Friday, June 10, 2011

Now Is the Summer of Our Discontent: The 21st Century Demise of the SBC

The 2011 Annual Meeting for the Southern Baptist Convention officially begins next Tuesday morning, June 14, 2011. Membership in SBC churches has decreased for five years in a row, dropping 500,000 members since 2005. Attendance at this year's Southern Baptist Convention will be the lowest in nearly five decades, struggling to reach 5,000 in attendance. What has happened to the SBC?

There may be as many postulated reasons for the precipitous decline in the SBC as potential messengers in Phoenix next week. From my own personal experiences with the inner workings with the SBC I offer five reasons why the SBC is perilously close to becoming purely irrelevant. It is possible for changes to occur to prevent the SBC from her imminent and ultimate demise, but it will require immediate and effective leadership, something not yet demonstrated at any level of the SBC. The five reasons for decline are:

(1). The demonization of disagreement.

When we conservative evangelicals spend more time defining why other people are theologically wrong rather than powerfully living out the gospel of Jesus Christ, we construct our own platform for decline. The fanatical attempts to demonize other evangelicals who express a desire to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention in church planting and missions--a demonization due to perceived disagreements over secondary issues--guarantees the demise of the SBC. The stronger and more shrill the demands for absolute conformity on all things, the faster and fuller the free-fall into irrelevance in all things. Pay attention to the number of recommendations and resolutions at Phoenix pertaining to the Acts 29 Network in Phoenix. Watch who makes them, who backs them, and who votes for them. You need go no further to see the reason for the SBC decline.

(2). The crystalization of methodology.

Our national convention refuses to launch satellite electronic annual meetings to allow greater and more economic participation, though the technology is available. Our seminaries refuse to offer on-line degrees, and continue to decline in enrollment when compared to other schools who see their future in on-line education. Our national agencies refuse to listen to our missionaries on the ground for the development of their missions' ministries, and instead continue to send out "memos" and "directives" from Richmond as if we were living in the 1860's. Our state conventions refuse restuctering archaic methods of child care, senior adult care, and other important ministries because we are afraid of change.

 The Southern Baptist Convention is like the Titanic; the iceburg is seen, the warnings are shouted, but nobody can turn the ship quickly enough because we still function as a convention as if we were living in the 1800's. The only way that change occurs is through clear direction, vision and leadership from SBC executives who have been hired to lead. However, when the International Mission Board trustees hire a replacement for President as old as the former President who retired because of his age, then we have been plagued by the curse of crystalization--we don't know how to do anything except the way we have always done it. Young, visionary leadership is available, but those messengers at the microphone proposing resolutions of condemnation in Phoenix have a difficult time understanding the difference between theology and methodology, and only want leaders who've done it the way they think it should always be done.

(3). The evaporation of interest.

Read carefully what is said next. I am NOT referring to the evaporation of interest in the SBC--I am referring to the evaporation of interest in SBC leaders in young pastors and young people. Those who plan, orchestrate, and participate in the politics of the SBC annual convention need to be more interested in young people.

If one is able to observe the SBC in Phoenix via the Internet take note of two things: the gray hair in the hall and the number of empty chairs. Why?  The SBC Convention is uninterested in making our annual meeting relevant and pertinent to young pastors and young people. Oh, sure, there will be a few hundred of our alleged 16 million SBC members who are under the age of 50 at the SBC in Phoenix, but most young people are not as interested in the politics of a convention as much as they are the people of a their cities. Somehow the SBC and her leaders have got to realize that these young people do not exist for the SBC, but that the SBC exists for them. How can we help them do ministry in the inner city? How can we make it both convenient and edifying for them to participate in our annual conventions? How can we encourage them to love people and not lose focus of the main thing? Sure, business must be done at the SBC, but workshops, worship conferences, small group training, and free resources would increase attendance of young people because the SBC is ACTUALLY DOING SOMETHING for them.

I would propose we cancel two of the six annual trustee meetings of the IMB (a quarter of a million dollars per meeting), at least one annual trustee meeting for every other SBC agency, for a total savings of close to $2 million dollars and INVEST in young people through creative, innovative training and resource giveaways at the Southern Baptist Convention. It can be done.

(4). The perception of puerilism.

Puerilism is defined as "childish behavior in an adult." The public knows very little about the Southern Baptist Convention, but the one time the media focuses on the SBC is at the annual meeting. Here is what the public perceives.

(a). The SBC has the ability to boycott Disney World, but the inability to establish a data-base to track child abusers.
(b). The SBC will not allow women to teach men the Word of God, but will give a standing ovation to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice when she teaches men about terrorism and how to deal with terrorists.
(c). The SBC has the ability to remove from fellowship churches that protect homosexual members, but will do absolutely nothing about churches that protect pedophiles in the pulpit and men who sexually exploit women and remain in the ministry.
(d). The SBC can condemn the act of drinking an alcoholic beverage for all members but remain deadly silent on the overindulgence of food and the enormous obesity of our SBC pastors.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The general public sees us like the little kid who is always pointing the finger at other kids and whining about the problems they cause us. One of these days we might learn that the best thing to do is shut up when it comes to the sins of the world and start shouting from the rooftops our own sins. Adults take responsibility for their own actions.

(5). The flatness of the earth.

It used to be to get the gospel message to Africa you sent Livingstone on an expedition and learned years later of his success. Now, one man with a computer in his basement can reach the world for Christ.

For this reason, churches, pastors and people are beginning to understand that they can accomplish as much or more by themselves than they can together (That little pun will only be understood by a few hardcore Southern Baptists). Because the earth is flat, it's time the Southern Baptist Convention flatten with it. The flattening can begin when we acknowledge the reasons for the decline and take steps to correct them.

If not, the SBC will continue its fast and perilous push into irrelevance.