Saturday, April 29, 2006

Younger Leaders and SBC Politics---It's About Missions (UPDATED)

One of the things that is often said about younger leaders* in the Southern Baptist Convention (YLs) is that we are turned off by the political wrangling and infighting that have characterized SBC life for the past several decades. Ironically, in recent months many YLs have engaged the SBC political process in response to a growing effort to narrow the parameters of cooperation within the SBC, which excludes faithful, God-called SBC people from certain areas of service, and to suppress dissenting voices within the SBC. Dozens of blogs have been started, meetings have been scheduled, research has been conducted, attempts have been made to persuade people to allow themselves to be nominated for office, letters have been written to state papers, and contacts with SBC leaders have been made. Unfortunately, at times tempers have flared, words have been carelessly used, and personal attacks have been made.

Obviously, not all YLs have jumped on the political bandwagon. One of the primary critics of the recent political efforts of YLs is Steve McCoy. Steve is definitely not supportive of the status quo within the SBC, but he does not believe that the political process is the best way to change the SBC. He believes that we need to focus less on changing the structure of the SBC and more on changing our local churches, specifically by leading our churches to become truly missional. As our churches, which comprise the SBC, change, the convention itself will gradually be transformed. Steve has made it clear that he is not advocating a withdrawal from the process of the SBC, but his point is that we should not look to the political process as a means of effecting real change within the SBC.

I don't know of anyone who disagrees that the key to bringing about a true missional resurgence or reformation in the SBC is to follow the path Steve advocates. Indeed, I would surmise that this is the means that most YLs would prefer to use to transform the SBC. Furthermore, I would guess that most of us agree that this is the only way to really bring about genuine long term change within the SBC.

So if most YLs would prefer to change the SBC by leading local churches to become truly missional, why has there been such a focus on the political process in the past few months? The answer can be given in one word: MISSIONS. The recent trends in the SBC toward exclusion, narrowing the parameters of cooperation, and suppression of dissenting voices have had their biggest impact on our missions work, especially on the international level. A large number of missionaries feel a need to comment anonymously or under pseudonyms out of fear that if they stray too far from the party line they could be terminated. SBC people who have been called by God to the missions field are now being told that they cannot serve through their own denomination's missions boards, not because of any character issues or heretical views, but because they do not qualify according to some extrabiblical doctrinal standard. A missionary couple serving in one of the most unreached areas of the world is in the process of being terminated because of their work with other missionaries who are in agreement with the doctrines articualted in the BFM2000. I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that if these trends are allowed to continue then the SBC will face a severe missions crisis within the next decade, if not sooner.

This is why so many YLs have reluctantly engaged the SBC political process. We are not seeking power or prestige for ourselves. Most of us are simply committed to doing whatever we can to reverse these trends as quickly as possible, for the sake of our missions work. These trends are adversely affecting our missions work NOW, so we need to act NOW. If we wait until we bring about reform by reforming our churches, the damage to our missions work will already be done. So yes, let's be committed to the task of reforming our churches and work toward a true missional resurgence that transforms every aspect of SBC life. But let's also commit ourselves to doing what we can to ensure that we do not allow our missions work to suffer before that happens.
___________________
* I am using the term younger leaders in a generic sense. I am NOT referring in any way to the Younger Leaders Initiative that was started by Jimmy Draper in 2005. The Younger Leaders Summit on June 12 in Greensboro has absolutely NOTHING to do with any of the political efforts that are being made by some of us YLs.

[UPDATE: The IMB administrative staff has decided not to terminate the missionary couple mentioned above, so they will be allowed to return to the field.]

16 comments:

David Rogers said...

Great post, Tim! When you combine what you have written here with Wade's latest post, "The SBC is Worth our Finest Efforts", I believe you capture the essence of what all this is all about.

Yes, bottom line, God's work will go on, and He does not need the SBC. But, in the meantime, in the interest of faithful stewardship, there is much that is worth "fighting" for.

Kevin Bussey said...

Ditto!

I couldn't have said it better!

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Tim,

You are accurately reflecting my motivation in this whole thing, also. They can mess with other stuff, but when they mess with our missionaries, watch out!

Love in Christ,

Jeff

Hashman said...

Hey Tim,

I appreciate your efforts and perspective.

Hashman

Dorcas said...

Tim -

I agree. You have articulated clearly the balance between active involvement now and long term change at the local church level. This post really got to the point of it all. Thanks!

Micah said...

ah, yes! I kick back in my chair now and slap myself for not being smart enough to write this before. You are absolutely right Tim! We really don't care about positions, headlines or titles. We do care, DESPERATELY, about missions and particularly missions through the IMB and the Cooperative Program. That's the reason many of us have been discouraged by other's quick responses about withdrawing support from the Cooperative Program. We honestly believe that the CP has long been the greatest missions sending methodology the world has ever seen. Thanks Tim, for such a timely post.

Steve said...

Tim, you said, "This is why so many YLs have reluctantly engaged the SBC political process. We are not seeking power or prestige for ourselves."

This just isn't true for some of our SBC political neophytes. I've talked with them, and I'll bet you have too. Some are intending to do some very "seeking power" sorts of things, even this next week.

You said, "Most of us are simply committed to doing whatever we can to reverse these trends as quickly as possible, for the sake of our missions work. These trends are adversely affecting our missions work NOW, so we need to act NOW."

You act as if this is antithetical to my point of view. It's not. I'm all for encouraging the IMB to change stupid policies.

I'm for doing that in the right ways, and not by deciding to use the martyr-Wade moment to enact a larger, more sweeping voters-reform movement. Some are doing that, and I think it's not well thought out and potentially damaging to what I hope we really want.

