September 25, 2020

Riffs: 01:18:09: Are Southern Baptists Getting It? Maybe.

An IM reader sent along this piece from the Nashville Tennessean newspaper on the current decline of the Southern Baptist Convention. There’s some rare honesty in this piece, and I hope SBC leaders are listening.

For example, Bill Leonard, one of my favorite professors from seminary days, talks about the SBC’s changing demographics. This really is the key to a lot of the story of post-war SBC numerical growth, and Southern Baptists need to stop avoiding this simple truth. I’ve never been a part of an SBC church whose primary source of baptism was anything other than the families of their own members.

Also, the fact that the conservative affirmation of inerrancy didn’t result in a denominational renewal is another plain and obvious fact that’s acknowledged. There are thousands of young SBCers who have been dragged into a denominational version of the culture war that makes them the enemy of the very people they want to evangelize. How’s that working out for you down at First Declining Church?

Seriously, is it any wonder that so many younger Southern Baptists see Rick Warren as their defacto leader, more than whoever the SBC is promoting this year? Warren has found a way to do church, be evangelistic, be a servant, affirm other humans, be useful and genuinely be likable to those he wants to influence. Contrast this with the SBC’s history of “leadership by loudest, angriest preacher” system.

And what about the many thousands of young SBCers who simply don’t want to hear the denomination’s way of doing things anymore? Most of them were on board for the “inerrancy” revolution, but now they see a denomination that reads the Bible and comes out with the theology of the John 3:16 Conference. When the SBC does theology these days, I want to dig a very deep hole and disappear. The words “SBC Theologian” are about to join “military intelligence” on a certain oft-quoted list.

Of course, the SBC apparently has yet another evangelism program up its sleeve, perpetuating its historic place as the denomination that has beaten its head against the same wall longer than any group in history. Really guys, if memorizing and reciting a canned presentation were the solution to the problem, the SBC would have 180 million members by now. But it seems we’re going to be told at all this year’s meetings that if we stand and salute the right Nashville “revival in a box” program, we can fix this thing.

There is some good news here: Innovation at the local level is flourishing, despite objections from those who know better. Pastors who were once called “Satan Sensitive” are starting to prove out to be actual church builders. The occasional admission of failure. Actual sighting of the toleration of diversity. More ethnic church planting. All very good things. Oh….did I mention Ed Stetzer on Youtube?

What’s still not there? It’s the Gospel stupid. Not buildings, programs and methods. That will help, more or less, but it won’t get to the core of the SBC’s problem: vast numbers of people who don’t know the gospel, preach the gospel, teach the gospel, believe the gospel or see a need to shape the integrity of the church around the gospel.

If the SBC decides that blaming Calvinists, printing more literature, more conferences and promoting more bureaucrat designed solutions isn’t the answer, it will have made enormous progress. When it figures out that the centrality of the Gospel and the core implications that come from the Gospel are what’s missing across the SBC landscape, real hope will dawn.

I thank God for all the faithful people working to make the Gospel, once again, the central focus of the cooperative, evangelistic, mission-centered ministry of Southern Baptists. Don’t quit!


  1. Amen, brother. I can’t agree more.

  2. IMonk, a light in the SBC, albeit with some frustration. 🙂

  3. I suppose it had to be said. As the son of a ‘Southern Baptist’ Preacher I’ve pretty much seen a complete change in the last fifty years. I remember when the tiny Church I attended was more concerned about the people in the area than the size of the congregation on Sunday. Oddly enough, that seemed to make the Church building constantly full, even though we often had as many ‘visitors’ as members. Debates on doctrine are not new, As a member of the “I am of John the Baptist” group, I can see the “I am of Paul” and the I am of Apollo” groups arguing, but often fail to see the problem with BEING a denomination. The “I am of Calvin” and the “I am of Martin Luther” groups have their debates, and lets not forget the “I am of Peter” group. What amazes me is that the average Christian fails to read the Bible with an open mind and often condemns fellow believers for some point of ‘doctrine’. Have we not read First Corinthians 1:12 ? Are we not ALL ‘of Christ’? I think we need to remember that it is Us against the Anti-Christ, not Us against Us.

