Young, Southern Baptist…and Irrelevant?

By Brad Whitt, Pastor
Abilene Baptist Church Martinez, GA

***Editor’s Note: This article appeared a few years ago and can be found at BradWhitt.com .  Updates have been added by the editor in italics.

I’m not “young, restless, and reformed.”

I guess you’d say that I’m young, Southern Baptist, and it seems, increasingly irrelevant.
You see, I’m just a pastor’s son who grew up with a love for my denomination — a Southern Baptist boy by birth and conviction.I received my B.A. from Union University, a Tennessee Baptist university, my masters from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (not supported by the Cooperative Program, but supportive of the Cooperative Program), and a D.Min. from Southeastern.

Moreover, I have never wanted to be anything but a Southern Baptist. Being a Presbyterian has never appealed to me like it seems to some leaders in our convention and their protégés.

As I travel around the SBC, I can see that I’m in the majority; nonetheless, I can’t get away from the overwhelming feeling that in our current denominational world, I am presented as the dinosaur — albeit only a 43-year-old one. It’s obvious when I see who is lifted up as the future of our convention — the hip and cool up-and-comers with whom I have little in common — that my breed is in danger of becoming extinct.

I don’t mind wearing a coat and tie when I preach (at least on Sunday mornings), and I still love to hear a powerful or dynamic choir special. I believe in giving an invitation at the end of every service. Public invitations are still effective. The church where I serve baptized more than 100 people just last year.

I like for the auditorium lights to be on so that I can read my Bible. Also, I don’t get so tired from preaching on Sundays that I need a stool, and I still preach from a pulpit (technically, a podium).

With the current batch of “young leaders”, so many references these days appear to be weaned on non-Southern Baptists, like Tim Keller and C.J. Mahaney.  They are taught to give rock-star status to John Piper and R.C. Sproul while I grew up loving men like Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines. Both men invested their lives in and among Southern Baptists.

I have pastored a new work in Tennessee, served as a NAMB church planter in Ohio and have served as the pastor of a nearly 100-year-old church in South Carolina for the past nine years.  Since 2012, Brad has pastored at Abilene Baptist Church, a church that predates the American Revolution.

I’ve been honored to serve on committees or as an officer at the associational, state, and national levels. Unlike the hipsters and their mentors, I’ve led the churches where I’ve served — sometimes at the expense of hiring another staff member, building a new playground or expanding facilities — to give sacrificially through the Cooperative Program as well as to the Lottie Moon Christmas and Annie Armstrong Easter offerings. At the same time, our churches were personally involved in mission projects here and abroad.

I am not ashamed of being a Southern Baptist and am proud and passionate about my SBC involvement. I have benefited personally from the cooperation among Southern Baptists, and I don’t believe that there is a more effective or efficient way for churches of all sizes to make an eternal impact on this world for Jesus.

It’s not that we can’t or shouldn’t make changes, but everything being proposed now is presented in such a way as to sweep in this new breed that has, at best, “soft” Southern Baptist convictions and commitments.

I’m constantly counseled to “forget about it” — to pastor my church, preach and reach people for Jesus, and let the convention do what it’s going to do.

At times, I think my counselors are right.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a desire to include the majority view and membership in the future of the SBC. Just look at most of the personalities who headline our conferences and conventions.

And it isn’t that I haven’t tried to understand what this new in-charge minority thinks — I read their books, listen to their messages, and peek at their blogs and tweets. It’s just that they don’t have anything in common with the context in which I minister.

Their theology is different from that which I read in the Bible, and their methodology about how best to reach the world for Jesus is foreign to me as well.

I support international missions, but the hard work God has prepared me mainly to do is reach my neighbors. I believe God planted Southern Baptists where we are to reach our immediate spheres of influence first and then by expanding outward we are to reach the world. And I believe that we can only reach as far around the world as we are strong at home.

It gets so frustrating that it would be easy to succumb to the refrains I hear (“just forget about it”), but the thing is I really don’t want to forget about it. I determined when Jesus called me into the ministry that I would be a Southern Baptist pastor and that I would do my best to serve my church and reach this world for Jesus through the ministries and institutions that our spiritual forefathers had the insight and wisdom to put in place.

Do those ministries and institutions need to be fixed or tweaked from time to time? Absolutely.

Do we need to make sure that we’re just as effective and efficient with our personnel and funds as we can be? I don’t believe Jesus would have it any other way. After all, when you get right down to it, our entire ministry is funded through the tithes and offerings of believers in our local churches.

I love being a Southern Baptist and I believe that our historic method of cooperation is the most effective means of helping churches of all sizes, from all parts of the country, with all sorts of different structures and styles, to reach the world for Jesus. It’s not always easy and sometimes hard decisions have to be made when it comes to cooperating together for the Gospel.

But what would happen to the mission and ministry efforts of our convention if pastors like me supported the work of the convention in the same fashion of the “young, restless, and reformed,” or their fathers in the ministry? What if we treated the convention with the same disregard or disdain some entity leaders seem to treat us?

