Here are some thoughts on assorted issues I see in Southern Baptist life. Some of these may seem a bit forward, but these observations are intended only to be thought-provoking, not a provocation. These are things I believe we need to think about. So, in no particular order, here they are:
We need to find a path out of the education inflation spiral.
Our seminaries are training intellectuals to engage intellectuals. They don’t know Joe the Plumber even exists. We are training ministers out of the ability to relate to and enjoy their members–and the people they are trying to reach. According to Wikipedia, here is where educational levels stood in 2011:
|High school graduate||87.58%|
|Associate’s and/or Bachelor’s degree||39.89%|
|Doctorate or professional degree||3.00%|
We need to re-think whether a PhD or even a Master’s Degree is really necessary for pastors in rural areas and blue collar churches. Seminaries and pulpit committees both need to give thought to this. Does a general practitioner really need to be trained for a specialty?
To the evangelist, everything is about evangelism. To the disciple-maker, everything is about equipping disciples. To the revivalist, everything is about revival. And to seminary professors, everything is about academics. Speaking as a general practitioner, as a pastor, it takes all of these working together. Sound judgment is needed concerning the exact mix in each ministry context. For many of these contexts, we have unrealistic expectations.
And I would add that there is a measure of snobbery involved, too. When seminary students make light of ministers on campus to pursue their DMin, pastors who are forced by our education inflation spiral to have a doctorate, that is a bad sign. So now, only a PhD is enough education? C’Mon man!
While in the neighborhood, let’s add that we need more professors teaching in our seminaries who have more experience in the field. There are so many academics with, maybe two to five years experience serving a church. Too many of these academics have the attitude, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over!” Students need to hear real stories from real pastors who served real churches full of real people. Too many are graduating from our seminaries having been taught the Bible well, but not having a realistic picture of what they are getting into.
We need to find ways to equip pastors to serve bivocationally by offering bivocational training
We could send more people to some areas overseas if they had expertise in some area of agriculture. We could send more pastors to plant churches bivocationally if we trained them in a trade or for a profession of some type. The day is coming when there will be fewer bench warmers in church, when more churches will be smaller, and the churches will be lean, small armies with bivocational pastors. This is going to become even more of a reality as we move toward the time of persecution, which is coming.
We have too many young leaders who are saying, “I have no need of you”
Don’t like to have to deal with:
- Church traditions?
- The old folks?
- A music genre and worship style that is not your personal preference?
- Bringing about change in a patient way, bringing the people along with you at a slower pace than you prefer to move?
Then, be the hand that says to the ear, “I have no need of you.” Start your own church, not because it is really needed to evangelize a given area (though that is what you will say), but so you can have your own way. Treat those other believers like you just don’t need them. There are hundreds of towns in new work areas without an evangelical, or even a protestant church, but no – don’t go to one of those places, be evangelical church number 15 in your town with a population of 10,000. /sarcasm
This “we are spiritual because we do it our way with our friends” attitude is something we need to discuss.
The “city fad” and the devaluing of small town ministry
I believe in planting churches in cities and, as I have written before, I have no criticism of those who are called to evangelize the cities. However, I’m beginning to get the idea that for many it’s something of a fad. There are many unreached communities and many opportunities. In many places you could grow a congregation as large as most churches in a major city. The souls in those places are just as valuable as souls in the cities. Just because they do not have a Starbucks is not a good reason for bypassing those places.
State Conventions should consider pooling their talents to create evangelistic and disciple-making resources.
Our state conventions have some talented and creative people. Each state convention has some really neat things they are doing individually–their own areas of specialty. Why not let these people collaborate in making tools for use in local churches. They could fill the resource gaps which lie between LifeWay and NAMB. It would be cost effective. There wouldn’t need to be a profit margin. New hires would not be necessary. Duplication and redundancy could be reduced. The ears would be closer to the local churches. State conventions could cooperate on projects of interest to them. And while we are at it, why not follow the lead of the associations in the new work areas and make more training available on sites like e-quip.net and noba.e-quip.net?
Training our members to think strategically
Mission strategy isn’t just for seminary graduates. Our deacons and teachers and members need to think more like missionaries. We need to explore ways to equip our congregations to better understand their mission and to think clearly about the most effective methods to reaching their own communities. Too much thought is more sentimental than spiritual, more traditional than missional. We can do better.
We are at an interesting and important point in Southern Baptist life. We have an opportunity that is stronger due to our denomination’s commitment to the truth of Scripture and, on the part of many, to the mission. It is a more challenging time due to the secularization and coarsening of our culture. Business as usual will not get the job done. We must be more innovative… and not just in new church plants and in our contemporary churches.