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2 divergent views from young pastors on Southern Baptist life

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Baptist Press today is publishing commentaries by pastors Brad Whitt and Ben Simpson that reflect divergent views on the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly in regard to the status of young leaders within the SBC.

Whitt is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Simpsonville, S.C., and immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist Pastors’ Conference. His blog post first appeared in the Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and has since been published in several other state papers.

Simpson is pastor of West Main Baptist Church in Alexandria, Tenn. His article in response to Whitt has been published in Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal.

The commentary that Whitt has adapted for Baptist Press appears first, followed by Simpson’s, which also has been adapted for Baptist Press.

Baptist Press readers can react to these articles by visiting BP’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/baptistpress


“Young, Southern Baptist … and Irrelevant?”

I’m not “young, restless and reformed.”

I guess you’d say that I’m young, Southern Baptist and, it seems, increasingly irrelevant.

You see, I’m just a pastor’s son who grew up with a love for my denomination — a Southern Baptist boy by birth and conviction.

I received my B.A. from Union University, a Tennessee Baptist university, my master’s from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (not supported by the Cooperative Program, but supportive of the Cooperative Program) and a D.Min. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Moreover, I have never wanted to be anything but a Southern Baptist. Being a Presbyterian has never appealed to me like it seems to some leaders in our convention and their protégés.

As I travel around the SBC, I can see that I’m in the majority; nonetheless, I can’t get away from the overwhelming feeling that in our current denominational world, I am presented as the dinosaur — albeit only a 37-year-old one. It’s obvious when I see who is lifted up as the future of our convention — the hip and cool up-and-comers with whom I have little in common — that my breed is in danger of becoming extinct.

In spite of what is being communicated today, I don’t believe that wearing a coat and tie when I preach (at least on Sunday mornings) makes me ineffective in reaching this or even the next generation. I still love to hear a powerful or dynamic choir special. I believe in giving an invitation at the end of every service. Public invitations are still effective. The church where I serve baptized more than 100 people just last year.

I like for the auditorium lights to be on so that I can read my Bible. Also, I don’t get so tired from preaching on Sundays that I need a stool, and I still preach from a pulpit (or, technically, a podium).

While the current batch of “young leaders” so many reference these days appear to be weaned on non-Southern Baptists like Tim Keller and C.J. Mahaney and are taught to give rock-star status to John Piper and R.C. Sproul, I grew up loving men like Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines. Both men invested their lives in and among Southern Baptists.

I have pastored a new work in Tennessee, served as a North American Mission Board church planter in Ohio and have served as the pastor of a nearly 100-year-old church in South Carolina for the past nine years.

I’ve been honored to serve on committees or as an officer at the associational, state and national levels. Unlike the hipsters and their mentors, I’ve led the churches where I’ve served — sometimes at the expense of hiring another staff member or a building a new playground or expanding facilities — to give sacrificially through the Cooperative Program as well as to the Lottie Moon Christmas and Annie Armstrong Easter offerings. At the same time, our churches were personally involved in mission projects here and abroad.

I am not ashamed of being a Southern Baptist, and I am proud and passionate about my SBC involvement. I have benefited personally from the cooperation among Southern Baptists, and I don’t believe that there is a more effective and efficient way for churches of all sizes to make an eternal impact on this world for Jesus.

It’s not that we can’t and shouldn’t make changes. But so much of what is being proposed today is presented in such a way as to sweep in this new breed that has, at best, “soft” Southern Baptist convictions and commitments. In fact, there seems to be a system that increasingly promotes those who are at the fringes of Southern Baptist beliefs and practice — those who are among the weakest identifiers with and supporters of our cooperative ministry.

I’m constantly counseled to “forget about it” — to pastor my church, preach and reach people for Jesus and let the convention do what it’s going to do.

At times, I think my counselors are right.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a desire to include the majority view and membership in the future of the SBC. Just look at most of the personalities who headline our conferences and conventions.

And it isn’t that I haven’t tried to understand what this new in-charge minority thinks — I read their books, listen to their messages, and peek at their blogs and tweets. It’s just that they don’t have anything in common with the context in which I minister.

Their theology is different from that which I read in the Bible, and their methodology about how best to reach the world for Jesus is foreign to me as well.

I support international missions, but the hard work God has prepared me mainly to do is reach my neighbors. I believe God planted Southern Baptists where we are to reach our immediate spheres of influence first, and then by expanding outward we are to reach the world. And I believe that we can only reach as far around the world as we are strong at home.

