Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What Is At Stake In the Southern Baptist Convention

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.


Kevin Bussey said...

Wow! Wade you are right on. We sure don't want power. We just want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Anonymous said...

If heresy means "departing from the norm" you will be accused because the attitudes that you are promoting are the opposite from the "norm" of the last 25 years. I pray you are right and "may your tribe increase!"

Kevin Bussey said...

Wow! Wade you are right on. We sure don't want power. We just want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

David Phillips said...


Do you hear the sound of nail being hit by a ball peen hammer? You should!

What many don't realize is much of what you said has become a battle we are willing to die for.

This could be the most important convention for our denomination since Adrian Rogers was elected president in 1979. This convention will impact the future of the SBC that deeply.

I'm ready! Let's git-r-done! :-D

. said...

Thanks for this great vision, and for your tenacious efforts to see it come to pass.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Missionaries cannot speak freely, nor can seminary professors or any staff at the various agencies. Wade, as you have seen, not even trustees are allowed to speak freely without being the target of unfounded charges.

When the IMB went through a restructure back in 1996, many missionaries spoke of the change as a "divide and conquer" issue. Groups of missionaries who used to gather to make decisions and hash out issues they faced with limited financing and unmet personnel needs were suddenly separated into smaller groups who could only communicate through a field leader. Decisions were taken out of the hands of the body of missionaries and all decisions passed through the field leader's sieve.

All communications were to pass through the channels of hierarchy. Q&A sessions were quickly cut off if they addressed real issues. Answers to concerns expressed were not forthcoming.

I can speak of my experience on the field with the FMB/IMB. I make a distinction, because they are two very different organizations. As your words denote, the IMB is sick. It does not operate in health. It has not operated in health for a full decade. Missionaries are not really given the opportunity to communicate with one another, much less to speak openly to SBC churches.

IMB staff is in the same position. There are enough people in the system who desire to keep the system in its current state.

I wish you well in Greensboro. You may not want power, but it will take a lot of courage by many to take a bold stand against the disease that has permeated our convention agencies.

If you want an education, you need to gather some former missionaries together and ask them about the differences they have seen over the last 10-15 years. If they left the field before 2000, they missed a lot, but between 1995 and 2001 there were many changes that spell disease in terms of your wording.

wadeburleson.org said...

Former M,

I have read your comments and others regarding difficulties on the field. I am responsible for a section of the world called Central Asia. I can guarantee you, though there are sometimes problems, the missionaries in my region have vision, energy, excitement, and a healthy respect for their superiors.

However, I realize that CA is a relatively new work. I do not know where you served, or where others are serving. My suggestion to anyone on the field is simply this:

Write down your suggestions. Make recommendations to both the trustees and your superiors. I can promise you that change comes when God's people are persistent in bringing about the needed changes.

Some might believe that my blog has become a harbor for discontents (that is what one trustee told me), but I see it vastly different.

I believe people like Former M and others feel as if their voices have not been heard. I believe that Southern Baptists operate best when everything is in the open for all to see, and not behind closed doors in secrecy.

Please make some solid, articulate, concise recommendations. I am listening.

I know what is needed within the trustee board. I am willing to learn what may be needed on the field. Of course, there may be differences of opinion, but the issue for me is that we create an atmosphere where there is free debate.

We'll get there.

Anonymous said...

Your blog may not be a harbor for discontents but the vent is certainly not from the contented. I hate to wish away time but hurry Greensboro!!

James Hunt said...

For those "young leaders" not able to make it to the convention...how should they seek to make a significant impact...or are they just going to miss out?

wadeburleson.org said...


The widows barrel provided oil when it should have been gone.

The Convention is the only means at this point through which effective change can come.

I pray your barrel will bring you some oil so you can make it to Greensboro.

If not, keep informed. The time will come when you can participate.

Anonymous said...

Re: Wanting Power. I wonder if the questioner had any idea how offensive the question itself was? On a good day I might wonder what goes on in ones head that he or she would even be concerned about denominational power. On a bad day I might question the speaker's understanding of a genuine Christian life. On a really bad day, I might question the speaker's salvation.

I think I understand the motivation to be one of not wanting to see a life time of work disappear. The older generation wants to be recognized and valued for the sacrifices they have made. If we are able to do greater things, it will be because of the foundation built by those who came before us.

But the attitude is still one of fear. We need to convince the older generation of leaders/power brokers in the SBC that we are passionate about the Kingdom, we have ideas and opinions of our own, we won't quietly follow tradition blindly, but none of those things are to be feared.

(For the record, I see myself as belonging to neither the younger or older generation, but truly in the middle.)

Anonymous said...

