NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—-“Time will tell,” Jimmy Draper wrote, whether the Southern Baptist Convention is headed for trouble, much like the frog that doesn’t react when the kettle’s temperature is turned up.
“[I]f we cook, we have no one to blame but ourselves,” Draper concluded in a column that stirred a buzz of reaction after it was e-mailed June 23 from LifeWay Christian Resources where he serves as president.
Draper’s column, and his report in mid-June to the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, cited two key issues facing the SBC: a four-year decline in stateside baptisms and a lack of involvement by younger pastors in the convention.
The reaction to the column, including more than 100 e-mail responses within 12 hours, “tells me that this has touched a nerve that resonates with folks across the country,” Draper said in comments to Baptist Press.
“The majority of the responses I have had come from younger pastors who want to be part of the future of the SBC,” Draper said. “They love our vision and dreams and are ready to step up to the plate and continue the rich history of evangelism, missions [and] church development….
“All of the responses indicate that now is the time to communicate to the constituency of the SBC that a new day is dawning,” he said.
Asked what initial steps are needed to increase baptisms and the involvement of younger pastors in the SBC, Draper said: “Two things can be done now and must be done.”
First, Draper said, “We need to focus again on soul-winning and witnessing, along with a strong teaching of the ordinance of baptism being the first step of obedience that the new believer makes.”
Soul-winning and witnessing must become “a front-burner issue for our churches and ministers,” Draper said. “We have about 62,000 pastors and staff members in our SBC churches. If each of them led one more person to Christ this year than they did last year, we would see an increase of over 15 percent in baptisms. If each deacon and each Sunday School teacher did the same, we would be at a million baptisms. This can be done. We just need to do it!”
Draper noted that the SBC’s new president, Bobby Welch, has called for the SBC to reach the 1-million mark in baptisms, to be underscored initially by a bus tour touching all 50 states to begin in August.
“He will meet with churches and lead them to do witnessing that day and report back the result as a means of spotlighting this first need,” Draper said.
“Churches must again have soul-winning commitment day, maximize visitation for evangelism, honor the biblical ministry of the evangelist by inviting evangelists to minister in the churches and flood this country with witness and appeal to the lost.”
Concerning baptism, Draper commented, “To be saved and not be willing to be baptized or not understand the importance of obedience in baptism is a travesty on our faith and on biblical teaching.”
A second step Draper signaled “is to join hands together and listen to these younger leaders.”
“Some states are already doing this, but we need to make this a nationwide, convention-wide effort to gather these younger ministers together and listen to them.
“We have preached to them long enough,” Draper said. “It is time to listen to them.
“Let them tell us what they see the problems to be, but not stop there. Let’s insist that they help formulate a strategy to solve the problems and meet the challenge they present. That way, those who feel left out or ignored will be part of solving that problem,” Draper said.
John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, said in a statement to Baptist Press that Draper’s concerns are “on target” and called for SBC leaders to make them “an agenda item of serious discussion and come away with some definite suggestions other than a new mantra.”
On the issue of baptism’s importance, Thane Barnes, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, suggested in his June column in The Nevada Baptist newsjournal that Baptists give it the kind of status that Jews give to bar mitzvah celebrations for their young.
“If baptism is a major spiritual marker in someone’s life, why not make a bigger deal out of it?” Barnes asked. “Baptism is not only a significant event in the life of the participant, but what an evangelistic tool!”
Barnes then listed several ways churches can underscore baptism’s importance:
— “The church could supply 25 invitations for inviting family and friends.
— “A verbal testimony always could be shared.
— “Anniversary celebrations of one’s baptism could be a natural.
— “How about a baptismal certificate that looks as good as any diploma?
— “A framed picture suitable for an office, dormitory room or home could be a great conversation starter.
— “What about a day or night of baptisms?
— “Why not make it a high moment of worship instead of a prelude to the announcements?”
Chris Turner & Erin Curry contributed to this article.