It gets so frustrating that it would be easy to succumb to the refrains I hear (“just forget about it”) but the thing is, I really don’t want to forget about it. I determined when Jesus called me into the ministry that I would be a Southern Baptist pastor and that I would do my best to serve my church and reach this world for Jesus through the ministries and institutions that our spiritual forefathers had the insight and wisdom to put in place.

Do those ministries and institutions need to be fixed or tweaked from time to time? Absolutely.

Do we need to make sure that we’re just as effective and efficient with our personnel and funds as we can be? I don’t believe Jesus would have it any other way. After all, when you get right down to it, our entire ministry is funded through the tithes and offerings of believers in our local churches.

I love being a Southern Baptist, and I believe that our historic method of cooperation is the most effective means of helping churches of all sizes, from all parts of the country, with all sorts of different structures and styles, to reach the world for Jesus. It’s not always easy, and sometimes hard decisions have to be made when it comes to cooperating together for the Gospel.

But what would happen to the mission and ministry efforts of our convention if pastors like me supported the work of the convention in the same fashion of the “young, restless and reformed,” or their fathers in the ministry? What if we treated the convention with the same disregard or disdain some entity leaders seem to treat us?

The bottom line is that not everything in Southern Baptist life is broken. It appears to me that the larger issue is that much of that which has been and continues to be good about the SBC is simply out of favor with many of those who have managed to rise to positions of leadership within our convention. They have gained possession of the microphone, and they have determined that we’ve got to do things “radically” different — whatever the facts might be.

Definitely, some things need to be fixed and some just need to be tweaked, but changes should come from within by committed Southern Baptists who have invested themselves in the cooperative missions and ministries of Southern Baptists … and the Cooperative Program. Right now, too many “outsiders from within” have influence, and they resent who we are, what we do and how we do it.

I’ve discovered that despite being dismissed by those in vogue, I’m not irrelevant. In fact, the opposite is true.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is to grow and thrive, it won’t happen from the actions and attitudes of those who view our cooperative missions and ministries as outmoded and ineffective, or who see stateside ministry as “bloated” compared to missions overseas. It will take a greater emphasis from me, and others like me, on cooperation for the sake of the Gospel if we are to succeed in our combined efforts to win the lost. There is no limit to what Southern Baptists could accomplish for the Kingdom if we didn’t care who received the credit.

I’m not irrelevant. My kind of commitment to Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions and ministries just happens to be out of style with some at the moment. But styles change, and so does possession of the microphone.


“Young, Southern Baptist and Kingdom-focused”

I wasn’t born and raised a Southern Baptist. I was born and raised a sinner.

In 1980, I was born to my family in Bowling Green, Ky. You hear of people who are “E.C. Christians,” meaning they only go to church at Easter and Christmas, but my family wasn’t even that. Fortunately, faithful churches made sure I at least went to VBS — churches like Iva Missionary Baptist, Mt. Olivet Cumberland Presbyterian and Richardsville Baptist. Mt. Olivet even sent me twice to their summer camp. It was there, around the age of 10, that I first felt the Gospel draw of the Holy Spirit, but I resisted and hardened my heart. In high school, I sometimes went to Mt. Olivet or a Free Methodist church, and at the age of 17, God saved me. It was glorious, but I wasn’t saved in a revival service or even in a church building like many of the testimonies I hear. God saved me on my drive home from spring football workouts. At the Girkin crossroads, I pulled my car over and cried out to God in faith and tears to save me. I was eventually baptized at Hillvue Heights, one of the leading Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky.

I soon headed off to Hanover College in Indiana. It’s not Baptist-affiliated, but I wasn’t going for theological education. There I attended the weekly gathering of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry but mainly went to church at the Assembly of God because of its outstanding college ministry. During the summers, I worked at a United Methodist camp. It was there that God called me into ministry. Therefore, in my senior year, I pursued a ministry internship through my college. I wanted to learn about youth ministry, and one of the local Southern Baptist churches — Calvary Baptist — had the premier ministry. So, they took me on staff in 2002, and I began my relationship with the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been ongoing for roughly a decade now. Since then, I’ve served Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky, Indiana and now Tennessee and earned a master’s degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I’ve had plenty of opportunity to go down different Christian denominational paths but, in the end, I stand as a strongly committed, young Southern Baptist. I’m a Southern Baptist by choice. And I pastor a church that is strongly committed to the cause of Christ through the SBC. I want us to do even more!