For me, the one bright spot in all this has been the opportunity to "hear" from some of our "younger leaders" through reading the blogs. It thrills my heart to hear from so many of you who obviously have a passion for the Lord, for the Word, for the church, for the lost, for doctrince, for truth and fairness and doing what is right. I have been impressed by how bright so many of you are and to see how you have approached this issue.

If the antics of our leadership don't alienate you guys to the point where you decide to leave the SBC, I think we have a very bright future ahead.

Anonymous said...


You may think that everything is "hunky-dory" on the field in CA, but unless you are serving on the field you are not going to be privy to what is really happening.

Missionaries are conditioned to only reveal the positives and to internalize what's negative. I've heard many of my missionary peers say they can't be open and honest because they fear it might get back to the their leaders, and they will be sent home.

Anonymous said...


I am concerned.

I have read your blog with great interest in the last few days. Having distanced myself from SBC politics years ago, I have not been privy to much of the goings on within the boards. I have found much of what you have reported an affirmation of many of the things I said long ago would happen when many of the power brokers no longer had an enemy.
However, this raises an issue of concern with me. I agree wholeheartedly with your "big tent" philosophy in matters of non-essential doctrine. Yet, I wonder, when I read your blog and the blogs of others who agree with you, how much of the problems are a result of another theological disagreement. That is, the debates on the issues of Calvinism vs Arminianism. Now, before you get upset, please know that I am not attacking you or your theology. It is interesting that, at least from what I can glean, one dividing line between the two sides in this issue is the line of reformed theology. Yes, I know, there has been no mention of this at all in the debate. And yet, I am left to wonder what part this issue plays not only in the debate, but in the future of our convention. How would you respond?

"Why the concern?" you may ask. The concern is from a person who considers himself neither a fundamentalist (which I believe is a political designation) nor a Calvinist. Where, I ask, is my place in the convention. Honestly, I have been able to live in the SBC by being fairly uninvolved. Call me wrong, but that has been my position. I am as conservative as the next guy, so I am in agreement with the theology, but not the politics. I've been able to live on the fence, for now. If the situation continues in this direction, I may not be able to stay in the Convention personally. However, I see changes on the horizon. The reformed movement, as I see it, is no longer an undercurrent. As I understand it, the Founders movement (of which you may or may not be a part) states that its purpose is to move the convention to what it believes are its reformed roots. I am currently a DMin student at a Presbyterian seminary (yes, I know, a strage place for someone who is not a Calvinist). While that doesn't make me an expert by any means, I have observed a certain inflexibility when it comes to this theological debate. I realize that this is pretty convoluted, but I'll try and make my point. If our convention makes this move, which wouldn't surprise me, then is there a place for me? Most of the reformed folks I know would not consider their position on the doctrines of grace to be non-essential. Do you forsee this being an issue?

I realize that there is much more to reformed theology than Calvinism. I also realize that a shift in the convention wouldn't come overnight, if at all. However, while I applaud your efforts and agree with your desires for our convention, I wonder if it is a reality for me in the future?

Looking forward to your response. Thanks for your willingness to have an open discussion.

Jeff Floyd

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. B,

How will we be able to exert any influence at the convention? I've never been before, so I don't understand how it works. Will there be any meaningful motions brought that will help in these areas?

Love in Christ,


wadeburleson.org said...


There will be many pertinent motions.

wadeburleson.org said...

Jeff in Mississippi,

I do not participate in the Founders Movement. I respect the men and women who are part of the Founders, including Tom Ascol, but I do not participate.

This debate is not about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. I do not call myself a Calvinist. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. However, there is enough room within the Southern Baptist Convention for Arminians and Calvinists to serve together on the mission field. Believing in elecion does not get one soul into heaven. Believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ does. Both Calvinists and Arminians preach Christ.

For anyone to try to make this a soteriological issue is wrong, on either side. The issue is "Can Baptists who differ on doctrines not addressed by the BF&M cooperate together?"

I say resoundingly "yes!" and I am doing all I can to make sure that happens.

I can even fellowship, and desire to fellowship and cooperate with Landmark Baptists!!

The issue, however, is "will they cooperate with me?"

Anonymous said...

Thrilled to hear you say that! I agree wholeheartedly! Hope there was no offense in the theological designations, just used them for clarification.
Hope to meet you some day.
Jeff Floyd

art rogers said...

I echo the many posts concerning power and aspirations to such by Young Leaders. We aren't interested and Bowden makes a good point wondering what is on the mind of the questioner.

In fact, this is not the first time that question has been raised, and as one who has become quite vocal in my critique of certain issues, I feel somewhat like a target.

