Dr. Rick Patrick, Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church, Sylacauga, AL
Executive Director, Connect 316
From 1987 to 1996, television commercials for the American Express Card concluded with the tagline Membership has its privileges. Every organization’s leader hopes this adage is true, for if conditions are better on the outside than they are on the inside, there is no incentive for anyone to join. If one can simply remain a partner and receive all the same benefits of a member with few, if any, of the responsibilities, then membership is bound to experience a cycle of decline. Such a group’s unofficial slogan is Partnership has its privileges.
Within many layers of Southern Baptist life today, we have created just such a dire situation. A variety of partners currently enjoy all the same benefits of being Southern Baptist without ever truly embracing our denomination, rolling up their sleeves or opening their pocketbooks. These organizations include (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, and (d) multi-site church networks.
The aim of this essay is not only to expose such arrangements, which may have gone unnoticed by the typical Southern Baptist layperson, but also to question whether the numerical growth these partnerships allow us to claim is actually in the best interests of Southern Baptists, especially if the groups we are adding do not really claim any meaningful identity with us, and fail to contribute to the SBC a significant measure of their time, talents and treasure. To be blunt, the concern is that with each additional partner we gain, we have another group taking more than they are giving—a situation unsustainable in the long term.
Defining Our Terms—Benefits, Partners and Members
Before exploring the nature of these uneven partnerships, let us define a few terms.
Certain member benefits are currently being extended today to organizations that are honestly only our partners. These member benefits include (a) access to our sizable church plant funding resources through NAMB, (b) free ministry support and consultation from denominational entities, (c) voting privileges at our SBC Annual Meetings, and (d) seminary student discounts of 50% off tuition.
Frankly, such member benefits are provided courtesy of the Cooperative Program, a missions mutual fund paid for primarily by the proven members of loyal Southern Baptist churches whose contributions are now being expended upon the unproven partners of various ministries that until recently would be considered outside the Southern Baptist Convention. Historically, these benefits were reserved for people, churches and organizations who identified with the SBC theologically, culturally and financially. They were clearly Southern Baptist Churches. Today, some churches may be wearing the boots and the hat, but deep down, if they were completely honest, they would have to admit they are not really cowboys at all.
These partners may share very little with us in the way of history, doctrine, culture, or shared values. They may not really know us very well. They may not support the SBC very much financially. In fact, we may have little more in common with them than we do with any of the other 250,000 Non-Southern Baptist Churches in America. Sometimes, they don’t even consider themselves to be Southern Baptists. They don’t really identify with the SBC in any meaningful way. The SBC is not mentioned on their church sign or their website. To put it simply, we are taking the resources of proven SBC churches who are very loyal to our brand and spending them upon unproven SBC churches who are not very loyal to our brand. What happens when all the loyal churches run out of money to squander upon all the disloyal churches? Doesn’t it make more sense for loyalty to invest in loyalty?
As mentioned earlier, these partners might be (a) other denominations, (b) parachurch organizations, (c) unconventional associations, or (d) multi-site church networks. In Part Two, we will look at specific case studies in which these partnering churches have structured themselves in a very diverse manner—with strong loyalties to outside partners and supporters. Such groups are generally outside of the authority of the SBC. They have their own rules, complete autonomy, unique confessions and leadership unaccountable to Southern Baptists.
Please note that I sometimes use this term partner to refer to individual churches that may technically fit within the official definition of a Southern Baptist Church, even though they do not take our name, identify with us publicly, contribute more than a pittance financially, participate in any of our ministries or meetings, or have their names on any kind of publicly available registry identifying them as Southern Baptists. At the risk of being overly blunt, there may be some churches out there with members who are not really Southern Baptists in their heart of hearts, and they know they are not really Southern Baptists, but they are willing to pretend they are Southern Baptists in order to get what we give to our own. They are not in it to give. They are in it to take. We have done a good job of incentivizing churches to become technically Southern Baptist without ever really asking them to fall in love with Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Church Potlucks, Brotherhood Breakfasts, Fifth Quarters, VBS, Christmas Cantatas or the Bereavement Casserole Brigade. Frankly, they’re not very Southern Baptist, and they don’t really want to be. But for a little church planting money and a few seminary discounts, they can at least bring themselves to call us one of their “partners.”
