RICHMOND. Va. (BP)–I’ve got two words for Jimmy Draper:
Sounds like a lot of other folks are reacting the same way to Draper’s June 24 Baptist Press column, “Is the SBC a frog in the kettle?” Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources and a long-time denominational leader, warned that the Southern Baptist Convention resembles the proverbial frog in a kettle of lukewarm water who doesn’t notice the water coming to a boil until it’s too late.
The column, which recapped remarks Draper delivered at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis last month, drew more than 100 e-mail replies within 12 hours of its posting. Each of those written responses probably represents many silent assents.
Draper’s two primary concerns:
— the decline in baptisms among Southern Baptist churches, which has continued for four consecutive years, according to the convention’s Annual Church Profile.
— a “lack of denominational involvement and loyalty” among younger ministers.
The downturn in baptisms points up “a lack of urgency in our churches to baptize” people who profess faith in Christ, Draper said. We’re not teaching -– or we’re ignoring –- Christ’s command to His followers to publicly identify with Him through baptism.
Worse, the baptism decline “reflects a denomination that’s lost its focus on evangelism,” Draper said, noting that more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches failed to baptize a single person last year. “[O]ur denomination is simply failing to reach people for Christ.”
As for young pastors’ apparent lack of interest in denominational involvement, Draper challenged older Southern Baptist church leaders to “‘fess up…. We have failed the younger generation by not creating a dynamic atmosphere and showing them the relevancy of being Southern Baptist…. We battle today over trivial issues like forms of worship, styles of leadership and approaches to ministry. These younger folks may not do it the way you or I do it, but who said our way is the only way?”
The majority of the immediate responses Draper received when the column appeared came from young pastors, he told Baptist Press. They very much want to “be part of the future of the SBC” –- if the denomination recommits itself to evangelism and if its current leaders “join hands together and listen to these younger leaders.”
Stubbornly doing things the old way because that’s the way we’ve always done it obviously won’t get it done. Neither will desperately trying any new thing just because it’s new. We need to do the main thing –- preaching Jesus is Lord and the only way to salvation -– in as many ways and languages as it takes to reach every generation and every people.
God can use any church that believes His Word, loves Him and obeys Him. He can use the little country church on the edge of town that’s steeped in tradition. He can use the edgy downtown fellowship that’s too new to have a tradition. He can use megachurches and house churches.
But God can’t use a church that lacks a passion for reaching the lost. If it has no heart for the world, it has no heart for Him.
Denominations that lose their evangelistic zeal are as dead as those that abandon their commitment to biblical faith and authority. Many “mainline” American Protestant groups have lost both. A once-thriving denomination met recently. Did they focus on reversing their long-term decline? Not according to news reports. Most of the delegates’ energy and emotion centered on whether to ordain active homosexuals -– a debate that’s been going on among the denomination’s leaders for 25 years.
Come to think of it, do the mainline churches talk about anything else these days? What happened to preaching the Gospel to a world that’s dying to hear it?
Southern Baptists aren’t there, thanks to a recommitment to God’s Word. But we might be slowly sliding toward another ditch: biblical orthodoxy without biblical passion.
We also might get diverted from Christ’s Great Commission to reach the world by constant rear-guard battles with the moral ills of our increasingly pagan society. We’ve told everybody what we’re against, new SBC President Bobby Welch said right after his election, but the “world needs to know what we’re for.” Evangelical believers in places like China and the Muslim world face far greater opposition than we do — to the point of shedding blood. But they’re focusing on the unfinished task of getting out the Gospel.
Encouraging signs are coming from several directions:
— Messengers at the SBC meeting in Indianapolis adopted a resolution calling on Christians to “engage the culture by speaking the truth in love.” That sure beats running from the culture, surrendering to it or constantly railing against it.
— Welch, a dedicated soul-winner, is hitting the road this year on a 50-state bus tour to encourage churches to knock on doors and share the Gospel. His goal for the convention: 1 million baptisms.
— Hundreds of congregations have signed on to the “Acts 1:8 Challenge,” a convention-wide initiative calling churches to reach from their own local “Jerusalem” to the ends of the earth, as Christ commanded.
— Southern Baptists surpassed through their $133 million Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal for supporting international missions this year, giving $136.2 million. That will enable the International Mission Board to appoint 200 more new missionaries than previously anticipated.
“The struggle over the last 25 years within the Southern Baptist Convention was for scriptural fidelity -– and we won,” Draper observed. “Let’s do something with the victory.”
Erich Bridges is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.