JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 21, 2007 – Young men in the Southern Baptist Convention are frustrated by denominational life and discouraged by a lack of answers to the question of what it means to be a Baptist, Gregory Thornbury told the Baptist Identity Conference Feb. 16.
Still, Thornbury encouraged them in their malaise and urged them not to give up on the SBC.
“Let us not too quickly abandon the Baptist ship,” Thornbury said. “It may not be the Good Ship Lollipop, but it is the best vessel that we have. Stay on board.”
Thornbury, dean of the School of Christian Studies at Union University, addressed the Baptist Identity Conference on the topic of “The ‘Angry Young Men’ of the SBC.”
Ed Stetzer, of the North American Mission Board, spoke at the conference about the Southern Baptist Convention becoming more missional, while Jim Shaddix, senior pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colo., addressed the future of the traditional church.
After researching many of the blogs from young pastors who were supposedly “angry,” Thornbury concluded that the sentiment was more frustration than anger.
That frustration isn’t limited to a certain segment of denominational life and exists across the board, Thornbury said – from those who bemoan the lack of respect for men in positions of authority, to those lamenting the demise of revivalism and the rise of Calvinism, to Calvinists tired of being misrepresented as anti-evangelistic.
“What unites them all is a deep and abiding dread that ‘I don’t belong in the SBC,’ Thornbury said. “Somehow, impossibly, everybody feels persecuted. Everybody feels that they’re being misunderstood and misrepresented. Everybody feels that they’re on the outside.”
To address these concerns, denominational leaders should emphasize more strongly the basics of what it means to be a Baptist, Thornbury said. He cited regenerate church membership as one example.
“There should not be people in our membership rolls who never come to church, show no discernible evidence of conversion or holiness and who are not currently now participating in a local body of believers,” Thornbury said. “That shouldn’t be the case.”
The denomination also needs a rediscovery of holiness and ancient forms of discipleship, a renewed awe and wonder of the Bible and a return to the prophetic voice of the church, Thornbury added. Such emphases will allow Baptists to focus on what’s important and not waste time debating over secondary matters.
Stetzer, missiologist and senior director of the Center for Missional Research at the North American Mission Board, told conference attendees that churches must balance biblical fidelity and cultural relevance if they are to be effective in reaching a lost world.
“Day after day, as the culture around us becomes more unfamiliar and even hostile towards Christianity, many Southern Baptist churches separate themselves further from the culture they are called to reach, with a self-affirming and predictable comfortable denominational subculture contributing to this widening distance,” Stetzer said. “This chasm of cultural understanding makes it increasingly difficult for our ‘church culture’ to relate to ‘prevailing culture.’”
Stetzer argued that Baptist churches need to embrace a more “missional” approach to their work, meaning they need to engage themselves in outreach in every context -- not just overseas, but in their local neighborhoods as well.
“What is needed is not merely an understanding of missiological thinking, but a commitment to missional thinking,” Stetzer said. “While missiology concerns itself with study about missions and its methodologies, missional thinking focuses on doing missions in every geographical location. Such thinking is needed if the SBC is to remain faithful in its calling to serve churches by equipping them to impact their surrounding communities.”
Missional thinking may mean that churches adopt differing methodologies to reach different cultures, Stetzer said. But that shouldn’t mean they are looked upon as suspect.
Being Southern Baptist “is about theology and cooperation, not about methodology,” Stetzer said, citing the “Baptist Faith and Message” as the common agreement. “To be Southern Baptist means that we believe certain things and cooperate together to build God’s kingdom.”
Shaddix suggested that the traditional church has often failed the youth of America by exposing them to a dead, lifeless Christianity.
“If they’re not dropping out of church altogether, they’re being captured by philosophies like the emerging church,” Shaddix said. “Both of those venues – no church at all or the emerging church – champion for a belief in nothing. That has to tell us something. It has to tell us that our young people are not running to something. They are running away from something.”
To recapture the hearts and minds of young people, Shaddix said the traditional church must remain committed to biblical premises and intentionally disciple its people through the teaching and exposition of Scripture. Traditional churches must resist the temptation to reinvent themselves every time a new fad comes along.
“The traditional church isn’t built on passing styles and forms,” Shaddix said. “Many traditional churches have an admirable reverence for the past. They honor the past in a healthy way.”