The 2006 Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina is rapidly shaping up to be the most important and strategic convention in the past twenty five years. There are several issues that we face which have already been articulated in a post entitled Five Themes for Greensboro. However, someone might ask, "Why are these issues important?" I can think of at least four very important things that are at stake depending on the results of actions taken (or not taken) at Greensboro.
(1). A very large group of young leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention could possibly leave Greensboro genuinely committed to working within the established processes of the SBC to fulfill our mission of world-wide evangelism.
This young generation of SBC leaders is more interested in transparency, authenticity and following the leadership of the Holy Spirit than closed door secrecy and religious expressions without corresponding actions. In other words, it may be time for our convention to really deal with problems we face in a spirit of honesty, humility and a deep desire to make things better, than to sweep things under the proverbial rug and act as if everything is just fine, all the while using spiritual lingo that often sounds hollow to young ears.
(2). The future expansion of the gospel to unreached people groups of the world through the appointment of thousands of more Southern Baptist missionaries is not only possible, but it can be the driving force behind the cooperation of a very diverse group of Southern Baptists within the United States.
However, demanding doctrinal conformity on those things not addressed by the Baptist Faith and Message is the death knell of cooperation in missions within the SBC. Local church autonomy and the priesthood of the believer are historic Baptist principles that are now, by necessity, needed within the SBC. Many evangelical conservatives remained silent on those two principles when the issue was the veracity of the sacred text, but now that there seems to be a desire by some for every Southern Baptist to believe the same in those areas of interpretation not addressed in the BF&M, young leaders of the SBC are now energized to stop the narrowing of the parameters of cooperation. Broad, evangelical cooperation among brothers in fulfilling the Great Commission is more important to those young leaders than the jot and tittle doctrinal jousts of the the SBC. Young SBC leaders simply want to share the gospel. Greensboro has the potential of showing them a SBC that is warmly evangelical, and broad in cooperation. Young eyes will be watching closely at what happens in Greensboro, and it will be a wonderful opportunity to capture the hearts of those young leaders by showing them a desire to cooperate in the midst of disagreement and diversity.
(3). The average age of the Southern Baptist Convention messenger has the possibility of going down for the first time in many years, and as a result, Cooperative Program giving may be stronger in years to come.
Someone asked me on a phone conversation the other day if these young leaders who will be attending the Young Leaders Conference on Monday night, June 12, at 9:30 at War Memorial Coliseum were interested in positions of power. I was really amazed by the question. It shows a generational misunderstanding of these young leaders within the SBC. They are no more interested in political power than they have been interested in participating in the convention these past ten years. These young, conservative, progressive-thinking, evangelical Southern Baptist pastors, teachers, and leaders don't get too excited about the dynamics of how the Cooperative Program funds missions in Turkey, but if you tell them about an opportunity to go to Turkey with a mission team from their church, they are the first to sign up! For many reasons within the Providence of God, many of these young leaders will be coming to the SBC in Greensboro to participate in the process.
It is now time for them to learn how the SBC works. The Cooperative Program is a unique system that is in need of a tranfusion of energy and excitement for it to be stronger in the future. You can't rehash the status quo statements about cooperation and expect the CP to automatically improve. You must capture and engage the hearts of young leaders in the SBC, who will then in turn, lead their churches to support missions through the CP. Greensboro has the potential of capturing the interest of these young leaders to be more involved in CP giving and ministry.
(4). The ability to disagree, debate, and then leave the arena with genuine love for one another is something that has not been seen in over 30 years, but if and when it happens, it will be the very sign of health within the SBC.
Much great change seems to come through the dynamic of the give and take of disagreement. However, not all disagreement has to be bitter and acrimonious. When you have thousands of people present at a convention there will be disagreement. Would it not be wonderful to see disagreement on motions, disagreement on doctrine, disagreement on the election of officers, but everyone leaving the Convention Hall in a spirit of cooperation to fulfill the mission of evangelism?
I think it can be done. Greensboro is shaping up to be the a very major test on the future and direction of our Southern Baptist Convention.