Next week, the Southern Baptist Convention meets in San Antonio, Texas. These annual meetings are filled with fellowship, reports, business and glorious worship. As is true in the local church, sometimes tension fills the meeting place and at other times, glory comes down.
We have passed the years where conservative-liberal issues dominate the agenda. Southern Baptists have determined to hold the course on biblical inerrancy, and our missions and ministry reflect that decision. For this I am thankful. I am grateful for men and women who stood tall and were unwilling to allow us to slide down the slippery slope of liberalism.
The challenges today are just as great, although they are more subtle. Will those who led us to victory release their grip so that others may take places of leadership, or will they continue to keep a powerful hand on every issue? Can the generals who led us so well through the battle now allow a new generation of leaders to take us in new directions?
These are hard questions to address. War-scarred leaders and ground troops operate from a protectionist point of view. They know how hard it was to regain the ground that had been lost in our colleges, seminaries, agencies and mission boards. They find it difficult to release their grip to the untried and untested. Some would declare that those who have not been to war have no right to lead.
I understand their struggle but would call for the grip to loosen. God has raised up some new, strong, godly leaders who need now to step out of the shadows. They need not be given control and the old heroes walk away to snooze until Heaven calls. No, there needs to be a sharing and then a handing off of the baton. Old leaders need not drop from the scene, but be there to remind the younger ones of the potholes and deep ravines.
At the same time, these new leaders have a responsibility neither to ignore nor forget the lessons of history. The battles in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last 30 years were tough. Some of the tactics and methods of both conservatives and liberals were reprehensible. There were good people caught in the theological and political wars who became casualties. Warfare is like that. Yet, in the end, the Southern Baptist Convention has returned to its roots. New leaders must keep alert, else we be forced to fight these battles again.
The great challenge for old and young is to stand together with respect for one another. Younger Southern Baptist leaders owe a great debt to those who have gone before. They are being handed one of the greatest missionary sending and supporting denominations in history. These new leaders inherit healthy seminaries that are theologically sound. Passing to them is the greatest missions support system in the history of Christianity-the Cooperative Program
But older leaders also owe a debt to the young. They are our offspring. We have trained them and guided them. We have fought so that they might lead us to new heights. Our new leaders are bright and aggressive. They are evangelistic and missional. They have innovative methods and fresh approaches. Thank the Lord! They have the energy and enthusiasm to push Southern Baptists to the ends of the Earth and to engage culture in ways relevant to this day and time.
My prayer is simple. May those who have gone before us be honored and blessed for their leadership. May those who come behind be found faithful to hold in trust the strong convention handed them. Above all, let’s carry the baton together for a while. We will all be better off.