http://www.lubbockonline.com/stories/103107/rel_103107081.shtml

In addition to the selection of a new Executive Director for the BGCT, another item is on the plate for the coming year that, in my opinion, is just as important to the future of the BGCT, and that is the creation of the study committee moved by Ed Jackson from Garland.  The article which explains the content of that motion is linked above.  In spite of the motion being amended by recommendation of the executive board prior to its adoption, I believe this committee’s study, and recommendations, could be crucial to the vitality and relevance of the BGCT in the future. 

There is a crisis rolling toward the BGCT, as well as the other Baptist state conventions and the SBC.  It is obvious that the vast majority of people participating in convention life are well past 60 years of age.  Statistics tell us that at least half of our current Sunday School enrollment is 60 or older, convention wide.  These are the people who are also the biggest financial supporters of their local churches, and I have seen estimates that place the percentage of their gifts as high as 75% of the total current income.  This generation has already begun to die off, and the impact of that is already being felt, but again, the experts tell us it will reach crisis proportions by the year 2020. 

Not only that, but there is very little interest in  “convention life” among those under 60.  That’s understandable.  The convention is generally still operating using the methods and strategies it developed in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and those over 60 are familiar with it, and understand it.  Younger people don’t.  Combine that with the fact that there are studies pointing us to the fact that 80% of our young people leave our churches during their college years, and you have good reason for the lack of younger participants as messengers.  The “Baptist Wars” and the elitist exclusion of all but a few people from a small group of pre-selected churches for boards and committees have driven all but a few hard core seminarians and recent graduates from the ranks of both convention leadership and participation.  And nothing at all has yet been done to either reverse this trend, or prepare to deal with the coming crisis. 

So, we have Ed Jackson’s proposed motion for forming a study committee to make recommendations to the BGCT.  Something is being done.  The question is, will it be enough, and will it be in time?  And is it possible for an organization that is dominated by “grayhead thinking” to come up with ways and means for a Baptist state convention to have a relevant, vital, meaningful future existence?  I believe it is possible, but this opportunity must not be botched.  Here are a few suggestions.

1.  Please, please, PLEASE do not resort to the typical choices of committee members by chosing people off the exclusive, narrow list of prominent people who are the typical choices for BGCT trustee boards and committees.

2.  The committee needs to be made up entirely of people who have never served on a BGCT board or committee, or as an officer.  Period.  More than any committee in the BGCT, this is one that absolutely must NOT be made up of the status quo, or the recycled prominents who rotate from board to board.  Get some fresh faces, and build some trust while you are at it.

3.  The members of this committee need to be visionaries who are under 60 years of age, and have some kind of grasp on what the future holds in terms of cooperative missions ministry. 

4.  The members of this committee need to come from churches that, at the very least, have a viable small groups ministry and a genuine contemporary worship service.  Sorry, but you are not going to get many cutting edge thinkers from churches that use 19th century worship music, and a liturgy. 

This is a big job, and it won’t be an easy one.  Everything in convention “life” will have to be open to evaluation and to whatever change is necessary to be relevant, and they will need our prayers for the necessary discernment and wisdom they will need from God to accomplish this task. 

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About LS

I'm 56, happily married for 25 years, B.A., M.A., career educator with experience in education as a teacher and administrator, native Arizonan living in Pennsylvania, working on a PhD and a big fan of the Arizona Wildcats, mainly in football and basketball.

13 responses

  1. Tim Dahl says:

    I would love to be on a committee like this. But, I think they have to pick from people already on the Exec. Board…no?

    Tim

  2. Ken Coffee says:

    I have been involved in BGCT life for right at fifty years. I started attending BGCT meetings when most attendees were much older than I. I was on an associaitonal staff for seventeen years and on the BGCT staff for sixteen years. All of this qualifies me for nothing except to say, “It has always been this way.” Convention-goers have ALWAYS BEEN OLDER PEOPLE, because they are the ones who can afford to go and who are at a station in life where they can take off work to attend. As a BGCT staffer, I sat in on dozens of meetings where we discussed ways of getting younger pastors to attend. We created special events for younger pastors and staff members. We have ALWAYS been aware that youth must be served. Welcome to reality!

