EDITOR’S NOTE: Jason Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) — I had the privilege of meeting with executive directors of the Baptist state conventions in the Midwest earlier this year. I presented on how, together, we might best serve the churches in our region. We enjoyed a robust dialog after my presentation about how we might best accomplish these shared goals.
As I prepared for our time together, I was reminded of how similar our ministries are, and how many of our challenges and opportunities are common to us both. I also was reminded of how our constituency is one and the same — Southern Baptist churches.
Thus, I spoke not about what they should do, but what we should do, and how, together, we can best serve in the years ahead and most effectively incorporate the millennial generation. Here are key points of what I shared.
First, we must vigilantly maintain mission clarity. Like Midwestern Seminary, all ministries that are intended to serve the church must do just that — serve the church. Churches founded us, they fund us and they expect us to serve them.
How we best serve the church will vary from entity to entity and state to state. Nonetheless, we must know the needs and expectations of the churches we serve. We should study them, listen to them and give our energies and resources for them.
Meeting the needs and expectations of our churches may require fundamentally recalibrating longstanding organizational structures. If changes are needed, we must be willing to make them. If we do not, churches will eventually make those changes for us.
Most especially, in order to serve our churches, we must know their ministers. We must seek out opportunities to listen to them, network with them and truly consider their concerns and insights. We can — and should — take the relational initiative. After all, we are called to serve them, not vice versa.
Given the financial limitations most every Christian organization experiences, optimal stewardship is a must. Mission clarity informs optimal stewardship. Interrogating our own entities with the right questions is helpful to inform our stewardship: “What do our churches expect us to accomplish on their behalf, and how do we most optimally steward our resources to that end?”
These days, answering hard questions about perceived duplicative ministries, mission creep and overstaffing, among other things, are standard operating procedure. These questions should be welcome and be humbly responded to with clear and compelling answers. The burden is on us, as stewards on behalf of our churches, to continually earn their trust.
Southern Baptists are now experiencing a generational transition that touches nearly every aspect of our work. At the national level, young entity heads like Russell Moore, David Platt and myself are indicative of this transition. At the state convention level, generational transition is the norm as well.
Incorporating the millennial generation does not give away our future; it ensures it. This must include more than trying to sell them on the Cooperative Program. The millennial generation, like every generation, will support that which they are passionate about.
A generation that has given up much to follow Christ — and even more to pursue ministry — is most impassioned by ministries that are bold for the Great Commission, the local church and sound doctrine. As the late architect Daniel Burnham once observed, small thoughts and little plans have no magic within them to inspire the hearts of men. This is especially true when it comes to the millennial generation.
As Southern Baptists, how well we enlist, equip, empower and embolden the next generation will do more than shape our future; it will determine whether we have one.
As Southern Baptists we have a great story to tell. The health of our entities, the unique effectiveness of the Cooperative Program, the training and deploying of thousands of ministers and missionaries, and so much more are compelling reasons to be committed Southern Baptists.
For Midwestern Seminary, I want our value to Southern Baptist churches to be so obvious and impactful that churches reflexively look to us to serve them. That is a worthy goal for our state conventions — and every denominational entity — as well.
A compelling vision is never in the past tense. We must project what we are doing now and what, by God’s grace, we intend to do in the future. If that vision does not resonate with our churches, we must be willing to course correct until it does.
Inherited brand loyalty left town long ago, and it is not likely to come back anytime soon. We must make our case continually before our churches, and, thankfully, we have a makable case.
The executive directors with whom I visited are friends, colleagues and cherished ministry partners. They, and the entities they lead, are doing good Gospel work, often under challenging financial circumstances. I was pleased to speak to them as a brother to brothers, and we had a good and spirited conversation as a result.
Both the national and state conventions serve the same constituency — Southern Baptist churches. The SBC will thrive inasmuch as our state conventions thrive, and vice versa. As we most faithfully listen to and serve those churches, we will most complement one another, and our respective ministries will most flourish.