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Young leaders’ ideas, SBC strengths aired in 4th Draper dialogue


GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–Make the Southern Baptist Convention “what you want it to be in years ahead rather than re-invent it” once current leaders move off the scene, Lifeway Christian Resources President James T. Draper Jr. told a group of young Southern Baptist leaders March 10.

“We want to show some of the great value and opportunity in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Draper said during a Younger Leaders Dialogue held at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. “If you were to decide how to carry out the Great Commission you would need resources, training and networking. You can’t do it by yourself.”

It’s a message Draper has taken to three similar gatherings in other states where younger ministers offered feedback that subsequently has been posted at www.lifeway.com/youngerleaders.

Near the end of the five-hour dialogue in Texas, Kerry D. Baxley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Splendora, told Draper, “We not only need to ask you to do some things for us, but we need to feed back to you those things that are positive….” Participants at the table where Baxley sat compared younger leaders’ appeals for change to times when Christians called on Hollywood to produce movies they could support. “When they did that, the Christian community forgot to show up,” Baxley said, emphasizing the need for young leaders to support the convention when leaders are responsive to expressed needs.

“It is a two-way street,” Draper responded. “You all are helping us learn and we need to keep doing that.” Additional dialogue sessions are planned near Atlanta on March 17, near St. Louis on April 25 and Northborough, Mass., on May 6, culminating with a Younger Leaders Celebration June 19 prior to the SBC’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Joining several dozen young leaders for the Texas session were representatives from the SBC Executive Committee, three nearby Baptist associations, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

SHAPING THE SBC’S FUTURE

Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman told the group, “It won’t be long before we’re off the scene and one of the things hopefully happening is the realization that you really are the immediate future of the Southern Baptist Convention.” Chapman encouraged them to recognize their responsibility in determining “where we go, how we function and whether or not we can continue to build the greatest missionary enterprise in the world.”

The coming generation also must ask whether SBC’s Cooperative Program channel for missions will continue to work, Chapman said. Although grateful for a dozen years of increased gifts from Southern Baptist churches to support Southern Baptist work around the world, he warned of an alarming trend reflecting a lower proportion of receipts being sent to the Cooperative Program.

“Twenty years ago the average church was giving 10.6 percent through CP,” Chapman said. “That percentage coming out of the local church has slipped to 6.99 percent. If that trend continues, obviously our missions enterprise around the world is going to be in a desperate condition.”

Boyd Pelley of The Church on Rush Creek in Arlington, Texas, noted that the trend may not be entirely negative. “A lot more is getting done in missions now than ever before because of the fact that churches are engaged in missions around the world more directly,” he said. “Probably the churches’ overall giving to missions and the influence in reaching the world for Christ is greater than it’s ever been, not less. We’re getting the best of both,” he said, referring to continued growth in overall CP dollars and direct missions involvement.

SBTC missions mobilization associate Tiffany Smith praised the International Mission Board for addressing the desire of churches to engage in overseas ministry, referring to field personnel assigned to connect churches with particular regions of the world.

Don Myers, pastor of First Baptist Church in Wills Point, Texas, appealed for scholarships for pastors who have never been on a mission trip, describing the impact church leaders can have on missions involvement after personally ministering overseas. Other ministers also testified to the increases in Cooperative Program giving after members participated in mission trips.

CHANGE VIA CHURCH PLANTING

One table of young leaders concluded that church planting offers the best vehicle for change within the SBC, with one pastor asking whether any current strategies communicate that priority. “That may be the one key to reaching America,” Chapman responded, recognizing that most growth in the SBC is among newer churches.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards noted that church planting is a priority within the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where 53 percent of Cooperative Program receipts from 1,600-plus local churches are sent out of state for SBC ministry worldwide — while 40 percent of the remaining CP funds are in-state for missions and evangelism. “No other department or ministry in SBTC equals that one line item for new church starts,” Richards said, noting that 275 churches have been started in the past six years.

Southwestern Seminary professor Gary Waller then described degree programs that divide time between the classroom and the mission field, giving students experience that qualifies them to be appointed as missionaries in North America or around the world.

In relaying a suggestion for practical training by changing the format of SBC annual meetings to include breakout sessions, Scott Maize, pastor of First Baptist Church in Borger, Texas, said, “Most of my generation is attending Warren and Hybel stuff,” in a reference to California pastor Rick Warren and Chicago-area pastor Bill Hybels. While recognizing the need to represent his church at the annual meetings, Maize said, “Oftentimes I get to the convention and say, ‘Did I use my church’s dollars wisely rather than going someplace where I could walk away with a tool?'”

