It's time for the annual Southern Baptist Convention. This year, we invade the city of Baltimore as we conduct the business of the convention.
On Wednesday of the convention, our six seminaries host their alumni luncheons. As a graduate of Southern, I attended a few of these in past years. They are a great time to see old friends and hear about what God is doing in new areas of ministry.
This year, at Midwestern, we're taking a different approach. Yes, we will be honoring distinguished alumni, but we will be opening our event to anyone who wants to come. Our president, Jason Allen will be grilling our unique panel - David Dockery (President of TEDS), Christian George (MBTS), Jason Deusing (SWBTS) and myself - on Charles Hadden Spurgeon and his pastoral legacy.
You want to be there. I know.
So here are the facts:
Go REGISTER now!
I earned my first masters at Oxford. Attending church in England was very interesting (a topic for another post). Having served as a student minister and a volunteer at some dynamic student ministries, I was shocked at the utter lack of youth attending church in England. They just weren’t there.
As I commented yesterday, we are on a similar trajectory in the SBC as approximately 27,000 SBC churches didn’t baptize a single teenager. The reasons are myriad: changing demographics in our rural churches, shifting cultural tides that marginalize scriptural believers, or even raw selfishness.
What is to be done?
1.) Pray. This is spiritual warfare. We must be willing to hit our knees in prayer. I have appreciated Ronnie Floyd’s leadership in instigating prayer meetings around the country. This should become the focus of what we do as a convention. Pray. Pray for the lost. Pray for our students. Pray for our churches. If as God’s people are not willing to pray, we should not expect God to move in our churches or our nation.
2.) Reach Out. I truly believe that many of our congregations pray for God to move. How many of our churches pray but do not GO? We have a mandate from Jesus to share the hope of the Gospel with a lost world. When was the last time we told a teen the Good News that Jesus Saves! Does your church have a passion for telling teens?
3.) Invest. Ministry and work with teens doesn’t just happen. You have to invest. And it’s not just investing through dollars. It’s investing in prayer, discipleship, serving and sharing with them. Invest in youth leaders who don’t want the kids to only have a “good time,” but are teaching them the Word of God.
4.) Go Deep. Most young adults are ready to chew on some spiritual steak. Yet many of our student ministries build a steady diet of spiritual saccharine that misses the point. The idea is not to build moral kids who have good, clean fun, but to have students fall in love with Jesus. Nathan McGuff, a college student, makes a similar claim on his blog. We must be intentional and demonstrate how the truth of Jesus Christ answers the questions of life.
5.) Listen. Just like most adults, teens want to be heard. If your congregation fails to listen to part of its body – the teens – it makes it challenging to truly reach them with the Gospel. Different age demographics in your church need each other. The passion of youth should re-invigorate and encourage the senior saints while the wisdom of those more advanced in years stabilizes and balances those on the younger end of the age spectrum.
6.) Serve. One of the greatest mistakes we make as churches is keeping our ministry silos too rigid. When your teens serve on a project with your Senior Adults, transformation happens. We need to have specialized projects, but if there isn’t at least one mission event that mixes the age groups in your congregation each year, you are missing out on a blessing. The big payout? Teens that serve with their parents or older members of the church body are less likely to leave the faith in college according to Kinnaman (You Lost Me).
7.) Send. I interviewed to be the student minister of a church back in the 90s that were paranoid that I even suggested students should go on mission trips to international locations or to the hard places in North America. Most teens are begging to see how Jesus makes a difference and opening their eyes to the work God does around the world is life-altering and creates revolutionaries.
It’s time. Time for us to step back up to the plate. Time for us to stop skirting our God-given responsibilities. I hope you will join me as we pray for our churches to seek out ways in which God can move amongst young adults.
Last week NAMB released the results from its baptism task force study group. For years, leaders and churches noticed the numbers of baptism rates (a key marker of life transformation in our churches) declining rapidly.
On the 2012 Annual Church Profile (ACP):
· 25 % of SBC churches reporting had ZERO baptisms.
· 60% reported no baptisms of young adults (12-17)
· 80% reported either none or only 1 baptism in the 18-29 age group
To be fair, not every church fills out the ACP (please rectify this in your congregation), but of the number that did, we have a significant enough sample for Lifeway Research to extrapolate that these numbers would still hold in the main if every church filled out their report.
The one positive area of growth – preschoolers – is very problematic. I addressed that in this post.
But the numbers from this study reveal something very ominous indeed. I have long been of the impression that it wasn’t that bad. The vague reports of “missing baptisms” were more “Chicken Little” and less solid fact. I saw revival in my church and other congregations in my community. My sense was we weren’t drifting that far.
If, as Ed Stetzer is prone to state, “Facts are our friends,” these friends just punched us in the gut.
