FIRST-PERSON: The census & the future of the Great Commission
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The findings from the 2010 census are set to be released this summer, but some preliminary estimates are already being reported by the Associated Press. Every Southern Baptist (and indeed every Christian) who wants to understand what Great Commission ministry is going to look like in this century needs to pay attention to these numbers.
Probably the most significant item in this report relates to minorities. No doubt, many readers have already heard that demographers predict that by 2050 whites will no longer be the majority in the United States. This census finds that for the first time minorities already make up a majority of babies in the U.S. This means that the churches in America that wish to fulfill the Great Commission in the United States will have to have a strategy for reaching America as it is, not as it was. In short, that means that we are going to have to believe and practice what our parents taught us: "Red, yellow, black and white -- they are precious in His sight." If a church is not welcoming to minorities, not only will it be in sin (Matthew 28:19; Revelation 5:9-10), it will also become increasingly irrelevant.
Here's another item from the report that we need to pay attention to, according to one demographer quoted in the story: "We're moving toward an acknowledgment that we're living in a different world than the 1950s, where married or two-parent heterosexual couples are now no longer the norm for a lot of kids, especially kids of color." This reality is as sad as it is sobering. But it also alerts us to another set of challenges that we have to face.
First, more than ever, androgynous disciple-making is no longer going to cut it (and really, it never did cut it). Making disciples in our churches must include an unflinching commitment to a biblical vision for families. This means that our churches are going to have to teach our men to be faithful husbands and fathers, our women to be faithful wives and mothers, our little boys to grow up to be Christian men, and our little girls to grow up to be Christian women. In short, we have to bear witness to and live out biblical manhood and womanhood. The culture is pressing us to abandon this vision, and apart from a tenacious commitment to that vision our families will disintegrate just like they are in the rest of the culture.
Second, our churches need to be ready to minister to people who do not belong to a traditional family. We are already facing this reality, and it looks like the trend is only getting more dire. Who else but the church of Jesus Christ will be able to bring the Gospel to single moms and fatherless children? And who else but the church will be able to be a surrogate family for those who need one? Are we ready for this challenge? Is your church meeting this challenge now? Again, if a church is unwilling to meet this challenge, not only will it be in sin (Matthew 25:40; Psalm 68:5), it will also become increasingly irrelevant.
As I think about the Southern Baptist Convention, I know that these figures represent challenges to business as usual. But that is OK. Sometimes we need our cages rattled. My hope and prayer is that our response will be a deepening commitment to the Great Commission -- that in our own country we would commit to making disciples of every people group. The Lord's arm is not too short to save (Isaiah 59:1). Let's join Him in this work.
Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.