  3. Lee says:

    Tim,
    If this committee must be made up of executive board members, then I hold little hope for any real change taking place. It must have fresh ideas and in order to do that, it has to involve people who have at least had a taste of the cutting edge of change. You’d be a great chairperson for it. If it is limited to the executive board, then as far as I am concerned, it will not succeed in accomplishing its task. I have not seen that this executive board has been willing to advocate for change, or move beyond the limits of current expectations and political correctness to get us beyond where we already are. I was in favor of this committee and this motion because I thought it carried the potential to bring in people who could get us beyond where we are, and move us forward. If we are limited only to those who, because of their connections and influence, hold their current position, then this committee will be just one more in a long string of empty exercises designed to produce the image of change, but to stonewall any attempt to actually implement it.

    Ken,
    There are people involved in the executive leadership of the BGCT who were around when I first came here in 1979, and while the convention messenger body tended to be made up of “older” people, it was not nearly as heavy on the over 60 crowd as it now is. Back then, it was largely made up of 40 and 50 somethings.

    I guess I would also have to say that if those ways and means of getting younger pastors (and younger church members) involved haven’t met with success, then the thinking hasn’t been on target. But I wonder where those younger people would come from, even if we did actually come up with something that would help get them involved in convention life? If you look at stats that Lifeway and NAMB produce, our churches are not exactly overflowing with young adults and young families, and our pulpits are not full of young pastors.

    You may have hit the nail on the head when you said that older people are the ones who can afford to attend the convention and have the time to attend. It would seem, then, that part of the solution might involve the use of the internet, and available technology to carry the convention to the laptop or computer screen of people who do not have the means to pay for two nights in an overpriced hotel and the luxury of taking two days of vacation to attend. But that kind of change seems to be the most resisted by current leadership. Perhaps it is because they just do not relate to, or understand how that technology could be used. And perhaps, in seeing the potential to involve a significantly larger group of people in convention affairs, it is perceved as a threat to the ability of the current inner circle to maintain their control. I think it may be a little bit of both.

  4. Terry says:

    “The members of this committee need to come from churches that, at the very least, have a viable small groups ministry and a genuine contemporary worship service. Sorry, but you are not going to get many cutting edge thinkers from churches that use 19th century worship music, and a liturgy.”

    With 2 short sentences you dismiss 2,000 years of church history, tradition, and worship as being irrelevant.

  5. Lee says:

    Hardly.

    Liturgical worship and 19th century hymnology and music style are not the product of the early New Testament church. They are both the product of their time, and the culture in which they developed. They were relevant, and they resonated with the culture that produced them. The time and culture we live in today is equally capable of using the same elements to craft and develop a style of worship that is relevant to the majority of people who are familiar with what is becoming known as 21st century cultural expression.

    I happen to believe that the scripture alone is sufficient to reveal the nature of God to us and open the door for a personal relationship. The things we use in practicing our faith are just tools to help us understand things in our own language and way of thinking. If church history, tradition, and past ways of worship are relevant, then we should probably be a bit more loyal to the Pope.

  6. Ken Coffee says:

    As a matter of fact we were somewhat successful in getting younger pastors involved. When Carlos McLeod and Bailey Stone created a track for innovative pastors at the Evangelism Conference, we reached out to and involved a whole new group. However, I will be the first to admit, we did not do enough. As to use of technology, even at my age I could not agree with you more. I was one of the first BGCT staff men to be assigned a computer. That was about 1984 or 85. I had never touched one before then. I cry out for our convention to become more reliant on all the good technology available to us. Meetings on line would be one good use of technology. Save travel for church planting specialists to have to go meet with the dozens of new church pastors, associations, mother churches, etc. and just have the meetings on line. Maybe some day. I am enjoying this blog and the comment stream. Keep up the good work.

  7. Dylan says:

    It’s quite a leap from thinking that the people appointed to a committee related to convention relevance should come from churches on the cutting edge of change to a complete dismissal of 2000 years of church history, tradition and worship. I don’t think Lee was saying that at all.

    I certainly understand the need for the church, and by extension the convention, to be relevant in the culture in which it exists. I’ll be 22 in a few months, and were it not for the leadership of the church I attend understanding that its worship needs to be something I, and others my age, can relate to, I would not be here every week. They have a “traditional” worship service each Sunday as well, but if they were looking to form a committee to study ways to make the church and its ministry more relevant in the culture in which it exists, they would likely not ask people from the traditional service to be part of it.

  8. David Lowrie says:

    Lee,

    I do not believe the members of this committee must be members of the Executive Board. It is my understanding they merely need to be active and loyal participants in the BGCT.