A full quarter of our churches baptized no one. That’s over 11,000 SBC churches with no fruit from the harvest. None. Zilch. Add to that the 36,000 of our churches who baptized one or no one in the college to young adult category, and there’s trouble brewing. These types of numbers led the secular press in The Atlantic to publish an article titled, “Baptists, Just Without the Baptisms.”
But it’s the missing youth baptisms - some 27,000 SBC churches didn’t baptize a single teenager – that portends to disaster.
May I suggest something? Something that is one of my deepest concerns?
Friends, what if these trends are simply the evidence that God is removing his candlestick from our midst? Think about it – if spiritual awakening among youth is a clear sign of God moving and we are seeing NO MOVEMENT in our churches, what else should we conclude?
Friends, what if you and I, in our pursuit of the comforts of this day, have simply become complacent in our pews unwilling to reach the lost? What if our desire for the programming we like, or are comfortable with, supersedes our desire for young men and women to come to Christ? What if we have decided that young adults are noisy and loud (they are), boisterous and irreverent (they are), passionate and zealous (they are) and therefore have no place in our comfortable confession?
So what can be done?
I will return to the practical side of this in part #2 of this post.
This week NAMB released the results from its baptism task force. A key study, the desire was to find out why Baptism rates in the SBC are plateaued and declining.
Over the last few years, accusations and suspicions have flown from different sections of the convention. Some laid the blame at the feet of Calvinists; others at failing discipleship or a lack of Biblical preaching.
But it never was that simple. With 45,000 churches, a rapidly shifting culture and a denomination sorely in need of revival, the new study actually highlights some of the most disturbing trends. On the 2012 Annual Church Profile:
· 25 % of SBC churches reporting had ZERO baptisms.
· 60% reported no baptisms of young adults (12-17)
· 80% reported either none or only 1 baptism in the 18-29 age group.
Thankfully, there was one area of growth. But don't celebrate just yet. The one major category that saw an increase in baptisms tells an even more tragic story. The one area of growth is the 5 and under group.
That’s right. Preschoolers.
We have become incredibly adept at baptizing preschoolers.
Brothers and sisters! This should not be!
At its best, baptizing so many who are very young, we run a high risk of minimizing the significance of baptism and at its worst, we have become semi-pedobaptists.
Historically, Baptists delayed baptism of children for a myriad of reasons. From a Scriptural standpoint, Baptism demonstrated a renunciation of the former life and a clear commitment to follow Christ. Delaying baptism of children until they could demonstrate clear thinking on the subject was not uncommon. Especially when the choice of baptism was costly. Our Baptist brothers and sisters around the world delay in baptizing children until they are old enough to firmly stand and make a clear confession of faith. It costs them dearly to hold to the truths of Scripture. In addition, Baptism placed you in the full membership of the church. Most SBC Baptist churches understand (read the church constitution) that baptism is one of the means of joining the church. Thus, when a child is baptized, they are placed on the membership roles of the church. This has significant implications:
Perhaps even more importantly, Baptism of very young children often confuses an ordinance for a sacrament. Baptists believe in two ordinances of the church: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances are to be obeyed, but they do not contain any means of salvation in and of themselves. Many children I talk with who desire to be baptized actually conflate the gift of salvation in Christ with the act of baptism making baptism sacramental. Often parents or grandparents will make the same mistake seeking to “do the deed” so they have one less person to worry about.
So what are we to do? I believer there are some some serious pastoral considerations to take into account:
Do not prevent children from coming to Christ! A child can respond to the clear teaching of scripture and the call of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me!” (Matt. 19:14 and Luke 18:16) We should celebrate every child who comes to Jesus!
Consider discussing this issue with your congregation and set into place some helpful safeguards:
I am sure this baptism report is going to create some intense discussion over the next months as we begin to wrestle with the ideas this report contains. Ultimately, it should drive us to our knees in weeping and crying out to God! We need a fresh movement from our God in our churches to see the salvation of souls.
*** edited 17 May at 7:45pm to include Scott Maze's article.
Prominent early 20th century author and pastor F.W. Boreham (1871-1959) once said that he endeavored to purchase at least one book a week and read it. This became a habit he kept for more than 20 years of ministry.
After being asked by a few students, here’s what’s on my reading list so far for this summer.
Kathleen D. Billman and Bruce C. Birch, ets. C(H)AOS Theory: Reflections of CAOs in Theological Education
F.W. Boreham, A Tuft of Comet’s Hair
F.W. Boreham, The Home of the Echoes
Stephen R. Bown, Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World
Anthony Carter, Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes our Salvation
David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, eds. From Heaven He Came and Sought Her
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Jack Hart, Storycraft
Tom Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of C.H. Spurgeon
Robert Plummer, Journey’s of Faith
Veronica Roth, Allegiant (I read Divergent and Insurgent this spring.)
Gregory Thornbury, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism
William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity.
John Mark Yeats