The bottom line is that not everything in Southern Baptist life is broken. It appears to me that the larger issue is that much of that which has been, and continues to be good about the SBC, is simply out of favor with many of those who have managed to rise to positions of leadership within our convention. They have gained possession of the microphone, and they have determined that we’ve got to do things “radically” different — whatever the facts might be.

Definitely, some things need to be fixed and some just need to be tweaked, but changes should come from within by committed Southern Baptists who have invested themselves in the cooperative missions and ministries of Southern Baptists … as well as the Cooperative Program. Right now too many “outsiders from within” have influence and they resent who we are, what we do, and how we do it.

The fact is that, despite my being dismissed by those in vogue, I’m not irrelevant. The opposite is true.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is to grow and thrive, it won’t happen from the actions and attitudes of those who view our cooperative missions and ministries as outmoded and ineffective, or who see stateside ministry as “bloated” compared to missions overseas. It will take a greater emphasis from me, and others like me, on cooperation for the sake of the gospel if we are to succeed in our combined efforts to win the lost. There is no limit to what Southern Baptists could accomplish for the Kingdom if we didn’t care who receives the credit.

I’m not irrelevant. My kind of commitment to Southern Baptists cooperative missions and ministries just happens to be out of style with some at the moment, but styles change and so does possession of the microphone.

 

20 Comments

Will McRaney 19-09-2016, 01:10

Good reminders. SBC was built with a spirit of cooperation and sacrifice for the common cause of advancing of gospel. Reminds me of a good book I read as a college student, “Givers, Takers, and Other Kinds of Lovers” by Josh McDowell. Maybe a current look at the SBC could examine, “givers, takers, and other kinds of SBC churches, pastors and leaders.” In cooperative, voluntary organizations, should there be a king arise, he does not have the power of the army to send out to collect the taxes.

One descriptor a friend of mine uses to describe some of what is happening is what he calls a “reverse Robinhood”. Decisions are better made by those on and closer to the frontlines with the money from the frontline investors. Only time will tell if the light breezes of cooperation will continue to die down or if some new group of leaders will emerge to make course corrections to rebuild trust and goodwill necessary to advance the gospel in a cooperative fashion. I am not convinced Southern Baptists can advance or even maintain our current levels of strength and cooperative mission capacity without an infinitely higher commitment of cooperation, collective giving, and mutual sacrifice as a part of stewarding the inheritance which faithful Southern Baptists have entrusted to us.

QUESTIONS: Is what we are currently emphasizing and doing setting up Southern Baptists for stronger cooperative mission efforts? OR, are we just hoping local Southern Baptists will support our national and international efforts void of local and state connections and commitments which have historically been vital to our regenerating missions sending and funding efforts? Thinking about 5 years down the road on this current path is scary, 10 year thoughts are worse. However, God is not limited by our current wine skins and thankfully He is certainly not dependent upon Southern Baptists. However, may we be faithful to steward that which has been entrusted to us and discerning to determine when new wineskins are what God is doing.

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Dave M 19-09-2016, 04:03

First comment – one word – Bingo!

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Stephen Ammons 19-09-2016, 06:57

Brad,
I am also a young southern baptist pastor,(32). But like you Io not it the mold of what is popular today in our preachers. I pastor a very small church in a very small town and we give an invitation after just about every meeting. I feel the same way you do about some in our convention. This eof us in small town America just need to do our own thing and let the big boys take care of everything, even if we dont agree with it. I am praying for change, i want to help bring that change to better our convention. Thank you sir for your post it was very encouraging.

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Franklin L. Kirksey 19-09-2016, 07:39

Brad, Thank you for your steadfast commitment to exalt the Savior, evangelize the sinner, and edify the saints! I have a great appreciation for your high view of Holy Scripture and a great admiration of your gifts as an excellent biblical expositor. May the Lord continue to anoint you to preach the Word! Blessings, Franklin

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Andy 19-09-2016, 08:26

As a 36yr old Pastor, I’d say your mistake is thinking that you, at 43, are “YOUNG”!

43 is not young…

….yet…

…However, when I am 43, then I will consider 43 to be “young”. :-)

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Kyle Gulledge 19-09-2016, 09:03

Andy, aaa stated in the editor’s note at the top of the article, this was written a few years ago & updated to show his current age, 43 is in italics. He was 36 or 36’7 2when he wrote this. I’ve simply updated his age and current church field.

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Andy 19-09-2016, 09:32

I see now, my mistake…I guess I should read editors notes.

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Tyler 19-09-2016, 09:21

There are godly men who read Piper books and there are godly men reading Jerry Vines books. Both are serving their churches and reaching their communities. Lets stop with the victim mentality that breeds conflict between the two.

