Ed Stetzer, director of Lifeway Research, announced the bad news that the Southern Baptist Convention is “officially” in decline. You can find his observations at http://blogs.lifeway.com/blog/edstetzer/2008/04/new_evangelism_research.html.
For those close to the action this should not come as shocking news. Over the past 25 years our convention has been rocked with strife and controversy as vying factions struggled for control. Even after the “Conservative resurgence” accomplished its mission and planted the banner of the Bible securely in place, conservative turned on conservative and new lines of orthodoxy have been traced in the shifting sands. For all our good intentions on both sides, we have created a public relations nightmare. Instead of being known for proclaiming the good news and meeting the needs of the poor we are known for what we are against and too often know as the “battling Baptists” who cannot seem to get along.
Being people of the book, we should have known better. In our fighting over the Word of God we seemed to forget to live out the Word of God in our day to day lives. Jesus made it crystal clear to His disciples that the mark of following Jesus was not theological orthodoxy but rather love when He said:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)
Let’s face it you can fake theology by learning by rote what to say, but rarely can one fake genuine unconditional love for those closest to him or her.
From Stetzer’s informed perspective the SBC lost its way on three fronts he wrote:
First, we have to deal with the continued loss of SBC leaders. As we have recently reported in Facts & Trends, we have witnessed a serious (and increasing) depopulation of young leaders at our convention. Also, ethnic leadership remains absent after decades of ethnic change in America. Vacant seats still exist at the SBC table for the ethnic and generational diversity that matches the America we are attempting to reach.
A second issue is the infighting which defines so much of the SBC—its meetings, its churches, and its blogs. It is public knowledge that we do not always settle our differences amicably.
The third, and most important, issue is our loss of focus on the Gospel…The Conservative Resurgence failed to produce a Great Commission Resurgence. It restored our denomination’s value of Scripture but application is often absent, at least in the area of evangelism.
I hope and pray we will wake up and face the reality of our plight. We cannot no longer do business as usual and expect to be a useful tool in the hand of our Master. Jesus is calling us to wake up and face the truth about what we are doing to ourselves and more importantly to those who need to know Jesus.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus confronted the “lukewarm” church of Laodicea with the fact they were living in denial. In closing the Lord said:
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Rev 3:20 (NIV)
Through the years this verse has been quoted by evangelist pleading with the lost to open the doors of their hearts to Jesus, but the harsh reality is that in this text Jesus is not knocking on the door a lost man or woman. Jesus is knocking on the door of the church asking for His people to let Him back in. Do you hear the knocking? Maybe it’s time to let the Lord back inside the doors of our churches.