    I would recommend a balanced committee of young visionary leaders, seasoned veterans who know the ropes, and capable change agents. I believe people with ties to churches large and small need to be part of this committee. We also need leaders who represent the ethnic diversity of our convention and the opportunities of tomorrow. I would also recommend that the majority of the members represent churches who are loyal members of the BGCT, and who also support the SBC financially. (Note: These SBC represent the majority of our giving churches). I would recommend that a minority voice come from the CBF/TBC leadership, but this leadership group needs to have a voice.

    The changes we face have little to do with worship preference but more to do with finding and embracing a compelling vision of the future. To find ways we can together extend the work and the influence of the Kingdom of God.

    I believe we need visionary mission leaders like Bob Roberts or Kyle Henderson on such a committee. We need to be willing to think outside the box and look deeply into our future. We will have a great deal of problem predicting with any certainty what awaits us in the future but we do need a clear sense of what direction we will be heading.

    This committee without a doubt next to the new ED will shape our future in a significant way, and we need not overlook this great opportunity for change and progress.

    Pray for Joy, and John and our other officers as they prayerfully select this committee.

    David Lowrie

  9. Terry says:

    Simply because a person appreciates and enjoys “traditional” worship rather than “contemporary” does not mean he/she cannot be a “visionary.” The same can be said for those who might be over 60 years of age. It is the height of hubris to believe that only young people have anything to offer worth considering. If you should live long enough (usually around 50 to 55) you will wake up one day and realize that many of the questions you thought you had answered are not as simple as they seem. Rather than simply dismissing the past we would do well to learn everything we can from the experience.

    For the past 15 years I have been in a position to worship with 40-45 different churches each year. In my experience, a church is no more or less relevant based on the type of worship they utilize. I have witnessed very traditional churches that are alive with worship, draining the rich meaning from ancient traditions. I have also witnessed many contemporary style services where the majority of the congregation stands and watches a few performers on the stage, more of a show than worship.

    The key to having a church that is alive does not seem to depend on the type of music that is used in worship. The same can be observed with traditional age-graded Sunday school and small groups. The Spirit moves where and how He chooses and will not be manipulated by our formats and styles.

    My point is that we need to be careful about excluding folks based on the type of church they happen to serve. It is just as foolish to rule out the “old timers” as it is to ignore the “young guns.”

  10. Lee says:

    Terry, I don’t think I did a great job of explaining my reasoning behind that. I was, perhaps, going to the extreme to make a point rather than actually suggesting that people from certain churches be excluded. My wife and I were members of a well known, very traditional, bordering on liturgical, moderate Baptist congregation in Houston for over a decade, and having been raised in traditional churches, grew in our maturity regarding worship in the very rich, traditional approach to it in that church. But, my wife and I were both raised in traditional Southern Baptist churches, both went to Baptist colleges, and I got my master’s degree from a Baptist seminary. So we were easy to catch. The other new members and “younger” couples that this particular church attracted were people a lot like us, with Baptist higher educational backgrounds and an already developed taste and appreciation for traditional worship done well. In the decade we were members there, most of the baptisms were children of people already members, the attendance in both Sunday School and worship slowly but steadily declined, and two thirds of the congregation were people over 65. Long range planning that involved cultural relevance was not one of their strong points.

    At age 50, I have come to realize that deep change is needed in the way most churches approach evangelism and ministry. I have also come to realize that, as an equipping minister, the best thing I can do is to examine what those who have met with success in engaging the culture with the gospel message have done. You might check my archives for a post I made about a Willow Creek conference on small groups back in September. If I want to understand cutting edge change, and how it works, and have the ability to prayerfully lead my church in taking steps it needs to take in order to be culturally relevant in sharing the gospel, then I turn to those who are the experts at doing it already. I know I do not have that creative ability or discernment myself. Likewise, when the BGCT needs to consider this kind of change, it needs to find people who have been able to understand it themselves, and who can explain in a simple way what needs to be done. So I am not opposed to stacking this committee with younger people who come from churches with packed pews and busy baptistries.

    What I’ve learned about worship, since serving in a church that has both a traditional and contemporary service, is that it is not about whether we enjoy it or whether we are pleased by it. Worship is about us pleasing God, and his opinion is the only one that matters. However, if, in our worship, the style we use helps enhance the sense of pleasing God for others, then by all means, let’s use it for that purpose. And as mature Christians, it is our responsibility to set aside our own preferences and desires in order to create community for those who are our weaker brothers.

