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FIRST-PERSON: A word to young & old in the SBC

BLACKSHEAR, Ga. (BP)–Ed Setzer’s column in Baptist Press, “What will it take to bring young leaders back?” last month, really struck a chord with me. Reading it aloud to my wife, she commented that it sounded like something I would have written. I only wish I had.

For reference sake, I proudly pastor Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear Ga., yet I do not think dropping the word “Baptist” from the marquee would be the unpardonable sin. I’ve never preached without a coat or tie, but casual dress is not the same as denying the virgin birth. I have never had a paradigm shift, but I think you can have one and still be saved. I do not intend to preach from a stool unless my leg is broken. But since I hold firmly to the sufficiency of Scripture, I must admit I have found no prohibition against sitting on a stool to preach.

I sincerely wish our conference speakers would simply stick to the Word of God and stop editorializing. For example: If you are going to preach against drums in church or contemporary worship songs, at least have the doctrinal integrity to step out from behind the pulpit. Don’t use the precious Word of God to justify an opinion that is nowhere to be found in the canon of Scripture.

Granted, a few nationally prominent “seeker” churches have given contemporary methodology a bad name. But it is possible to engage the culture and have sound doctrine. Every church that has a bass guitar hasn’t written the word “blood” out of the Bible. There are pastors who wear polo shirts and still preach the exclusivity of Christ.

In short, it is entirely possible to have drums without demons, tambourines without tongues, and choruses without charismata. I know of one such church and I am proud to serve as its pastor.

As an unapologetically conservative pastor of a church with music that is more contemporary than most Southern Baptist churches, I could have easily been offended by such extra-biblical comments if I had thin skin. But there is too much Kingdom work to do so I had to get over it. And therein is the basis of my comments here.

I am grateful to God that I am coming behind an older generation of SBC leaders and pioneers who didn’t head for the nondenominational hills because they had their feelings hurt. Yes, some of my fellow pastors do seem to equate methodology and style with doctrine and biblical conviction, but that is their problem, not mine. I am a proud Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist because of our doctrine, our cooperation and our missions emphasis, not because some denominational leader has stroked my ego by affirming my methodology.

So what if some fellow pastor thinks your music is too contemporary? Or too country? Or too formal? Or too staid? Should I withhold my Cooperative Program giving in protest? Should I make missionaries suffer for some personal offense? Should I align myself with a group that has drifted away from the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture? In the words of the learned apostle, “God forbid!”

Thank God that Judge Pressler, Dr. Adrian Rogers, Dr. Paige Patterson and other conservative leaders did not withdraw from the SBC because someone offended them. If they had been raised in my generation, they probably would have. I, for one, don’t need denominational affirmation to lead my congregation.

Some young pastors have retreated from denominational participation because they say their needs are not being met by the convention. But the conventions do not exist to meet my personal needs. And contrary to popular opinion, they don’t even exist to meet the needs of my local church, although many such resources are available. The Georgia and Southern Baptist conventions exist so that my church can partner with other likeminded churches to cooperatively meet the needs of others who need to know the forgiveness of Christ.

So, what will it take to bring young leaders back? Here are two words of advice:

To the older generation of pastors, please stop preaching your personal preferences as biblical principles. They are not, were not, and never will be canonical. But to my generation, quit wearing your feelings on your sleeves. It was not, is not, and never will be about you.
Mike Stone is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga.

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