The past few years have been challenging for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Many of our churches have seen their memberships dwindle, and more than a few are expected to close their doors in the next few years. We hear a lot about baptism numbers decreasing. And our budgeting shortfalls have led to something I never thought I’d see — having to bring hundreds of IMB personnel home from the field.
At the same time, I see a lot that encourages me. God has raised up some amazing leaders in the SBC. Men and women are working tirelessly in our churches and in our entities to press forward in mission. A new generation of Southern Baptists is showing unprecedented eagerness to love their neighbors, win them to Christ, and get the gospel to the least-reached.
There also can be no doubt the SBC experienced unusual grace with the Conservative Resurgence. Why would the Holy Spirit have done that if He were not to follow it up with a new era of effectiveness for gospel proclamation among the nations? God does what He does not simply to preserve institutions, but for the sake of the Great Commission. Those past graces are down payments on God’s willingness to bestow future graces.
I know that cooperating with the SBC offers its fair share of challenges. Many young leaders are eager to jettison the institution altogether. They believe the days of the denomination are over. But we deceive ourselves if we think we’ll actually get more done by ditching the SBC.
Recently I read Tim Keller’s Center Church, in which he discusses the interplay between movements and institutions. He points out something that is easy to ignore: both need each other. It’s easy to see how institutions without movements quickly die. What we often forget, however, is that movements without institutions lack both staying power and the teeth to accomplish their agenda.
Is the SBC an institution? Absolutely. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Not in the least.
Take the church where I pastor, for example. At The Summit Church, we place an enormous emphasis on sending. Sending characterizes all we do. We talk about sending from the pulpit. We make it a significant portion of our budget. We constantly drip the vision of sending into every single ministry. Around the Summit, nearly everyone has heard our audacious goal of planting 1,000 churches in our generation. And by God’s grace, we’re beginning to see a lot of fruit in this. Our church is part of a growing missions movement.
But as movement-oriented as we are, we’re just one church. Last year, we sent out dozens of people to live on mission, both in the U.S. and overseas. We praise God for them! But consider that in that same year, the SBC seminaries graduated nearly 2,000 students. Even if you assume that many of them aren’t headed into pastoral ministry, that’s still over 1,000 graduates every year.
Together, as Southern Baptists — even taking recent changes into account — we still have more than 4,000 missionaries serving overseas, in almost every nation in the world. Because of our cooperation, those missionaries have training structures, care structures, and budgets that no single church in the U.S. could shoulder.
So yes, it is easier to be involved in a movement without the messiness of institutions. But it is not nearly as effective.
I truly believe the best days of the SBC are ahead us. That’s not rah-rah motivational blather, but a firm conviction that mighty moves of God among His people are intended to result in mighty movements to the ends of the earth. God sent us the Conservative Resurgence so He could lead us into a Great Commission Resurgence. There are still more than 6,000 unreached people groups in the world. That means the greatest things of God are right ahead of us. It is time again to expect great things of God, and then attempt great things for God.
Published December 20, 2017