Officially, according to the SBC Constitution, a church is Southern Baptist if it meets three conditions. First, it has a faith and practice closely identifying with our statement of faith, which is The Baptist Faith and Message. Notice it is not necessary to adopt the statement, which is frankly quite broadly written to begin with, but only to “closely identify” with it. This condition is useful whenever a church endorses homosexual behavior, for example, since such a position is clearly not “closely identifying” with our statement of faith. Second, it has formally approved its intention to cooperate with the SBC. This could be done by completing the Annual Church Profile. It could be satisfied by Church Business Meeting minutes affirming their intention to cooperate. Third, it makes undesignated contributions through the Cooperative Program or directly through the Executive Committee or toward any convention entity in the prior year. No dollar amount is specified. Thus, to be a Southern Baptist Church, officially, all you really have to do is (a) basically believe like we do, (b) state somewhere that you will cooperate with the SBC, and (c) give at least something to any Southern Baptist entity. It is easier to become a Southern Baptist Church than it is to join a wholesale food club, rent a locker at an amusement park, or order a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
The definition above is the official one—the one I consider to be far too lenient to sufficiently guard the long-term interests of the SBC. However, as I am using the term “member” in this series, I am talking about the truly faithful, loyal, long-standing, traditional Southern Baptist Church. Perhaps this church has been around for 50 or 100 years or more. They might give 10% through the Cooperative Program and 3% to their local Baptist Association. They have a VBS every summer. They invite evangelists to speak at Revivals at least once a year. They are active in their State Convention. They know about Hershel Hobbs Commentaries. They know about the envelope offering system. They know we don’t claim to have assigned seating in church—but you better not sit in anyone’s seat just the same. This is the church that is culturally Southern Baptist, convictionally Southern Baptist, and unashamedly Southern Baptist. These are the churches primarily paying the bills in our denomination. They are loyal Southern Baptist Churches filled with godly, faithful, humble souls. They are giving much more than they take. And they pretty much assume that the people and churches and groups with which we partner are similarly proud to be generous and committed Southern Baptists whose absolute and undivided denominational loyalties match their own.
In Part Two, we will explore some of these partners and their divided loyalties.
Editor’s Note: This was the keynote address at the annual Connect 316 Banquet held June 13, 2017, in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting. It was a tremendous address, gladly and enthusiastically received by those of us in attendance.
This is the full, unedited version of Dr. Hankins’ address in it’s entirety. We are taking a pause from our usual standard of articles ranging between 1,000-1,500 words, as I feel this address needs to be read in it’s completeness to allow you, the reader, to get the full force and context.
Let me begin this evening by offering a word of thanks to those of you who have given your support to the Traditional Statement, by signing it, by speaking up for it, or both. As I found out within the first few minutes after we made the TS public, affirming these beliefs vis-à-vis Calvinism sets one up for surprising levels of criticism and ill-treatment. By affirming the statement, you were, among other things, sticking your neck out for me. A special thanks to Rick Patrick and the leaders of Connect 316 for their encouragement over the years and for keeping the torch burning for Traditional soteriology. Continue reading
Editor’s Note: Having returned from Phoenix, and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting, I began to assess all that took place during the meeting. If all you did was read or watch the news reports about the SBC, you would think all that took place was one vote on a resolution condemning the alt-right. However, as Dr. Ronnie Floyd proves with this article so much more happened. In fact, warts and all I’m more proud and excited to be a Southern Baptist than I’ve ever been. One of the highlights for me was the Connect 316 banquet where we had a record attendance while the overall attendance for the convention fell.
After serving as President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2014-2016 and presiding over the 2015 and 2016 Annual Conventions, this year’s convention was an interesting journey for me personally. With the peace of God and the confident assurance in His timing, I enjoyed praying and participating as a messenger again.
I participated in the entire meeting, and my reflections are from my observations, where my own indelible memories from previous years cannot help but shape my perspective. Here are five personal reflections on the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention.
Reflection #1: Evangelism Awaits Becoming The Priority In Our Churches Again
Dr. Steve Gaines, our president, shared with conviction the great need for evangelism to become the priority of our churches again. While baptisms continue to decline deplorably, at least it is being talked about again. Thank you, President Gaines, for making this the needed priority again.
In my own 2016 Presidential Address in St. Louis, The Stakes Are High, one of the main points of my message was, “Now is the time for Southern Baptists to evangelize.” In fact, as I called upon us to prioritize evangelism again, I stated: “While theological debate is ascending and is applauded loudly in our convention, evangelistic fervor and fire is being extinguished and the masses are silent about it.” Yes, it is time for us to evangelize. Furthermore, I stated, “Our convention celebrates everything but the main thing and then we wonder what happened with the main thing… evangelism.”
