The Missing Emphasis in SBC Life: Local Associations

Throughout the vast majority of my pastoral ministry, if I were to think about SBC life, I would first think about the local church and then the national entities. I’d think about the Annual Meeting, the notable pastors, the entity heads, denominational strategies, the Cooperative Program, Lottie, Annie, and all of this work that we do together. I’d consider the state conventions too, especially my own, and then I’d think about my local association, primarily quarterly when we’d have our executive meeting, which was always over lunch. I participated, but I didn’t put a huge amount of effort into it. When I thought about the SBC I thought small (local church) and big (national entity) and not too much in between.

State Conventions have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade since the Great Commission Resurgence called for more Cooperative Program money to go the national entities like the IMB, NAMB, and our seminaries to train future pastors and leaders. So, many state conventions down-sized. That is good and I supported that, but I also support state conventions and think that they often do great work. I think there should be a middle ground there. Through Disaster Relief, church planting, children’s homes, colleges, and all kinds of other ministries, our state conventions play a prominent role in SBC life.

With 5 entity head positions open and SBC President JD Greear rightly calling for a day of prayer and fasting on Monday, October 8th for these search committees, we are also right to be paying attention to what is happening at top level leadership in the SBC. It is really important and I don’t want to take anything away from that.

But, with all that said and with a need before us of church planting, church revitalization, church health, discipleship, evangelism, local missions strategy, cooperation, and so much more that the local church cannot do by itself, have we missed the greatest tool before us that Baptists have devised to accomplish these things? Historically, before we ever had national entities or state conventions, we had local Baptist associations. Beyond the local church itself, the association is the fundamental organizational grouping of cooperative Baptist life. Yet, we often neglect it.

Do you ever hear a young minister aspiring to be a Director of Missions? Perhaps, but often not. If you step back from it, it seems like it would be an incredible job – to direct missional effectiveness for a network of churches across a region. The Montgomery (AL) Baptist Association where I live and serve has an incredible DOM in Neal Hughes. He is a former Montgomery pastor and NAMB VP who came back to Montgomery to lead our association in planting churches, reaching the lost, being healthy, making disciples, and addressing areas of great need and division in our city with a gospel witness. He is doing a great job and lives and works as a local missionary every day. If every association had a Neal Hughes as DOM, the SBC would be in a very different position, I think. (As a disclaimer, I’m on staff with Neal as a Missional Strategist for the MBA, so he’s my boss, but I’d say this even if he wasn’t.)

The truth is, though, I’ve met quite a few DOMs who share Neal’s heart for evangelism, church planting, church health, church revitalization, and global missions. I’ve met DOMs across the South who are really laying their lives down to do great Kingdom work. But, I’ve also met a lot of pastors who tell me that their association is basically not functioning. I’ve met DOMs who are past what we would consider retirement age, and while their hearts are good and their love for the Lord is genuine, their energy is declining. They need help, encouragement, and support. They can’t do all that is required by themselves and they need people to hold up their arms. And, unfortunately, there are other associations where there is division, lack of vision, and no energy at all. It becomes a monthly minister’s lunch with whoever shows up. That is a shame.

What if we refocused our energy, effort, resources, and some of our most gifted leaders on local association leadership? The Bible Belt is rapidly dissipating and the South has become a mission field. Did you know that the South grew by 21 million people between 2000 and 2015? At the same time, between 2000 and 2017, Southern Baptists have lost 1 million people. We are going backwards while our primary region is exploding in growth. The South is by far the largest region of the country and would encompass the 12th largest nation in the world and the world’s 3rd largest economy by itself. And, immigrants from all over the world have flocked to the South over the past two decades.