  4. Well said, Michael! I’m with you brother.

    On theologians, though, there’s always Timothy George, who, admittedly (thankfully!), isn’t one of the good ole boys, but still presents himself as a SBC minister. So that’s some hope!

    God bless!

  5. Algonquian_Cougar says

    …I just left a SBC, due to just what you are saying. Not to get specific on which, but here in the north country where they have opened several. In the point of those who have not gone to the seminary, Evangelizing. The ‘cutting line’ for me was to be asked a question about what brought you to the light? Before I reached my second sentence, I was cut off by who asked me. Like something I was saying was wrong. Yet it was the occurrance that I had experienced in many occassions in different situations over the course of my life, in my faith in Christ being answered.
    …The person implimenting this class knew what they were doing, when they cit me off from speaking. As a person does when they act out against their spiritual-selves and against those God Given tools of Feelings. This person, couldn’t after that point look me in the eye. Many eyes around the table jumped to focus on him, all knew without a word.

    …What made this point so solid to me, as to what I should do from this point about these on going points in “Lip Service”. Was the pastor, he had also done this to me on several occassions since mid summer. I then asked the pastor out of the church as Sunday service was about to start. Told him I would not be returning. Our Father in heaven warned of these times. I followed the Lord’s teachings, I warned of the sin and seperated myself. Call it Tough Love. Both denied the point to themselves and me, They profusely apologized to say that they had not realized what they had done. But the place and time of the occurance proves quite well they did know. They had an agenda, and hidden, yet it still is. I don’t need to know of whatever the agenda was. I only need to know the outcome. This that seperates us as brothers in Christ.

    …Lord Father give them strength that they should over come this thing that puts a hold on thier lives with you! Amen…

    • ® © † Respectfully,.™,
    • Aka; Algonquian_Cougar

  6. IMONK: I thank God for all the faithful people working to make the Gospel, once again, the central focus of the cooperative, evangelistic, mission-centered ministry of Southern Baptists. Don’t quit!

    The Gospel of the Kingdom, the gospel Christ preached… serious business…..and the only way back to Life. It requires submission to the King through a Love relationship. When this relationship is grown, fruits will come forth in a cooperative, evangelistic, and mission-centered ministry. Only when the branch is thoroughly nourished in the vine, is healthy fruit produced.

  7. From the newspaper article:
    “The church grew, he said, by loving its neighbors with actions, not words.”


    “‘You have to earn the right to be heard,'”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. But the fact is that a lot of evangelicals (not just southern baptists) just don’t get this. For too many, evangelism is still about what we say, or maybe what we do occasionally, not about how we live our lives and relate to others; the Good News is a commodity, not something that flows from the core of who we are as people centered on Jesus. And the culture warriors still seem convinced that people will really listen to a raving stranger who shows no interest in their lives or struggles. Thank God for those working against these trends, but we all (individually and corporately) still have a long way to go, and the sooner we realize it the better.

  8. John…..AMEN!

  9. From the Tennessean’s photo montage on this story, speaking of Hunt:

    “When he arrived in 1986, the church had 1,027 members but less than 300 showed up on Sundays. Today, the congregation has 16,500 members, and an average Sunday attendance of 6,800, according to Jim Law, the churchÂ’s executive pastor.”

    And there, my friends, is the problem.

