Young people will not come to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meetings to hear preachers put down what they’re doing, says SBC researcher Ed Stetzer.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and missiologist in residence at LifeWay Christian Resources, said the SBC will start attracting young people to its meeting when younger people start appearing on the stage.
“You cannot guilt people any longer into being a part of the SBC,” he said, because the SBC is no longer a tribal culture where it was dangerous to live outside the group.
Stetzer spoke and held a dialogue session with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary students during the Baptist State Convention Evangelism Conference Feb. 16 at the school. A second session of the evangelism conference will be held at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Black Mountain next week.
Stetzer responded to a question about how the SBC can attract young people.
“The sniping has to stop,” he said.
Stetzer said he believes the next two big debates in the church are going to be over ecclesiology — what a church is — and missiology — how the church engages culture.
Stetzer said the “methodological consensus,” which led to the similarities of SBC churches, has collapsed. No denomination has survived such a collapse, he said.
Stetzer suggested that cooperation in the SBC should first be built around the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, which he called the “denominational orthodoxy.” The SBC can’t keep “moving the goalposts,” of who is allowed to cooperate, he said.
“If you’re in that denominational orthodoxy, it’s time to cooperate, not caricature,” he said.
Confessional cooperation can then lead to missional cooperation, said Stetzer, who suggested that moderates incorrectly assert that cooperation can be built around missions alone.
Stetzer said Southern Baptists have a high view of scripture and a high view of missions, but have not been able to put them together to engage their communities.
Preaching against innovation gets a “big ‘Amen’” from the amen corner at denominational gatherings, Stetzer said.
“But the amen corner is getting smaller and smaller,” he said.
Advice for innovators
For innovative pastors who face such situations, Stetzer had some advice.
“When someone takes a swing, swing back,” he said. “Say, ‘I believe we can cooperate.’”
Stetzer also fielded a question about a recent Baptist Press article critical of Mark Driscoll, edgy pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church in Seattle, a city which Driscoll says is America’s most unchurched. The article took issue with Driscoll’s methods, including his straight talk about sex.
Stetzer said he has chosen not to comment about the article, but said he has written about Driscoll on his blog.
In the blog, Stetzer said he and Driscoll disagree about some things but he called Driscoll “a friend who labors for the glory of God, the health of the church, and the redemption of the world.” Stetzer said in the blog that some people take issue with Driscoll’s frank talk about sexuality.
“I do recognize that frank discussion of sexuality is going to be very difficult in our denomination,” Stetzer said during the dialogue at Southeastern.
Most Southern Baptists were raised in a culture where such discussions were avoided, but some who didn’t grow up in church were in effect raised in a “pornified culture,” Stetzer said. When dealing with “sexual brokenness,” the church needs to provide biblical answers, he said.
“I just think the whole ‘let’s pretend it’s not there’ isn’t working,” he said.
Later at the conference, Stetzer preached from 2 Corinthians 5 on how to represent Christ well. He said the passage offers Christians a new perspective.
Christians should not see those who aren’t saved as enemies but instead as prisoners of war that the gospel can set free, Stetzer said. Too often those in the church have an “us versus them” attitude, he said.
“Too often we are known as people who are mad all the time,” he said.
Christians are sent on a mission of reconciliation, Stetzer said. The old way of inviting people to church so the minister can present the plan of salvation will no longer work, he said.
“Come and see isn’t as effective,” he said. “Go and tell has to be our future passion.”
Stetzer said the church has spent the last 30 years “fixing up the barn” by sprucing up buildings and spicing up music “but the wheat is still not harvesting itself.”
Stetzer said Baptists need “a breakdown of factionalism.”
Jesus’ work on the cross “changes everything” and makes it possible for Christians to carry out their mission.