Let me assure everyone that I, and would guess that my peers, are not after denominational positions. Rather, I thought through that issue clearly before I started publicly criticizing some of the denominational actions.

I was willing to give up any and all thoughts of service within the SBC beyond serving a local church. It wasn't that hard. I never really wanted that for myself anyway, so I wasn't giving up anything really.

You see, if you want denominational power, you go through the powers that be and come up under them. You don't oppose them to their face.

I have no desire to overthrow the people in charge nor do I have a desire for them to appoint me to anything. As always, I serve the denomination when asked and otherwise focus on the mission.

That is my goal in this: to get us focusing on the mission and get off of the distractions of non-essential doctrines.

And to all who ask: Your presence in Greensboro is a must. If you want the denomination to take you seriously, take it seriously and be there.

Anonymous said...

The popular opinion seems to be that nothing much matters except the Gospel of Jesus Christ understood in its simplest terms. I read on one of yesterday’s posts about all that’s really needed is a person, a bible and faith, everything else is pretty much optional. If you really mean this, does that mean cooperation should be extended to all groups and denominations that declare that’s their mission as well. Where do you set boundaries? Why compete with Mormons or Catholics? After all, teaching what they believe to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ, aren’t they okay using this simple standard?

Kevin Bussey said...

V Domus,

Surely you don't equate disagreement on a Private Prayer Language and Baptism with the Mormans or Jehovah Witnesses?

Most of us "formerly silent" young leaders are very conservative. In fact if you heard us speak, we are very committed to evangelism and missions.

The vision that Wade has expressed so well for us, is to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We realize we can't do it on our own. We want to be cooperative on the non-essentials.

art rogers said...

v domus

Our boundries are set, in the BFM. If it goes beyond that, it becomes a distraction.

Anonymous said...

The very fact that someone--presumably someone in a leadership positions--would see a group of younger pastors interesting in the convention and immediately become concerned that "we" might desire to wrest a certain amount of "their" power tells me 1)That he doesn't understand "us" and 2)Our denomination is in much worse shape that I might have previoulsy hoped.

Anonymous said...


I understand the distinctions. But corruption can come by subtraction or addition. Restrictions and regulations that cause distraction for no other reason than matters of control or power do corrupt. My concern still remains; How do you find the boundaries where the lines become ever more blurred? Doctrine is important and should not be put aside too casually for the sake of practicality. Real conviction about an issue is different. I think this blog can help bring a remedy.

Anonymous said...

I spent a week in Nashville with 18000 college students! Not all were Southern Baptists, but many were. That generation is hungering for a chance to be great for God. They are willing to sacrifice, experince hardship, and travel to the "hard places" to spread the Gospel. They want power...do not be mistaken! But, it is the power of the Holy Spirit to Go into all of the world!

Many will live and die for the sake of the Gospel. If the Southern Baptist Convention does not wake up and recognize this generation for the potential it has... and tap into it, it will be a shame and a pity.

This generation will not fight...

This generation will not mourn the loss of denominational greatness

This generation will seek organizational reform

This generation will simply shake the Baptist dust off of their feet and walk away...to do kingdom Work in some other way.

Take note SBC leaders...if you want one of the most passionate generations "with a cause" since the 1960s to be a part of what I believe is still the greatest missionary sending organization of modern times...you must reach out to them and help them see that you care about The Great Comission more than anything else. Any thing less will get you nowhere.

They care about doctrine (but their list of non essentials appears to be much longer than yours).

They are conservative, passionate, and ready to give thier lives for the cause of Christ.

Don't hinder that fervor.....In humility...help them

Let them go....and you stand behind them and "hold the rope"

Anonymous said...

My dear Brother Wade,
I have thoroughly agreed with just about everything you've written, but I believe the statement made in item 4 concerning the lack of opportunity for open debate is inaccurate! Certainly, to limit it to the last 30 years! I've missed only one or two of the SBC annual meetings in that time and I personally believe there has been more opportunity for dissent in the last 30 years, with the exception of the last 4 SBC sessions..... where I believe there was evidence of podium control by the Executive Committee, particularly as related to the differing opinions concerning NOBTS and Sole Ownership! That may just be my perspective and I haven't analyzed the sessions, but I believe that conclusion to be inaccurate, and I have attempted to be faithful to my responsibilites as a messenger from my home church in attendance during the business segments of every session! I mention this only because you have impressed me with efforts at accuracy! If you have statistics that indicate otherwise then I stand corrected! Blessings, and keep asking the hard questions!

Barrett M. Lampp,
Associate, TRBC,
Tallahassee, FL

Jason Vaughn said...

I called my church and I'll be the first person in yers to even go to the convention.