The sixth blog of The New Methodists, a six part series exploring the challenges that face the SBC today.
By Dr. Chuck Kelley
Upon reflection, the most significant and influential death in the modern history of the Southern Baptist Convention was the death of our discipleship process.
The defining characteristic of Southern Baptists at our best was being “disciplistic,” having a passionate evangelistic discipleship. We refused to let go of one in order to pursue the other. When we loosened our grip on one to strengthen our grip on the other, we ultimately weakened both dramatically.
Today, we do not know who we are. The world does not know who we are. Our lost friends and neighbors do not know who we are. In the New Testament world, believers lived differently than their neighbors. That is how they came to be called “Christians,” which was a term of derision and not respect.
Our problem is not that more of us don’t witness to our neighbors. Our problem is that more of us do not look like and live like Jesus. If we do not produce children, youth and adults who live out a biblical worldview, no strategy for doing church will make us salt and light in the world.
Our problem is that more of us do not look like and live like Jesus.
Let me illustrate by pointing you to four voices. Any country music fan can recognize the voice of legendary Johnny Cash. It is hard to imagine a baby boomer who cares about music who wouldn’t also recognize the voice of Bob Dylan. He had one of the most distinctive voices of his generation. The third voice is for a younger generation: Eminem. Urban music fans of today are bound to recognize Eminem. He is the one of the most popular musical artists on the scene today, the only rapper to win an Oscar for music. The fourth voice? Only his mother and the Shazam apps for iPhones would recognize Ron Dante singing “Rock Me Gently.” His style is smooth and clear. His rendition of this song was in a very popular commercial. But it lacks the distinctive quality you cannot help but notice in the others.
Southern Baptists are not losing our voice. We are losing the distinctiveness of our voice in the midst of today’s culture. We are blending in with the lost more than we are standing out.
Here is the most important lesson: Aggressive evangelism without aggressive discipleship will eventually undo itself.
The most crucial issue in SBC evangelism today is the need to reinvent a process to bring our children, youth and adults to spiritual maturity in an evangelistic way. We need “disciplistic” churches! Baptist believers must be taught how to be the distinctive presence of Christ in the culture. We must be the salt our neighbors cannot fail to taste; the light the world around us cannot fail to see. As Jesus himself noted in Matthew 5:13-14, salt that is not salty is not good for anything but throwing out. Light that is under a bushel is useless.
Is there more to SBC problems than this? Yes! But there is at least this: We are becoming the New Methodists.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 we read, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” But don’t stop there. Keep Reading!
The Lord goes on to say, “But if you turn aside … then I will pluck you up from my land … and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight.”
When you can, find a picture of the Western Wall of the temple mount in Jerusalem, also called the “Wailing Wall.” The large stones at the base of the wall are all that is left of God’s temple during the time of Jesus. The crowds you see are there every day. Jews and pilgrims from all over the world come to see and weep over what was lost and pray that one day all will be restored.
Here is what we know stated as simply as I know how to state it. In times past, God has worked through our Southern Baptist churches in a mighty way. In times present God is not working in a mighty way through our churches. How are you going to respond to this? How am I going to respond to this?
If we as a people do not repent now, only one question remains: To what wall will our children return to weep and remember the glory of what the SBC was?
I leave you at this wall, for it is to this wall that God has brought me in my spirit as I prepared this series. Perhaps he intends to bring you to the wailing wall as well. May God have mercy on us all.