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A ‘missional’ revolution needed in SBC, younger leaders say

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–James T. Draper Jr. called for a revolution. Jeff Harris called for it to be plotted on a napkin.

Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, opened June 19’s Younger Leaders Summit –- the climax of a year-long effort to engage younger Southern Baptist leaders more directly in denominational activities -– with the comment that the conservative resurgence was good and necessary, but it was in the past.

Younger leaders, Draper said, are mostly conservative and do not want to keep fighting a battle that many of them were hardly old enough to remember. The Southern Baptist Convention needs to focus on reaching a lost world, he emphasized, and doing so will require change.

“I do not see this as the end but the beginning,” he said as he opened the summit, held at the Global Café in downtown Nashville. “I hope this thing is just getting started and that it grows from here. It is time for a revolution.”

Harris proposed what may very well become known as the “Napkin Test.”

“If you can’t tell somebody what you stand for in the space of a napkin, then you don’t clearly understand the message you are trying to communicate,” said Harris, pastor of Gracepoint Church in San Antonio, Texas, and a featured speaker at the summit.

“The SBC needs to be able to write on a napkin what its message is,” he said. “Unfortunately we are more known for what we are against than what we are for. I don’t want to have to apologize or think twice before telling someone I’m a Southern Baptist. I don’t want to worry about how they’ll respond or take something I say.”

Harris’ comments came near the end of the two-hour rally hosted by Draper and attended by more than 400 people. Draper introduced the need to involve younger leaders in the denomination at last year’s SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis. He followed his convention address with a series of columns challenging Southern Baptist leaders to “make a place at the table” for younger leaders. He’s spent the past six months visiting nearly a dozen locations around the country for dialogue sessions with younger leaders. At the June 19 event, Draper kept his comments brief in order to hear further input from the younger leaders.

Ed Stetzer, director of research at the North American Mission Board, addressing the lingering effect of the “Battle for the Bible” 25 years ago, said, “We’ve had a conservative resurgence but what we need now is a missional resurgence. This is not an age issue but it is a missional issue…. We’ve got our theology in order; now let’s get our mission together.”

SBC President Bobby Welch appeared impromptu near the end of the meeting and concurred that a revolution was needed within the convention.

“We’ve got to change,” he said. “I don’t really know how to get there from where we are, but I know we need to get there. I do know we’ve got to start now.”

The session’s initial speaker, Robby Partain, director of missions and evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, set the tone for the meeting by focusing on the word, “It.”

“‘It’ is not about doctrine,” he said. “Doctrine is not the motivation for involving young leaders in the denomination. ‘It’ is not about wooing young leaders with a position or place in the denomination. Serving on boards and committees is not a motivation. ‘It’ is about the mission. That’s what motivates young leaders and motivates them to network for the purpose of the mission. Younger leaders are going to partner in one way or another. The question is, ‘Will the SBC be a network younger leaders want to be a part of?’

“We have to focus on penetrating lostness. It is about the mission,” Partain said.

Robert E. (Bob) Reccord, president of NAMB, said he was challenged to think of what the content of his last message would be if be if he knew he’d die afterwards. “The mission,” he said. “I’m begging you to answer [Jesus’] call. Tell His story and not yours. He is at the center of the story. Then go and change the world.”

Reccord said there would be “radical change” at NAMB to better include younger leaders, including associational missions strategies that focus on mentoring. “We’ve got associations standing in line for this opportunity,” he said.

Adam Greenway, pastor of The Church at Andover in Lexington, Ky., and a new LifeWay trustee, said the SBC is important because the denomination embodies resources that enable the widespread saturation of “the message,” but younger leaders must engage the process.

“We’ve got to be willing to pay the price,” Greenway said. “We can take the easy way and sit on the sideline and criticize the denomination. [But] our role is to show up, get involved and decide we are willing to pay the price. [Our involvement] matters because there are people who need to know.”

Welch echoed the challenge and extended it to both young and old.

“There are two roads to the same dream,” he said. “One road is traveled by older people who have gotten near the end of their ministries and never got to where they envisioned themselves going. They are disappointed and feel like they’ve failed. They are hungry for one more shot for giving their best for the rest of their lives.

“The other road is traveled by younger folks who are looking for something to give the rest of their lives to. Here’s what I’m saying: Older guys, don’t lie down and quit on us, not now. Younger guys, don’t turn and run away from us, not now. Together there is nothing like [the SBC], but we must have a unity of purpose for reaching a lost world.”

Chris Seay, pastor of Ecclesia, a Houston congregation, spoke about creative approaches and said Southern Baptists are becoming known for being dogmatic. “Doctrine is important,” he said, “but being faithful to God is more important.”

Part of being faithful, Seay said, is for Southern Baptists to understand the beauty in the truth of the Gospel, truly being incarnational witnesses for Christ.

Harris called for a unity of purpose that unites all generations within the denomination for the sake of the Gospel.

“The foundation of tomorrow is built by some of you who currently have the power to make change,” he said. “Step back for a moment and ask, ‘What am I going to leave behind?’ We don’t want your jobs, we want your vision. We need the current leaders to unite us once again.

“Younger leaders, we will never have a voice in the denomination without serving it. We must catch the vision and decide what we are going to do with it.”

And that, Harris said, is where the napkin comes in.

“We need to be able to write on a napkin what we are about as Southern Baptists, then pursue it. That’s what really matters.”
Additional information and multimedia files from the summit are available for download on www.lifeway.com/news and www.lifeway.com/youngeleaders. Draper also provides his perspective on his Weblog at www.lifeway.com/weblog/jimmydraper.