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Third SBC Open Forum

On Thursday, July 22, Walter and I hosted our third of five open forums across the state to discuss the future
of the California Southern Baptist Convention. The meeting was well-attended and resulted in some great discussion. Here were a few highlights for me:
  • The next generation. Much time was spent discussing the nature of the next generation. Southern Baptists have bemoaned for years now the lack of fresh blood and the graying of hair at our annual meetings. But what will it take to actually attract the next generation? Once again, mentoring was a hot topic. There are some young leaders starving to be mentored by wiser, godlier, more experienced pastors. We also admitted that many young people view the SBC as something of a "relic." It's still not clearly worth saving. It may already be too late to convince some, but other young men seem open, if only we can prove there is something worth preserving. This is a generation that is willing to ask hard questions, and won't be satisfied with trite answers, or the way things have always been done. As one middle aged pastor said, younger pastors are not just a younger "us." Their DNA is different. We cannot take for granted they will value the same things the older generation values, or continue to do things the way they have always been done.
  • Associations. With several Directors of Missions present, more time was spent talking about regional SBC associations than at our previous two meetings. While DOMs have many other responsibilities, they see one of their irreplaceable roles as helping SBC churches protect their property. It was purported that some men are maliciously taking SBC pastorates only to draw the churches out of the SBC. I was disturbed to hear this, but have no idea how often this is occurring. It seems to me this whole conspiracy could be averted if pastors, DOMs, or state staff would better equip search committees to ask the right kinds of questions before calling a new pastor.
  • Openness. Another common concern was the level of openness at the state office in Fresno. Local church leaders and associational staff seemed refreshed to have such a candid open forum. But many wondered if the state staff is also willing to participate in this conversation. Though we're grateful for their service, we would like to see our state convention be less resistant to change. This is something any of us can be guilty of, and it is a way we hope the Lord will grow our convention in the months and years ahead.
  • State Task Force. Walter Price announced that he would like to form a state GCR Task Force at our annual meeting in October to do further study and bring specific recommendations to the state convention. Many were very excited to hear this, and believe it's a step in the right direction.

    Well, those are the highlights. Below are more detailed notes taken by Michael Cook, Director of Missions for the Pacific Southern Baptist Association. Thanks, Michael, for putting this together...

    Held at First Baptist Church, Beverly Hills
    Thursday, July 22, 2010, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
    Dr. Walter Price, President, CSBC, Facilitator
    Stephen Jones, Second VP, CSBC, Asst. Facilitator

    Introductory Remarks:
    Dr. Price related that previous Open Forums were held in Fresno and San Diego. The scope of discussions in Open Forums included the CSBC's current status, needs, and preferred future. Dr. Price believes that ministry partners in our CSBC need to find and implement new ways of working together. Also, he believes that the generational participation in our CSBC life and ministries must be broadened for the health and growth of our life and cooperative work together.

    In 2009, Dr. Price focused on younger pastors (under forty years old). In 2010, Dr. Price is conducting Open Forums in multiple locations. Also in 2010, Dr. Price intends to lead the Messengers of the CSBC's Annual Business Meeting to authorize the appointment of leaders who will serve on the CSBC Great Commission Task Force to do its work in 2011.

    Insights from the participants in this Open Forum:
    After this introduction, Dr. Price asked for insights from the participants in this Open Forum. Participants offered the following observations.

    -A comprehensive survey of CSBC life and ministry should be considered, including the CSBC Constitution / Bylaws, structure, and operations.

    -While CSBC's organization, operations, and partnerships may change, we must remain committed to the Bible and orthodox theology, i.e., to the Apostles' Doctrine that is the faith once delivered to the saints.

    -Regarding the proposed formation of the CSBC Great Commission Task Force, we will need the skills of leaders with the sharpest and wisest minds of leaders young and old who will be drawn from a variety of our diverse churches. This Task Force should not restrict its research to existing SBC structures and ministries. It should seriously examine the life and work of organizations and denominations that are being effective in advancing God's Kingdom through multiple generations inside the Kingdom to reach multiple generations outside the Kingdom.

    -Even if we in California were to completely dissolve the CSBC, so many of our churches need the fellowship and kinds of ministries that the CSBC offers that it is very likely that another ministry organization surely would be devised to do many of the services that our CSBC currently provides for our California churches.

    -In the opinions of many of our associations and churches, especially the smaller ones, the CSBC offers tremendous assistance to them. These associations and churches highly value the CSBC receive its services, participate in its ministries, and support it financially. These smaller entities do not possess the staff expertise that the CSBC has, nor do they have the financial resources to purchase equivalent expertise in the market place. The Cooperative Program funds our CSBC staff that meets many of these entities' needs.

