I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. And the Lord answered me, and said, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." (Habakkuk 2:1-3, KJV)
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14, KJV)
In July 2000, the Southern Baptist state executive directors and presidents of SBC entities met in Nashville for a historic meeting. At no time in history, to anyone's recollection, has there ever been a meeting of the two groups. Before the meeting concluded, the Task Force on Cooperation, composed of four state executives and four SBC entity presidents, was elected.
Over time the conviction came that God wanted us to cast a vision before Southern Baptists. Our group discovered that South Carolina Baptists had followed a vision for nine years. What they have done became our model. The task force asked Carlisle Driggers, a member of the task force and the state executive director of South Carolina, to be the architect for defining our vision in a way we could communicate it to all Southern Baptists.
We are recommending tonight that you endorse the vision and approve the document Carlisle Driggers is about to present to you. This paper will become the guiding outline for casting the vision.
We have been praying for God to ignite a movement. Therefore, this vision does not include programming recommendations. We are praying that when we cast the vision across the country, Southern Baptists will catch that vision and its spirit. Consequently, the task force, under the theme, "Empowering Kingdom Growth" is going to ask all Southern Baptists to begin praying and asking God to reveal to them how they may best serve Him for the sake of His Kingdom. Hopefully, this will be done individually, as well as collectively in our churches, associations, state conventions, and SBC entities.
Movements spring from grassroots initiatives. We must pray that, once the vision is cast among the people, He will honor our efforts and touch the hearts of our people. Then, and only then, do we have any hope the people will be stirred by God's Spirit to build the Kingdom of God. If His Spirit stirs the Southern Baptist "soul," a movement will be born and the vision will come bubbling to the surface and be transformed into the primary "mission initiative" of each and every Baptist. Then, and only then, will they catch the excitement of seeing God do something inexplicable to the minds of men.
In the last twenty-three years, we have been through one of the more defining periods in Christian history. The effort was a process of gigantic proportions. Those who led the way deserve our heartfelt thanks for a job well done, even in the most trying circumstances. Because of it, Southern Baptists once again are known unequivocally as "a people of the Book."
Through the process, Southern Baptists have rediscovered their true heritage. We are a people who believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, Word of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts.
And now, Southern Baptist leaders are being accused of using the Baptist Faith and Message as a creed. Strange, but Dr. Duke McCall, for thirty-one years the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his new book entitled, Duke McCall: An Oral History, refers to how the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message was revised amid denominational controversy. He said, "We have moved farther toward accepting the 1963 document as a creed than we ever approached accepting the 1925 document as having creedal force." Perhaps every confession we have ever adopted has been accompanied by such observations and/or criticisms.
We are a people who believe not in a creed, but in a confession. This confession defines who we are biblically, doctrinally, theologically, and ecclesiologically. This confession defines the foundational truths that we accept Christ as the exclusive way of salvation and upon Him we build our lives. This confession is a statement of the basic beliefs of the vast majority of Southern Baptists. If it were used as a creed, every Southern Baptist church would be required to agree to it. Will this happen? Absolutely not. Our church governance, our polity, respects the autonomy of the local church. Each church determines its own confession. Do most Southern Baptist churches believe what is written in the Baptist Faith and Message? Absolutely. But they are free to adopt this confession, write their own confession, or have no formal confession at all. Actually, a church has a confession whether it is written or not. If unwritten, it will be defined by the pastor's sermons and the lives of the members every day, right or wrong, good or bad. The Baptist Faith and Message is the confession of our basic beliefs to a world wondering what common convictions draw us together as a body of baptized believers.
The question has been raised, "Should Southern Baptist employees, those interacting with the world and communicating what we believe, be required to affirm the Baptist Faith and Message?" And I ask, "Why not? Why would our Southern Baptist churches not want our Convention employees communicating to others what the vast majority of Southern Baptists believe?"
Several months ago, as on other occasions in my life, I found myself faced with the question, "What is your passion?" John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, says, "The soul longs for passion, for freedom, for life." The question about passion seems always to hit me when I least expect it. As a result, I have found myself asking, "What am I doing for the sake of God's Kingdom?" The question about my passion has made me more conscious of how desperately people everywhere are looking for a genuine, life-changing, everlasting answer to their problems.
