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Draper listening session focuses on relationships

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. (BP)–The theme of improved interpersonal relationships dominated the fourth of eight listening sessions with young leaders conducted by retiring LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. in Broken Arrow, Okla., March 7.

Draper is using the final months of his leadership to draw attention to the lack of involvement of younger Southern Baptist leaders and why their participation is so important to the future of the convention.

Approximately 40 younger generation church leaders, predominately from Oklahoma, engaged in the dialogue with Draper at Broken Arrow’s First Baptist Church. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, was also present for the dialogue.

The guided roundtable discussions focused on five central themes — missions and evangelism; creative and innovative approaches to ministry; convention renewal; inclusion of diverse church methods; and bridging relational barriers.

Repeatedly, participants voiced the need for strengthened interpersonal relationships. One of the participants suggested the convention needed to move from a banker’s mentality to a broker’s mentality. Instead of being a repository of information, programs and materials, the convention needs to be a relational network of resources.

Such themes energized the participants into lively discussion groups. One participant shared with his group that he believes the SBC had an effective strategy in the 1950s and 1960s, but those strategies do not appear to be working now. The older church leaders are more comfortable with the old strategies, but younger leaders — those younger than 50 and especially those in urban settings — feel disconnected and “are ready to embrace a new methodology.”

Overall, most participants were complimentary about the dialogue with Draper.

“It was great to see someone interested in what those of us who are younger think,” said John Wanger, Baptist Collegiate Ministries director at Northern Oklahoma State College. “There is always a need for change in today’s world in regard to getting our message out and staying in contact with one another. The message, however, does not change. I am excited to see the possibility for some grassroots momentum in meeting the needs of Oklahomans, Americans and the world in new ways.”

Several participants suggested a new innovation group be formed to dialogue about new convention-wide strategies. “But we must guard against the temptation to merely repackage the old strategy,” another participant noted.

After the roundtable exchanges, Draper addressed the group. He recounted that during his younger days the dream ministry was serving a county seat First Baptist Church and a complimentary country club membership. This generation, he said, doesn’t think in those kinds of terms.

“This is the most visionary generation I’ve seen,” Draper said. “They don’t even necessarily want to go to an established church. They are just as likely to go start a church somewhere. This is a powerful combination: their passion for evangelism and the willingness to go anywhere.”

During the afternoon session, participants were given the floor to ask Draper any question relating to the convention or to express possible solutions. Shane Hall, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Tulsa, described the dialogue as a two-way street and said that younger generation pastors “needed to be willing to be engaged in the process. Too often we have had a singular Kingdom mindset.”

Tim Green, director of missions for the South Canadian Baptist Association who served as a table facilitator, said, “Our rope of sand [the Cooperative Program] will never be stronger than the weakest link, and I never want to be that weak link.

“I believe our greatest strength, our greatest challenge and our most amazing feature is our voluntary cooperation,” Green continued. “It must continually and forever form the context of all we do together.”

Draper noted that the theme of relationships has been a significant part of the discussion in his previous dialogue sessions.

At the outset of the process, he stated in a question-and-answer article in the January/February Facts and Trends, a LifeWay publication, “We need to facilitate mentoring and reverse mentoring. There definitely is a mutual need. We older folks have got to pull a chair up to the table for the younger ones. The enthusiasm and passion of the younger people is needed in any setting, whether it is the association, the state convention or the SBC.

“At the same time, the younger leaders need to learn from the experience of those who have gone before. That’s the kind of the mutual need we have of each other. The younger generation needs the prayer and guidance of the older generation and the older generation needs to have the fervor and passion that used to characterize their lives.”

Aaron Lynn, minister of education at Riverview Baptist Church in Bixby, Okla., said he was “very grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with LifeWay and the convention. It’s a good start, but let’s keep this going. Purposeful, consistent dialogue and action plans at the local, grassroots level may help churches reconnect.”

The series of discussions stemmed from Draper’s report to last year’s SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis when he initially expressed his concerns over the lack of involvement by younger ministers in Baptist life.

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  • John Yeats