    However, too many of our churches think that the CSBC's existence and ministries are irrelevant to their lives and work. As a result of the low valuation of CSBC life and ministries, pastors (especially the younger pastors) and their churches show a low level of commitment, participation, and financial support for the CSBC.

    The CSBC needs do the following to improve the delivery of its services and increase its value to our churches:

    >Devise, communicate, and implement a process for our churches to identify their needs and then to notify the CSBC of their needs.
    >Eliminate ministries that are not valued and utilized by our churches.
    >Add ministries that our churches request.
    >Reduce overhead and costs of operations.
    >Continuously learn and evaluate the dynamic needs of our churches and provide dynamic services rather than maintaining static fixed ministries that perhaps once were relevant but now are no longer helpful.
    >Transform communications methods that will effectively inform our local churches of the services that our CSBC offers.

    -Rather than working exclusively with CSBC / SBC entities, the CSBC and local CSBC churches should consider partnering with ministries that are not necessarily Southern Baptist but are like-minded with us doctrinally. In some cases, this theology of sharing ministry resources should extend to sharing facilities with non-Southern Baptist churches and ministries. Also, in some cases, Southern Baptist facilities should be sold at a discount or even should be gifted to non-Southern Baptist churches and ministries that are doctrinally like-minded with Southern Baptists and that have proven to be effective in advancing Christ's Kingdom through evangelism, discipleship, and church starting. This theology is a Kingdom theology that truly honors Christ.

    -Too often the Gospel that we preach in California has been incomplete, weak and ineffective to truly save and transform souls. Our churches must not dilute or otherwise compromise the plan of salvation and other biblical truths for any reason. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that drawing or sustaining a crowd is an end unto itself.

    -The CSBC's future will be interfaced with the futures of its ministry partners—California's many associations, SBC, NAMB, IMB, etc. Future planning of all aspects of CSBC life and ministries must be flexible to become and remain compatible with the lives and ministries of its ministry partners that also are / will be in dynamic transition.

    -There exists anxiety / concerns about the potential for the national centralization of funding and decision making that could jeopardize the autonomy of our California ministries and usurp our local control and decision making. California Southern Baptists want ministry partnerships to reach Californians for Christ, not domination or usurpation by our ministry partners. Our sentiment is not ego based but stewardship based. God has blessed California Southern Baptists with His commission and with tremendous resources. There is the saying, "The one with the gold makes the rules." We do not want this worldly proverb to be fulfilled in California by any national ministry group being allowed to marginalize our ministry roles and responsibilities. We do want to be equal partners with our national ministry partners.

    -There is concern that there might be wasteful duplication of services and expenditures of funds if the CSBC, NAMB, and IMB all three offer to our churches and associations the same services or nearly the same services. On the other hand, such duplication of services would provide the churches and associations multiple organizations from which to choose assistance.

    -All California Southern Baptists should be grateful to God that we have only one state convention. States with more than one convention experience strife and difficulties in their fraternal relationships and ministries that we in California have not had the misfortune to endure.

    -Our CSBC churches will continue to need assistance from our local associations and from our CSBC staff. Generally, the closer geographically and relationally that an assisting organization is to the local church, the better and more consistent will be the delivery of that assistance over time. Therefore, any changes in the relationships of our CSBC's ministry partners must not jeopardize the delivery of effective and efficient services to our local churches.

    -There exists confusion about the role of the CSBC. While our affiliated CSBC churches enjoy the assistance of our CSBC, the pastors and leaders of our churches must remember that our churches are autonomous, and ultimately our churches are responsible for themselves and their respective lives and ministries in order to carry out the Great Commission. Our churches' relationships of interdependence must not devolve into an unhealthy dependence upon others. While ministry partnerships are beneficial, each of our churches needs to provide for itself financially. Each congregation must develop and manage its strategies for missions and ministries. These functions of the local churches must not be abdicated.

    -There exists confusion in our churches about the funding, utilization, and functions of the Cooperative Program. How does the Cooperative Program work? What does it do? How much Cooperative Program money stays in California? Why do a very high percentage of our churches' contributions to the Cooperative Program remain in the CSBC? Internationally, there are so few churches and so many unsaved and unchurched people. Therefore, why isn't more of California's Cooperative Program money being distributed to the International Mission Board to proclaim the Gospel internationally?