Toward that end, Draper noted, LifeWay will be hosting a first-ever “Fast 50 … 50 Seminars for Growing Leaders” in the two days following the annual meeting in Nashville.

TACKLING TECHNOLOGY

Discussion at another table generated the suggestion that the SBC take advantage of technological breakthroughs to allow video conferencing with churches and individual Southern Baptists who cannot attend the annual meetings.

“I know there’d be messenger issues to deal with and what not, but instead of it being an isolated event it could be much more broad-based,” said Aaron Summers, pastor of Addington (Okla.) Baptist Church. “With the technology we have, it could even be internationally based. Missionaries who can’t just fly in for the meeting this year could be a part of what is happening.”

SBC Executive Committee counsel August Boto traced the progress made in recent years to provide online video streaming of annual meetings. “The technological hurdles of allowing full participation are not insurmountable, but they are many and some are expensive.”

Boto added that “Southern Baptists love to see our mission dollars hit the street,” prompting evaluation of whether CP funds should be devoted to high-dollar technology over evangelistic and missionary enterprises. “There are certain bells and whistles we could provide, but that comes at the expense of something else. We’re getting there as fast as we can with the tools we have,” Boto said.

In a discussion of the need for up-to-date literature, Boto praised the online teaching aids offered by LifeWay that supplement lessons printed months earlier. Draper described other products that address local church needs, such as reproducible, low-cost lessons at www.mybiblestudy.com.

Throughout the session, participants remarked that they had been unaware of some of the resources and training offered at the local, state and national levels by Southern Baptist entities. “You’re meeting the need that’s been expressed, but I’d venture to say that no one at our table knew that need was being met,” one participant stated.

THE TRUSTEE PROCESS

Another group encouraged the recruitment of young leaders as trustees of SBC entities as well as nominees from smaller churches. “With the majority of churches being those with 200 or less, the majority of representatives on committees tend to be [from churches] greater than that. It seems out of balance,” one man stated.

Draper, however, described LifeWay’s trustee board as being composed primarily of members of smaller churches. “My chairman was a pastor of a small church and the chairman before him was a Japanese-American from Honolulu who pastored a church of four to five hundred.”

Draper and Chapman explained the process by which trustees are recommended by a Committee on Nominations representing each state or region that relates to the SBC. Encouraging young leaders to contact the people in their own states who make recommendations, Chapman said, “Call them, talk to them, sit down with them. They are nearly always looking for people to serve. We don’t want any small number of us to determine who the trustees are, but if you don’t get into the process it will end up being a small number, and that’s not a good way to develop leaders.”

Other participants praised SBC leaders for returning the convention to a biblically sound base. Referring to various appeals for inclusiveness and diversity, Maize said, “I don’t think the question is to open this thing up wider. The reason some of us are here today is because men went before us in faithfulness to doctrine.”

Draper clarified that diversity and inclusiveness have been tied to a commitment to biblical fidelity. “I don’t mind innovation. What I’m afraid [of] is anything being seen as valuable regardless of doctrinal basis,” he said, just as it is wrong to see anything traditional “as the basis of being valuable when innovation actually is needed.

Merritt Johnston of LakePointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, acknowledged that some Southern Baptists of her generation “are going to go out and play a different game,” referring to non-SBC ministries that some local churches will support financially. “At some point we’re going to have to devote time to making change,” she said of younger leaders. “I showed up today because you asked me to show up and I want to say thank you for asking for my opinion. I feel like you guys are trying to right the ship. If there’s a leader who invests in me, I will follow that leader to the ends of the earth.”

Bobby Deets, pastor of Town East Baptist in Mesquite, Texas, said “conflict and fighting” was all he knew of the Southern Baptist Convention growing up. “I had folks trying to get me to choose sides as to where I’m going to land,” he said. “We need to understand you have fought a battle that is right and because of that the last year or so the waters have been calm.”

Praising Draper and other Southern Baptists for encouraging younger leaders to take up the mantle, Deets added, “Now it’s our turn to learn from you, then take the new generation coming behind us and teach them. That sounds very biblical to me. Rather than looking at your group and say you’re domineering and want to control us, we need to understand you have doctrine that is sound” and young leaders can take “the best of both generations” in shaping the SBC of the future.
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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter