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FIRST-PERSON: Are ‘Baptist’ and ‘Biblical’ synonyms?

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the second in a series of four columns about emerging young leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention by Bob Reccord, president of the North American Mission Board, and Ed Stetzer, NAMB’s director of research.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Young leaders. Some folks find them hard to understand. Wasn’t giving them positions of leadership -– such as service on committees -– enough to challenge them, make them happy, get them involved?

But now it appears the issue was bigger than that. Jimmy Draper has helped us to see that there is not a long line of gifted young people waiting their turn to serve in positions of leadership in the SBC. If we take a closer look at the reasons, we find that the issues which matter to younger leaders are theological and missional. Theologically, they want “Baptist” and “biblical” to be synonyms. Missionally, they want Baptists to find new ways to reach our communities and the world.

Emerging leaders in Southern Baptist life are, well, not liberal. There might be a few bad apples out there, but it would be rather odd for them to stick around in a denomination known for its serious commitment to theology, evangelism, preaching, etc. Quite the contrary — many of them have been trained in our fine seminaries and have deep convictions that Scripture is authoritative and sufficient, and they are ministering accordingly.

It’s interesting. As a denomination we’ve spent more than two decades telling young leaders that we must take the Bible seriously. Should we be surprised that they do? When younger leaders question some long-held traditions, we should not be surprised — they are the result of the theological resurgence. The young leaders I know passionately believe the Bible, and they enthusiastically embrace our faith statement (and, to be fair, those are the circles in which I run).

Thus, the issues that are driving younger leaders away are not theological; they are cultural and missional. They are tired of being told that dress, worship style and traditional practices are biblical mandates when they are found neither in the Bible nor in the denomination’s faith statement.

There is a gap between our talk and our practice — we say it’s all about theology and mission, but it appears to be more about doing things a certain way, a way based more on 18th century practices than first century Scripture.

Young leaders talk about cultural relevance. From what I hear at some conferences, older leaders are worried about what that means. Young leaders want ministry options that move beyond the models they inherited. Young leaders have determined that, in many cases, the models of the past are no longer effective (and the baptism stats seem to verify this), so they’re hungry to see new expressions of biblical church and ministry that are effective in reaching their community. They want to be missionaries in this North American mission field. In short, they want to be missional.

In essence, we’re talking about their desire to be Christians who are living in a mission setting. As a result, their expressions of biblical worship use diverse music, preaching styles, dress, etc. It’s not about hipper clothes and cooler music. It’s about being God’s missionary where He has placed us now, not 50 or 500 years ago.

They want to be in the type of convention that Bob Reccord talked about in the first column in this series — a convention that welcomes all kinds of scripturally sound missional churches: traditional churches, purpose driven churches, emerging churches, churches that meet in homes.

If you are concerned about the influence of some theologically aberrant younger leaders, the answer is not to call all young leaders back to hymns, suits, and the King James Bible. Instead, it’s to create venues where young leaders — and some not so young! — can learn biblically sound innovations and methods.

The conservative resurgence accomplished its purpose, and we have a group of young leaders committed to biblical theology and missional ministry. We must not now fight for our traditions as if they were our doctrine. They aren’t the same thing.

Younger leaders want to lead churches that are theologically sound and missionally committed. If they don’t find the SBC to be biblical and missional, they will find their own fellowships, and we will be the weaker for it. We had a theological resurgence, but young leaders want a missional resurgence, too. They want “Baptist” and “biblical” to be synonyms, and they want to get busy reaching the world!
Ed Stetzer serves as director of research at the North American Mission Board. A missiologist, he is the author of several articles and books on missional ministry.

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  • Ed Stetzer