NOTE: This was published a month ago on another blog – which, by the way, is supposed to be sent HERE. However, everybody on the internet thinks they’re game is better than everyone else’s – so more and more things are becoming ‘exclusive’ or as I like to say, “PROPRIETARY”. For us low-information techies, that’s tough.. Still working through the process. Thanks for reading…
Since the June 28, 2018, edition of the “Baptist Record”, I have received an unusually large number of questions, comments, and statements over the article written about Dr. Thom Rainer, President of LifeWay Resources. Candidly, I read so many of Dr. Rainer’s blogs that I couldn’t actually remember which topic was in the article. However, I found the copy on our counter and now understand the many questions and comments. The title of the article obviously caught the attention of many. It read:
“Rainer: SBC must change course to survive”
Questions and comments that have come my way have been many and varied. Things like; “Did you see” or “Did you read this article?” “What do you think of this article?” And even, “Do you believe this article?” My immediate answer to all these questions is ‘Yes’. Yes, I did see it. Yes, I did receive it. And Yes, I do believe it. Anyone who looks at the SBC with any kind of open mind, in other words-without any prejudice or having defensive nature, must come to the same conclusion because all the signs (and even symptoms) are evident and visible. Furthermore, this is not a recent development, it has been coming for many years.
Most know the story of the “Frog in the Kettle.” In the early 1990’s, George Barna released a book by that name. It was the first book that I devoured when God called me to preach. My mentor, Dr. Ted Traylor, recommended it and I read it. The picture of the “Frog in the Kettle” vividly remains in my psyche until today. For anyone who may not know, here is the picture; If you place a frog in a pot of hot water, he will immediately jump out of the water because he senses the danger. However, if you place a frog in a pot of room temperature water and SLOWLY raise the temperature, he will sit there until he dies in boiling water. The reason he will do this is because his environment is changing so gradually that he is unaware of the change. It creeps up on him until it is too late to change.
For me, this perfectly describes the SBC. Having said this and knowing all that I will say, I should qualify myself for the uninformed. I am ‘Southern Baptists Born, Southern Baptist Bred, and one day when I die, I’ll be Southern Baptists Dead. If you cut me, I bleed the Cooperative Program.” Southern Baptists, as I have known them for over 45 years of ministry, view the Bible as being God’s Holy Inspired word. It is our source of authority (at least that is what we say) for life, eternity, hope, help, and even governance. We believe in Advancing the Gospel at all cost. Our clarion call has been “Cooperation,” because we have known (past tense) that we were stronger together than separate. The Cooperative Program (while not perfect) has been and is the greatest missions sending and serving process to have ever been developed and has been the centerpiece for the strongest mission and ministry support ever conceived.
This said, why do I join Thom Rainer in believing that SBC must ‘Change or Die’? This is neither simple, easy to hear, nor is it easy to fix, because there are many levels of ‘why’ and undoubtably, it will be impossible to fully expand on all the issues which face us, so let me offer just one.
The average church spends about 80% of their resources (I.E. time, planning, events, money, etc) internally. In other words, we plan for ourselves, and most of the time our plans take place on “OUR CAMPUS.” Whoever we plan for and spend our energies for is likely who we will reach. Most plans are laid with the idea of ‘how many of our people will attend’ as opposed to the thought of ‘how many unchurched or unsaved people can we touch.’ Focus.
Next, comes the lack of focus and energy on Evangelism and Discipleship. In recent years (as Dr. Rainer) stated, we have “jettisoned a programmatic approach to evangelism and replaced it with nothing.” Candidly, of the 10%-30% of churches that are increasing in attendance, the majority are not baptizing new converts but rather are getting their new members from other churches. While some call this “Sheep-stealing” or “Swapping Sheep”, one thing is sure, “If a Christ-follower is growing in his/her faith within their church context, then they would not consider moving to another church family.” In this, we discover the void which is created in a church that has no systematic approach to Discipleship. By the way, a systematic approach discipleship has, of necessity, a call to evangelism within it. Many of the people my age and older have never been discipled ‘one on one’. We basically (through the strong evangelistic years), put them under the water, sent them to a Sunday School class, and called it good. While there is much more to be said about this, two things come to the forefront; We must change (or rediscover) our approach to Evangelism (Leading People To Christ) and Discipleship (teaching people out to follow Christ) if we are to survive. Focus.
