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First Thoughts

The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention

A Southern Baptist Meltdown

Right now, Southern Baptists are in the midst of a veritable smorgasbord of near chaos. Whether the issue is the rejection by the executive committee of the search team’s candidate to lead that entity, the highly unusual development that our incumbent president will face an opponent for reelection, the opposition of an influential pastor to The Baptist Faith and Message (BFM), or our lack of clarity on how to proceed on sexual abuse, the convention is facing all manner of serious problems.

We are in the gyrations of a full Southern Baptist meltdown.

What Is Really Going on

The conservative resurgence has defined Southern Baptist life for over thirty years. That powerful force created leadership and stability in convention life for a generation. During that resurgent generation, people knew which leadership to trust and what direction to go.

Not anymore.

Today we are in a new generation in need of new leadership with the ability to articulate a bold and fresh new direction. The truthfulness of that claim is witnessed in the chaos of the last few years. It has been painful to witness a convention that was deadlocked along generational lines between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, a convention that was divided along political lines between Trump and never Trump, and a convention that has been dismayed over how to respond to sexual abuse.

The fact is that we are a convention adrift. We are experiencing confusion and disagreement on the nature of our mission (what will be our focus), on the nature of our theology (what we will believe), and on the nature of our ethics (what we will do and how we will do it). Our convention will remain adrift until we settle these matters.

It requires no insider with a privileged perch to see that the SBC is in an unhappy place right now. It requires no prophet to acknowledge that this unhappiness cannot continue forever. Change is coming to the Southern Baptist Convention. The concern is what the nature of that change will be.

Finding Our Way in The Darkness

What we need is a simple, clear, and compelling vision to unite Southern Baptists as we move forward through the next several years. For me, that vision is easy. In the years ahead, Southern Baptists need to focus on being Faithful, Transparent, and Safe.

Faithful, Transparent, and Safe

Southern Baptists need to focus on our faithfulness to the text of Scripture and to our guiding principles in the BFM. We need to focus on transparency that is open and honest about problems as well as clear and forthright about solutions. We also must concentrate on safety and being a convention of churches that create the most secure environments in the world for the weak and vulnerable.

I think the future is bright for a convention of churches that will focus on these things. In the weeks ahead, I’m going to apply these principles to some of our most complicated problems as we all prepare for New Orleans.

The Priority of the Convention

Several surgeries have created a lot of time for me over the last three years to lie still, read the Bible, and pray. Those seasons of reflection have clarified a lot in my heart. The most important matter of clarification and conviction has been about the great love of God. The great call on my life is that the great love of God would transform me into a man of great love. That great call is focused on my love for Jesus, my love for my own family, and my love for my people at First Baptist Church.

It is that calling to be a loving pastor that emboldens me to engage the issues in our convention. I do not need to be a Southern Baptist, but the convention has been the way our church has cooperated with thousands of churches like yours to share the great love of God to a world blinded by sin. That spirit of cooperation is threatened right now, and I desperately want to see us overcome these threats. That is why I write, that is why I am eagerly preparing for New Orleans, and that is why all of us need to pray.

Change Is Coming

Change is coming to the Southern Baptist Convention. That cannot be helped at this point. That change will not be short—we have a few more years to go before things settle down. That change will not be easy—we have hard work yet to do. That change is not going to make everyone happy—we are going to lose some people over this. But the change is necessary, which means, when it comes, it will be refreshing. Those refreshing times will revitalize us and will propel us into the future with greater faithfulness.

We are in a time of conflict and transition.

But God is doing something wonderful. I am excited to see what he does.

This is part 1 of a series of blog posts on the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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