Lost in #SBC18 Noise: Evangelism Task Force Report and Recommendations

My how we SBCers do love the ‘National Blue Ribbon Task Force’ approach to addressing seemingly intractable, long-running problems in the SBC chief of which is the steadily declining baptism total. Steve Gaines appointed and the Convention approved last year such a group, the Evangelism Task Force.

Baptist Press reported on it with a couple of stories:

Evangelism Task Force Releases Report, Recommendations

‘All of us’ must evangelize, SBC agrees with task force

The ETF produced a report that included a section on “affirmations” and “denials” about evangelism. Naturally, soteriology is infused in the report. I haven’t seen any Cals or Trads complaining about the wording. Maybe we agree on it, or, perhaps the more vocal of the two camps is just being tight-lipped about it.

I’ve already seen a gripe or two about the statement that, WE DENY that the gospel is primarily concerned with social justice, political engagement, or secular aims resulting in the call to personal repentance and faith being minimized or ignored. I’m comfortable with that statement and the report does go on to state that WE DENY that the gospel only addresses personal spirituality and individual behavior. Seems to be a balanced statement to me.

No prob with the “sinner’s prayer” being legit: WE AFFIRM that a sinner’s prayer is a biblically appropriate and practically effective method by which lost people can personally receive God’s gracious offer of the gospel in repentance and faith. The report goes on to state that WE DENY that people are saved merely by mouthing the words of a specific prayer. Everyone happy with all this?

Vocational evangelists, a shrinking group in SBC life for a number of reasons, receive a plug: WE AFFIRM that God gifts certain individuals to function as evangelists as a gift to the church in order to lead in the harvest and to equip believers for greater effectiveness in personal witnessing and corporate outreach in order to build up the body of Christ…and WE DENY that the ministry of the New Testament evangelist ceased at the conclusion of the apostolic age and therefore is not a valid expression of God’s calling and gifting today. Everyone, presumably, can say a revival worthy, AMEN! to that.

The ETF report includes – in the form of recommendations for churches, pastors, seminaries, DOMs, state convention CEOs, NAMB, the Executive Committee, and all SBCers – concrete actions. The most significant ones are:

State convention CEOs: …should “prioritize evangelism in your staffing, training, and ministry…” My observation from the hinterlands is that evangelism staff were not effective unless the measure was in conducting conferences and training events. Although the recommendation is sensible and should be taken by state CEOs, I have a suggestion below that may prove more helpful in advancing baptism numbers.

NAMB: The ETF recommends that “senior level leadership” be hired. This is a throwback, I think, to an earlier NAMB. If NAMB goes back to creating evangelism resources and training events, there should be some metrics that justify devoting budget to such. Not having high visibility evangelism personnel has been one of the complaints about NAMB. I don’t know that it is justified here but I’ll state anyway that one of the things SBs do best is to throw money at a problem. Perhaps the new NAMB can rethink this and design something from the ground up that will do more than provide offices for staff and materials that churches might use.

DOMs: The ETF suggests that these “identify, celebrate, and use as training models churches and pastors who demonstrate evangelistic effectiveness resulting in baptized believers. We ask that you invite Baptist colleges, seminaries, state conventions, and churches who have effective evangelism ministries to assist churches that desire to increase evangelistic effectiveness.” Good ideas. If the DOM, many of whom are likely in a semi-retirement, terminal ministry position with few responsibilities would stir himself to do this, it may actually move the needle for some associational churches. No slam here against all DOMs, but most pastors know what is meant.

Executive Committee: Put a Sunday on the denominational calendar for “Baptism Day.” I think this is a good idea. If still a pastor, I’d join this one.

Here are a few suggestions of my own:

State Convention CEOs: Make it a requirement that your staff, all ministerial staff, engage in personal witnessing and report on it in staff meetings. Employ only those who model personal witnessing, starting with yourself. I’m all for competent administrators. I appreciate staff specialists in different ministry areas and I’m always pleased if they have preaching abilities. But, what would happen if all state staff had the reputation of being effective in personal evangelism? I am reminded of the overseas seminary prof who protested a requirement that he engage in personal evangelism with indigenous churches. He expressed that he thought teaching in a classroom was sufficient.