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norm miller 19-09-2016, 10:49

That’s true, Tyler. Many godly men read widely. At Criswell College we were required to read Bultmann, et al, because Dr Patterson and our profs wanted us to know the viewpoints of many authors. I have read Piper and Vines, and at the end of it all, I gravitate to Vines because, like the Bereans (Acts 17.11), I discern that Vines is far more scriptural when it comes to soteriology. So, if there is any “divisiveness” to be discerned, let us credit the Holy Spirit of God speaking through God’s Word, which is able to split bone from marrow.
Blog posts here have roundly and repeatedly shown Calvin’s fallacies. Calvin’s YRRs have tried unsuccessfully to rebut the former Calvinists who sometimes post here.
I recognize that Calvinists believe they are standing on God’s Word, and in the main I would agree with them on many things; but especially *not* on soteriology. Why, because I am divisive? No. Because I read the Bible, primarily, and not Vines nor Piper.

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Tyler 19-09-2016, 11:59

Hey man,
Mad respect for you guys having to read Bultmann!

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Lydia 19-09-2016, 10:22

IOW Tyler, Let’s just pretend the last 10 years or so in the SBC did not happen. I don’t blame you or your leaders for wanting that sort of unity…er.. conformity when I consider total depravity as the normal. But it’s not good for the soul.

I did not read “victim” as you did but relating experience. However, there have been plenty of victims of spiritual abuse from the Neo Cal world. I hear it is a sin to mention that.

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Tom 19-09-2016, 19:55

Lydia: These are great days to be SBC–NOT! The SBC is divided and will become more divided in the future IMO. Humpty Dumpty can not be put back together.

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Andrew Barker 20-09-2016, 03:34

Tom Lydia: Did you know that Humpty Dumpty is thought to have been a cannon which fell off Colchester’s town walls during the Royalists’ defence against Cromwell and the Roundheads in the English civil war. Colchester is my home town although I grew up totally unaware of this historic connection. I mention this as a point of interest only, since my aversion to reformed theology is I hope slightly more grounded in biblical truth than the origins of a children’s nursery rhyme. :-)

Cromwell is of course an interesting figure. He seized power, had the king executed, was effectively King of England although he refused the crown but later on came to a sticky end. What goes around comes around! ;-)

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Lydia 20-09-2016, 09:16

Andrew, Cromwell was also a Puritan. The king was head of the church and one had best pay allegiance but he had no problem with Sunday strolls, gaming and such pastimes one found in those days.

Cromwell refused a crown but instituted a micromanaged life thrust on citizens. No Sunday Strolls! To church and home only!

His rival in such such control legalisms was Calvin! They were the 9 Marxists if their time.

It is not hard to see why people might have longed for a king again. My take on Cromwell is he set back the hopes or advance of a representative Republic .

I have a kid in AP Euro and they are in the Reformation now. The teacher is a Grudem ST Calvinist in a public school who attends an Acts 29 church. .

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Lydia 20-09-2016, 09:29

Andrew, you have to wonder how Humpty went from cannon to giant breakable egg. :o)

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Andrew Barker 20-09-2016, 16:31

Lydia: Too true. Imagine how miffed I was when I realised that my childhood had been spent not knowing that Humpty Dumpty was not an egg. Apparently, the gun was so heavy that they couldn’t lift it back in place after it had fallen off the wall! I’ve not researched just how and why the nursery rhyme is pictured with Humpty as an egg though. Perhaps it’s down to the Puritan sense of humour? However, some scholars pour cold water on this theory anyway, so in the end, you believe what you want to believe or perhaps whichever is the most interesting account!

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Lydia 20-09-2016, 20:12

I would be miffed, too, Andrew. My childhood was spent building forts. The only thing missing in Colchester account were the Jacobins. :o)

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Carson Cobb 19-09-2016, 19:12

For a great synopsis of how the SBC can work hard to both reach the world domestically and internationally, I’d recommend the book “Radical Together” by David Platt
https://smile.amazon.com/Radical-Together-Unleashing-People-Purpose/dp/1601423721/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474330296&sr=8-1&keywords=radical+together+david+platt

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Rick Patrick 19-09-2016, 21:55

I really wish we had come up with a radical way to keep one thousand missionaries on the field instead of calling them home. I will always believe Southern Baptists could have and should have found a better way.

I also hope the IMB will revisit the 2% threshold for “reachness” in a nation, and continue to appoint missionaries in such places. We need to balance the “frontier” mandate with the “harvest” mandate.

For a great synopsis of a real missiologist’s strategy for reaching the nations, follow this link to read a theological journal essay by Robin Dale Hadaway. It is on page 17. http://swbts.edu/sites/default/files/images/content/docs/journal/SWJT_57_1.pdf

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Tom 20-09-2016, 05:27

Rick: You said:”I really wish we had come up with a radical way to keep one thousand missionaries on the field instead of calling them home. I will always believe Southern Baptists could have and should have found a better way.”

I agree with you 100%. I still can not believe this was allowed to happen. I have been SBC for over 40 years and know that if SB had been made aware of the financial need those missionaries would be on their jobs this morning.

I am still waiting for a better explanation for why these 1000 missionaries were brought home. We will never find out from the missionaries because they will lose their benefits if they speak out.

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