"But let's also commit ourselves to doing what we can to ensure that we do not allow our missions work to suffer before that happens."

Too late. :) Look, we have a ginormous mission organization. Sometimes dumb things will happen and a few people we love will be ditched. We hate that, but it happens and will continue to from time to time. I'm not saying we should settle for it, we shouldn't, but I'm saying God is bigger than this and we need to do what's best for the long term without damaging friction now.

So I stick to my basic point which is we bring the best change through focusing on local churches, building new and better missional networks, and refusing to make political power and impatience our weapons of choice.

Thanks for trying to get your arms around these issues.

Steve

Anonymous said...

Tim,

I've been working with the IMB for over 10 years on assignement somewhere near the "ends of the earth". There has been tremendous progress in advancing the gospel to unreached peoples and cities that I've seen take place during my tenure.

This is definitely the most exciting time in the history of the church to be a missionary! The IMB was turned upside down during my early years on the field and field personnel were empowered to do "whatever it takes" to reach our people with the gospel. This radical change in policy freed us up to be creative in reaching the lost and planting churches in unconventional ways.

Our leadership is continually putting into our hands the tools we need to advance the kingdom and allowing us the space to make mistakes as we venture into unchartered territories.

We are eyewitnesses to all God is doing on the edge of darkness! The Kingdom is advancing! Darkness is being overcome by light! Lives are being changed by the gospel! Churches are being planted in Satan's backyard!

The IMB is not broken, but needs adjustments from time to time to keep up with the changes and challenges of the day. The recent decisions to limit who can be appointed with the board was short-sided and wrong, in my opinion, but it is not worth sinking the boat over. Bad policies can be changed in time.

PLEASE DON'T LET GO OF THE ROPES, young leaders! When you appointed us as your missionaries, you sent us here to further the kingdom, not the SBC. We need your prayers, cooperative dollars and your churches to send more people to target more cities and upgs.

The SBC, IMB and cooperative program is worth fighting and dying for!

It has been said rightfully so that God does not need the SBC, but He is using the SBC in mighty ways.

I urge you to look into the eyes of people who have never heard the gospel for the first time and burn the image of their face on your hearts as you go to Greensboro. Unreached people groups and cities is why the SBC exists.

GO TO GREENSBORO WITH THE RIGHT SPIRIT AND THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE!

Previously signed,
Bewildered M

jowiki said...

Good post.

nathaniel adam king said...

I agree completely, plus some.

Southern Baptist politics a must...

Hershel said...

I am all for you YLs. I have been priviliged to be part of the SBC for longer than most of you have been alive. I remember the conservative resurgence/take-over (a matter of perspective). My observation is if you want to change a political system like the SBC, you have to use political processes.
I remember in the 80's I sat in a convention session to elect a President. At 2:00 pm more than 45,000 people voted, including the five year old child of the couple seated in front of me. At the evening session we did not have a quorum for the FMB (Foreign Mission Board) report.
Unfortunately, I was quoted in the Florida Baptist Witness saying, "this makes me sick." It still makes me sick.
Missions must be our priority but we live and serve in a political world. You YL's, get your church members educated and present. When God's people rise up they can change the course of the convention. It has happened before, in my life time. Maybe you can make it happen in your life time.
God bless you all. I will see you in Greensboro.

Tim Sweatman said...

Steve,

I'm sure that there are YLs who are interested in positions and/or power, but I believe that most of us are not getting involved in the process for these reasons. Regarding the upcoming event you are referring to, it was described to me in a different manner than you have characterized it. I guess we'll have to wait until late Wednesday or Thursday to know for sure.

I posted the following example in a comment on your blog, but I'm repeating it here because I believe it explains why we're taking this approach.

"I believe that your approach is the best, and really the only, way to bring long-term health to the SBC. And I believe that this is the approach that most YLs were focused on until November. But when the IMB passed the policies on prayer language and baptism, which snowballed into all the issues with Wade and the latest move to silence dissent, many of us became aware that the SBC is in much worse shape than we had thought. Thus, a more immediate response is needed.

For example, think about a person with heart disease. In the early stages, treatments are not very radical and bring about gradual improvement over the long term. At a more advanced stage, treatment focuses more on providing more immediate relief and is more invasive (such as an angioplasty). At the most critical stage, radical treatment is urgently needed as soon as possible (think bypass surgery). Just as it would be irresponsible for a physician to perform bypass surgery on someone in the earlest stages of heart disease, it would also be irresponsible to rely solely on diet, exercise, losing weight, and quitting smoking for a patient whose arteries are almost completely blocked and has had a severe heart attack.

Using this example, before November we (those of us who are more politically minded) thought the SBC was in the early stages of heart disease. Thus, a gradual, long term approach as recommended by Dr. McCoy (Steve, not Bones) was the appropriate one. But the events I mentioned above showed us that the SBC is in an advanced stage of heart disease, definitely in need of an angioplasty and possibly multiple bypass surgery (we're not in full agreement about which treatment would be best). We believe that if we take only a long-term, gradual approach the patient will die or will suffer irreversible damage. These radical, invasive treatments are inherently risky, but based on our diagnosis the risk of not taking such action is greater."

Dorcas said...

Tim,

Your illustration of a person with heart disease is a great analogy. Thanks for your input on this matter. You are a true diplomat.

Steve said...

Here's my response to Tim's heart disease/surgery analogy and why I think it misses the mark a bit. Pervasive cancer is a much better analogy, and missional networking (chemo) is a much better solution.

Arkansas Razorbaptist said...

Great news about the couple.

Jenni said...
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