination can do some things that would help.

    We started a church in 1992. It is an SBC affiliated church. It does not have “Baptist” in the name. Many things that we do are not consistent with the traditional way of doing things. That doesn’t make us better. That’s just who we are.

    We took are share of insults in the early years from some (not all) associational and state level people, but we ignored it and kept going. God has blessed us with growth.

    Last year, the ultimate insult came. Our pastor was being considered by the nominations committee as a possible trustee to a denominational missions agency. However, when our “CP” giving was reported, it was low. We actually spend 10% on missions (and that’s a lot for us since we are a young church, still paying for buildings etc.), but we give more directly to Nashville than through our State Convention. That has to do with the emphasis of our church. Yet, the practice of sending money to Nashville directly, rather than through the state, killed the nomination of our pastor.

    In San Antonio, I believed the SBC Executive Committee specifically defined “CP” giving as giving to the state convention, for later passing on to the agencies. I know why the Executive Committee did this – to keep the States happy. But I think it was a bad idea.

    Add to that the desire of some messengers to institute CP giving requirements (what I call “CP legalism”) as a prerequisite to service in leadership positions, and you have another recipe for disaster. This is actually being promoted by some who believe in a Great Commission Resurgence.

    These policies taken together also drive young people away, especially the young churches and pastors who are with the SBC, but not fully vested in the old way of doing things.

    So, I think the goal should be to add church participation, not reduce it by making it tougher and tougher.

    And I think that the younger guys need to catch a vision of the good things in the SBC, and need to be encouraged not to quit so easily. Many of them figure this out when their members want to go to seminary at an affordable price, or they want to go to the mission field, but don’t want to spend a bunch of time raising money.

    They need to see these benefits and others as worth working to preserve, even if they have to put up with some archaic behaviors and programs in the meantime. If fact, if enough people speak up, the behaviors and programs can be changed, and if the demographics are correct, will be changed over time.

    So, I am with you on the diagnosis.

    I want to see guys starting to promote the SBC (warts and all) with a vision toward the future.

    A cure will only come with some vision casting and buying into that vision by the younger generation. I really don’t think it will be hard to do, but we have to start.


  31. I am in a different Protestant denomination, but I am in a Baptist town. My wife had a call to ministry and got a degree from a Baptist college (no problem with them) as preparation for a Masters of Divinity curriculum. We considered becoming Baptists at that point, since there is little actual difference between my current group and the Baptist faith, at least locally. However, when she asked about serving as a woman pastor in the Baptist Church, it became clear that she would not be allowed to follow her call into anything other than children’s ministry.

    Children’s ministry is undoubtedly important, but she is a mental health professional specializing in chronic and drug addicted patients, whose talents would be wasted there. She is now working with a ministry (on a volunteer basis) as a chaplain serving a poverty stricken or homeless population. There are some visiting volunteers who have a problem with a woman “exercising authority over men”, but they don’t run the place. God does, and He apparently likes things the way they are, despite what the legalists say about the place of women in the church. The Spirit is working there, and we are glad to serve Him wherever called.

  32. Imonk,

    Point taken. Perhaps I should clarify that this incident happened way back in the 70’s and in a small baptist church. In fact, I have noticed that it seems to be the small, rural churches that tend to resist change the most.

    Case in point (in the early 90’s), my wife and I joined a rural baptist church which had called a young pastor who was on fire for a more seeker sensitive ministry. Big mistake! Most of the leadership of the church were older folks who had been born into this particular church and actually felt that it was their church, rather than God’s. At least it came across that way.

    This point was driven home to us when we and the pastor had arranged to have a youth evangelist come to speak to the local kids. We rented a Jr. High gym, arranged for free pizza and invited the local kids. We planned for maybe 150-200 and had over 300 show up (probably the pizza). We had also recruited volunteers as “counselors” to help with any decisions that were made that night. Well, we expected maybe a 10-15% response rate, but were really surprised when we had over 200 kids come forward after the YE gave an invitation! Needless to say we were overwhelmed. We didn’t have enough people or Bibles, so we resorted to taking names, addresses and phone numbers of kids we couldn’t get to so we could follow up later.

    After the dust settled and the bill had to be paid, we were told in no uncertain terms that we would not be allowed to follow up on the kids and the pastor was reprimanded for spending 2k of the church’s money for kids that would never be tithers if they did join the church! Needless to say, we left the church shortly after that and the pastor found another pastorate back in California.

    On another note, you should have heard the stink in our association when we took “Baptist” out of our church name (when I was an associate) and we started doing such radical things as allowing fathers or close friends of converts to baptize them. You would have thought we had taken a shotgun to the Holy Spirit!

    I am gratified to hear that most SBC churches have left the landmarkism of the past behind. As I said, I haven’t been in a “traditional” SBC chruch in quite a while.