We, therefore, are compelled to ask ourselves, "Will the Southern Baptist Convention — with such a vast body of people, with so much organizational expertise — ever be able to regain the dynamics of a small band of believers about whom we read in the New Testament?" They were huddled together and talking in hushed tones about what they had seen and heard, the very miracles of a loving and compassionate Savior. They lived with such expectancy that the years have not diminished their witness or our ability to feel the intensity of their passion for Jesus.
Do we want desperately to change the world? Will we pay the price? Will we make the necessary sacrifices? So far the answer is "No." For all our efforts, our wheels are spinning in place, and we are not making enough progress fast enough. We are not changing our world.
The world will be changed not because of our intellectual prowess, sterling physical features, charismatic presence, or even hard work. It will be changed because we are faithful, finding ourselves to be weak, yet discovering in our weakness He is made strong (2 Corinthians 13:4).
The world may not read our names in history books, or on the marquees of a society looking for a thrill-a-minute. Nevertheless, Christ will live in the hearts of those who came to Him because we sought to make witnessing to an unsaved world the urgent and irrefutable reason for living. Every program, promotion, emphasis, ministry, and mission ought to lead others straight to the foot of the cross.
Brave hearts will be the lasting witness of our time on earth, not our organization, not our resume, not our name, not our possessions, not our church buildings, not our invitations to speak, not our travels, not even our pride in a job well done. The race is to be run that others may see Jesus in us. Nothing else. Nothing less.
The Southern Baptist Convention is blessed with many successes. For those, we give thanks to God. Only according to His will and by His power have Southern Baptists been able to advance the gospel as no other missionary enterprise in the world. We have some of the finest trained minds a seminary education can produce anywhere, and we are able to speak "loud and clear" to the critical social, moral, and religious liberty issues of our day.
Have there been failures along with the many successes? Certainly. No person lives life without experiencing failure — and neither do organizations. Some of our greatest successes were built upon the backs of our failures.
I hope the questions below will stir your heart to search for other mountains to conquer. I pray we shall ascend the mountains together, fully realizing that without each other, any one or all of us could be dashed upon the rocks below. If we do fail, we will never experience the fulfillment of our hopes and expectations. If we are pressed to claim any or all of the failures listed below, then the question is, "What shall we as leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention do about our failures? Can we lead the Convention to new heights, even at the risk of greater failure? Are we willing to walk by faith, fully depending upon His grace and mercy?"
Are We Failing to Lead?
• Are we failing to define a unified vision among Southern Baptists?
• Are we failing to focus on a unified vision?
• Are we failing to fulfill a unified mission?
• Are we failing to define the parameters of the "tent" in which Southern Baptists shall reside?
• Are we failing to strategically capture the imagination of Southern Baptists and create challenging initiatives?
• Are we failing to engage and empower Southern Baptists for the achievement of defined objectives?
• Are we failing to harness the power of a cooperative force for the Kingdom?
• Are we failing to call Southern Baptists to higher spiritual pursuits and sacrificial holiness?
• Are we failing to communicate with the masses that are waiting to follow leaders who know where they are going and are guided by God's Spirit in getting there?
• Are we failing to enlist pastors and lay leaders to help us in leading the Convention into this new millennium?
• Are we failing to emphasize the critical importance of teaching our basic beliefs in the churches?
• Are we failing to communicate that one of the major reasons our society is breaking down is because God's standards for marriage and the family have been cast aside?
While we "press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus," are we mature enough to avoid all mistakes along the way? Of course not! After all, we're only human.
So, what are some of the mistakes we may be making as we lead this Convention?
Are We Making Mistakes?
• Are we mistaking crusading for leading?
• Are we mistaking conviction for compassion?
• Are we mistaking the political for the passionate?
• Are we mistaking the natural for the supernatural and the ordinary for the extraordinary?
• Are we mistaking name recognition for proven leadership efficiency?
