Guest Editorial: Young, Southern Baptist and…irrelevant?
by Brad Whitt
I’m not “young, restless and reformed.”
I guess you’d say that I’m young, Southern Baptist and, it seems, increasingly irrelevant.
You see, I’m just a pastor’s son who grew up with a love for my denomination—a Southern Baptist boy by birth and conviction.
I received my B.A. from Union University, a Tennessee Baptist university, my master’s from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary (not supported by the Cooperative Program, but supportive of the Cooperative Program) and a D.Min. from Southeastern.
Moreover, I have never wanted to be anything but a Southern Baptist. Being a Presbyterian has never appealed to me like it seems to some leaders in our convention and their protégés.
As I travel around the SBC, I can see that I’m in the majority; nonetheless, I can’t get away from the overwhelming feeling that in our current denominational world, I am presented as the dinosaur—albeit only a 37-year-old one. It’s obvious when I see who is lifted up as the future of our convention—the hip and cool up-and-comers with whom I have little in common—that my breed is in danger of becoming extinct.
I don’t mind wearing a coat and tie when I preach (at least on Sunday mornings), and I still love to hear a powerful or dynamic choir special. I believe in giving an invitation at the end of every service. Public invitations are still effective. The church where I serve baptized more than 100 people just last year.
I like for the auditorium lights to be on so that I can read my Bible. Also, I don’t get so tired from preaching on Sundays that I need a stool, and I still preach from a pulpit (or, technically, a podium).
While the current batch of “young leaders” so many reference these days appear to be weaned on non-Southern Baptists like Tim Keller and C.J. Mahaney and are taught to give rock-star status to John Piper and R.C. Sproul, I grew up loving men like Adrian Rogers and Jerry Vines. Both men invested their lives in and among Southern Baptists.
I have pastored a new work in Tennessee, served as a NAMB church planter in Ohio and have served as the pastor of a nearly 100-year-old church in South Carolina for the past nine years.
I’ve been honored to serve on committees or as an officer at the associational, state and national levels. Unlike the hipsters and their mentors, I’ve led the churches where I’ve served—sometimes at the expense of hiring another staff member or building a new playground or expanding facilities—to give sacrificially through the Cooperative Program as well as to the Lottie Moon Christmas and Annie Armstrong Easter offerings. At the same time, our churches were personally involved in mission projects here and abroad.
I am not ashamed of being a Southern Baptist, and I am proud and passionate about my SBC involvement. I have benefited personally from the cooperation among Southern Baptists, and I don’t believe that there is a more effective and efficient way for churches of all sizes to make an eternal impact on this world for Jesus.
It’s not that we can’t and shouldn’t make changes. But everything being proposed now is presented in such a way as to sweep in this new breed that has, at best, “soft” Southern Baptist convictions and commitments.
I’m constantly counseled to “forget about it”—to pastor my church, preach and reach people for Jesus and let the convention do what it’s going to do.
At times, I think my counselors are right.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a desire to include the majority view and membership in the future of the SBC. Just look at most of the personalities who headline our conferences and conventions.
And it isn’t that I haven’t tried to understand what this new in-charge minority thinks—I read their books, listen to their messages and peek at their blogs and tweets. It’s just that they don’t have anything in common with the context in which I minister.
Their theology is different from that which I read in the Bible, and their methodology about how best to reach the world for Jesus is foreign to me as well.
I support international missions, but the hard work God has prepared me mainly to do is reach my neighbors. I believe God planted Southern Baptists where we are to reach our immediate spheres of influence first, and then by expanding outward we are to reach the world. And I believe that we can only reach as far around the world as we are strong at home.
It gets so frustrating that it would be easy to succumb to the refrains I hear (“just forget about it”), but the thing is, I really don’t want to forget about it. I determined when Jesus called me into the ministry that I would be a Southern Baptist pastor, and that I would do my best to serve my church and reach this world for Jesus through the ministries and institutions that our spiritual forefathers had the insight and wisdom to put in place.
Do those ministries and institutions need to be fixed or tweaked from time to time? Absolutely.
Do we need to make sure that we’re just as effective and efficient with our personnel and funds as we can be? I don’t believe Jesus would have it any other way. After all, when you get right down to it, our entire ministry is funded through the tithes and offerings of believers in our local churches.
I love being a Southern Baptist, and I believe that our historic method of cooperation is the most effective means of helping churches of all sizes, from all parts of the country, with all sorts of different structures and styles, to reach the world for Jesus. It’s not always easy, and sometimes hard decisions have to be made when it comes to cooperating together for the Gospel.
But what would happen to the mission and ministry efforts of our convention if pastors like me supported the work of the convention in the same fashion of the “young, restless and reformed,” or their fathers in the ministry? What if we treated the convention with the same disregard or disdain some entity leaders seem to treat us?
The bottom line is that not everything in Southern Baptist life is broken. It appears to me that the larger issue is that much of that which has been, and continues to be, good about the SBC is simply out of favor with many of those who have managed to rise to positions of leadership within our convention. They have gained possession of the microphone, and they have determined that we’ve got to do things “radically” different—whatever the facts might be.
Definitely, some things need to be fixed and some just need to be tweaked, but changes should come from within by committed Southern Baptists who have invested themselves in the cooperative missions and ministries of Southern Baptists . . . and the Cooperative Program. Right now, too many “outsiders from within” have influence, and they resent who we are, what we do and how we do it.
The fact is that, despite my being dismissed by those in vogue, I’m not irrelevant. The opposite is true.
If the Southern Baptist Convention is to grow and thrive, it won’t happen from the actions and attitudes of those who view our cooperative missions and ministries as outmoded and ineffective, or who see stateside ministry as “bloated” compared to missions overseas. It will take a greater emphasis from me, and others like me, on cooperation for the sake of the Gospel if we are to succeed in our combined efforts to win the lost. There is no limit to what Southern Baptists could accomplish for the kingdom if we didn’t care who received the credit.
I’m not irrelevant. My kind of commitment to Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions and ministries just happens to be out of style with some at the moment. But styles change, and so does possession of the microphone.
Brad Whitt is pastor of Temple Church in Simpsonville, S.C., and immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist Pastors’ Conference. This article first appeared in the Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.