Almost half of all first generation immigrant growth in the United States the past 2 decades occurred in the US South, where we have the vast majority of SBC churches. While there has been significant reaction against that politically and culturally, have we considered that God might sovereignly be at work here? In Montgomery, for example, the IMB visited us a few years back and told us that we had an Unreached, Unengaged People Group (UUPG) living in Central Alabama – the Mixtec People from Southern Mexico. They came to us by the thousands over the past 20-30 years. The Montgomery Baptist Association adopted that people group missionally (I have been closely involved in this work over the past 4 years) and we have now planted a Mixtec church in our city with a pastor, baptisms, new believers, and disciples being made. The IMB no longer calls the Mixtec “unengaged,” in part, because of the work our local association is doing.

In the midst of this incredible era of opportunity, how much more could local associations LEAD out in church planting, missional strategy, engaging immigrant and refugee people groups with the gospel, love, and good deeds, and in church revitalization? While I’m happy for the work our national entities and state conventions do, it is sometimes easy to fly at the 30,000 foot level. But, we already have local associations all over the country who are doing great work on the ground and could be doing so much more if they had the resources and focus that some of our other levels of cooperation have had. And, we have many associations that desperately need to be revived and refocused.

Could it be that associational cooperation on the local level is the missing emphasis that could help revitalize older churches, reach the lost (including immigrant groups), develop new leadership, be the ground floor for racial reconciliation, plant new churches, and be a spring board to reach the nations in North America and around the world? There is always competition for dollars and when you have state conventions and national entities constantly needing funds, I know it is hard to stretch offerings. But, what if we saw a strong association as the FIRST thing that our local church focused on instead of what is often an afterthought?

At the MBA we always talk about “doing more with less.” There is no area of SBC life that I’ve seen a dollar go further than in the incredible work of the Montgomery Baptist Association. I know that this is the case elsewhere as well. As both a pastor for many years and now a staff member at our association, I’ve seen it from both sides. And, while I know that associations across the SBC are not all that they should be, what if they were strengthened and became local missions agencies with the purpose of helping the local church reach their region for Christ?

What are some of your ideas? I’d love to see the mission work and church strengthening of the local association grow into one of the strongest aspects of SBC life. How much healthier would we be if this focus was strengthened? How much more leadership could be developed? How could we better reach areas that still have strong churches but are quickly seeing the overall churched population dwindle?

I think there is a lot of good work being done here and a lot of potential for even more. I’ve talked with others about this who agree. I’d love to see a renewal of strong associational life in the SBC that helps bring local churches together to reach their region and grow stronger together. It can be done. What is stopping us?

 

BREAKING: Dr. Chuck Kelley Jr. Announces His Retirement from NOBTS

This morning during the Founder’s Day Chapel Service on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), Dr. Charles “Chuck” S. Kelley Jr. announced he will be retiring from his role as the seminary’s eighth President effective July 31, 2019.

Dr. Kelley was elected President of NOBTS on February 23, 1996 taking office on March 1 of that year. At the time his retirement begins he will have served approximately 23 years as president of NOBTS which will make him the longest tenured president in the school’s 100 year history.

Photo by Van Payne. Courtesy of Baptist Press.

Dr. Kelley responded to God’s call to preach the gospel as a senior in high school and upon graduation he attended Baylor University. He was ordained to the ministry on February 2, 1972 at First Baptist Church of Beaumont, Texas. Dr. Kelley married Dr. Rhonda Harrington Kelley, his high school sweetheart, on June 21, 1974.

Upon completion of Dr. Rhonda’s Master’s degree at Baylor the couple moved to New Orleans so that Dr. Chuck could begin the Master of Divinity degree program at NOBTS. He completed his M.Div. in 1978, specializing in biblical studies, and began the Doctor of Theology degree program, with a major in preaching, which he completed in 1983.