Seminaries: Almost half a century ago, a new Southern Baptist seminary was started that required personal witnessing by all students and faculty: Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. The six SBC seminaries would do well to adopt some version of this model and I think maybe some schools have done some things along these lines. The recommendations the ETF makes for seminaries, that they conduct annual witness training events for employees and students, consider enhancing curricular requirements in evangelism, and involve students and faculty indirect efforts to reach the lost through mission trips, local mission partnerships, and their local churches, are all good. You mean our seminaries, seedbeds for pastors, missionaries, and other SBC ministry workers do not already do these things?

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I appreciate the ETF’s work. These are serious, experienced, and knowledgeable individuals. I’m not optimistic that much will happen out of their work that will move the needle on SBC baptism numbers. I’d make a wild conjecture that NAMB will make some movement in this area. The rest, I don’t know. Maybe some seminaries will change a few things. I think Steve Gaines missed a good opportunity here by making this an all-male task force, though he couldn’t have known that women’s issues would be a dominant theme of #SBC18.

It will be interesting to see if this goes the way of the SBC name change of a few years ago: do it and forget it. I hope not.

 

 

Stray Summer Solstice Stuff

We Baptists are a bit reserved about the summer solstice primarily because we are too spiritual to even mention such an event we see as pagan. I am happy to fill in the void by saying that the longest day of the year is a splendid event – the sun is shining, birds are singing, kids are playing (even a few of them are playing outside), and flowers are blooming. The Almighty Himself is responsible for the sun, moon, and stars and the length of a day. Sad, though, that the sun repents and starts a slow march backwards and we know that come October, November, and December we will have a SAD time of it. Nonetheless, here are a few items for the solstice:

You missed it at #SBC18 but receipts for the Lottie Moon offering are running over $5 million ahead of last year. And not so incidentally, IMB commissioned 79 people there. That’s about 2% of our whole overseas force.

Proof the world is ending: 1. Woman swallowed by snake in Indonesia. 2. Grandmother in GA kills bobcat with her bare hands. 3. Man killed by his mother’s casket. 4. Baptists belly up to buffet in Dallas that has no fried chicken nor any fried item.

The lowly Atlanta Braves are in first place…in late June no less. Who would have thunk that?

The Copa Mundial is under way in Russia. The US of course did not qualify so many Americans, at there are at least half-dozen American soccer fans, are using DNA to determine which team to support. My DNA, northern European with a little Neanderthal, leaves me unenthused about a team so I’ve adopted Brazil. After all, I bought an authentic Pele jersey from a guy on Copacabana Beach years ago. Besides, I like the idea of single names: Neymar, Marcello, Willian, et al.

SBC leaders have been discovered to have a sense of humor. Go with the Fake JD twitter for the maximum.

Militant SBC Calvinists are yet humor challenged. Too much reading of the dour Puritans, brethren, is unhealthy.

Militant SBC Trads find little to laugh at these days. Take heart brethren and sistren, we need a robust SBC theological sub-group in your area for balance. Regroup and rebrand.

I’ll take this day to make a few Plodder Pronuncimientos: Henceforth, there shall be no iced coffee. Green tea is sufficient cause for excommunication. “Gospel” shall not be used as an adjective. Anyone who asks, “Are you trackin’ wid me” shall be put in stocks in the SBC plaza in Nashville.

Have a nice solstice, brethren and sistren, but don’t go out and work on your tan. I’ve already had three skin cancers.

By the way, alliteration is OK for blog article titles. Best left out of sermons, though.

 

Lost in the #SBC18 Noise: Cooperative Program Numbers

Almost lost amid the more gaudy news out of Dallas this week is something that is assuredly more important to the SBC’s future: news on the Cooperative Program.