Next, we must change our lack of focus, our attitude about, and our approach to Prayer. And this means both Corporate and Personal prayer. An entire book could be written about this topic because many books have been written about prayer. But until prayer becomes a central focus in our church-life, we will see little of significance change. Michal Catt says, “Let’s not be known as a church that prays, rather, let’s be known as a praying church.” By the way, for prayer to become the central focus of our church life, there must be a return to prayer for the individual. Prayer is the ‘powerline’ for the individual and the church. The words are simple, the effect is stark, & the Focus is everything.
Next, we must focus on worship. This is not about a style of music. As a professional musician for over 45 years, I am keenly aware that music is only a vehicle or tool – there is not one note of music written in scripture. Our focus on worship is about an attitude of the heart. Yes, I have my ‘musical preferences’ or what I ‘prefer’ and honestly what I prefer is generally not in line with others of my age. That’s okay, until… we made the decision that our preferences about music is the ONLY TRUE WAY. When this happens, we have missed the point of worship. Worship has less to do with the style of the song (I.E. new or old, familiar or unfamiliar, fast or slow, hymn or praise song) than it does with the status of our heart. For many, to enter a room (I.E. Sanctuary, Worship Center, Store Front, etc) where people are gathering to worship with an attitude which focuses on ‘self’ and what “I’m going to get” is not only counterproductive but will always short-circuit any true worship experience. Whoever or whatever we focus on is, in fact, our god!!! Which song we sing, what instruments are used, how many times we stand, whether we have a children’s sermon or not, or any of a hundred things which occupy our minds are only distractions. We must return to a Biblical focus of worship where we give HIM our attention, our heart, & our focus. Admittedly, the problem of focus doesn’t always originate in the pew. At times, it starts on the platform by well-meaning worship leaders who miss the mark of simply pointing people to Jesus and experiencing Him. Here is the killer: Music is not the only way to worship. Sometimes, we may need a little corporate silence to hear from God. The lessons which I have learned over the passed couple of years by attending many different churches have been many and invaluable in my heart. But it is about FOCUS.
Additionally (AND I HAVE LEARNED, MOST IMPORTANTLY), our focus has been on things of man, not things of God. While we may take exception to this, I challenge us to be honest; how many times do we enter our weekly worship time with the idea of meeting or catching a vision of our Heavenly Father. It is indeed a matter of focus. I pray that we can turn our focus back to HIM. Then perhaps, the church can experience an Isaiah 6 moment which will ultimately lead to an Acts 2 moment. But don’t miss this; before Isaiah saw the Lord, King Uzziah died! Sometimes before a new chapter with the Lord can begin, something has to die. For us as Southern Baptist, we may need to ‘get over’ the idea that we have it all ‘right.’ It could be that our concepts must die so we can ‘See the Lord’ again. Focus.
Dr. Rainer’s clarion call is “Change or Die.” In that light, consider two thoughts from the business world.
The first is from Peter Drucker, known as the Father of American business, he offers two questions which can sober us: (I’ll let them speak for themselves)
“What business are you in”
Finally – the following quote should convict us when we consider all of the available statistics which tell us that we, the SBC, are on a death spiral. Depending on who you read, without a change – we have 10-40 years of life left as the SBC. This is stark. I pray that my kids and grandkids know & find their place within this great association of churches. The following statement is one from business which, I believe, should be embraced for the “King’s Business” and motivate us to make the necessary course correction. May God bless us that we will have the clarity of thought to make the needed changes – today.