The Southern Baptist Convention

I have been attending the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, this week. This is the second convention I have attended in three or four years. Although overall interest in the convention is declining, my personal interest is increasing.

The convention announced approximately 7200 in attendance. That is considerably lower than the 15,000 to 20,000 announced just a few years ago. I suspect the location of the convention in the Midwest United States may have something to do with the decrease in numbers. There are other factors contributing to the drop as well.

One notable decision the SBC made this year focused on regenerate church membership. For the first time in many years the SBC has dropped in its number of baptisms. Many predicted this trend, and now it is a reality. Additionally, a recent survey in the convention revealed that our churches have membership rolls that run two or three times to the number of people actually involved. This issue is of particular interest to me because I do not want CrossPoint to have such disparity between membership numbers and actual participation.

At the heart of the issue is the problem between analyzing spiritual growth versus numerical growth. Southern Baptists have long been evaluating progress according to nickels and noses, when Jesus made it abundantly clear that the true measure of a church is discipleship. Yes, Jesus commanded His church to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, the instruction to make them disciples was the heart of the issue.

Membership in a church means more than just having your name on the roll. Membership means you are in covenant with that local body of baptized believers – to serve, to give, to minister, to enhance. The problem within our convention is that we have 16 million members, with only 6 million participating every weekend. Where are the other 10 million? The inflation of membership numbers among Southern Baptists is an integrity issue. More importantly, it is a spiritual issue.

This is the time of year when denominations meet to discuss their future. The other morning I read where one denomination continues to debate the ordination of homosexual ministers. Other denominations during this season will be discussing political activism, global warming and other social issues. I thank the Lord the Southern Baptist Convention spent much of its time together discussing regenerate church membership.

It is my hope to present more thoughts on regenerate church membership next week. If you would like to read more about the convention and the decision to pass this most needed resolution, click here: http://www.sbc.net.


9 Responses to “The Southern Baptist Convention”

  1. 1 Searching
    June 12, 2008 at 9:11 am

    I went to the SBC site and read many of the articles from the convention meetings. I still find it disconcerting to read and see the overwhelming legalism that permiates the activities of the SBC. It still appears to me that the emphasis from the SBC is to legislate ethics, morality and Christian behavior. It has never worked and will never work. Isn’t that the fight that Jesus had with the Pharisees all during his ministry on earth? And so many pastors and evangelists try to straddle the line between legalism and love. Here is a picture of how I see what Jesus tried to teach those who listened to him…
    The law as embellished by the Pharisees is much like a storm shelter that is dug into the ground with concrete walls, floor and ceiling and a sturdy door. This shelter is a wonderful place to retreat to in the midst of a violent storm to find safety and security until the storm passes. One can paint the ceiling to look like a star lit sky and the walls can be painted to reflect a lush forest or flowery meadow, but the walls and ceiling still confine one to the size and shape of the storm shelter. But, Love, the kind of love that Jesus lived and described is like a pair of white angelic wings that fit perfectly on the back of a believer. These wings can carry one far above and beyond the storms that blow in our lives and carry us to places we cannot otherwise imagine, even to the throne of God. We are at our very best when we reflect the love of God and in that God is glorified and not ourselves.
    As I continue to read your blogs I want to believe that CrossPoint is different from the typical Southern Baptist Church. I sense in you a deep and sincere desire to actually glorify God in your personal life and in the character and integrity of your church. Many of the mainstream denominations have a real issue with credibility and character because of the rules, laws and resolutions that come from meetings like these and then paint the entire denomination with those brushes. And everyday people see and hear of other ministers and pastors who fail and fall. I believe that it is these issues which have pushed away those 10 million members. And it’s not about setting the bar too high, it’s about being real, relevant and relational in the application of God’s love to people. Anyone can be pious constantly tell people what they are doing wrong, but the message of God as I see it is that it’s not about me. Even though I fight the sin nature within me every minute of every day, it is about who God is and what he does…in spite of who I am and what I do. I can never be worthy in and of myself, but even with the depravity of man, God loves us and wants a relationship with us…why?
    So why do we focus on our unworthiness instead of HIS grace and mercy and inexplicable love. Why don’t we as Christians spend our time together to grow spiritually? Perhaps one reason people leave the local church has to do with the monotony of the overall message and focus of the church. I am NOT saying that the “name it and claim it” or the “feel good” preachers are right, but I am saying that God reaches out to us no matter what, so why does the church continue to beat people down? And the more fundamental the church the less love is felt by normal people. I have met people in my years in church lay-leadership who have been going to church their whole lives and have no real idea of why they believe what they claim to believe because they never matured spiritually. They can tell you about all the problems of church and the disconnectedness they have felt. They can tell you all about the hypocrisy and the mean spiritedness they have encountered in church.
    I don’t know… perhaps there is just not enough of the love of God when a large number of people begin to meet together and become a “church”. They get caught up in the rules, the laws and the power of leadership instead of the servant nature of leadership.

    You know the story about the saddle, right? If one person tells you you’re a horse, you can ignore it. If three or four tell you you’re a horse, you can still ingnore it. But if ten people, or 10 million people, tell you that you’re a horse… buy a saddle!
    Blessings Ryan, and CrossPoint Church!

  2. 2 crazyro
    June 13, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Searching, I think that I look forward to your insight as much as I look forward to reading Pastor Ryan’s blog. 🙂 It’s always good.