Until evangelism becomes the priority of pastors, church leaders, and churches again, our baptisms will continue to decline. Thank God, evangelism matters in our Cross Church family and it is applauded in every way. We are on our way perhaps to one of our greatest years in baptisms and possibly the strongest yet. However, we willrecommit ourselves, and yes, I have recommitted myself personally to intensifying my own witness for Jesus daily.
Reflection #2: Personal Stewardship Is Being Emphasized and Strategized
Thank God that personal stewardship is being emphasized and strategy is taking place. This is far overdue, and I applaud this action. Dr. Frank Page gave an excellent report on Tuesday afternoon, championing a new partnership with Dave Ramsey Solutions.
Dave Ramsey is the leading champion in helping families in areas of personal finance. Just recently, Dave Ramsey was a guest on my podcast, and you can listen here. Additionally, we put together an article of some lessons I’ve learned from Dave.
This is a brilliant stroke by our Executive Committee. Financing the work of Southern Baptists was one of my great burdens for our convention while I was President. In fact, in the same 2016 Presidential Address noted above, I talked about our great need of stewardship.
By the way, the Wednesday afternoon panel on stewardship I was privileged to participate in was strong. You can watch this panel here. It is something you could even show your church in certain settings.
Reflection #3: Southern Baptists Spoke Clearly and Powerfully Against All Alt-Right White Supremacy
Southern Baptists denounce all racism as anti-Christ and anti-Gospel. This has been our position and is our position today. I believe it will always be our position. We are clearly and powerfully against all Alt-Right White Supremacy.
While some were confused by our Resolution Committee’s challenge relating to bringing forward this resolution, it was not a matter of the heart, but of judgment and logistics. However, the Resolutions Committee and their chairman, Barrett Duke, with humility, offered apology, responding with a resolution all Southern Baptists could support. This Resolution #10 is powerful and you can read it here.
There were many references to resolutions and ways we have spoken to the entire race issue in the past. Yet, the Alt-Right White Supremacy issue needed to be addressed specifically. Southern Baptists have made a remarkable commitment over the past years. Both the 2015 and 2016 conventions prioritized sections of the annual meeting regarding racial unity, and addressed this great need clearly. We must and will continue forward in this area, and this resolution is proof.
Reflection #4: Celebrate The SBC Process
The past two years, we have seen messengers help the Resolutions Committee reach important decisions. Last year, it was related to the Confederate Flag. If the 2016 Resolutions Committee would have brought out a resolution calling for the confederate flag’s removal, it would have been very divisive and probably defeated. Yet, the humility of last year’s chairman, Stephen Rummage and his committee, permitted the messengers to help shape the resolution. It was done in a wholesome and right manner, all over a very difficult issue.
Again, this year, the messengers helped the 2017 Resolutions Committee achieve Resolution #10 in the right way and in the right tone. This process should be celebrated.
Yes, the SBC process can be slow, laborious, and at times, not friendly to growth. But, we need to celebrate the SBC process that was a true friend to our convention this year. The SBC messengers have been and are heard at the annual conventions.
Reflection #5: H.B. Charles’ Election As The 2018 Pastors’ Conference President Was Special
Pastor H.B. Charles of Jacksonville, Florida, was elected President of the 2018 Pastors’ Conference. I so rejoice over his election, a pastor and great preacher of God’s Word. His message in the final session of the convention was strong and wonderful.
Pastor Charles will be the first African American President of our Pastors’ Conference. This again, more than shows our great commitment to racial diversity in the future of our Southern Baptist Convention. As I stated in my 2016 Presidential Address last year, “It is with deep regret that I can do nothing about this stained past against our African American brothers and sisters; but with all I am and with all I can, I join you in creating a future together that binds up the nation’s wounds and always marches ahead knowing we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)
Electing Pastor Charles is another forward step toward our future in the Southern Baptist Convention. I cannot go forth without calling our attention to the humble spirit demonstrated by Pastor Brad Graves of First Baptist Church in Ada, Oklahoma. Pastor Graves, already a candidate for Pastors’ Conference President, stepped aside in humility and in honor of Pastor Charles within 24 hours of Pastor Charles being nominated. Pastor Graves did so because he too saw this as a major need in our convention and future; therefore, he put aside himself for the sake of the convention. This is refreshing and worth celebrating. Thank you, Pastor Graves and Pastor Charles, for both being great leaders and examples for all of us. We are thankful for each of you.
By the way, this past Saturday, Pastor Graves’ dad passed away. One day after withdrawing from the election, Brad led his dad to Jesus Christ after twenty-five years of witnessing to him. Thirty-seven days after giving his life to Christ, Pastor Graves’ dad went to heaven. Oh, we serve a great and gracious God. Please pray for Pastor Graves and his family during this time.