NASHVILLE (BP) — Southern Baptist entity heads addressed some of the challenges to the convention at a gathering of young pastors and leaders.
The presidents of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Executive Committee and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission responded to questions Aug. 5 from a group of nearly 100 church leaders who are primarily in their 20s and 30s. The ERLC hosted the meeting at the Southern Baptist Convention building over a dinner provided by the Executive Committee after the conclusion of the ERLC’s National Conference the same day in Nashville.
[[email protected]@180=“What keeps me up at night is tax exemption.” — Russell Moore] When asked about the SBC’s short-term, internal challenges, Executive Committee President Frank S. Page pointed to a de-emphasis on evangelism and the need for cooperation among various groups.
Page noted he “is deeply concerned that we have so emphasized certain aspects of our ministry to the almost exclusion of personal evangelism” that if Southern Baptists don’t return to a proper understanding of sharing the Gospel they will see a decline in people in churches and seminaries.
Page also believes Southern Baptists need to be more proactive in bringing together “theologically disparate” and “methodologically disparate” groups, he said.
ERLC President Russell Moore said the short-term, external challenges for the SBC involve both society and government.
Most Southern Baptist churches are unprepared for “social marginalization in ways that are felt in real terms, not just in abstract terms,” Moore said. American society could view a church that refuses to receive into membership an unrepentant gay, lesbian or transgender person as “the equivalent of a white supremacist group,” he explained.
“So if the culture adopts the mindset that people who hold to biblical understandings of sexuality are the equivalent of white supremacists, then there’s a level of social marginalization that I think we’re ready for in the abstract but you’re not quite as ready for when you have the guy who is knowing he is not going to be promoted if he’s a member of your church, especially when that is the person who is just starting to visit or to attend,” Moore said.
Regarding challenges from the government, what concerns Moore now is not churches being forced to perform same-sex weddings, he told the audience.
“What keeps me up at night is tax exemption,” Moore said. If tax exemption for churches and religious non-profits is removed, he said, “[Y]ou have people who are giving who are double taxed right away on their income that they’re giving. And you can immediately, immediately, see colleges, universities, seminaries, mission boards shut down, along with church plants and churches all over the country.”
While he doesn’t think the revocation of tax exemption will occur, Moore said, “[T]he only way that will not happen is if you have Christians in American life who are making it very clear to the outside world we are not going to simply accommodate on these things.”
Ethnic diversity in the SBC was another issue the entity heads were asked about.
“We are working real hard on this,” Page responded. “We’re doing lots of good things at lots of different levels,” but he also acknowledged the SBC has “a long, long ways to go.”
While he is not promoting an “affirmative action system,” he urges SBC entities to seek more ethnic diversity in their staffs and trustees, Page said.
“We have seen some dramatic changes in the ethnic makeup in our staffs, beginning with the Executive Committee,” he said.
At a similar dinner for young leaders in October, Moore, IMB President David Platt and NAMB President Kevin Ezell all said they are intentionally seeking to alter the shortage of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others on their staffs. Investments are being made in SBC life that should produce future dividends, they said.
Platt and Ezell also participated in the Aug. 5 panel discussion, which was moderated by Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC’s executive vice president.
The panelists in the question-and-answer time also addressed how to navigate a convention in which young adults and youth are eager to take the Gospel to the nations and older adults are providing much of the funding.
“It’s incumbent upon every age group in our convention to be very deliberate and to be very committed to recognizing the giftedness of every generation,” Page said. Southern Baptists must realize they are a “very, very divergent” denomination and fight “stereotypical ageism and really be inclusive,” he said.
Platt said he will pray for “a missional awakening” across the board — among students, professionals and retirees.
Also at the dinner, J.D. Greear — lead pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area — explained why his church is part of the SBC. He said the church is participating in a five-year commitment of increased giving to the Cooperative Program, the convention’s unified plan of giving to support the missions and ministries of the SBC and state conventions.
Rather than working by themselves, their investment through the SBC in “time and talents and treasures” has been multiplied for the sake of God’s kingdom, Greear said. “We just understand that God never designed Christians or churches to act independently. There are benefits of fellowship. There are benefits of cooperation and mission that you just can’t replicate.”
When he looks at God’s work in the SBC in the last five years and beyond, “you see that these are gifts that God has given to our convention,” he said.
Greear shared four things he prays regularly for the SBC:
— “A renewed love of the Gospel.
— “The right leaders to be raised up.
— “A renewed efficiency in mission.
— “A renewed commitment to radical sacrifice for the Great Commission.”