Should ‘the kids’ rule the SBC roost?

Today we are honored to have an article by guest contributor Nathan Lino. Nathan is pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and a former Southern Baptist of Texas Convention vice president. Originally this article was published in the Southern Baptist Texan. It is reproduced online here by permission.

Anyone who dabbles at all in cultural observation has noted that sadly in the typical American home, the children set the agenda and dictate the values. This is of course due to the dysfunctional mindset that the goal for most homes is the absence of conflict instead of the glory of God. If a parent’s aim is the absence of conflict, it is only a little while until the kids have it their way, right away, keeping the parent from having to deal with tantrums and uncooperative attitudes.

Sadly, these dynamics are not just playing out in our homes, but at the denominational level of our Southern Baptist Convention as well. In our beloved SBC, the over 65s are the elders of our denomination and by and large have run their lap and are now passing on the baton to the 45-65s who are ready to run the next leg of the SBC race. Indeed, the 45-65s are already doing so as they lead more and more of our agencies and boards. And then there is my generation, the 25-45s, the convention “teens.” Some of us, to our shame, are acting like angry dysfunctional adolescents, thinking we know what is best for the family, throwing tantrums and offering uncooperative attitudes when things are not going our way.

But what surprises me is not the immature attitude of entitlement that has been common to youngsters for generations, but rather the credence given to some of the 25-45s by many of the over 45s. This response gives the appearance that the SBC is close to pursuing the goal of the absence of conflict instead of the pursuit of God’s glory. That we have reached a day where the kids are clamoring to rule the roost is Exhibit A of this focus-shift.

In my opinion, the ubiquitous analysis and discussions of the last few years regarding the dynamics of the under 45s in the SBC is making us dysfunctional and unhealthy. Granted, I don’t question the motive for seeking to reach and maintain contact with future Southern Baptist leaders-that mentoring and relationship work needs to take place-I am merely observing that the extent to which we have let such analysis occupy our time has not proven helpful.

In my estimation, there is too much panic among the 45-65s in response to the absence of the younger pastors at our annual meetings, their diminished emphasis on the Cooperative Program, and their apparent perceived lack of support for the International Mission Board. However, often it is the pattern of many youngsters to follow the way of the prodigal by first striking out on their own, against the grain of their parents’ wisdom, only to learn from experience that Dad did know what he was talking about after all, before returning home to the straight and narrow. I believe it is no different within the SBC. I say stop worrying about the trends and fads of 20-45s and start focusing on leading those who presently constitute the core of the SBC. To shift and focus on the prodigal few will only cause us to trip and fall. It is difficult to run one’s lap of denominational service with one’s head turned looking back at the youngsters. Instead we should run as hard as we can with an acute focus on reaching the finish line.

Here are some questions I ponder:
1. Why does it matter if some vocal 25-45s insist on learning the hard way by chasing strategies outside the SBC when our present-day network of churches and agencies are, by the grace of God, actually an incredible Great Commission machine of historic proportions? There are currently two generations serving the SBC in their prime leadership years, which means there is time for the prodigals to fail, come to their senses, and then return to the fold.

2. Why do so many over 45s worry themselves unnecessarily with the under 45s who are absent in body because, candidly, they lack humility and selflessness in heart? Why not mentor the under 40s the Lord has already provided? Just in Texas I can name off the top of my head 15-20 under 45s who are passionate about the SBC. A visit to any of our seminaries will reveal hundreds more, who, like the young David, are busy tending sheep in preparation for ministry. These, I believe, will be the ones to provide ample leadership for Southern Baptist life when their time comes.

What started as a helpful tool-discussion and analysis that centered on the trends of the younger generation-has, in my opinion, occupied the focus of the SBC for too long. I fear that the fads and musings of “younger leaders” have caused us to forget that the SBC belongs to the Lord and is his to increase or reduce in number as he sees fit. If the SBC belongs to the Lord, he will provide plenty of leadership as it is needed. He will protect our future.

Now, before you accuse me of being a 65-year-old in a 30-something’s body, I am not advocating that the SBC find satisfaction in the status quo. The SBC cannot continue as is and expect to be healthy for generations to come. However, this has more to do with the pursuit of need for congregation-wide personal holiness, faithfulness in evangelism, and the simplification of bureaucratic complexities than it does with the generational divide. While I do think we need changes, I also believe the SBC has among its current leadership the wisdom, discernment, and patience to bring about the needed changes for future health and growth.

I also do not believe the present generation of SBC leadership needs heavy input from 30-year-olds to help them make these decisions. My generation does not deserve, or has not yet earned, a voice in the conversation or a seat at the table. We are only beginning to run our lap of leadership service. Scripture is clear that those with white hair have the wisdom, patience and discernment needed to lead. The Lord has raised them up to lead at the current hour and I am thankful he has equipped them for such a time as this.

The SBC need not be intimidated by the attitudes of the immature. It is time to conclude the analysis and discussions about a few among the 25-45s and focus on making sure there is a healthy SBC for the rest of the 25-45s to inherit in 10-15 years. If we will stop looking back over our shoulders as we run the current lap and instead watch where we are going, when the present leadership makes their turn for the homestretch, we will see, by God’s grace, plenty of the next generation there to take the baton and run the next lap until Jesus returns. Perhaps there will be a few prodigals there as well.