A Mere 20 Million
All my life
denominational life has been dominated by one thing: fighting. For
my generation, being Baptist hasn’t meant primarily missions or
evangelism or a particular theology of a certain style. What has it
mean to be a Baptist? It has meant, for my generation, to fight.
The fight broke out just about the time I was coming onto the scene
of professional ministry. I started seminary in 1980 and finished in
1983. I remember that during some of those years, and the years just
after that some of the greatest attendance at Southern Baptist
Conventions. Not because we had some great evangelist cause going.
Bold Missions Thrust was launched about the same time, but it
quickly faded to the more interesting topic of politics.
After a while, the national battle was eventually over and some of
us thought the whole thing might quietly go away. And, in some
corners it has. One of the great things about being from New Mexico
is we, as a convention, don’t actually own anything to fight over.
We own a Children’s Home and a couple of camps, but no schools to
keep us suspicious about what they are teaching. When you don’t own
anything, there is not too much to fight over.
But, in most states, it is not this way. Most states have plenty to
fight over and the battle that raged for a decade or more at the
national level has shifted and continues to rage at the state level
in many states. I’d like to weigh in on this controversy. This is my
soapbox; I’d like to share my opinion.
I have had my feet planted firmly in mid-air on this whole deal from
day one. I am aware that this is not a position that makes anyone
happy. Rather, it is a position that tends to get you shot at from
both sides, but, being honest with my own head and heart, that is
where I have been from the beginning, and find myself there now. I
will spare you the details as to why.
The main thing to me is this: the whole deal is just not that
interesting to me. To be quite honest I often find myself forgetting
who is one what side and who is aligned with whom. My lack of
interest keeps me from keeping it all straight.
Here are some things that are interesting to me:
How do we reach people for Christ?
How do we grow them up in Christ?
How do we create worship services that connect people with God?
How do we grow a Sunday School?
How do we implement a Small Group strategy (home groups)?
How do we recruit workers?
How do we train workers?
How do we pray more effectively?
In short, how do we advance the kingdom?
I’d like to make a suggestion. Let’s all get corporately bored with
politics and deeply interested in the kind of things listed above.
Next time someone brings up some big political issue in your state
convention change the subject. Or, just walk off. Or, tell them:
“that is not all that interesting to me.” Maybe you should just
“But,” you might argue, “this is important!” so is getting sinners
out of hell and into heaven. I say we through 100% of energy at that
and 0% on political issues.
Early in the battle I remember asking a friend who was on the far
right end of this battle, “How many liberal professors do we have?
How big is the problem?” I was in seminary at the time, and was
actively looking for any hint of a liberal, sense there was so much
hullabaloo about it, and couldn’t find any. I found myself more in
rapport with the conservative side, but I just couldn’t see any real
first hand evidence of what had them so dialed up. I think my friend
said, “around six.” Around six professors are teaching things they
ought not to teach while on a Southern Baptist pay-role. OK. I don’t
know if that is low or high. I don’t know if it is true or not, but
let’s suppose that it is. How bad a problem is it?
Not nearly as bad, in my mind as the fact 16 million Southern
Baptist have been corporately on plateau for my entire lifetime. As
I read the great commission, that can be described in one word:
disobedience. I think God is far more concerned about the fact that
16 million Southern Baptists are corporately disobedient to the
command of God to go and make disciples of all nations than the fact
(if it is or ever was a fact) that half of dozen teachers are
teaching what they ought not to teach.
Some would argue, that there is a cause and effect here--that
liberalism in our schools is the cause of ineffectiveness in our
churches. Well, that is just not true in my experience. I am in a
hundred-plus churches a year these days, and the problem is not
liberalism. The problem is sleepiness. The problem is trying harder
at the same methods that have not worked for decades expecting
different results. The problem is we are about half bored with this
whole deal. The problem is crummy preaching and less than half-way
decent teaching in our Sunday School classes. The problem is not
about contemporary or traditional music, it is about bad music,
boring music, hum-drum music. The problem is not liberalism. I am in
too many churches to every be persuaded that it is.
And if it were liberalism, surely the conservative resurgence (or
takeover, depending on your perspective) would have begun to address
that by now.
The story is probably apocryphal, but it bears repeating, just
because it is just so good. The story is told of a preacher who
spoke at the Texas Evangelism Conference. His sermon went like this:
Point #1: the world is lost, and dying and going to hell. He
preached on that for a while.
Point#2: you don’t give a damn. He preached on apathy and luke-warmness
and yawns in the pulpit and the pew. There were no yawns listening
to him this day. They couldn’t believe their ears. Had he said what
they thought they heard him say?
Point #3: you are more concerned about the fact that I said damn in
the pulpit than you are concerned with the fact that the world is
lost, and dying and going to hell.
I don’t know if the story is true or apocryphal, but if it is true,
I doubt he was asked to come back. He did, however, leave a lasting
impression and certainly made his point.
A mere 20 million
I’d like to suggest a goal for us to get
excited about that is, to me, more interesting the fighting about
I suggest that we, Southern Baptist set the major direction of our
cooperate life the goal of having 20 million in average Bible Study
(Sunday School/ small group) attendance by the year 2020. Current
attendance has hovered around 4 million for most of my lifetime.
Every time someone wants to talk to you about politics, I want to
suggest you say, “Let’s talk about how we can get 20 million people
studying God’s word together each week.”
In his classic book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby talked about
having a God-sized vision. I remember going home and praying and
asking God, “What do you have for me, and my life and a God-sized
vision?” I felt God was asking me to help. I don’t have to lead the
parade or even march in the band. I am happy to sit the stands and
wave the flag, but I want to do what I can to help. I want to help
my denomination, Southern Baptist to reach 20 million in Bible study
attendance by the year 2020. I’d like to ask you to help too. I’d
like to ask you to pray about it, talk about it, and, mostly do
something about it. Help your class grow. Help your church grow.
Start a movement of multiplying groups in your church. Show other
churches how to do so as well.
Henry went on to say that anything less than full obedience to the
spoken commands of God is planned disobedience. There are lot more
that 20 million lost people in America. I understand that, in a way,
this is planned disobedience with reference to all of them. Maybe
so. But it does represent a start.
I am praying that being Southern Baptist will mean something
different to my kids than it has meant to my generation. To my
generation, it has been dominated by the great denominational fight.
I am sick of it. I never was all that fired up about it, but day, I
am sick and tired of it. I say it is time we changed the subject. I
say it is time we change the agenda. I say we get excited and
focused about being on mission together.