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Draper, younger leaders have initial face-to-face dialogue

BOSSIER CITY, La. (BP)–What began with a frog in a kettle has evolved into a series of face-to-face dialogues throughout the country that began Jan. 24 in Louisiana.

LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. visited First Baptist Church in Bossier City near Shreveport to show his support for and discuss the concerns of younger leaders throughout Louisiana. They’d gathered to brainstorm solutions to issues raised on LifeWay’s younger leaders online message board (www.lifeway.com/youngerleaders).

“I know the problems and you do, too,” Draper told the more than 60 men and women gathered in the First Baptist choir room. “But what are we going to do about it?”

With his “Is the Southern Baptist Convention a Frog in the Kettle?” column in June 2004, Draper opened the doors of communication with Southern Baptist leaders under age 45 by voicing his concerns about the “lack of denominational involvement and loyalty … among younger ministers.”

When responses to that and subsequent columns flooded into his e-mail inbox, Draper began inviting people to post their concerns, observations and opinions regarding younger leaders and the SBC on an online message board. More than 40,000 people have visited that site and about 1,700 have offered their insights since the site went live in November.

“The whole intent is to find a way to set up a dialogue like this,” Draper said of the website. “We can connect and find out what your concerns are.”

LifeWay pastoral ministries specialist Mitch Martin told the crowd that most of the message board entries fall into one of five main categories: missions and evangelism, creative and innovative approaches, convention renewal, diversity and inclusiveness without compromising Scripture, and healthy relationships.

“We don’t come with the answers,” Martin said. “We come with open ears and open hearts for you to talk to us.”

Louisiana State Convention Executive Director David Hankins and First Baptist pastor Fred Lowery joined Draper and Martin in welcoming attendees before about 90 minutes of breakout sessions began.

As Draper and others listened in, younger leaders met in groups to discuss each of the five message board categories and to brainstorm solutions.

“I wanted to be able to meet and get to know other people in the area,” said Robyn Horton, children’s minister at the Bossier City church. “I wanted to see what works and doesn’t work and improve our ministry together.”

Martin instructed participants to spend time in their groups considering the best way the SBC, the state convention and associations could address concerns raised on the message board such as encouraging networking opportunities among young leaders or creating more diversity among church leaders.

Groups then discussed ways individual young leaders could work toward solutions.

“We carry a responsibility to make a change for convention renewal,” said David Denton, a pastor and participant in the convention renewal breakout session. “I can model that for my personal renewal and for my congregation.”

Denton, who serves at New Prospect Baptist Church in Dry Prong, La., said he journeyed to this first younger leaders dialogue in hopes of hearing an “openness” from convention leaders. “This is very much a dialogue,” he said. “Before any decisions are made there needs to be a dialogue.”

Each breakout group eventually chose the best solution from its brainstormed list, and LifeWay’s younger leaders website soon will post those suggested solutions. At least six more younger leaders’ dialogues are scheduled nationwide in the coming months, and ideas from those meetings also will be posted.

This meeting in Bossier City featured a two-hour condensed format because it coincided with the state evangelism conference, but the other dialogues will allow attendees about five hours to discuss, network and frame solutions to convention leaders.

“We want them to know we’re listening to them,” Draper said. “We value their input and their relationships and their opinions. We want to help them feel they belong.”

The dialogues will culminate with a final meeting June 19 in Nashville, just before the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting also in the Tennessee capital. Martin said he hopes hundreds of younger leaders will attend.

The next younger leaders dialogue will take place Feb. 28 at California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif.
For more information, visit www.lifeway.com/youngerleaders.

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