• Are we mistaking the weaknesses of others as proof of our own superiority?
• Are we mistaking defense for offense?
• Are we mistaking silence for acquiescence?
• Are we mistaking driving for leading? A herd of cattle are driven. A body of people must be led.
• Are we mistaking my way for God's Way?
In fact, if even one of the failures or mistakes listed above is a legitimate concern, then we are faced with decisions of great magnitude. We must decide how to lead in order that the Convention will have its "legs" under it and be ready to function effectively and efficiently under the leadership of those who come after us.
We must decide if there is sufficient merit in the premise of this presentation to pull together, pray together, work together for the greater good of first, the Kingdom of God, and secondly, the Southern Baptist Convention. It is mammoth in its undertaking, but I believe we have little choice. We have a responsibility of leading not only our associational, state, and national organizations, but deliberately and strategically leading the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole.
Consequently, we need God to implant a new vision in our hearts. We need Him to raise up new voices to trumpet the truth. We need Him to give us new victories for His Kingdom's sake.
The time has come to cast a new vision, hear new voices, and get ready to declare new victories in Jesus.
Casting a New Vision
Southern Baptists have nailed down the issue of the absolute authority of the Word of God. We do not interpret God's Word through the filter of our experiences. We interpret our experiences through the filter of God's Word. The question we must ask ourselves is, "Are our experiences validated by the truth as revealed in God's Word?"
Southern Baptists have built a platform for a new vision. Throughout our Convention we have godly men and women who believe in the full and absolute authority of the Bible. Sunday after Sunday they worship Him in spirit and in truth. Week after week, they serve Him with humility and praise. Year after year, they pray for lost souls and rejoice in those who come to know Jesus as their personal Savior. Decade after decade, they give their tithes and offerings to support the work of the Lord at home and around the world.
Following the events of 9/11, a call went out for people of all religions to meet together and pray for the victims of the terrorists' attacks. The conservative evangelicals said, "No." Why? Because many of the world religions do not pray to our God, the living God of the universe who sent His Son to die for our sins.
Another question arose from Ground Zero where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood. "Is Jesus the only way of salvation and everlasting life in heaven?" Over and over again, we have quoted the words of Jesus in John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. The world is shrinking; a new kind of war threatens our homeland security; people are looking for hope; and the only place they can find real hope is in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Christians are under increasing persecution. The secular world is attempting to marginalize and demonize conservative evangelical Christianity. Secularists accuse us of intolerance, while being intolerant of our beliefs. They are systematically removing all reference to God from public places, including our schools. Our faith is beginning to be sorely tested, and the persecution is just beginning in our nation. There is much more to come.
To be ready with an answer today and tomorrow, we must have a new vision. We must lay our all on the altar and hold back nothing for Jesus' sake. We must trust and obey. There's no other way. We must pray for God to renew our spirit and refresh our souls. We must linger no longer at the altar of our own selfish desires. We must have a closer walk with Him. We must love Him with our whole heart, soul, and mind. Across this vast Convention, we need to have a longing in our hearts for Jesus. He is the only One who will sustain us. He is the only One who will comfort us. He is the only One who will empower us. He is the only One who will give us courage in the face of our enemies. He is the only One who will give us the spirit of forgiveness when we are wronged. He is the only One who will make a brand new man out of an old hardened sinner. He is the only One who has the power to heal our hearts. As the sinless Son of God, He is the only One who died that sinners might be saved from their sins.
Jesus must be more precious to me today than yesterday. Jesus must be my reason for living. Jesus must be my Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of my very existence.
Whatever else in the church has taken the focus from Jesus must be cast away. There is no room for any other. Only He is worthy. There is no room for apathy or indifference to Jesus in His church. The church is what it is because of who Jesus is. Let us have eyes only for Him, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, KJV)
Southern Baptists need to cast a new vision.
