Wow, we finally have agreement in our Convention. It's time for change. Heck, even Bobby Welch has spent his time as Prez trying to affect change. But sensing that something is wrong and knowing what the real problem is are two different things. Knowing what must be done is even more difficult. This is where I see myself differing with others, even many of the younger leaders, in the SBC. It's not that I have the answers, but I do have ideas. So here is my perspective. I think before we can address what the most critical problems in our convention are we must first determine what our Convention is supposed to be. My hope for the SBC is that we would be a cooperative effort of churches with a confessional identity and a missional character. A confessional identity is essential to articulate our common faith and establish the parameters of cooperation. A missional character puts Kingdom work and values first, displays a mission of redemption over a war with culture, and results in a variety of activity from service to preaching to political engagement. (For more on this missional character/confessional identity see my article in Founders Journal #63, for more on "missional" see my short series here).
The question for me is what are the problems that are hindering this ideal? Here are my top three.
#1. Bad theology. It isn't a big secret that the majority of our churches are theologically weak. I am not even talking about the finer points of soteriology. Theological anemia has left us with a Gospel gutted of its holistic redemptive message, a salvation that has been watered down to be only the remission of sin and guilt, and the mission of the church as merely the conversion of sinners. Bad theology/weak theology is the seminal problem from which all others flow. Specifically relevant is theology of the Gospel, mission and the Kingdom of God.
#2 Narrowing parameters of cooperation. I am not sure why there is a tendency to restrict the parameters of cooperation within our Convention. It is ironic that some are fearful of actually using a confession and yet rely on a spirit of fundamentalism that continues to restrict who can do what. We need to use the confession we have, allowing it to work as it is designed.
#3. Misunderstanding the purpose of the convention. The purpose of the convention is, in my estimation, to encourage/empower the local church to carry on the work of the Kingdom. The Convention serves the churches. It is not the other way around. I recently asked Steve McCoy if he thought the tail is wagging the dog, and he said "not as much as the dog is waiting around for its tail to do something." I believe we have a tendency to invest too much into convention positions, thinking, "If we could just get the right guy (our guy) in that office things would really change." I don't buy that.
So here's the thing; I believe change will come. I believe change is coming when I talk with other pastors, church planters, employees of Convention entities, seminary students, et al. I recognize that I could be wrong, and that change in the SBC is more complicated than most seem to admit, but I believe God can bring about real reformation in our Convention (and is doing so) through a number of things.
First, conversation via books, blogs and brotherhood is changing things. For everyone who mocked the emerging church's "conversation," I hope you took note of that very emphasis at the TFTG Conference. Conversation matters. Through the articulation and testing of thoughts in the context of community we continue to learn and grow. It is no small thing for Christians (especially Pastors) to make some form of this a priority. Biblical/theological conversation changes people.
Second, the seminary influence is changing things. It is not that everything is great at our schools, but good is coming out of them. A lot could be said here, but I want to limit it to one thing. While I can only speak of SBTS, I do not think it stands completely alone. Seminaries like Southern are producing thoughtful expositors of Scripture. As these young men leave the school with the tools to study and communicate the message of Scripture/the point of the passages we have postured our younger leaders for the task of semper reformanda. In the conversation I have with many of you, I see a willingness to put our conventional efforts to the test, evaluating them by Scripture. Of course, some students come out of seminary having wasted everyone's time, others come out merely parroting what they were taught and did not bother to learn how to think. But over all, I see strong men coming out of places like Southern.
Third, reform in local churches is changing the convention. Formal education or not, there are countless men and women working for the reform of our local churches. I would also include here our church planting efforts. When our churches are theologically grounded and missionally driven change will come to the Convention. No amount of change in the political machinery of the Convention will produce that change in our local churches.
None of this leaves out the political process. We should plug in and be involved in our Convention. Voting is good. Electing a President who sees the real problems in our Convention as well as the best possible answer to those problems is important. Here's an idea, how about a guy who doesn't burn James Boyce in effigy from his pulpit (ahem, sorry about that)? I am just not convinced that pushing for political change on the front end, as our primary response to the problems is the best approach. In fact, I think any attempt to change the Convention primarily through a political tug of war will work against the hope I have for this cooperation. I think such an emphasis, which appears to be on the minds of a few people I know, is a bad idea.
So what do I think we should be doing to work for a better Convention?
Be involved. Participate in your conventions (state, local and national). Serve when asked, speak up when things are out of whack, and try to encourage better work. Model it. I believe change can come through you (I know that sounds a bit Anthony Robbins, but I believe it).
Commit yourself to your local church. Since I believe change at the local church level will produce change on the Convention level we need men who are willing to plant themselves in churches. Have a sense of calling man. These ridiculous 2 year terms that are common among Southern Baptist pastors is a clear indicator that things are wrong (Professionalism? Upward mobility? Whatever.). Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general I believe in longevity in pastoral ministry.
Network. This relates to conversation, but meet with others in the Convention who are modeling the ideal. Meet with others who share your concerns. And yes, network with those outside of the SBC.
Study and Practice. Give yourself to the study and practice of theology, particularly as it relates to kingdom, Gospel and mission.
I guess what I'm saying is reformation generally takes time. Like I said, I am not sure I have the answers, and this is really just a ramble of my ideas. A ramble that is admittedly incomplete. But here you have it - if you made it this far through my post.