Bill Harrell has served as Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, for over 30 years. He also is active in the Augusta Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Convention, and SBC, including having serving as the Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
In the short span of time of about five years, those of us who are observers of activities within the Southern Baptist Convention have witnessed not only changes but mega-shifts in our convention. It would take a large volume for someone to treat all the various subjects at hand but I want to address just a few that are very subtle in some ways but very overt in others.
Most of our Southern Baptist people are just tending to the business of the Kingdom in their part of the world unaware of the forces that are in play and what those forces are trying to achieve and indeed are achieving with much success.
Two things have come to our attention in recent days that bear watching. First, our agency for missions within the US, NAMB, has been using some of the Cooperative Program funds to help establish “Acts 29” churches. These churches must, by their own charter, be organized as five-point-Calvinist churches. There are those who have it as their goal to change the SBC into a Reformed convention more akin to a Presbyterian church that a Baptist church. I cannot, in these few words, get into a broad examination of what is going on, but any informed member of the SBC understands that this is happening.
The driving force behind the Acts 29 churches has been Mark Driscoll; and I do not need to elucidate how controversial he is. He has become, to the younger people, somewhat of a folk hero who they are willing to follow no matter what he says or does. Chapter 10 of his recent book, Real Marriage, is nothing but pornography. It encourages people to think that it normal to do sexually what the Bible condemns. Yet, it is Southern Baptist people who suddenly seem willing to accept the things that the people of our convention rejected outright as sinful until recently. In recent days the leadership of Acts 29 has shifted to someone else, at least in the public eye. Driscoll is the founder of this emergent church, Calvinistic organization; and many believe he will still be the “behind the scenes” leader. Being the founder, he is not going to “ride off into the sunset” too easily or too far.
The following list was assembled not as a detailed research project, nor was it the product of a survey of the largest churches in America. This list is merely the simple observations of a single staff person. Through conversations with colleagues, countless conventions, and tireless training events, I have surmised that the following are true. You be the real judge. I welcome your opinion.
1. Church Size and Type. Churches are making decisions concerning what type of church they want to be . . . Supersize or Boutique. Churches are mimicking business models. Just as businesses are choosing to specialize only in selected merchandise, a number of churches are directing their focus so that they may be good or the best at a few things. Once refined, they often “franchise” to additional locations. Other churches are choosing “to be all things to all people.” This model requires massive staff, organization, facilities, and of course, money. Both approaches seem to work. Big and small churches are healthy and growing, while at the same time, midsize and neighborhood congregations are disappearing. Incidentally, reports are that . . . 80 percent of Southern Baptists attend churches with more than 1000 in worship each Sunday, about 7 percent of the 45,727 congregations in our denomination.
2. Institutional Internalization. The mission of the church has been lost. For a vast majority of churches, the overwhelming goal of the local congregations seems to be “preservation of the institution,” rather than the “pursuit of the mission.” The energy and resources of the churches have been increasingly directed to staying alive or preserving status quo. In the last 50 years the number of churches has increased by 50 percent while the number of baptisms has plateaued or declined. Church splits and starts seemed to have weakened congregations as the evangelistic zeal has faded.
By Dr. Lemke, Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, occupying the McFarland Chair of Theology, Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
In a recent post on his “The Big Daddy Weave” blog site, Aaron Weaver questioned the nomination by SEBTS President Danny Akin of Fred Luter to First Vice President of the SBC this year, and the affirmation by SBTS Dean of Theology Russ Moore that Luter should be elected President of the SBC next year at the convention meeting in New Orleans. Furthermore, Weaver discounted the set of recommendations coming from the SBC Executive Committee to the Phoenix convention to make “the convention’s leadership positions more reflective of the growing ethnic diversity in its churches” as an attempt at what Weaver labeled “Affirmative Action.” Weaver’s apparent rejection of these initiatives in the SBC to engage a broader ethnic/racial diversity in the SBC cause me concern at several levels. Let me respectfully voice several of these concerns, starting with some that are less important and moving toward the more important. My primary purpose is to endorse the candidacy of Fred Luter for significant positions of leadership in the SBC, and to affirm the recommendations about greater racial diversity being brought forward at this year’s SBC convention in Phoenix.
The Elder Brother?
To be clear, Weaver is not questioning these moves because he is opposed to greater racial diversity. It doesn’t take long perusing his website (the pictures of Jimmy Carter, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Barbara Jordan among his heroes on the banner to the website might be a clue) that Weaver advocates essentially a liberal Democrat agenda. It does appear clear, however, that his raising the Affirmative Action issue is something of a smokescreen or red herring to bash SBC leadership. Weaver has hosted the website for years, but through these hundreds of posts he does not have a single prior post specifically defending or addressing Affirmative Action. There are, however, dozens of articles critical of SBC leadership. So let’s just be honest and acknowledge that the issue is not Affirmative Action in the first place, but Weaver using it as a pretense to demean SBC leaders. At best, Weaver exemplifies the attitude of the elder brother when the prodigal came back home. If the SBC has been slow to address adequately this issue of greater racial diversity, and Weaver has been further ahead on this issue, at the very least he “has an attitude” about us prodigals coming to ourselves, rather than entering into the joy of the Father for this step of progress.