    -Many younger pastors are associating, and working together, but many are not networking within the CSBC structure. Since the 1940's and 1950's, there seems to be progressively less commitment by each successive generation to denominational identification and structures. This trend is also true in the CSBC. Perhaps some of this decline is related to the increasingly competing demands placed upon younger pastors—bi-vocational ministry with its time and labor intensity, providing for his family in a tough economy, fierce focus on starting a new church or reviving an old church that reduces or eliminates denominational interests, etc. Nevertheless, if denominational life and ministries in the CSBC are to be preserved and strengthened, pastors younger and older will need to lead their churches by precept and example with respect to participating in CSBC life and ministry. Church members normally will not be fully committed to CSBC life and ministry if their pastor himself is not fully committed to CSBC life and ministries and passionately communicating and demonstrating his commitment.

    -Pastors need to mentor others to become leaders. Older pastors must do a better job of befriending and mentoring younger pastors. Older pastors must invest time and attention in the young men in their churches. Younger men need to know that they are respected and appreciated by the older men for who they are and for their God-given talents for service and leadership. Likewise, younger pastors need to show respect and listen to the wisdom of the older pastors.

    -While older pastors may tend to participate in CSBC life and ministries with its attendant conferences and meetings, younger pastors tend not to participate unless they perceive that their vital ministry goals are being advanced. Younger pastors do not want to meet on a statewide basis simply for fellowship. They have other methods for fellowship, such as electronic social networking, etc. For the younger pastors to begin to participate, the CSBC must offer opportunities for ministry and training that will excite and motivate younger pastors to invest their time and money.

    -The conduct of CSBC meetings that requires the utilization of Roberts Rules of Order is a format that discourages many younger pastors who want what they consider to be less rigid and more creative and fluid processes of communication and decision making.

    -Younger pastors are often discouraged / frustrated by debates and contentions over what they consider to be disputable matters. Examples of such include glossalalia, and Calvinist leaning views verses Arminian leaning views. The CSBC should major on reaching the unsaved and unchurched and leave the disputable matters in the sphere of the personal choices of individual believers.

    -Younger pastors, like older pastors, are passionately interested in biblical truth. However, younger pastors seem not to be passionate about the same topics as their older counterparts. Here lie areas for developing intergenerational dialogue, respect, and collegiality.

    -CSBC should offer various CSBC leadership positions to younger pastors.

    -CSBC should offer some level of financial assistance to younger pastors and church planting pastors who want to participate in CSBC leadership positions and various CSBC meetings and training events.

    -For the CSBC to assist local churches to start many more new churches, the CSBC needs to develop and implement an aggressive process to identify, train, and fund new church planters.

    -Pastors need to prepare their churches' for their eventual departure by a call to a different ministry, retirement or death. The churches need to know how to live and work together between pastors and how to call a new pastor, when the pastor search becomes necessary.

    -Too many of our churches are relationally and functionally isolated from the unchurched people in their neighborhoods. To connect with our communities in ways that impact the unchurched for Christ, our churches must identify the needs of the unchurched and change their churches' lives and ministries as necessary to effectively deliver the Gospel. This task requires passion, training, and skill. Our CSBC staff and organizational resources can assist our churches with training and supplemental resources. However, our CSBC cannot do the outreach work that ultimately remains the responsibility of each local church.

    -Our churches are rich with God-given resources to proclaim the Gospel, start new churches, do mission projects and trips, etc. Each of our churches needs to assess its resources and generously share them to expand Christ's Kingdom. Hoarding must be repented. Unselfishly sharing and investing our resources must become our normal theology of church life and ministry and our common method of operation.

    -Some churches have become so dysfunctional and so resistant to repentance and / or to transformation that they cannot sustain their lives. Others may be located in communities that literally have migrated away. As much as our CSBC might want to assist all of them, some churches will wind up and dissolve despite our best efforts. The CSBC Church Legacy Alliance program is an excellent tool for these churches to safeguard their property for the continuation of Southern Baptist life and ministries. The Church Legacy Alliance honors local church autonomy while assuring these local churches of the support of their ministry partners in their local associations, the CSBC, and the California Baptist Foundation.

    -Our faithful forefathers have left us lands, buildings, and equipment worth a fortune for us to utilize for the advancement of Christ's Kingdom. As faithful stewards in our day, we must continue to utilize these resources for Christ's Kingdom and protect them from opportunists who often by subterfuge steal them away. Again, the CSBC Church Legacy Alliance program is an excellent tool for churches to safeguard their property. The Church Legacy Alliance honors local church autonomy while assuring the local church of the support of its ministry partners in its local association, the CSBC, and the California Baptist Foundation.

    These notes were prepared by Michael Cook, Director of Missions, Pacific Southern Baptist Association. In his judgment, they are an accurate and reasonably complete record of this Open Forum. However, others who were present at this Open Forum may have other notes and recollections that would correct or expand these notes.

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