Southern Baptist Convention leaders have lamented for several years now the declining baptismal statistics being reported from our churches. Add to this sad story the current trend of decreasing financial support for convention-wide programs and you begin to understand why denominational leaders are getting nervous. (I won’t even mention the fact that younger pastors and leaders appear to be indifferent to or bored with the “denomination thing” altogether.)
So it makes sense that we should hear from leaders that we need to tweak our denominational organization, refine our programs and redefine mission statements and program responsibilities. That’s what you do when things aren’t working well. I personally don’t have any problem with the regular evaluation of programs, institutions, and entities to make sure we are being good stewards of our resources and faithful followers of our New Testament mandate. We should do this even when things are going well.
However, I have recently encountered an idea that I must take issue with: the notion that somehow our denominational structure is responsible for the decline in baptisms. This idea, sometimes more implied than stated, includes the notion that Southern Baptists need convention-wide revival and institutional reform in order to reverse the unhappy trends mentioned above. We are told plainly or led to infer that denominational revival is the secret for denominational health and success.
I know personally most of the men and women who lead our institutions, agencies, and entities. I love them all. But I want to say it as plainly as I can—it is not their fault that baptisms have declined. It is not their fault that cooperative giving to denomination-wide causes has declined. And I want them to stop acting like they are the secret to denominational reanimation.
If you want to know where the fault lies for declining baptisms, you will find it at the corner of 33rd and Bryant. The problem of baptismal decline is the problem of churches like Edmond’s First Baptist that have lost their evangelistic passion. The fault for churches that are not motivated with zeal for reaching lost people lies at the feet of Alan Day. I cannot fault the seminary that trained me or the institutions and agencies that lend support to our ministries. Pastors like me have not led our churches to embrace a lost world with the love of Jesus Christ. Our people have not lived with any sense of urgency to reach people with the gospel before it is too late.
I want our convention to be strong. I love what we have been. But I do not look to convention leaders to correct the sad trends that characterize us just now. And it is arrogance for them to assume responsibility for a reversal. The headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention is located at 1300 SE 33rd in Edmond, Oklahoma and everywhere else a congregation of Baptists assembles.
Here at EFBC we’ve been asking ourselves lately the question, “What does it mean to be a member of this congregation?” We have answered that membership involves covenant, and covenant involves accountability and responsibility. We have identified 5 purposes as defining our mission: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.
I and our staff are committed to leading our church to fully embrace these purposes, believing that all have New Testament support and that all must be embraced for any of them to be effective. We expect to evaluate all we do in light of the question: How does this program, ministry, or event help us to accomplish the purposes that we have adopted? The only justification for budget expenditures, staff allocations, and program support is the intention to fulfill those 5 purposes.
You won’t hear me blasting the International Mission Board or the North American Mission Board or the Executive Committee. Fact is, I seldom blast anybody but the devil. But I do accept responsibility for the reanimation of our congregation and their focus on the 5 purposes that define us. I do accept responsibility to motivate our staff, deacons, and other leaders to re-commit themselves to these purposes without reservation or hesitation. That’s my job. It’s a tough one, and I’m not sufficient to do it. I’m asking the Lord Jesus to smile on us and bless us with His powerful touch. We desperately need Him.
A church finance committee met and was informed that there was a huge deficit that had created a cash-flow emergency. The pastor suggested that the committee pause and have a time of prayer. One of the committee members asked, “Pastor, has it come to that?”
Yes, folks; it has come to that. Let us pray—but only if we’re willing to get up from our knees, roll up our sleeves, and focus our energies and resources on worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and evangelism. This is not the time for personal agendas. This is the time for congregation-wide renewal and revival.
I trust our people to accept the challenge. They always do.
(copyright 2009, Alan Day, http://www.fbcedmond.org/pastor)
Alan Day (1948-2011): Dr. R. Alan Day was pastor of First Baptist Church, Edmond, for 25 years. He also previously pastored churches in Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. A prolific writer, Day is the author of two books, Lordship . . . What Does It Mean? and Family First, and a contributing author for Baptist Theologians. He served the Baptist Messenger as a columnist for several years, writing a weekly Baptist Doctrine series from 1999-2002, then an “I’m Glad You Asked” column in 2005.
Alan Day tragically passed away in February 2011 following a motorcycle accident.