Young pastors encouraged to engage SBC
The presidents of the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission encouraged greater participation in Southern Baptist life during an event with about 125 pastors and leaders who are primarily in their 20s and 30s. The ERLC hosted the meeting over a dinner provided by the SBC Executive Committee during the ethics entity's national conference on marriage and homosexuality earlier this fall at Nashville's Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
IMB President David Platt, NAMB President Kevin Ezell and ERLC President Russell D. Moore explained the work of and vision for their entities, as well as their own hopes about the SBC's future. They spoke individually before answering questions from the audience as a panel. Attendees also watched a video from Frank Page, the Executive Committee's president. Ezell has been NAMB's president for four years. Moore took office at the ERLC 18 months ago. IMB trustees elected Platt as president in August.
Platt is leading IMB, he said, "because I don't know of anything in the world like what we've got the opportunity to be a part of with tens of thousands of churches working together to get the Gospel to people who've never heard it, strengthened by churches here who are standing fast in the Word in our culture, planting churches in North America, buttressed by six seminaries who are training leaders.
-- Kevin Ezell
Ezell told the audience, "There's never been a better time in my lifetime to re-engage as a Southern Baptist than right now. I really believe that God is up to something very special in the Southern Baptist Convention."
Moore said the leaders have been given an inheritance. "There is nothing like this in the history of the Christian church for reaching the nations for Jesus Christ," he said.
"I have never seen the SBC more filled with love and unity than I do right now," Moore told the young pastors and leaders. "And I think we ought to work with God in that and be thankful to God for this moment and work together. And I think there are going to be a lot of people -- I already hear from some -- [who are looking at the SBC] and are saying, 'You know what, we're just kind of realizing we're actually Southern Baptists, and we never knew it. And we want to be a part of that.' I think we ought to encourage that wherever we can."
Matt Carter, pastor of preaching and vision at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, told the audience why his church has decided to become more involved with the SBC in its time and financial gifts. The four reasons for the change by Austin Stone and him, Carter said, are:
-- The investment and involvement of Southern Baptists in his life and the lives of his staff, "and we want to invest back."
-- "[T]here is not another organization on planet Earth that is more committed to foreign missions than the Southern Baptist Convention."
-- At 41, he wants to finish his life and ministry well, and many of the men he is watching who are finishing well are Southern Baptists.
-- His observation of God's work through the IMB, NAMB, ERLC and the seminaries leads him to believe "with all my heart God is at work among us in a very unique and powerful and profound way, and we're going to be a part of it."
The convention is in a time of transition following significant changes the last few years, Moore said.
"I'm surprised we haven't had more tumult in the SBC," he told those attending. "So I think we ought to be thankful to God we really do have a unified convention of people who are able to live together and work together."
A generational shift is occurring in which older and younger Southern Baptists are cooperating to find ways to work together, Moore said. "They are not two generations that are at war with one another. They're just two very different ways of seeing the world. And they're at peace -- but [have] very different ways of seeing the world."
He added, "We're at a place right now where we really have to understand that we don't have the option of: 'Just keep doing what we were doing 10 years ago except more so.'"
One of the challenges is ethnic minority participation in SBC entities, the leaders acknowledged in response to a question. They are intentionally seeking to alter that shortage of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and others, and investments are being made in SBC life that should produce future dividends, panelists said.
"I know a white mission force is not going to win the world to Jesus. It's going to have to be an international mission force of all different colors from all different backgrounds," Platt said. "So we've got to own this as IMB. We've got to own this as pastors in this room."
Platt and Ezell are discussing how to combine their entities' message and marketing to mobilize people with one emphasis, though they would remain separate organizations, Ezell told the audience.
"I think what really brings us all together as Southern Baptists is a heart for missions," Ezell said.
"[T]he stronger the churches are in North America, the more churches we have in North America, the stronger the whole international enterprise is going to be," he said. "We're all in this together."
Ezell cited the 400,000 Ethiopians living in the Washington, D.C., area without a Southern Baptist church among them.
"It just makes sense to attach work among Ethiopians in D.C. with work among Ethiopians over in Ethiopia and to mobilize Ethiopians from D.C. to be part of spreading the Gospel to Ethiopians and Ethiopia," Platt said of the two mission boards cooperating on such ventures. "It just makes sense."
His first goal for IMB is "exalting Christ," Platt said. "He's the one who is going to accomplish this mission, which means we've got to trust His Word."
The Bible has "to be driving everything we're doing," he said. "And so we don't exalt Christ by coming up with our own ideas and strategies and asking God to bless them. We exalt Christ by lining up with the strategy and plan he has already promised to bless."
The desire of both IMB and NAMB is to serve churches, the mission entity heads said.
"We want to equip and empower local churches. We want to help you think through how churches, not IMB, ... send missionaries and shepherd missionaries," Platt said. "We're saying to the local church, 'You can do this. How can we help? You don't exist to serve us. We exist to serve you and equip you to accomplish this mission.'"
Ezell told the pastors, "[W]e want to come alongside you to plant churches to plant churches. NAMB does not plant churches. Churches plant churches.
"We're trying to connect churches that want to plant churches with planters who want to plant churches."
The ERLC exists to help churches fulfill Christ's Gospel-centered mission, Moore said.
"I do not have any interest in being the union rep for the Bible Belt," he told the audience. "The only interest I have is to be able to equip us to speak from the perspective of the Gospel with a focus" on the Gospel.
The purpose of the ERLC's national conference held at the time of the meeting is not just to talk about such issues as homosexuality, Moore said.
"[W]e are here," he said, "because there are persons made in the image of God, persons who are loved by God, who are wondering out there when they hear us proclaim, 'Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden' -- 'Is there an asterisk there that says, "For everybody except you?"' We need to be the sort of people who can be on mission [to extend the invitation to all]."