Although I know from Scripture and experience that the Kingdom of God is way bigger than the SBC, I’m drawn to the SBC by its doctrinal fidelity to the Scripture and unrelenting desire to win the world to Jesus Christ. I love the emphasis on the autonomy of the local church and its grassroots authority. I’m thankful for the ingenuity and pragmatism of the Cooperative Program. I’m captivated by the commitment to unity in the essentials and mission of Christ while allowing diversity in the nonessentials and methodology. I’m very excited to serve Christ through the SBC!

Nevertheless, I’m afraid we sometimes get denominational tunnel vision, developing the mentality that if a person or church isn’t Southern Baptist, we must separate from them and not give them an ear. That approach is unnecessarily divisive and in the long run detrimental to the cause of Christ and our SBC ministries. Certainly, there are those from which we must separate at certain times due to theological impasse, but it must not be because they’re not Southern Baptist.

There is much we can learn from godly non-SBC people who love the Bible because, again, the Kingdom of God is bigger than the SBC. Otherwise, we should throw out all Christian influence prior to 1845 when the convention was formed. Can we not be true, committed Southern Baptists and have influence from other godly men outside the SBC with whom we have secondary doctrinal differences? I absolutely believe we can and should. In fact, we’ll be better for it!

Unfortunately, some have a vision of uniformity over unity in the SBC and see the true Southern Baptist experience as connected to a certain set of minor doctrines and a particular style of church — a suit-wearing pastor, a church choir, revivalistic invitations, certain sanctuary lighting, preaching from a pulpit. Let me say there’s nothing wrong with that style. Those words for the most part describe my church. But, even if that’s the majority style of SBC churches, that’s not what makes for a true Southern Baptist. My goodness, I pray we have loftier, more God-honoring goals than that!

A true Southern Baptist is one who is Kingdom-focused and more consumed by the glory of God than the glory of the SBC. A true Southern Baptist is one who loves and is committed to Christ more than the denomination. A true Southern Baptist believes the Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible, sufficient Word through and through. A true Southern Baptist has the heart of God for the lost and dying world. A true Southern Baptist upholds the doctrinal distinctives outlined in the Baptist Faith and Message, including cooperation.

Therefore, those who are true Southern Baptists come in many forms. Some are traditional while others are contemporary, progressive or historic. Some are covenantal while others are dispensational. Some are more Arminian while others are more Calvinistic. Some are continuationists while some are cessationists. Some are urban and some are suburban while others are small town or rural. Some use the KJV while others use a modern translation. Some are cowboys and hold their services in barns while others are white-collar professionals who meet in highly-modern ministry complexes, and there’s all in between.

Uniformity shouldn’t even be a goal for the SBC. There are simply too many different ministry contexts to not have diversity, but praise God that we have unity around the Gospel and our biblical Baptist distinctives outlined in the BF&M. There’s room for everybody who fits in under that tent. If we are not careful, SBC pride manifested in traditionalism could become a stumbling block for our cooperation and the very purpose for which we cooperate — evangelization and education.

Some are taking aim at those who do not fit their personal SBC mold, those who don’t give to the Cooperative Program at a certain percentage, and those who are trying to effect change through the Great Commission Resurgence and its implementation. Again, the SBC mold is found in being Gospel-centered and beholden to the biblical Baptist distinctives outlined in the BF&M. As for the CP percentages, each autonomous, cooperating church decides what percentage it should give in light of its ministry context. A church is not less faithful by choosing to hire a staff position rather than increase CP giving. Even more, when did giving a higher percentage to the CP become equivalent to having a higher commitment to the cause of Christ? As for the GCR and its implementation, Baptist Press reported that the amended report along with its recommendations passed the 2010 Convention vote by an estimated 3-to-1 margin. The Convention overwhelmingly spoke. Undoubtedly, some tough calls have already been and will continue to be made at all levels in response to the will of the Convention, but these changes must come as we realign ourselves for greater effectiveness for the cause of Christ through the SBC.

Personally, I’m encouraged by what’s happening now in the SBC. I feel like we’re heading in a direction that’s intentionally trying to make the SBC about the cause of Christ instead of about the SBC. The SBC doesn’t exist to perpetuate the SBC and its entities. It exists to spread the glory of God through the Gospel at home and abroad. Therefore, we must be ready to change radically if we lose sight of that goal or run into ineffectiveness. Otherwise, irrelevance is inevitable. I’m praying against Southern Baptist irrelevance. I’m hoping our commitment to the cause of Christ would always focus our commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention. May those who are truly Kingdom-focused be given possession of the microphone!
Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.

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