NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)—-Describing the Southern Baptist Convention as “a frog in the kettle,” Jimmy Draper hit a nerve.
He wasn’t being disrespectful. A lot of folks understood what he was saying. And they agreed. Many thanked him for speaking out about the decline in baptisms and “lack of denominational involvement and loyalty I see among younger ministers” in the SBC.
Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, tapped the oft-told frog-in-the-kettle analogy in a column e-mailed June 23: Put a frog in a kettle of lukewarm water, slowly turn up the heat and “before the frog knows it’s too late, well, it’s too late.”
“I’m afraid the Southern Baptist Convention resembles the frog a bit too much these days,” Draper wrote in his periodic “[email protected]” column.
The SBC’s four-year decline in stateside baptisms “reflects a denomination that’s lost its focus,” he wrote, repeating the assessment he first voiced in April and repeated in his LifeWay report at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis in mid-June. “I fear there is a lack of urgency in our churches to baptize,” he wrote in his column.
Turning to the need for more young ministers in SBC life, Draper wrote, “Some of us older folks … have failed the younger generation by not creating a dynamic atmosphere and showing them the relevancy of being Southern Baptist…. Younger leaders are asking, ‘Is there a place for me at the table in the SBC?’”
Within 12 hours, Draper had received more than 100 e-mail responses, the majority from younger pastors.
“We are committed to the Bible, evangelism and missions but we see most of the convention as out of touch and irrelevant,” one such pastor wrote, before also noting, “I believe there is a movement underway among young pastors in the convention to build the Kingdom through the local church.”
Another younger pastor, who recounted that he holds a key leadership position in his state convention as well as one in his local association, nevertheless stated, “I have grown to view the denomination as largely irrelevant. Most of my members did not grow up Southern Baptist. They are prime examples of the lack of denominational loyalty which is more and more prevalent in our culture. They are looking for a church that is biblical, relevant and life-changing…. I strongly disagree with the political nature of all that is the SBC. I just don’t have time for it. There is too much to be done…. I think we have lost our focus!”
“I am thankful that you have addressed the problem of where the convention is headed,” another wrote. “… [T]here is a problem and it isn’t simple, as far as I know it isn’t ‘coordinated,’” he observed before noting: “and it isn’t a huge topic among most of the people that I know.” The pastor added that further discussion is needed along with the development of a strategy to address SBC baptisms and involvement of young leaders.
Several state convention leaders, asked for their observations by Baptist Press, affirmed Draper’s initiative.
B. Carlisle Driggers, executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention and co-chairman of the SBC’s Empowering Kingdom Growth Task Force, said Draper “has earned the right as a Baptist leader to make the observations he does in the article. He is so respected and appreciated by Southern Baptists all over the country. His comments are candid and very much to the point about the current situation within the entire Southern Baptist Convention.
“We are at a time when we are losing ground in reaching people for Christ, baptizing new believers into our churches and incorporating younger pastors and church members into the work of our denomination,” Driggers said. “I believe most deeply that if Southern Baptists could gain a true Kingdom perspective as envisioned by Jesus in the New Testament, we would see all phases of our work and ministry increase dramatically and consistently. I appreciate so much what Dr. Draper has written and I hope our people will take it to heart. We intend to do so in South Carolina.”
Other state convention leaders voiced similar sentiments. Among them:
— J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention who noted, “Some of our brightest minds and most committed leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention are to be found among our younger leadership. I have been impressed by their zeal and uninhibited devotion to preaching and sharing the Gospel to whomever, wherever, and whenever God leads. [The SBC at present is] so blessed with capable leadership that we could overlook a generation waiting in the wings, a generation of leaders who may weary of waiting and express their leadership in ways outside traditional Southern Baptist means.
“Somehow we have to come to the point of recognizing that the greatest value in one’s leadership is not in position but in leading people to Jesus,” White continued. “Then and only then will we properly order our priorities and begin to see the revival we pray for.”
— Bill Mackey, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said young leaders “want to participate in a way that will transform lives, families and communities. They do not consider denominational debates, bureaucratic rules and church conflict to be worth their lives. They want a vision like Empowering Kingdom Growth focused on Jesus and the biblical mandate to reach and disciple all persons.” (Draper, in his column, also had lamented, “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 trends in the SBC, Mackey said, “reflect the values of the leaders and members. In order for baptisms to increase, the way we value all people must take a quantum leap. Love demands that we engage people where they are. Only God can change a life. Only God can transform carnal believers into dynamic, loving, contagious and bold servant witnesses. Unreached persons are open to an authentic, loving and passionate follower of Jesus.”
— John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, said Draper is “on target. We are faltering in evangelism. If the tide does not turn in winning and baptizing people, we will forfeit our place and leave the next generation with a ‘shipwreck.’” SBC leaders need to make Draper’s concerns “an agenda item of serious discussion and come away with some definite suggestions other than a new mantra.”
Concerning the question of involvement in the SBC, Sullivan tapped a bit of figurative language as Draper had, saying, “We will need to make a place at the table for the younger leaders and not try to feed them when they get there. They know how to eat.”
— Thane Barnes, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention, noted, “We can do a lot of things well in church, but if we don’t share Christ we fail at the purpose for which Jesus gave His life. We can fellowship well, we can have wonderful times of celebration and do all kinds of community ministries and everything else, but if it doesn’t lead to people coming to Christ, we’ve missed the mark.”
Barnes referenced a study which found that evangelical pastors were far more focused on the Great Commission as the No. 1 purpose of the church than the members of their congregations. “So there’s obviously a tremendous disconnect in that whole area,” he said, suggesting that pastors not “assume anything” about what some church members may know about the basics of the faith –- or who might be responsive to the Gospel message to trust Christ, such as those who are “economically oppressed” or those who are “up and out.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said Draper “has put his finger on the pulse of the convention and correctly, I believe, hit the bull’s eye with his two concerns about our future.”
“Southern Baptists have been and must be forever evangelistic if we are to obey the Great Commission,” Chapman said.
Concerning involvement in the SBC, Chapman noted that “in a large convention such as ours, we especially must encourage each other constantly to help maintain and expand grassroots participation in His Kingdom’s work on earth.”
“Participation should be the objective of every Southern Baptist, whether the individual is sitting in the pew, preaching in the pulpit, teaching in the classroom or working with an association, state convention or SBC entity.
“Participation does not emerge from selfish and blind ambition, a jealous heart or even the invitation to serve,” Chapman said. “It emerges from a pure heart, stouthearted convictions, the courage to say what we believe, the grace to say it in a Christ-like spirit and the readiness to go when and where God calls.”
Chris Turner contributed to this article.