  10. I snuck in the side door of the SBC. Pulpit supply, fill in, interim, then called to pastor a failing church that turned into a new start that is doing good. I was involved in our assoc. on a local level, and enjoyed the fellowship. I saw some flavor of the month stuff, but it didn’t bother me.
    Here’s why I am still SBC.
    I have no idea how our small church can support missions any other way.
    I love the Faith and Message. I wasn’t taught to believe it , I came believing it.
    I need support from a system outside my little group. I love the fellowship.
    I was raised in the north and do not have “post traumatic baptist syndrome”.
    It has been easy. Nobody rides us, demands anything, expects much, or criticizes.
    It has been easy to be racially diverse.
    When we were flooded 3 churches showed up and helped with love. When we need them, they are there!

    I have issues with teetotalism and boycotts, but it really does not affect me. We have no interest in the National level. I am in a tiff now about filling out a form that says “Anglo” church.Ain’t gonna happen.
    Nobody in our fellowship cares about affiliation. everybody wants to be sober, and do their best for the Lord. The SBC shoe fits.

  11. Willoh,
    I am a lifelong SBCer. I was raised in the south and attended an SBC church before I was even born. But aside from that, I am 100% with you. My experience in the church here mirrors what you described. I now pastor an SBC church in the far north of North Dakota and love the fact that we aren’t obligated to do what someone else says we have to do (except for filling out the ACP, but I can see you have that covered too). We too have benefited from the mission work of other SBC churches from as far away as Mississippi. I don’t agree with everything the SBC does and we am not looking to convert anyone to the SBC. We am looking to make disciples as we are going forward in the kingdom of God.

  12. as someone who works in an SBC church this certainly offers me a glimmer of hope… one can only wonder if a great revival will happen at all and whether not it will be in the SBC, other denominations, evangelicalism, or the catholic church worldwide.

    wow. post-traumatic-baptist-syndrome. do I know a few people with that.

  13. Whenever I have read articles by Southern Baptists about the urgent need to evangelize and baptize, one question has always occurred to me: Do they not seem to realize that there are many other Christian groups in America that want to reach people too? They seem to act like if “their” group doesn’t do it, it won’t get done. What about Independent Baptists, PCA churches, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Foursquare, Calvary Chapels and Vineyard, Church of God, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, Evangelical Free, and the numerous non-denominational churches?

    I do realize that all of us, no matter which group we are in, can do a better job of reaching people. I just wish those in Southern Baptist leadership realize they aren’t the only ones who care about it.

  14. Bill:


  15. I was told today by my parents who live in a neighboring state and were visiting with me today (my dad is a minister) of two local churches where they live that were having to help other local churches pay bills to keep their lights on.

    As a pastor of a small rural church I can tell you that three things are killing small baptist churches. (And I’ll say more about small later.)

    1. Demographics are killing us. There is little more “bedroom evangelism”. Folks just don’t have babies like they used to.

    2. Location. Folks are very transient. They drive right by us to the larger church with the gym and the Upward Basketball (not knocking either, but the facts that folks have lost the understanding that worhip requires niether of those and that Christ can be lifted up in any size church kills us)?? Could this be due to our own lack of understanding on what worship really is??

    3. Our own stubborness and lack of adapting. Not adapting the gospel or even our worship style, but our attitudes. The church I currently serve at 35 years ago had 90 in SS. There were large families with children. They lost that entire generation of children now in their late 40’s to 50’s over cultural things the preacher liked to harp on like long hair in the 70’s. Those young folks left as soon as they grew up. We are still learning lessons hard. We lost two families over an old rule (I finally got them to drop it this year) about women wearing pants to church. I mean come on. Our families and culture is rotting with sin and this is all we care about.

    With that said, I’m not so sure small churches in our culture can’t do well. They need to be open, but I think a whole lot of small church plants, in communities, in ethnic groups, in large cities can provide folks the since of connection they do not have in today’s world.

  16. Bill, I find it embarrassing, that when looking a a new area to “reach”, nobody talks to the clergy of that area. They may know something worth hearing. It is like we are going into the Somali land in 1811. Not even other baptists! Hey nobody is pirfact.

  17. Austin: You are telling the story of thousands of Baptist churches that will be dead within 15 years. And if that is their view of what it means to be the community that follows Jesus, then death is sad but merciful.

