One way to boil a frog is to put it in a kettle with lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat. The frog doesn't really sense the changing temperature 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, and it's time for us to realize the water is heating up.
Last week at the Southern Baptist Convention I introduced two concerns I have about the future of our denomination.
My first concern stems from the decrease in baptisms as reported for the fourth consecutive year in the Annual Church Profile. It reflects a denomination that's lost its focus on evangelism. It is hard for someone to argue to the contrary when more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches did not baptize a single person last year. Although we've seen tremendous strides in overseas baptisms, we are not keeping up with the population growth at home or around the world.
I fear there is a lack of urgency in our churches to baptize. I've heard from a number of people across our denomination that professions of faith are good enough. They are not teaching the importance of publicly identifying with Jesus through baptism — and they're ignoring His command to baptize His followers.
As part of our LifeWay presentation to the Convention, we included "man on the street" interviews and asked people to respond to such questions as, "What is sin?", "Do you believe that the Bible is accurate?", and "Where do you go when you die?". Some of the answers were a bit humorous, like the gentleman who replied that "strong alcohol" was a sin. Beyond the humor, however, the answers revealed a demographically diverse sampling of how spiritually lost people are. They see the Bible as a book of "fairy tales" and "folklore" handed down from previous generations. They are clueless that they are on the fast track to eternal separation from God. Who's going to share the hope of Jesus with them? These people, and the millions like them, are our responsibility.
Perhaps the main reason for the decline in baptisms is that our denomination is simply failing to reach people for Christ.
The second concern I addressed is the lack of denominational involvement and loyalty I see among younger ministers. Some of us older folks need to fess up that the fault for this lies with us. We have failed the younger generation by not creating a dynamic atmosphere and showing them the relevancy of being Southern Baptist. We've not taught people in our churches how the SBC and its entities work and relate to one another. 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? Younger leaders are asking, "Is there a place for me at the table in the SBC?" That question hits me right in the gut. How do we answer them? There needs to be a greater connection between them and those of us in positions of leadership — from the associational level to the state conventions and on to the SBC. We'd better address the question or the "50-something" leaders will be turning out the denominational lights when their ministries draw to a close.
The struggle over the last twenty-five years within the Southern Baptist Convention was for Scriptural fidelity — and we won. Let's do something with the victory. Unfortunately, there is a mindset that the younger ministers weren't there during the struggle so they don't have a part in the concentration of power that has emerged. I think many associate being young with theological liberalism. That's simply not true. All younger ministers are asking for is a voice to help determine the future direction of the SBC. They love our heritage and want the responsibility of being its caretaker. We have a choice: selfishly hoard the power and see our denomination die within the next twenty years, or transfer leadership, theology, and passion to future generations.
Is the Southern Baptist Convention the frog in the kettle? Time will tell, but if we cook, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Reprinted from the June 23, 2004, issue of LifeWay @ Heart.