Throughout his years of service to the Lord and to the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. Kelley has been well known for his heart for evangelism, his love for our cooperative work and his work in statistical analysis of SBC trends. His highly respected research and his many books and articles have been a blessing to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Among numerous other items, some of what I believe to be Dr. Kelley’s key contributions during his tenure include: (1) His pivotal statistical research on plateaued and declining churches, (2) His leadership in keeping the campus of NOBTS in the Gentilly area of New Orleans when others were encouraging a move to the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, (3) His early leadership in making long-distance theological education available through on-line and other delivery methods, and (what maybe most importantly to me) (4) His leadership, encouragement and rebuild-determination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the coming weeks and months many wonderful things will be said about the Kelley’s regarding their faithful service. My family and I deeply love and appreciate Drs. Chuck and Rhonda Kelley. What I will most remember about my president is his heart for the lost and his desire that all men would come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Dr. Kelley, for your faithfulness to Jesus, your great compassion for his bride and your love for our School of Providence and Prayer.

Dealing with the Issue of Divisiveness In Our Convention

I, like many, appreciate the loving Christ-like, Spirit-filled attitude of most in our Southern Baptist Convention. Most of us are committed to keeping the main thing the main thing. Yet, there are two small groups that have emerged in the SBC who are polarizing in their attitudes; and distracting some from their main mission.

There is a small group on one side that I would refer to as out-of-balance Calvinists. Now I want to be clear, I have had many friends and professors who were Calvinists; furthermore, there was great unity of spirit between us, for, while we disagreed on some finer points of theology, our focus was on the main things: passionate worship, fruitful evangelism, missions, discipleship, community, revival, and agreement on the great fundamentals of the faith. We all united under the blood-stained banner of the Cross to take back our convention from the liberals, and take the gospel to the nations.

Strangely there is a new group of Calvinists that actually believe that the more points of TULIP you adhere to, the more spiritual you are. Furthermore, this group is committed to placing their fellow 5 pointers in leadership to maintain the “highest spirituality and doctrinal purity”, and deliberately exclude shallow “non-Calvinists.”

On the other side of the spectrum, you have a small group of non-Calvinists who believe many of the ills of the convention can be placed on the shoulders of those who believe Calvinist theology. They are suspicious, believing anyone who is a Calvinist has a high possibility of destroying evangelism and eliminating non-Calvinists from leadership opportunities. They have concluded that the only way to counter this threat is to eliminate all Calvinists from leadership.

Then there are most of us in the middle who watch these out of balance individuals on both sides attack the effectiveness and the character of godly men and woman based on their shallow perspective.

For those of us who have maintained a godly balance, our main concern is not how many points of Tulip does a person believe or disbelieve, but rather does this individual love Jesus, are they reaching the lost, are they discipling, are they mobilizing people to pray, do they believe and preach the great fundamentals of the faith and great theology, are they investing in Great Commission missions, are they godly people, and are they standing strong for the poor and the abused.

Most of us are not impressed when we meet someone, and they almost immediately inform us “I am Reformed.” We are equally unimpressed by those we meet who toss out, early, in their encounters with us, “You can be sure I am not one of those Calvinists.”

Most of us have the depth of spiritually to focus on the aforementioned main purposes of Great Commission Christians. I want to encourage all of us to call our beloved SBC to join in following the passionate urging of Jesus, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you love one another,” and to continue afresh and anew not to be distracted by polarizing groups, but to keep love for our Lord and the Great Commission at the front and center of our vision and mission.

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, SJW? (by Casey McCall)

This article was originally posted at Prince on Preaching, the website of Dr. David Prince, and was written by Casey McCall, pastor of Ashland Oldham County in Buckner, KY.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is rightly known today for his preaching. The pioneer mega-church pastor attracted weekly crowds numbering in the thousands to his Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. His sermons were distributed all over the world with an estimated 100 million copies being sold by the time of his death. By all accounts, Spurgeon’s ministry stands as one of the most numerically fruitful in documented history. He reached thousands, and he did so without compromising his faithfulness to preaching the whole counsel of God as the 63 published volumes of his sermons bear witness.