    Been there and know it well. Very sad.

  18. You are right that what is missing in our denomination is The Gospel. Interestingly though is that the groups doing the most to restore The Gospel are the groups being targeted by the powers that be. I see more Gospel-growth coming from ministries like 9 Marks, Founders, Anchored in Truth, and even the through the influence of T4G. As a young, reformed SBC pastor who attends these events, I don’t see them promoting Calvinism as much as a return to The Gospel. In the church I pastor, I don’t seek to make disciples to Calvin but Christ. I appreciated hearing from our brothers in the more frontier areas who see the good our denomination does without feeling th eneed to conform entirely. I see this as a healthy path to take.

    Bill P

  19. I, for one, am urging Southern Baptists to distinguish between some of the younger church planters and notice those who are not squeamish about sound doctrine but who also recognize the role culture must play, has always played, in the communication of the gospel, the spread of the gospel and the planting and nurturing of churches that are shaped by the gospel. The more the North American landscape presents as a mission field, the more cultural discerment will matter.
    My article in the upcoming volume from Lifeway, “Evangelicals Engaging Emergent” will press some these points. I believe the SBC can benefit much from many of these young church planters and I believe the SBC has much to offer them as well.

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Contrast this with the SBC’s history of “leadership by loudest, angriest preacher” system.

    Does this mean the SBC Old Guard is going to end up electing Fred Phelps as SBC President? You can’t get Louder & Angrier (TM) than him…

    And if Phelps isn’t available, there’s always Dobson. He’ll sure qualify as Loudest & Angriest (TM) after tomorrow’s Inaguration…

    And while they’re getting Louder & Angrier (TM), I’ll be sponsoring a friend from the East Coast out to an SF con on the West Coast next weekend. I have a life.

  21. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Location. Folks are very transient. They drive right by us to the larger church with the gym and the Upward Basketball (not knocking either, but the facts that folks have lost the understanding that worhip requires niether of those and that Christ can be lifted up in any size church kills us)?? — Austin

    Doesn’t even need to be a formal church. Four years ago at AnthroCon, I attended Mass with two other Catholics and one Lutheran. (The last was a bootleg.) Presider was “Fr Kamau” (priest, fursuiter, historical re-enactor, volunteer fireman, model railroad buff, now a Navy Reserve chaplain with the Marines in Djibouti), famous in the fandom for being drawn into the online comic strip Suburban Jungle a couple times.

    Imagine a priest with hair/mustache/beard straight out of The Three Musketeers with a stole over an airbrushed fannish T-shirt, celebrating Mass with a portable Mass kit to a four-fan congregation (including “The highest-ranking fursuiter in the US Navy”) in an unused function room of the con hotel. Panelists’ table for altar, lotsa empty folding chairs for events later in the day. Worship was done, Eucharist was celebrated, almost completely unknown to the not-interested con attendees. No gym, no Upward Basketball, nothing but five Gathered Together in His Name…

  22. HUG

    That sounds like a Mass that I would like, too.

  23. willoh:

    I do not know one individual who claims to be pirfact.

  24. I was at a recent conference that the SBC hosted. While I do admit that they are acknowledging the problems (finally), they are not interested in solutions.

    Case in point, I went to a session at this conference on Disciplining Postmoderns. The plan for responding to the massive changes in our culture and world were these –

    1. Preach the Word: get back to the Bible

    2. Multigenerational Ministry: we need to encourage interaction among all generations in the church

    3. Homosexuality: the Convention needs to continue a hardline stance on homosexuality which will eventually be embraced by Postmoderns as counter-cultural.

    So, in other words, the SBC does need to change anything (according to the presenter), just needs to refocus on the same old themes. His presentation was packed and met with a lot of relief and adulation. The choir agreed with the preaching.

