Friday, June 11, 2010

Second SBC open forum

On May 18, the officers of the California Southern Baptist Convention hosted our second open forum. It's taken me a while to get around to this, but I still wanted to give a recap and reflection before the big National Convention in Orlando next week.

The purpose of these open forums is to continue the discussion Walter Price initiated last fall in his thought-provoking president's address. There is no real agenda. We're just trying to learn why many young people are tuning out from the SBC. We are reevaluating our goals and methods of cooperating. And we are simply trying as officers to put a finger on the pulse of our state and ascertain people's perceptions of the status quo.

Our second meeting in Fresno was very well attended, due in part to the many state staff who were present. But I was also pleased to see a number of central valley pastors and associational staff there. Walter Price, Blake Withers, and myself facilitated the meeting as officers. Perhaps the most positive comment of the day was from Howard Everett, a pastor who traveled all the way from San Diego to attend. As our meeting closed, he remarked, "This was the most encouraging conversation I've had in 17 years."

While our first open forum in San Diego centered on the need to update communication methods and  decentralize church planting operations, this meeting focused on mentoring, missions, and denominational involvement.
  • Mentoring. For quite a while, we discussed the need for a better mentoring process in our convention. Some encouraged the younger pastors to seek out an older pastor. Others urged the older pastors to make themselves more available to the younger. One participant said "any DOM would be thrilled to have a younger pastor approach them to be mentored." I believe that mentorships, both formal and informal, are critical for healthy churches and the future of our convention. But this is not something that can be manufactured from the top down. Every one of us needs to have a Paul (who is mentoring us) and a Timothy (who we are mentoring). I would urge a young pastor to seek out and put himself under other leaders he respects and has a theological affinity with. And I would urge him to waste no time in finding youth, college students, and young adults who he can invest in and disciple.
  • Missions. Matt Spradlin made an interesting point that there has been a shift theologically and missionally, so that young people are now much more existential. They do not merely want to hear about missions or send a gift off to some vague offering fund like Lottie Moon or Annie Armstrong. They want to experience it firsthand. They want to see it, smell it, and get their hands dirty in the process. I see two dangers with this. (1) It could easily lead to a form of narcissism where we only want to serve on our terms and be single-handedly responsible for changing the world. Or (2) it could quickly degenerate into a new social gospel movement. But there is also something to be celebrated about young people rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in the grunt work of missions, relief, and church planting. What we need to do is harness this energy and encourage these young people to be involved, not so we can feel better about ourselves, but so that the name of Jesus Christ can be heard and cherished by every tribe and tongue and nation
  •  Denominational Involvement. Some young pastors said the reason they're not more involved is because they really don't know what's expected of them. There really doesn't seem to be a need for them. Ben Holland noted there's no clear pipeline of how they can get more involved. There are no exciting openings for them to jump in and help out. Thus, they remain on the fringes. I think that many state associations could do a much better job of identifying and encouraging young leaders to serve in their association. Give them a job and let them loose! I personally have been blessed to help our Inland Empire Association in many ways, such as helping in their Summer Missionary orientation program, hosting a regional Sunday School training workshop, and teaching a seminar at the Equipped for Excellence conference. But I get the impression most other associations are not this proactive. I also think the state convention as a whole needs to find more opportunities for young leaders to be involved: helping plan  regional programs, assisting with our annual On Target and Tsunami conferences, serving on our boards and as officers, and assisting at the annual meeting. Walter has already begun to strongly emphasize this, and I hope our next state convention president will do much the same. Meanwhile, the younger pastors need to attend denominational events enough to build quality relationships and make themselves available for use.
Our next open forum will be at First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills at 11 am on July 22. Hope to see you there!

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