However, we would be mistaken to assume that this “soul-winner” focused exclusively on winning souls. He did not, as so many do, draw a sharp line of separation between the important work of evangelism and attention to the social injustices of his day. While he most certainly believed that the primary purpose of his preaching was to declare the gracious salvation that can be found only in Christ Jesus, he also understood that the gospel of Christ— the very gospel that eternally saves souls—comes with temporal social implications. Spurgeon believed that followers of Christ were obligated to “be on the side of peace and of justice…on the side of everything that is according to the mind of God, and according to the law of love.” 1

Spurgeon explained,

I feel that the best way to lift up the lost and degraded from the horrible pit and the miry clay, in a spiritual sense, is to preach to them Jesus Christ and Him crucified; but this need not prevent me from using all measures possible to promote social reform; and I firmly believe that lectures upon useful and scientific subjects, in which a lecturer is able to throw out hints about dress, cookery, children, cleanliness, economy, temperance, and the duties of the household, or to exclaim against the tally system, the pot-house, begging, and puffery, may be very useful.”2

Spurgeon’s championing of social justice causes can certainly be seen in his sermons, but we see it most clearly in his personal life. Here is a man who powerfully practiced what he preached. Here is a hero who, despite pastoring a mega-church, preaching several times per week, and publishing hundreds of books, found the time and energy to support dozens of ministries whose purpose was to alleviate suffering in a cultural context where thousands of people were suffering. Spurgeon personally established and funded orphanages, a college to train the poor for Christian ministry, a book distribution society for London’s working class, and worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty. He also found time to campaign against what he perceived to be one of the grossest injustices in history: human slavery.

Slavery had been abolished in England since 1833, but it was still going strong in America in Spurgeon’s day, thanks largely to slave-holding Christians defending the wicked institution through deplorable methods of biblical interpretation. Spurgeon saw this as a travesty and made it known early on in a sermon called “Separating the Precious from the Vile” (1860):

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.3

This theme of boldly speaking out against the wicked institution of racism-fueled slavery continued throughout Spurgeon’s ministry and predictably won him many enemies, particularly among fellow Baptists “across the pond” in America. As a matter of fact, Spurgeon’s courageous opposition to this injustice led to slanderous attacks on his character, book burnings of Spurgeon’s works, and even death threats.4 Lewis A. Drummond concludes, “Almost unparalleled in church history, the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon epitomized the perfect blending of evangelistic fervency and deep social concern. . . .There seemed to be no end to the variety of social ministries the Metropolitan Tabernacle undertook.”5

We live in an age when many theologically-minded brothers and sisters justify ignoring social injustices in the name of focusing on evangelism. Spurgeon heroically models for us that it’s not a matter of either/or, but both/and. The gospel calls us out of darkness and into the light of Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. As we continue to tell sinners that they can find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, may we follow Spurgeon’s lead in opposing injustice, unrighteousness, and sin wherever we find it. God calls his people to “seek the welfare of the city” where we dwell (Jer. 29:7). Spurgeon, commenting on this passage, says, “You are part and parcel of this nation, for you share in its protection and privileges, and it is yours as Christian men to feel that you are bound in return to do all you can to promote truth and righteousness.”6

Was Spurgeon a social justice warrior (SJW)? It depends on who is defining the term as it has become little more than a political slur. He was most certainly a gospel warrior who believed the gospel had social implications. He asserted, “Because we fear God, and desire his glory, we must be political—it is a part of our piety to be so”7 and “It is part of my religion to desire justice and freedom for all.”8

 


 

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 25 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1972), 391.
  2. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, C. H. (1899). C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1856-1878, Vol. 3 (Cincinnati; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1899), 53.
  3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 155.
  4. This reaction is documented well by Christian T. George, The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2016), xvii-xxiv.
  5. Lewis A. Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 398,438.
  6. Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis,” 391.
  7. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1878–1892, Vol. 4, 132.
  8. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1873 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 255.

 

Casey McCall is Lead Pastor of Ashland Oldham County, located in Buckner, KY.