    I believe that one of the reasons why our churches feel so “legalistic” is due to years and years of being conditioned a certain way. We have been taught so many years (and this is still prevalent in churches todays) that what defines a Christian is a list of DOs and DON’Ts. If you don’t smoke, if you don’t drink, if you don’t cuss, if you don’t steal, if you don’t, if you don’t, if you don’t, then you are a Christian. On the flip side, if you do read your Bible, if you do pray, if you do give, if you do stay away from bad movies, if you do, if you do, if you do, then you are a Christian. (please don’t get me wrong; spiritual disciplines of reading and praying and fasting and giving should be abundant in our lives – not to define us, but to mature us). I wonder what would happen if the church today would look more like the church of old – the time when the apologists’ defense of the gospel was the church; when asked to prove the gospel was real, they did not go into arguments and stories and “I’m right, you’re wrong” diatribes (Titus 3:9), but simply said: “King, to see Jesus and the gospel, just look at the love the church has for each other and the ones around them.” I truly believe that if we stopped trying to keep up with a list of DOs and DON’Ts and focues on what you mentioned – true love – the church today would look completely different. Then, and only then, would people be attracted to us and would want to come to our meetings; it would be then that we wouldn’t have to worry about trying attract them and come up with programs to get them in the door; they would do that on their own.
    It’s really interesting that this topic is coming up. It’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately…

  3. 3 Searching
    June 13, 2008 at 9:54 am

    crazyro- in response to your message I can only say two things; Thank you for your kind words, and AMEN to every word you wrote. Wouldn’t it be exciting if people would look at us and say to themselves, “I want what they have!”? Bless you!

  4. 4 Ron
    June 15, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Dear Searching & Crazyro,

    Could I suggest something to consider? Maybe… just maybe… the problem is that you both may be focusing in the wrong direction for your comments? My point is this, as long as there are churches filled with imperfect and hopefully forgiven sinners… there will be things you can criticize. The reason people go to church is to glorify and worship God.

    As I read your posts what I found was criticism and pointing fingers. I wonder if it might not be better to put aside all the things that you both see as wrong and seek God in a community of believers who are all fallen, but trying the best they can to seek, find, and honor God. It might be that you are missing the forrest for the trees in your points. In other words, you are missing out on an encounter with God by finding things to criticize.

    Jesus said, “Stumbling blocks are going to come, but woe to the person through whom they come.” I’m sorry that people have been stumbling blocks for you as you seek God, but don’t let them keep you from God.

    Just some thoughts…

  5. 5 crazyro
    June 16, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Pastor Ryan,

    I think I may be a good case of “can’t see the 2×4 in my eyeball, but can find the splinters in anyone else’s.” You are right, and I appreciate your honesty. Maybe I should listen to my own words and concern myself with living the way Christ would have me live, and then, and only then, will people see Him. Not by me pointing out what’s wrong with *their* behavior, but by them pointing out what’s right with *my* behavior. I guess that if I want to see the church change, I should be the first one, right? “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Easy to say, hard(er) to do.

  6. 6 Searching
    June 16, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Ron- Thank you for your admonitions. I agree completely with your assertion about churches and the people who make them up. However, I believe healthy discussions of the realities of being forgiven sinners brings about evaluations that help us all be better at focusing on God. I try to be very careful about accusations and pointing fingers and try to be more circumspect in looking at issues. Nothing ever changes if we mindlessly follow what has always been and one way to renew our minds as Paul instructed is to be aware of ‘what is’ in order to help bring about what ‘might be’. I’m sorry if you percieve this as a stumbling block. I don’t believe all such discussions are criticism though. Honest evaluation helps me to keep my rudder adjusted to keep me going in the right direction and I appreciate your offering for me to consider.

  7. June 16, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Wow, I like the discussion. By the way, crazyo that was not me but RON who responded to your inquiries.

    Although we are speaking of church membership, I believe the deeper issue is that of discipleship. Perhaps we should be asking what does a disciple of Christ look like rather than what does a church member look like–although they both should be the same.

    The SBCs problem is not legalism as much as it is decision-making. We have reduced church membership to making a decision, walking an aisle and so on. I better stop. I write more in my blog.

    Blessing to crazyo, seraching, ron and others. Thank you for your discussion.

  8. 8 crazyro
    June 17, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Oops! I guess I should pay more attention. Sorry about that.

  9. 9 Ron
    June 17, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Crazyo & Searching,

    One of the most difficult things we will ever do is look honestly into a mirror. Maybe Carly Simon was right, the only ones who love looking into one are those who are vain.

    I want you both to know that as a pastor I am very much aware of your points about the church. Your assessments are all too much accurate about those who attend church (Which is not the same as being a member of the Universal Church!).

    I have found that those who are lovingly critical are usually those who want what is best for the person they are critical of. Thus in Proverbs, “Faithful are the wounds of a FRIEND.” I believe Pastor Ryan is a person who desires the absolute best for those he shepherds and that is probably the reason he is excited about the resolution.

    Truth be told, most pastors are critical of the church… but it is because they want the Bride of Christ dressed in as pure a white gown now as possible. They don’t want to be a brown smudge on the bride of Christ’s gown. As I read your thoughts, I seem to catch a hint of the same desire.

    Ryan… I look forward to reading your thoughts about the resolution. And thanks for the “Cardboard Testimony” video. I gave you a shout out on my blog for it…

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