  33. Great article. I appreciate your insights. While I don’t agree with all of them, I agree with many of your points. I am deeply indebted to the SBC. I was saved in an SBC church and earned degrees in SBC institutions. I have always pastored SBC churches. Like you, I am committed to being on the bus as long as it’s going the right direction. With that said, some days I grow frustrated with what we are doing (and not doing). Hopefully and prayerfully, we can keep our focus where it needs to be.

  34. iMonk, what all the other posters who complimented you on your fine article said 🙂

    I attend a church that is Southern Baptist in affliation, adheres to the same basic beliefs as all other SBC churches, and shares the same views as other Reformed churches.

    It just doesn’t look like a traditional Southern Baptist church.

    I don’t wonder if that will be my church’s downfall…it’s strong, and linked into a good network of churches. What I wonder about is when we will be shown the door along with the other Acts29 churches (and sympathetic churches) in the denomination.

    It’s sad when Christians want to break fellowship over you because of your refusal to identify with a refined version of KJV-only fundamentalism…or your acceptance of the gifts of the Spirit as active for today…or your appearance as “emergent”…or 50 other things I’m certain you and your readers can mention.

    I think we represent the future, but that future might play out within a newer wineskin.

  35. BrianD:

    I don’t know your situation, but the persecution of diversity seems to be restricted to a couple of schools and a couple of state conventions. Plus some high profile SBC parachurch types. The denom itself is rapidly sounding more accomodating. It’s in the state conventions there may be some blood on the floor.


  36. OK, I wasn’t planning on posting tonight , but this reached out and grabbed me:

    Oh we have functioning RCs all over the SBC. Every man and his Bible a Pope isn’t too far wrong at times. And the sense of authoritative tradition is exactly what’s got things stirred up over issues like alcohol. The young leaders simply won’t buy into the tradition aspect of this. All that’s missing is the bishops hat.

    I left the RC’s at 18, have a Jesuit trained older brother (lapsed), and have spent years in Protestant churches that were only too glad to bash on RC excesses (and I played Saul holding the coats, ocaisionally).

    I’m not about to go back to Rome, sorry Mom and Dad, but the evangelical hypocrisy on being religious wears more thin with me than anything the Vatican ever did to me.

    thank you Michael, for yet another flash of honesty

    God Help us all in our deep brokenness
    Greg R

  37. matt redmond says

    Nothing but freakin awesome.

  38. As a teacher and young minister, I must say that I’m glad to see others who are concerned about the same things as I. The high school kids that I teach watch things like the Discovery and History channels frequently–some even religiously (pun intended?). Christian teens do this, and so do their parents. On these stations, they see some episodes that are largely from a secular humanist perspective. The congregations these days are getting quite a bit of info from this perspective. With information at everyone’s fingertips on the internet, the church should seek to adapt, to change, to dig in on the real essentials of the faith and realize that in a progressive world that is changing at the speed of light, the church is still quite able to provide the answers.
    That’s why I find Dr. Kelley’s suggestion to use the techniques that worked in the past to be utterly unhelpful. Such responses deflate the hope that the young SB’s have for the future and proves that many of the older generation may see that there truly is a problem, but really don’t understand it. It reminds me of a news report just before the American election that stated McCain had just begun to learn how to use the internet. I knew at that moment that he would lose. Who want’s a leader who cannot–or is unwilling to–handle the common tools of the culture? Perhaps there’s a coorelation here?

    Thanks for a good article.

  39. Ky boy but not now says

    “It reminds me of a news report just before the American election that stated McCain had just begun to learn how to use the internet. I knew at that moment that he would lose. Who want’s a leader who cannot–or is unwilling to–handle the common tools of the culture? Perhaps there’s a coorelation here?”

    While I agree with much of your sentiments this was a cheap shot at McCain. And repeated by folks who were willing to use anything against him, twisted out of truth or not.

    McCain has very limited motion left in his arms. And I think his hands. Remember those years in NV prison? Punishment many times meant tying his hands behind his back and suspending him in the air via his arms. His sholder and arm joints are permanently wreaked.

    Saying he was just learning to use the internet is like saying a blind man has spend a long time learning to read and had been relying on their spouse, friends, and staff to read for/to them. Which is what McCain had been doing for years.

  40. iMonk,

    I believe your post can be simply summed up in the truth that “doctrine doesn’t equal character.” And so, after experiencing the “conservative resurgence,” including my being a messenger at several of the conventions and seeing what was being done in the 1980’s by people who some (evidently still) consider heroes, I left “mother church,” the SBC.

    Yes, truly whatever “glory” there was, surely did depart. “Ichabod” indeed!

    God in His power was able to work what I experienced in the SBC for good in my life, and to set me free of many things. I’m very grateful.

    I love now having fellowship with many different “kinds” of followers of Jesus who are concerned much more about exhibiting Jesus’ character than wearing a particular “label.”

    And I love now living loved by the Father, beyond any kind of “ism,” including “evangelicalism”–and your “reformed-ism,” too. And THAT’s what I want to help other people with, too–to simply live loved by “. . . God who loved us, and gave Himself for us.”

