LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–One year ago, I wrote a column, titled “An Open Letter to Young Southern Baptists.” I do not intend here to copy that entire first-person, but a quick reminder of the challenges I offered will help in understanding the words that follow:
— Know that many of us realize that we have much room for improvement. We older leaders are not ignorant of the concerns that grip you.
— Do review the history of this denomination. Remember that past and current leaders deserve respect.
— Do not give up on the SBC. You, your church, and the SBC lose if you simply walk away without patiently trying to make a difference.
— Continue to support the Cooperative Program even while you seek your role in the denomination. Be kingdom-minded enough to give even when the immediate benefits for you and your church are not always obvious.
— Stay focused on the entirety of the Great Commission. Refocus our churches on strong discipleship, but never allow evangelism to be a “back burner” task.
— Pray humbly for Southern Baptist Convention leaders. From pastoring a local church to leading a denominational agency, the tasks involved in SBC life are not easy.
That column ended with these words:
“Young Southern Baptist, I believe in you. I want you involved in SBC life, trusting that you affirm our clear stand on the Word of God, choose to live a God-honoring life, and are committed to the Great Commission. Be both patient and persistent with us, modeling humility for us in all that you do. All of us want to see God do a mighty work through this denomination.”
During the fourth week of June 2009, young leaders did show up at the Southern Baptist Convention, and their passion brought a renewed sense of excitement to the event. In light of that event, here is my follow-up letter — this time, written to older Southern Baptists (a group to which I belong).
Older leaders, we must first love younger Southern Baptists. This one is not difficult for me. As a seminary dean, I have the privilege of working with young men and women whose Great Commission focus puts mine to shame. Most are energetic, passionate, and unashamedly Christ-followers. They are deeply serious, yet genuinely fun. They want to make an eternal difference with their lives. They are, to state it simply, easy to love.
We must also listen to younger Southern Baptists. Whether or not we always agree with them, their voice is worth hearing. These are brothers and sisters whose Christian integrity, doctrinal fervor and evangelistic zeal deserve our attention. New voices that critique old paradigms should not threaten us. We will miss much if we choose not to hear their thoughts simply because they are young or inexperienced.
As we love and listen to our younger leaders, we must be willing to learn from them. There is no question that young leaders sometimes wrongly assume that they have the answers to whatever ails us. We have all thought that way at some point, and we recall with embarrassment our own youthful pride. But let’s be honest: If we assume that we have nothing to learn from leaders younger than we are, we, too, are gripped by arrogance. We who claim maturity should know better.
We must also labor in prayer on behalf of our younger leaders. As Paul prayed for Timothy — remembering him constantly, night and day (2 Timothy 1:3) — we must intercede now for those who increasingly lead the good fight of faith. The enemy aims his arrows at young leaders, knowing that their youthfulness makes them vulnerable. Hence, our most important work on their behalf might well be what we do in our prayer closets.
Finally, we must still lead younger leaders. That’s the way it ought to be — older leaders leading younger leaders, who then are better prepared to lead on their own. Indeed, I can say with certainty that young leaders long for strong, faithful, experienced, godly Christian leaders to pour themselves into their young lives. Young leaders may stretch us, challenge us, and even dislodge us from our comfort zones, but we must not abdicate our responsibility to help guide them. They still need us, and we still need them — and a dying world needs all of us working together for the sake of the Great Commission.
Charles E. Lawless Jr. is dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at www.biblicalchurchgrowth.com.