Hearing New Voices
When God has a job to do, he raises up new voices. We need those people who sit in the pews, stand in the pulpits, and kneel in the prayer rooms to speak in unison like a mighty voice for God. We need the world to hear fresh, new voices. These voices must lead Southern Baptists to "contend for the faith" against all the opposition of the world. The volume of these voices must be raised until there is thundering power in the declaration, "Thus saith the Lord!" These voices must belong to hearts so pure that when they are heard it will strike the fear of the Lord in the hearts of sinners. These voices must belong to those whose lives are blameless and whose love for Jesus is interwoven into every emotion, every thought, and every deed. Where are these voices? I do not know. I do know if there is not at least one, the hope for a river of revival flowing through the valleys of this nation and riding the ocean currents around the world is unthinkable.
These new voices must empower others from a heart that knows no selfish desires. These new voices must roll like thunder across the Southern Baptist landscape and rumble through the souls of all who hear them. These new voices must forsake self-aggrandizement. These new voices must lead Southern Baptists across the River of Jordan at the precise moment God holds back the waters. With the angels, these new voices shall shout, "Glory to God in the highest!"
These new voices shall speak truth, condemn sin, and call believers to undying devotion, all in the precious Name above every name, the Name of Jesus. These new voices shall be inspired and the people stirred by the Paraclete of an immortal God.
Self-promotion cannot flourish in the midst of a heaven-sent, Christ-centered, God-honoring revival. Before we can let our light shine before men, we must get on our face before God. These new voices must have no agenda but Jesus and His Word. These new voices must have nothing to gain but heaven's reward and nothing to fear but the judgment of God. These new voices must come from those who lead by helping others to grow. Let Southern Baptist churches come together and do the work of the Lord. Let the pastors encourage the redeemed of the Lord to say so. Let us follow new voices over the Jordan. The time is now. The need is here. The way is clear. Let the march begin.
Southern Baptists need to hear new voices.
Claiming New Victories
What are the victories we long to see and experience?
• The victory of regaining the joy of His salvation.
• The victory of living under God's grace.
• The victory of seeing another soul saved by faith in Jesus.
• The victory of daily studying the Bible, God's Holy Word.
• The victory of hearing God's voice in God's house week after week.
• The victory of preaching and teaching the unsearchable riches of Jesus.
• The victory of telling boys and girls that Jesus loves them.
• The victory of knowing whatever comes, Jesus will neither leave nor forsake you.
• The victory of knowing the undeserved blessings of God.
• The victory of being in His presence.
• The victory of a couple putting the other before self and Christ above all.
It is time for the church to rise — the dear saint whose every breath in prayer brings her closer to heaven's door; the Sunday School teacher who never grows weary of teaching the Word of God; the teenager who believes True Love Waits — all baptized believers!
Our hearts must be broken for the person, the pastor, the deacon, the Sunday School teacher who, for years, has not heard a fresh word from God. We need to shout, "Oh sinner, Oh saint, hear the word of the Lord!" At the end of the race, our only victory is our victory in Jesus. Our prayer must be, "Oh God, give us a new vision. Give us new voices. Give us new victories, and let them be victories in Jesus."
Let all who love Him and believe the absolute authority of His Word march side-by-side, and shoulder-to-shoulder, from victory unto victory. There is a price to be paid — our energies, time, resources, and devotion. But then, Jesus paid His all on the cross. Southern Baptists are a conservative, Bible-believing people who have a love for the Lord, a burden for the lost, and the world on their hearts. We are marching on to new victories.
Some may choose not to go with us, but we harbor no hatred. Our prayers go with them as they seek God's will in their walk with the Lord. But for Southern Baptists, time is fleeting; the energies are waning; the sun is setting. What we do must be done with a free spirit and a joyful heart. We need to mobilize men and women in the pews. We need to mobilize pastors in the pulpits and evangelists in the fields that are white unto harvest. If you choose to be a Southern Baptist, you will be among a people whose heart beats for missions. As a people with stouthearted convictions and a cooperative tradition, we welcome you to go with us. We have no time for anything but the pursuit of a Kingdom vision or for anyone but Jesus.
Our prayer must be, "Oh God, empower us with a new vision, new voices, and new victories that the world might call upon His Name." In reply His promise is, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32, KJV)