An Appeal to Young Southern Baptists

I wrote this post right after this year’s SBC annual meeting in St. Louis. In light of recent events, this post is as true now as it was then. Consider this a plea to my generation not to give up on the SBC, to participate, to care, and to do so with humility and respect for those who have handed us this legacy.

I start with an apology to readers who are not Southern Baptist. I know a decent number of folk who read these posts are not, but today’s article is a family discussion. Feel free to follow along, even if you are not Southern Baptist, but this one is for all those young Southern Baptists like me. It is an appeal for action.

This week was the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was held in St. Louis this year and over 7,000 messengers attended. That is quite a bit larger than recent years, and I have to say, the event impacted me in a couple of significant ways. That is the reason for this appeal. I write to ask you, young Southern Baptist, to consider your involvement in our convention. Does your church send representatives to the convention? Have you ever been?

In my estimation, this year’s convention was deeply significant. Some pretty important issues were discussed on the floor of the convention, some sharp rebukes were delivered, and some magnificent displays of unity occurred. It was more than a convention. It was a defining moment in the direction of our giant cooperation of churches, and there is a chance history will remember it that way. What is more, I was there and I did not just watch it happen, I helped make it happen.

That is the beauty of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are America’s largest protestant denomination and we are not run by some elite board of decision makers. We are run by a room full of church members from across the United States and Canada. Our decisions are made by small church pastors, bi-vocational church planters, scholars, and automobile mechanics. Technically, our denomination only exists for two days a year, when all of our churches have the opportunity to send people to speak on matters concerning this cooperation we have created. It is powerful, and it is beautiful. Unfortunately, I am afraid our generation knows little of that.

I struggle with this myself. I remember growing up in church, sitting through business meetings, and thinking that we were wasting God’s time. I can remember arguments over pastoral benefits and carpet color. Our generation does not like that. In fact, most of us are fed up with that, and rightly so. However, I fear we can make an error that is at least as egregious when we think the solution is avoiding the business meeting altogether. The solution to bad business meetings is not to avoid them, it is to change them. That takes participation.

I believe most young Southern Baptists know little about their denomination and the way it works. That is a shame, too. Tens of thousands of churches work together, often in the midst of disagreement, to demonstrate unity and share resources for the Great Commission. After all, that is why our denomination was started in the first place, to send missionaries, and that is really the only thing that has held it together. Our convention has a missions legacy that is unprecedented. I wish more young Southern Baptists could experience that.

This is a Stewardship Issue

In the end, it is not about a bunch of people wasting time but about figuring out how to use our resources (and we have a lot) for the Great Commission. We have two giant missions agencies that send thousands of church planters and missionaries the world over. We have six seminaries that together are training the lion-share of pastors, church planters, and missionaries in the United States. Generally speaking, they are the biggest seminaries in the country. We have a commission on religious liberty and ethics that intercedes with the government on behalf of kingdom principles and LifeWay creates biblical resources and curriculum for churches far outside the reach of our denomination.

Every year, our convention gathers messengers in order to decide how we use these great resources for the spread of the gospel and making disciples. The convention is not simply a business meeting; it is a weighty stewardship. It is the chance for our churches to guide our cooperative resources. As with anything, they can be steered in a way that is ineffective, or they can be harnessed and used for God’s glory among the nations. But the ability to steward only comes to those who participate.

Perhaps we do not see ourselves as the ones who should wield such stewardship. After all, our parents have been the ones who made these decisions for the longest time. On average, our generation is far more interested in attending a Passion conference than our annual business meeting as Southern Baptists. Maybe we have taken the posture of the recipient for so long that we do not know what it means to make the decisions about how it is done. Nevertheless, there is a point where the children become the leaders. For us young Southern Baptists, that time quickly approaches. We have an inheritance of cooperation and Great Commission partnership that has lasted 171 years, and maybe it is time we see it as such.

JD Greear’s candidacy for president was a lesson for many this year. The grace and humility with which he withdrew galvanized a divided room. JD was right; we can do more together. There were a lot of different opinions in that room, but despite those differences, the unity that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than enough to foster cooperation.

And for us younger folk, JD provides another lesson. He ran. Instead of avoiding “convention politics” or dismissing this great stewardship, he placed his hat in the ring. He chose to get involved and pick up the responsibility that comes with an inheritance. He did not do so with an attitude of conquest or division. That was clearly demonstrated when he withdrew and cast his vote for Steve Gaines, encouraging his supporters to do so. After all, together we can do more.

