The future of Southern Baptist Convention is on my heart this week. Perhaps now, days away from the conclusion of my two-year presidency, my feelings may lean toward being a little nostalgic.
What will our future look like? If Jesus tarries His coming, how long will our convention of churches last? Only God knows the answer to these and more questions when we think about our future together.
Who do we want to be in the future?
This should be a concern for all of us, and we should never minimize this issue: Who do we want to be in the future?
I recently heard a major political leader say that during the decision-making process, he keeps in mind that “Every step is a forward-moving step.”
The same is true for the future of our Southern Baptist Convention. Every step we make needs to move us forward. Nothing moves fast in a major government or a convention of churches. Checks and balances are provided at many levels. At times these may appear to bind us, but in reality, they protect us in the long term.
I want to suggest some steps that will always keep us moving forward. Perhaps these steps could be more properly called axioms, which are principles or self-evident truths that are widely accepted among us. Who do we want to be in the future?
1. A Bible-believing Southern Baptist Convention
While this may currently be part of our identity, the reality is that the culture mocks the authority of the Bible in 2016 and beyond.
Our pastors and churches are navigating in a world unlike anything we have experienced before. Our leadership with our laypeople and one another is critical in this hour. Whatever step we take in our decision-making, we must always do so believing the Bible is infallible, trustworthy, sufficient and inerrant, progressing toward the goal set before us.
2. A gospel-advancing Southern Baptist Convention
In this diverse, complex season in American life and in the evangelical world, there really is only one passion that keeps us tied together:
Advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire nation and world.
Our pastors, churches and convention leaders must dig deep and find a way to experience a rebirth of sharing the Gospel personally and a renewal of our priority to evangelize the towns and cities of America and simultaneously extend the gospel globally.
We cannot retreat from this calling, but must renew our commitment to such a point that we act upon it urgently, personally, collectively, cooperatively and aggressively.
3. A leader-developing Southern Baptist Convention
In order for us to live out Ephesians 4:12, “For the training of the saints in the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ,” every member in the body of Christ must be developed to do the work of the ministry in and through the local church. Until our local churches return to our members owning the ministry and personalizing the Great Commission locally, we will not seize this opportunity before us.
While our six seminaries are developing just over 20,000 seminary students in their various locations, their robust effort must continue forward for God’s glory. This is one of our most encouraging dynamics in Baptist life. This indicates a hope that perhaps God is preparing His called servants to impact our nation and the globe in an unprecedented way.
4. A multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Southern Baptist Convention
Strengthening our commitment to becoming a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual denomination begins in the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. In other words, this is a local church issue more than a Southern Baptist Convention issue. The Southern Baptist Convention will mirror our churches.
If our churches are going to reach the towns and cities of America with the Gospel, each church must become committed to reach people that comprise their community, including those of unique ethnicity and may speak a language other than English.
The North American Mission Board informed Southern Baptists that 58 percent of the churches planted one year ago are non-white churches. In the past two years, with the appointments I am permitted to make as president of our convention, we are at the highest percentage of appointments of non-white Baptists in our history. Additionally, in last year’s National Call to Prayer and with this year’s National Conversation on Racial Unity in America, the Southern Baptist Convention is making great strides in this conversation and will continue to do so. But let me remind you, the key is what is happening in our churches.
5. A local church-centered Southern Baptist Convention
The Southern Baptist Convention is not centered on our SBC national entities, state conventions, or regional associations; we are to be centered on helping our churches. These entities, conventions and associations exist for one purpose alone: for our churches. Their role is to assist our churches to carry out their God-assigned, God-anointed task of reaching the world for Christ. Otherwise, they have no reason to exist.
Southern Baptists are always at our best when our churches are being assisted and equipped, and our pastors are leading not just their churches, but in their beloved Southern Baptist Convention.
6. A generously-giving Southern Baptist Convention
Southern Baptists have been able to do what we do for one reason alone:
Our churches are generous in giving through the Cooperative Program and to our mission offerings. We do not need to minimize what our churches are doing already and have done together historically.
While generosity must continue to grow, money usually follows vision and the unity of our fellowship together.
7. A people-loving Southern Baptist Convention
Southern Baptists are not perfect, especially in our testimony together in fellowship, but we must not neglect our need to be a people-loving convention. Right now in these socially uncertain waters in America, we face an ongoing threat of being pulled into an ocean of skepticism, criticism and cynicism toward not just people in America, but even more sadly, one another.
Southern Baptists should want to be known for being a people-loving convention, both within our family and outside of our family. Jesus calls us to love one another.
Who we do not want to be
Daily, we face the ongoing tension between who we want to be in the future versus who we do not want to be in the future. I have encouraged us to make great choices about who we want to be in the future.
Briefly, I want to declare who we do not want to be in the future:
– We do not want to be a convention that questions or denies the Holy Scripture and its ongoing authority until Jesus comes again.
– We do not want to be a convention that minimizes evangelism locally, regionally and nationally, or we will become a convention that does not advance the Gospel globally. If we lose evangelism as our priority, we will soon cease to have a convention.
– We do not want to be a convention that demeans the role of laypersons in our churches and minimizes the ministry of equipping from the local church to the convention level.
– We do not want to be a convention comprised of only Anglo/white churches, or we will soon be dead and irrelevant to our culture.
– We do not want to be a convention centered on ourselves, our structures, and our systems, or we will float away on the seas of selfishness.
– We do not want to be a convention that is comprised of selfish non-giving Christians and self-serving churches or we will cease being able to finance our work together statewide, nationally and internationally.
– We do not want to be a convention that erodes relationships with each other and other evangelicals through constant, ongoing skepticism, un-Christian criticism, and unattractive cynicism.
I call our pastors, churches and convention leaders to a higher life and a greater level of leadership in the times in which we live today.
In 2016, we need leaders to rise up as modern men and women of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32)
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. This column first appeared on Ronnie Floyd’s website, www.ronniefloyd.com.)