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James Merritt urges SBC leaders to model missions involvement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist Convention leaders and pastors must model missions involvement and soul-winning, the SBC’s new president, James Merritt, declared.

Jesus’ exhortation to carry the gospel into all the world should be taken literally by every Christian, Merritt said in his message during the opening session of the SBC Executive Committee’s Sept. 18-19 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Listing the top four priorities of his SBC president, Merritt signaled a focus on:

— heightened missions involvement.

— soul-winning.

— outreach to the next generation.

— nurturing future SBC leaders.

In missions, Merritt said he is exhorting the head of every SBC agency and each member of the Executive Committee to go on a mission trip somewhere outside America during the next two years, as well as every pastor to schedule a similar mission trip for people in his church.

“Giving to missions is no substitute for living missions,” he reminded.

In soul-winning, Merritt said he is exhorting the head of every SBC agency and each member of the Executive Committee to share their faith with a lost person by the time of the Executive Committee’s next meeting in February.

Merritt also noted that he is working with the North American Mission Board to promote a “Saved to Share Sunday” in Southern Baptist churches next year during which laypeople will have a chance to write out their personal testimony to serve as a witnessing tool.

“Dead orthodoxy,” Merritt warned, “is just as dangerous as live liberalism.”

In outreach to the next generation, Merritt underscored the urgency of youth-oriented evangelism by noting that:

— Southern Baptist churches recorded an all-time low number of youth ages 12-18 who were baptized last year.

— 88 percent of the under-25 generation in America “didn’t go to anybody’s church” last year.

— 50 percent of church youth group members will fall away from church when they go to college — and half of those will never return to church.

And, in nurturing future SBC leaders, Merritt underscored the need to motivate young pastors to take an interest in the SBC, see the importance of denominational loyalty, attend the SBC’s annual meetings and consistently participate in all other facets of Baptist life.

Merritt based his message on Isaiah 54:2-3, a passage in which God exhorts the nation of Israel to enlarge its “tent” in order to grow, which requires the strengthening of the tent’s “stakes.”

The SBC tent, which is enlarged by cooperation, already encompasses well over 15 million members in 40,000-plus churches supporting nearly 10,000 missionaries at home and abroad, Merritt said.

Citing the SBC’s six seminaries as an example, he said Southern Baptists through their Cooperative Program gifts for missions, ministry and training have “the opportunity to invest in the next George W. Truett,” in a reference to one of Southern Baptists’ most acclaimed preachers in years past, and “to invest in the next Lottie Moon,” in a reference to the turn-of-the-century missionary to China for whom the SBC’s annual international missions offering is named.

To those who claim that Southern Baptists’ tent is too narrow, Merritt said:

“Our tent is extremely broad. … Our tent stretches from ‘in the beginning’ to ‘even so, come, Lord Jesus.’ Our tent is as broad as the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is sufficient to save everybody, but is the only message that can save anybody.”

However, Merritt continued, the SBC tent “is not so broad as to compromise truth. Our tent is broad, but it is not so broad as to tolerate heresy … not so broad as to accommodate the spirit of an age where political correctness is more important than spiritual fidelity.

“Our tent is broad, but we will not broaden our tent if it means going back to the days when seminary professors defended abortion and homosexuality, denied biblical miracles and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and declared a universalism that substitutes sincerity of faith for salvation through Christ,” Merritt said.

“I want to say to all Baptists everywhere: If you believe [the Bible] has God as its author, salvation for its end and truth without any mixture of error; if you believe that this world is lost in sin and in need of salvation; if you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s only way to heaven; and … if you believe that the gospel should be taken to all the world … you will be extremely happy in our tent.”

In order for the tent to be enlarged, Merritt said, its stakes must be strengthened; otherwise, it will be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind that’s out there.”

The SBC’s stakes are strong, Merritt declared.

“Our churches can send their men and women to any of our six seminaries, knowing they will get a first-rate theological education,” Merritt said. “But even more important, they can be assured that their faith in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God will be built up and not torn down. They can be assured that they will be taught the whole counsel of God.”

The stakes also are strong in the SBC’s missions and evangelism agencies, with Southern Baptists in America having averaged more than 410,000 baptisms the last three years and giving record-setting amounts in recent years through the Cooperative Program, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions, Merritt said.

And, referencing the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Merritt said, “On every tough issue — whether it’s abortion, homosexuality, pornography, gambling or alcohol — this agency neither flinches nor falters in standing for what is right and what is true.”

Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Snellville, was elected by acclamation to the presidency of the nation’s largest evangelical body during the SBC’s June 13-14 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.