Get Involved

So my appeal to you is simple: get involved. I know the concerns and things that disappoint friends my age about our denomination. These things do not change when we avoid responsibility. We need to participate in the right way, in a biblical way, with grace, humility, and thanksgiving for the cloud of witnesses before us. We need to be the kind of generation that makes the previous generation proud to pass the baton. We need to remember that one of our greatest strengths is our diversity, methodological and theological diversity. It sharpens us and constantly calls us from drifting too far afield.

Make sure your church sends a delegation. So many decisions are made over those two days, and your church has the very real ability to affect those decisions. Every, single messenger can approach the microphone and have their voice heard, and every, single church has the opportunity to send messengers. Several resolutions this year passed or failed on the passionate appeal of a messenger from the floor.

Furthermore, consider being a messenger yourself. Perhaps you did not like one of those decisions. Every vote this year did not go the way I wanted it to, but the only way to speak into those is by being there. That takes a lot for someone our age, I believe. It takes a change in posture. Personally, I want to go to a conference to “learn something” or “be edified” or whatever other term you attach to sitting passively while others are doing stuff. We need to see the real opportunity to advance the gospel through our actions at the Southern Baptist Convention, and we need to grab that inheritance while we can still learn from those before us.

Let us take a cue from JD and roll up our sleeves as well. As I watched our convention this year, I was thankful to God for all that he has done to bring together such an interesting group of churches. The fact that our convention exists is an act of the Spirit and God’s great grace. I felt a responsibility for it, and I pray that more people my age will do the same. Avoidance is not the answer, stewardship is. This is not conquest, it is not a generational war for control, but a great cooperative effort.

10 Comments

  1. Traci Jahnke said:

    Amen! Well said! I am 49 years old and was deeply affected by being at the Pastor’s Conference and the Convention! Get involved!

    June 20, 2016
    Reply
    • Keelan Cook said:

      Thanks for the kind words, Traci. I am grateful for my experience this year and am optimistic about greater involvement in the future.

      June 20, 2016
      Reply
  2. Jenny Whitaker said:

    I’d love to see a follow up on this post. As a young Southern Baptist I had no idea that non-pastors and pastors wives could even be messengers. Perhaps we need the leadership already involved to also be encouraged to raise up, reach out and encourage us younger ones to get involved and teach us how. The idea of mentorship gets talked about a lot but rarely is it executed and it’s so vital to what you are saying. If we are the next leaders than it would be helpful for those who are already there paving the way for us to reach out and help us find our place on that path they are etching out. You’re probably right, we’ve been recipients for so long it’s where we think we belong, but maybe we just don’t know where else to go or how. There is a generational divide, a chasm that we need to close and it is going to take both sides moving Together for it to work and for it to be a unified movement. I would love to see a follow-up on this post – whether it’s encouraging the current leaders to reach out to a potential future leader or if it’s a resource sharing ways us younger members of the SBC can get involved and participate – I think that would be a great first step as we try to do what you are encouraging us to do!

    June 21, 2016
    Reply
    • Keelan Cook said:

      Jenny, thanks for your comment! It’s well thought out, and I think it pushes the conversation forward. You are certainly right about the significance of mentorship, and with any institution as big as ours, there are shining examples and some not-so-nice fails. I do, in fact, have a piece from one of our students here at the seminary going up tomorrow with her reflections from the convention. It was her first year to attend. Let me put some thought into the resources you suggest that would help onboard young SBs to being involved. That’s a great idea. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

      June 21, 2016
      Reply
      • Adam said:

        Great article! It was my first time at the SBC too & felt both highs & lows. I’m a 32 year old lead pastor & feel a great chasm between older & younger generations. I saw what I would term, a weak attempt, in cptalk I think it was called. Basically just sending out info to younger leaders, but not truly getting them/us involved in the discussion- at least not at any level that will make a real difference.
        Jenny has some great questions that I think could be a lot of help if we can get it to the masses. Question- what would it take to gather young leaders at the pastor’s conference or at the actual convention for a dinner &/or something we would all be interested in. There again would be a good place to rehash some of your listed reasons of why we should be involved. My guess is we would see a steady rise over the years of younger generations taking part, but right now there’s nothing being offered that attracts them/us- right or wrong.
        I agree we need younger generations involved & serving, but I know for me I’m already getting worn out from the lip service we’ve heard from some older folks in the SBC about passing the mantle & how desperately we need younger people but when they show up they’re almost entirely resented.
        Not angry, but I don’t see much hope in the continued effectiveness of this type of convention/denomination.
        Btw we love JD Greear, David Platt, Kevin Ezell, Matt Chandler, Russell Moore & others. They seem to be making moves that we can truly get behind & be proud of as southern baptists.