    I cannot tell you how frustrating this was to listen to. The SBC’s strategy is to go hide in a bunker and throw pot shots at the changing culture.

    I’m sure this will work

  25. Watchman,
    In some places, steps one and two would be considered a change. Maybe not step one as much as step two. Although many a sermon series in the big SBC churches is more thematic than Scriptural. Most SBC churches have become so programmed that different generations never mix within the church walls.

  26. Pastors/Preachers/Church Members/Believers:

    Scripture says Jesus went about ‘doing good.’ He didn’t sit and sing and send His money. He sent Himself. Church growth…real church growth…..from making disciples…won’t happen until until the pews ’empty.’ I’ve always wandered what might happen if a Sunday morning children’s class went, on Sunday morning, to nursing homes with just smiles and hugs. What if a youth group was cleared for once-a-month interaction with jail inmates…on Sunday morning. What if the Children’s Choir carried their sweet voices to homeless shelters, nursing homes, orphanages, and so forth. I know a young adult Sunday School class who adopts a needy local high school senior each year and pay all senior, prom, and graduation fees.


  27. I’m afraid a lot of the problems in SBC churches is that we are in some ways too insular. We look in too much instead of looking out. In some ways we have become as I tell my congregation at times like the Amish- Theologicaly pure but socially irrelevent.

  28. Carolyn,

    I attend a small, SBC church plant in Maryland. In October, our congregation participated in Faith in Action Sunday. Our Sunday School classes and worship service were cancelled. Instead, members of the church went to a senior center and performed various service projects at the facility and fellowshipped with the residents. While this was going on, a few adults remained at the church with the children and prepared shoe boxes for Christmas outreach.

    Ours was not the only SBC church in the area to participate,and our pastor has plans for even more projects this year for Faith in Action Sunday.

  29. What we have left is a Christianity of tips and techniques: three steps for a good quiet time; four habits for effective marriage communication. It does not take your breath away, and if Christianity does not take your breath away, something else will. … When you live in a Christianity of tips and techniques, you trivialize sin. Sin is something external. It’s running stop signs. It’s drinking too much. It’s smoking. But God calls sin adultery of the heart. It is what you give your heart away to other than the heart of God.
    –John Eldredge

    Until Christ takes our breath away the church will be in retreat.

  30. Some churches do go out and do things. I can’t speak for all of them, but yesterday we went to one of the local nursing homes and did a 30 minute service with the residents. It was mostly singing and fellowship with them afterward. We do this in two nursing homes as often as scheduling will permit.
    And just this morning my sister called me to share a funny story. It seems that their church(which is a big megachurch in NW Arkansas) was asked to help with efforts to give food to the community today. They were listed as a rallying/ volunteering site on’s website and had lots of volunteers from the church and working side by side to give away food. Coincidentally, both of these churches are SBC affiliated, so maybe we are getting it like iMonk mentioned at the outset.

  31. Christopher Lake says

    The main preaching pastor at my former (SBC) church, Capitol Hill Baptist, wrote on a blog that this past year, he had seen more conversions at CHBC than at any previous time in his fourteen-year ministry there. Why did this happen? Was it because of a *focus* on getting a certain number of “decisions for Jesus”? As a former member of the church, I can safely say, No.

    Conversions happen there because Mark Dever preaches the Gospel and trusts God to convert people. It’s that simple. Preach the Gospel clearly and carefully in every sermon. If you are an SBC pastor (or elder), don’t make “culture wars,” sheer numbers of baptisms, or any other SBC particularities the measure of your church. Preach the Gospel. Encourage joyfully Gospel-centered conversation among the members of the church. God may or may not grow your church as He has Capitol Hill Baptist, but your church will be built on the Gospel and centered on the Gospel, and that is ultimately what matters.