  11. Sam says:

    Worship styles aside (and for the record, I haven’t worshiped unless I’ve sung the Doxology), it’s not the fault of gray headed baptists, stuck-in-a-rut conventions or a lack of relevance that is failing to attract people – the secular culture has simply gained the upper hand. It has done a much better job of providing seemingly fulfilling alternatives to church and faith. Our simple story and message haven’t changed (it doesn’t change), but theirs continues to seduce and evolve. Whether it be leisure, entertainment, work, or spending time with the family; there is now the mindset that church is just one optional alternative among many. A lot of people just don’t accept the idea that an active effort of growing in our relationship with God gets them anywhere and I’m not sure how to convince them. And our culture will say “sure, sure, we all believe in God and that’s enough, now let’s have some fun”.

    But the idea of making worship relevant makes my skin crawl. ‘He-who-must-not-be-named’ has done a spectacular job of making church relevant to thousands each week by wrapping a little god talk around a boilerplate motivational presentation. That’s apparently what a lot of people want and seem to need in their lives – someone to tell them it’ll all workout if they just believe hard enough. Other successful models wrap Jesus in the American flag – guaranteed to fill the seats. As we recently learned the Willow Creek folks have discovered their best work and full pews have not resulted in their congregation growing in their faith. It’s not a failure by any means, but it’s not any more successful than other methods of church in growing Christians.

    I respectfully submit that one more church/convention task group is not going to reverse this situation. We work so hard and become so attached to our institutions and believe it’s all up to us to keep the Kingdom standing. But I believe God breaks things from time to time- churches, conventions, people – in order to rebuild them into something he can use. Maybe we (insert favorite religious organization) need to be willing, when it’s time, to be broken and rebuilt.

  12. Lee says:

    From the original post:

    4. The members of this committee need to come from churches that, at the very least, have a viable small groups ministry and a genuine contemporary worship service. Sorry, but you are not going to get many cutting edge thinkers from churches that use 19th century worship music, and a liturgy.

    Please allow me to reword that statement, since it has become very obvious that I did not do a good job of expressing the idea I wanted to convey.

    4. The members of the committee need to come from churches which have recognized the need for their ministry to reach into the current culture with the gospel, and which have taken risks by making changes in their approach to missions and ministry that they have prayerfully and carefully considered necessary to reach people who have been separated from the idea of their need for Christ by the influence of a secular culture.
    As I understood Mr. Jackson’s motion, it came from an expressed need related to preparing the convention to deal with a future in which its human and financial resources will be going through a substantial change. This particular committee will be charged with the responsibility of helping the convention deal with that change.

    David Lowrie said, “I would recommend a balanced committee of young visionary leaders, seasoned veterans who know the ropes, and capable change agents.” He put it a lot better than I did, but that’s exactly right. And as in the case of the new Executive Director, this committee will not solve all of the convention’s problems. I certainly don’t expect it to. But to be frank, I am tired of the convention politics and influence peddling, and if this committee is going to have any chance of succeeding at all, it needs to be composed of new faces and fresh ideas.

    Sam, I think your second paragraph is worthy of another thread of discussion. I don’t think that filling the pews is a measure of success in regard to ministry models, since most of those you mention, particularly “He-who-must-not-be-named” do so by attracting believers from the pews of smaller churches. There are a few out there, however, who have succeeded in carrying the gospel into the secular culture, winning converts and making and growing disciples, and are doing so among the younger generations. True worship is not something a church can “design” to “attract” believers, it must come from the Holy Spirit, and believers must be taught how to make that happen. That, to me, is relevant worship.

  13. Dylan says:

    Lee, I think you confused the issue by mentioning small groups and contemporary worship in conjunction with this study committee that is being created to help the BGCT as a convention deal with the crisis generated by an aging membership dying off. It is a separate issue from the relevance of the local church.

    Most Baptists are in denial about what has happened to the makeup of their congregations, and why this has occurred. They are in denial that sitting in rows of pews watching “up front” people deliver a performance is worship. If you want to tackle that subject, let me know. I’m one of those twenty somethings who has stayed in the church, and who has witnessed that 80% or so of his peers who have left it, and knows why. I’d be glad to shed some light on it. You did a pretty good job of that, by the way, in your series of articles about keeping young people in the church. You were pretty much on target.