        June 21, 2016
        Reply
        • Keelan Cook said:

          Adam, encouraged that you attended this year. I’m not certain what all is in store for talkCP, but I believe the website is primarily educational. I think it is fair to say that many-to-most younger SBs are not familiar with how the Cooperative Program works, or what some of our entities do. Chuck Lawless hit the nail on the head in a recent post at his blog after the SBC when he said,”Some younger Southern Baptists don’t understand our history, and some older SB’s are afraid of our future – and both groups might be missing what God’s doing.” As for the Young Leaders Network, I believe that is just now starting. It will be interesting to see how that develops in the days ahead.

          I am also encouraged with the direction provided by several of our entity heads nowadays. I’m happy to see David and Kevin doing their thing, and Russell Moore, in my opinion, is making strides in his role. I think these are encouraging times for our denomination, and what was real encouraging to me was the floor response when some of these men were challenged on their direction. It did me a lot of good to see how the floor voted on several issues. The vast majority stood in unity, young and old, on issues of refugees, racial discord, and religious liberty. That is a big deal. There are generational differences on some things, but I believe we are more alike than different. My experience overall has not been one of resentment. To the contrary, when I’ve attempted dialogue it has been heard. When it comes to that interaction, my hope is that we consider our own demeanor with scrutiny and provide grace to others in theirs. Let us be quick to question our motives and gracious when considering the motives of others. And perhaps our generation can see there is, in fact, much that should attract us already.

          I really like your idea about a gathering of some kind, either at the pastor’s conference or at the annual meeting. Of course, we do have Baptist21, but that is also more informational and less dialogue-based. As I told Jenny in the previous post, let me do some poking around and see what kinds of resources/ opportunities we may be able to drum up. Thanks for your thoughtful interaction with the post… some great points!

          June 22, 2016
          Reply
          • adhinkle said:

            Good word! (btw I was more direct/to the point in my phraseology here, than I am in the conversations I referenced.) Still appreciate the gracious reminder. Also, looking forward to seeing what you might come up with! Thanks again!

            June 22, 2016
            Reply
            • Jenny Whitaker said:

              I’d love to see a way that younger leaders and really younger members of the SBC could get involved in this conversation about HOW it would be best to involve us. It is great to want us there and involved but perhaps part of what has happened up to this point is that there isn’t really a place we feel like we belong. For example, as you state in your post many of us don’t go to church business meetings… Why do we feel out of place there? I feel like some who are there (mostly our older members) think/assume we don’t want to be or are not interested, and on our end we assume that we are not wanted nor do we believe (perhaps errantly, but perhaps from past experience) that what we bring to the table is unwanted. Even if it IS in part because of how we present ourselves or thoughts, etc— isn’t the idea of Christian discipleship for those older ones to come alongside of us and teach us and show us and lovingly reproof us so that we can bring glory to God in ALL we do (from business meetings to Mission trips). Perhaps there is some repairs that need to happen, some conversations with all of us together not just continued separate conversations and then a few “middle men” (for lack of a better word)? Essentially, maybe it would be a helpful first step to find a way to get both generations at a table to really figure out how this fleshes out in a way that glorifies God and continues to grow His kingdom?? We don’t need another separate place for us younger people to be – we need a place at the grown up table so we can hear and learn and eventually contribute. I am really looking forward to the follow up to this!! Thank you for keeping the conversation going! THIS conversation alone is sooo encouraging already!! This is one small step in the right direction and that’s exciting!!

              June 22, 2016
              Reply
        • Jenny Whitaker said:

          One last thought: it may help to have non-pastors at this conversation. Pastors HAVE to be present at certain things referenced in this post, but many young leaders in our church (and possibly throughout the SBC) are not pastors, so maybe we also need to look at how to reach out to our younger members of the SBC who aren’t pastors?

          June 22, 2016
          Reply

Leave a Reply