  32. Austin, Karen, Peaches, Jeff M, Christopher Lake: I’m so encouraged to hear ‘good’ being done within the communities. ‘Out there’ is where the needs are…and ‘out there’ reaches right up to our yards. A young woman crossed my path who needed a ride to a Rehabilitation program..twice weekly, for twenty-eight weeks. She’s had four children taken from her. She’s in her twenties and never been married. I tell her who she is in God and what she can become…if you uses her intellectual power constructively rather than destructively. This week she’s beginning classes to get a GED. She’s gonna make it! God loves her so very much and so do I. God bless.

  33. Robert Angison says

    Good post. We have too many self promoters and not enough authentic Gospel promoters.

    You are the Church!
    Robert Angison

  34. Ummmm I am SBC born and bred, but now a member of another denomination. I miss the SBC.

    And I feel the need to defend them. Could it be that what you call “gospel in a box” is an attempt to encourage churches to do the very thing you advocate: “make the Gospel, once again, the central focus of the cooperative, evangelistic, mission-centered ministry of Southern Baptists”? Maybe its a bad “program”. maybe it won’t help anyone anywhere to actually live and preach the Gospel. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the latest program, and even if I did, I’d hate to be the one to say that it’s worthless. Lots of people have come to their first knowledge of the gospel through what I thought were gimmicky or inadequate approaches (How To Have a Full and Meaningful Life or The FOur Spiritual Laws anyone?) Sure these canned presentations of the Gospel can, and probably should be criticized, but God can use lots of bent sticks and even programs.

    And have you got a better idea? HOW exactly do you propose to get the SBC or any other group of imperfect Christians to focus on the Gospel, preach the Gospel, and live the Gospel. NO programs, NO literature, and NO conferences. Then what?

  35. Greetings Fellow Christians, How do most people answer the question of faith? How many respond simply with Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or the like? Why do we spend so much time with these names that proclaim a divided Body of Christ? We are all Christians first and whatever group last. The covenant in front of my Bible says that ‘we do now, in the presence of God, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.’ It goes on to say that we are with the aid of the Holy Spirit walk together in Christian love, advance this church, promote the church, sustain worship, contribute to the support of the ministry, spread the Gospel through all nations, watch over each other in brotherly love, remember each in prayer, slow in taking offense, be ready for reconciliation, and when we leave to unite with others to continue to advance the principles of God’s Worship.
    I have been in other churches for various functions, including worship, and have always longed for the small Baptist Church I grew up in. Until recently,we (same small Church)have always been insulated from the outside influences of the world. Only when we initiated ‘change’ have we started to fail. For sure we have always been small in numbers, but our family members have spread far from home and taken the foundation of Christ with them. Some have been part of a new group of Christians in their new homes and grown and prospered. Some have even returned to join again with those who remained. The returning brothers and sisters, just like the son, have grown here and have built a foundation for the next group to be able to go out again.
    Many have advocated the use of change, the use of the world culture, and whatever to bring more people to Christ. New music, new technology, recognition of diversity, and packaging have all been adopted by many to fuel growth among today’s people (children, youth, and adults.)
    I have an observation to add to this trend, watch the youth. As a high school teacher, I see the children who attend (1)mega churches (for our area), (2) store-front churches, and (3) no church. This is where the depressing realization hits home—the students are hard, if not impossible, to determine, who goes where and who believes what. One teen had on a t-shirt proclaiming Jesus but acting like someone who has never even heard of God, Jesus, and the Church. So change does not always work. This portrayal is most dangerous to the one who is on the edge of discovering that they are lost. They see a ‘christian’ acting like everyone else, so maybe I am one too?
    I realize that we (as a human, as a group, as a Church, as Christians) have not always done things perfectly; but, are we not all sinners that have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, through the Love, Grace, and Mercy of God? Things in this world are not going well, we as Christians are loosing the battle–because we are not fully relying on God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
    We can have all of the meetings, conferences, organizations, blogs, and rock throwing parties from now until the Savior returns –all will fall and fail until we return to God, to the discovery of the Will of God through the understanding and reading of His Word in the Bible,to keeping his ordinances, to daily Prayer, to keeping the world’s culture at a distance, to being Christ centered, to being a Christian.
    Personally I pray that not only will the SBC ‘Get It’ but all of God’s Christians will return to the fold before the time runs out and judgement begins.
    Thank you for reading, for your prayers, and for being fellow Christians. May God bless you and keep you.