    If the SBC leaders–or the leaders of any other “evangelical” group–would work more on character than doctrine, tradition, programs and whatever else they feel they should work on, then people like I am might be inclined to listen to them again. But still not at the risk of tying millstones around our necks, or helping them to put millstones around the necks of others.

    “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

  41. No doctrine, no denomination.

    Mohler, etal understand this.

    Its doctrine, doctrine, doctrine.

    I wonder how more regenerate our denomination would be if the gospel was preached every Sunday (you know, that gospel that starts with the R word).

    We need to repent of many many things: the slanderous, superficial, and sometimes silly way we treat the gospel as if it has no power at all and needs help from the most articulate, motivational, “up” music we can find etc.

    I have found a new home theologically – I understand how and why I was saved – because I started seriously studying my Bible and stopped listening to the director of the dog and pony show.

    Talk about tradition? Whatever happened to the Baptist Catechism? It got replaced with coloring books, videos, dancing and “Raise your hand if you love Jesus!”.

  42. To paraphrase R.C. Sproul (and I’m not sure if he was quoting someone else): There are three great concepts: Beauty, Truth and Goodness. Episcopalians will sacrifice Truth and Goodness for Beauty, Presbyterians will sacrifice Beauty and Goodness for Truth, and Baptists will sacrifice Beauty and Truth for Goodness.

    I have realized lately that many Christians and churches will sacrifice Beauty, Truth and Goodness for Tradition.

  43. A simple fyi to my critic: McCain didn’t say that he couldn’t use the internet, he said that he didn’t (others did it for him). He then explained that he was learning to do it himself. One assumes quite a bit by suggesting that he couldn’t because of his war injury, which left him unable to raise his arms above his shoulders. And if he states that he was learning it, the clear insinuation is that he can but hasn’t. To use the illustration, if he is blind, then why is he claiming that he can learn to read? That’s why I used this fact in his life to help make my case.
    Those who seek leadership roles and have no hands-on experience of what drives the culture have a reduced chance at either realistically meeting the needs of that culture or even understanding the problems. They seem more like figureheads than real leaders. To restate my previous point: Who want’s a leader who cannot–or is unwilling to–handle the common tools of the culture? If a leader cannot, that’s one thing; if he is unwilling, that is quite another–which is my point about some of the leadership in the church.

    Consequently, the election is over, isn’t it?

  44. An excellent post in my opinion.

    And I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the SBC becasue I think such viewpoints are shared by many and becasue I think the inescapable reality of the shrinking denomination could and should result in a new teachability and openness to change that nothing else could possiblly precipitate.

    For good or ill (and it can be both), where Southern Baptists are concerned, numerical growth covers a multitude of sins. As ACTS29 and other models of church prove effective, I have hope that the SBC will want to be part of such successful evangelism and church-planting efforts.

    In my chapter “The Emerging Church: One Movement–Two Streams” in the forthcoming “Evangelicals Engaging Emergent” (Lifeway) I labor to interpret some of these evangelicalish/conservative and usually calvinistic groups to SBC types and the SBC types to them. I truly believe we need each other when we consider the great task that is ours.

  45. You need to check your stats on Mormons, they are in serious decline. Two years ago they only baptized 238,000 people worldwide. Of that number 98,000 were their own children. In articles by the Salt Lake Times a Mormon owned paper they predicted that in 20 to 30 years time Mormonism would be in such decline in Utah that it would not be the leading religion of the state. They are good at putting up a front for growth

  46. This was a very interesting column, especially since I was born, raised, and baptized as a SBC member but later switched to Reformed after becoming a Calvinist. Like another commentor mentioned, my parents identified themselves as “Southern Baptists” as much as they did “Christians.”

    The problem the First Baptist Church in my home town is encountering is that its current members are dying off quickly — and literally — due to old age, and there are no young people around to take their places. As a result, it is now running probably half as many people in Sunday School as it did 20 years ago. The reason why there are no young people around is because they all move away to go to college (like I did), and few ever move back to the town as there are absolutely no career opportunities there. It is now a town of mostly aging grandparents and great-grandparents.

    One wonders how large of a cummulative impact the declining “First Baptists” in small towns like this one is making on the denomination as a whole.

  47. Monk,
    Don’t know you from Uncle Adam. Have never heard you speak. I am not a part of the SBC. However, I have never read a better word concerning an organization than the one you wrote. I too am a part of a fellowship that is in the same “perfect storm”. Young men are leaving, tradition is triumphing over truth, and the conservative element has quieted and driven out any thought of moderate or liberal views. I have always believed that both sides need to have an equal voice. That is the challenge that best blesses and brings balance to any organization. This thing should be about unity, and not uniformity. You do not know me, but I will pray for you in your path. Please remember those outside of the SBC lines that may be battling in the same fog. For now, know that you blessed me with your thought process. Let evangelism live. Let Jesus Christ be lifted up. Let the world hear redemption’s song. RD