 Average percentage of undesignated receipts given to CP: 4.86% down from 5.16%. 

Although the decline is just a fraction, 3/10 of one percent, it’s a pretty steep one year drop, about 6%. Think what it would mean if we had five consecutive years of the same. We would be looking at a CP that is down to 3.5% of church receipts. Weeping and gnashing of teeth everywhere.

Churches have been giving on average around five percent (5.16%) of their undesignated offering plate dollars. Now we’re under five percent.

The combination of an increase of total undesignated gifts to churches, $9.52 billion, up about $300 million, and a decline in CP giving of about $14 million caused the percentage reduction.

As Augie Boto pointed out in his Executive Committee report, the national share of CP dollars actually increased by about $1.5 million while the state convention share dropped by $14 million. The states continued to cut the proportion of CP revenues that they keep in-state for their various ministries.

The state/national CP “split” is now 58.51 for states and 41.49 for national SBC.

This is pretty serious business. Look for state conventions to speak to the matter. They had $14 million less to work with last year (the reporting period ended with the 2016-2017 fiscal year, September 30th).

More later on this.

#SBC18 Winners

OK, so I wished we could have had all winners and no losers for #SBC18 but, alas, didn’t happen. There were many winners though. Here they are:

 

J.D. Greear: The election wasn’t close. The Convention coalesced around a next-generation candidate with a stellar church growth and mission support record. OK, so he talks so fast I have to try and understand what he’s saying while catching only every third or fourth word. I’ll manage.

Ken Hemphill: Quality and integrity from crown to cowboy boots.

Women in general and not just in the context of abuse.

SWBTS trustees. The absolute and ultimate vindication by the entire SBC in annual session (it doesn’t get any higher than that), enhanced by one trustee deciding to be open and transparent with the convention assembled. I don’t doubt that all of our trustees ‘trust the Lord’ but wish more would embrace transparency and ‘tell the people,’ as did…

Bart Barber SWBTS executive committee trustee who spoke plainly and forcefully about the Patterson decision. He was obviously nervous and understandably so. But why him and why not the others? No doubt the Hatley motion would have failed anyway but it’s about time for trustees to be more open and transparent with those who pay the bills…which brings up…

Jeff Bingham, SWBTS Interim President. Had the hottest seat for questions from the floor. Did great. Trusts the trustees. That’s the gold standard.

Social media. Pass all the resolutions you want against social media in general but this is how folks get their information. If it’s not always pretty or proper it does force conversations out of hallways and back rooms.

Next generation Southern Baptists. I still don’t get the tattoos and other oddities about these brethren and sistren but this is where we are. Generational change is good. Did you take a taxi or an Uber? I’m curious about the messenger survey results. Looked like a younger crowd and the codgers have been sniffing that the younger SBC pastors and others just weren’t into mass meetings and such.

Cooperative Program. OK, so the numbers are down. Convention results should prove positive (one hopes). Lots of factors at play, though.

Minority participation and diversity. Evidence abounded at the meeting. Let’s hope the politician debacle didn’t do any lasting damage. I suspect we can have Trump/Jeffress/Graham along with all the ethnic SBC subgroups only if we don’t kick the latter in the teeth as happened Wednesday.

Southeastern Seminary, which is not above bragging about their grads being SBC president and first vice president this year. That’s what we SBCers do, brag a lot.

Wait staff all around the convention center, at least when I was doing the tipping. I came late in life to the position that it’s good to be an above average tipper. This parson repented of his earlier parsimoniousness. I can’t speak for the other ten thousand or so convention attendees.

Augie Boto, unexpectedly pressed into service as SBC Executive Committee interim leader. Did a great job.

Bellevue student choir, super.

New system for keeping speakers within time limits. If you were there, you need no more explanation.

The Vice President’s Secret Service detail. Efficient, professional, polite.

 

There are more…you may think of them. I don’t have every good thought that ought to be thunk.