  36. PS.
    I forgot to tell you that I am 40 years old, married to my kindergarten sweetheart, have two children, am a high school chemistry teacher, attend a rural local Southern Baptist Church, an ordained deacon, but consider myself a Christian first and Baptist second.

  37. Since when is being a Baptist a bad thing…

    Recently there was a BIG discussion at our local church on whether we should change our name. Some surveys have stated that having “First” in the name leads one to think that this particular congregation is all high and mighty or snobbish. Some of the same surveys stated that having the word “Baptist” in the name keeps people away.

    Since when has being first in an area to establish a baptist church been a bad thing?

    When did the word “baptist” start being offensive?

    Maybe I’m just old school but that’s not the “in” thing to be either.

    The reason I call myself a Baptist:

    My understanding and my interpretation of the Holy Bible (God’s inspired word written by the hand of man) aligns with the Southern Baptist Convention’s statement of faith. This statement of faith is called the Baptist Faith & Message.

    Now with that being said, I am a sinner saved by the grace that was provided by the sacrifice of the only Son of God whose name was Jesus. The process of striving to be like Jesus Christ is call being a Christian. Above all, I am a Christian first, husband second, father third, and Baptist further down the list.

    The question was asked, “would we be willing to remove any barrier to bring a lost soul to salvation?”. Short answer would be “Yes” but you really need to look closer at what that person’s barrier is. Saying that the word “Baptist” is their barrier is like saying the reason they haven’t accepted Christ as their savior is because they ran out of peanut butter. They are finding an excuse.


  38. I grew up in a SBC church and originally came to know Christ in that context, and, though I am no longer part of that denomination (or any denomination, for that matter) I have always desired to see them break through some of the walls that keep them locked up in their distictive religious box. They seem to come so close sometimes, but then someone snaps the denominational whip and they step back into the same old line.
    Recently, a comtemporary praise and worship band of which I am part was invited to play at a youth rally at a relatively small Baptist church in a relatively small community in West Tennessee — which is somewhat surprising, considering that none of us are Baptists. And, from what I remember from my own youth, it was the typical Baptist youth rally: pizza in the fellowship hall, 20 minutes of music (led by us), a 30-minute sermon by a visiting pastor/evangelist type, capped off with the extended (seemingly never-ending) alter call, while we softly played emotionally tugging music in the background.
    As the youth pastor pleaded with the teenagers to come down and make a profession of faith (lest they get killed in a car wreck on the way home and go to hell), I can remember feeling a strong urging from the Holy Spirit that something else entirely needed to be happening at that moment. What the Spirit communicated to me was that these kids desperately needed an opportunity to just talk — not give official testimonies from their pews, but rather to gather together informally and share what was on their hearts with each other and with their adult leaders. They needed someone to listen to them with open ears and hearts without a preset agenda or any time pressures to keep the program rolling. In short, God seemed to be saying that He wanted to speak through these kids, rather than through we professional Christians up on the stage.
    I came dangerously close to actually speaking up and trying to instigate such a thing, but, much to my shame, I chickened out. As a visitor and a nonBaptist, I was afraid I would get stoned (or at least pelted with unapproving frowns).
    As part of a simple/home-based church, I sometimes forget that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ within institutional churchianity do not enjoy the simple, Christ-given freedom to share absolutely anything that God places on their hearts without fear of persecution from their fellow believers. It just seems strange and unnatural. I wish I had the power or know-how to impart that kind of freedom to them, but, at the end of the day, they are going to have to reach out and grasp true freedom in Christ for themselves.