The Generation Gap in the SBC: Interactions with Nathan Finn and The Baptist Press Article on Mark Driscoll (Pt. 2)

j0387426-1The following continues the discussion on the reasons younger pastors are choosing to disengage from our convention. Please See Part 1 here

II. Some are not creating a compelling vision for those they pastor

Finn states:

Simply put, the current generation of engaged Southern Baptists have not replicated their denominational involvement in the rising generation. There are notable exceptions: I think of seminary-sponsored Convention classes and internship-minded pastors like Johnny Hunt and Mark Dever. But as a general rule, the over-40 crowd has had little success in convincing the under-40 crowd that attending a denominational meeting is worth their time and money.”

Pastors have either done a poor job or not perceived the necessity of teaching their people about the importance of a convention such as ours. Many have not recruited, prayed for, or raised up other pastors who understand the depth and history of the SBC. Our history is rooted in men and women who have labored to plant churches, train pastors, send missionaries, and go to the ends of the earth. Our legacy demands that we continue the vision given to the disciples by Jesus in Matthew 28 and Acts 1. We must paint a clear and compelling vision of what being Baptist should look like in the twenty-first century for the younger generation. Finn goes on to add:

The Conservative Resurgence will be shown to have ultimately been in vain. What a tragedy if a generation gained control of the SBC only to watch the next generation of conservatives decide the SBC isn’t worth having control of. And lest you think I am exaggerating, trust me when I say hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear a student or pastor friend make this type of comment.”

In our minds, this is an absolute travesty, especially in view of so many other denominations that have moved left. We do believe the SBC is worth having “control of”, and we hope that many of our brothers of like-mind, heart, and age will see this worth and help us talk about how to move forward with this goal. We desire to be part of younger Baptists that cast a bright vision and future for the SBC, a vision that puts away petty arguments and irrelevant political ambitions. This vision and mission we hope is for cooperation, missions, and church planting. It is a vision for the Nations to bow at the feet of Jesus.

We know that the over/under 40 distinctions are not so clearly drawn and it is not as though we have all the answers, we write this mainly hoping to encourage our peers because we want to be a part of this, and we think this is worth being a part of. At the same time, we hope that we can show some that entrench in non-gospel centered fights that this will turn away many of our peers.

Remedies for the Generation Gap

This generation gap needs to be remedied. We agree and stand with Finn’s assessment of the state of the younger generations. He states:

Some already think the Convention is a dinosaur that just needs to go extinct, especially a number of folks in the under-40 crowd. Maybe they are right, but I am not ready to give up on the denomination just yet. I still think God has something for us to do as a Convention of autonomous churches. I continue to hold out hope that our best days lie ahead and that (Lord willing) my children and grandchildren can be a part of a great heritage of Baptist Christians who have been mightily used of God. I hope you will join me in my mission to convince younger conservatives that the SBC is still worth it. And let’s all work especially hard to make sure it is.”

This last sentence is key. We need to make sure that this is worth fighting FOR. We need to acknowledge as well that some of the younger generation’s criticism stems from a lack of humility and an arrogance that is not helpful or right. This issue is two-fold: 1) some in the “under-40’s” must submit to our denomination leaders, not be proud or haughty, let their voice be heard (by showing up), and affect change from the inside out through their Christlike, gospel-centered character and example; 2) some in the“over-40’s” must learn to drop their political agendas, petty disagreements, non-gospel centered religious traditions, and pride in order to give a fair hearing to the next generation that God is raising up to carry the torch of the SBC into a new world and culture.

We have come up with a few thoughts on how to fix this generation gap (though again not exhaustive). Here are the remedies that we suggest could lead to a cure for the generation gap in our denomination, and we hope this will ensure the SBC legacy, influence, and mission to go forth:

  1. Cast a compelling vision to the younger crowd
  2. Create a more multi-generational friendly environment at the annual meeting – – including the pastor’s conference, this would go a long way in getting younger guys there.
  3. Stop lobbing bombs at people who are not the enemy
  4. Reach out to younger pastors who may be a little different than you, but still hold firm to the non-negotiable theological doctrines and the Baptist distinctives
  5. Quit criticizing those that do church differently than you, or that wear different attire than you, or listen to different music than you, etc.
  6. Drop all of our traditions and customs and rally around gospel-centered, biblically driven men who love Jesus and desire to see the nations reached for Christ and promote them, respect them, and encourage them to set the course for next leg of our denomination.
  7. Please be willing and humble enough to bring younger guys along, and help them prepare to carry the baton and be willing to pass it on when the time comes.

A Vision of What Could Come from Closing the Gap

We stand firmly on the fact that our denomination is by far the largest missions sending agency in the world. We literally have thousands of missionaries across the world who are sharing the name of Jesus with people of all nationalities and all languages as you read this. There are men in New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and other cities in America who are laboring for the gospel. We know that our tithe dollars are going to fund these pastors and churches so that they can effectively minister to those in need. We have six seminaries that as you read this are training pastors, missionaries, church planters, and leaders across the globe for gospel work. Our denomination pours your tithe dollars into these entities in order to further the gospel around the world.

While we know that not all may be running as effectively or to the highest capacity as they could or should be, we understand that our attempt is bigger than anything else going. We as a younger generation have a great opportunity, if we will humble ourselves and rely on the Spirit, we can be a part of making lasting impact through a group of churches cooperating together for the mission of King Jesus.

The SBC should be willing to adapt because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. We know that a strong vision of all the peoples of the world hearing the name of Jesus and having the opportunity to commit their lives to him is worth laboring and partnering for. One of the bright spots is that many who are going through Acts29 right now are Southern Baptist. So younger men, there are many of like-mind, do not lose heart because if we cooperate together eventually we will through our vote alone be able to influence the denomination.

In addition, there are older men in key leadership positions within our convention that agree with us and cast this vision, let’s attach ourselves to them. At the same time, we hope, though others have already argued otherwise, that Finn is not right and that there are not those looking for war and pursuing because all they know is a fighter’s mentality. That will be harmful to the future of the SBC and that will turn many young pastors off, do not attach yourselves to them. Historically, our focus (SBC) has been good and right. We have been a people who seek to have healthy local autonomous congregations. We have been a people who seek to provide great theological education at reduced rates. And we have been a people that have been about mission, this is encapsulated in our first document “By organizing a plan for eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.” We meant that then. We hope we do now.

It is our goal that over the next few months we will begin laying our potential vision of what being Baptist will look like as we continue into the 21st Century. Stay tuned….

N.A. and R.P.