FTC panel addresses SBC's 'inflection point'

by T. Patrick Hudson, posted Thursday, June 20, 2019 (4 months ago)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) –- The Southern Baptist Convention's future ministry and mission was the topic of a For the Church panel discussion hosted by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the SBC annual meeting.

Jason Allen (far right), president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, leads a panel discussion titled "For the Church" June 11 in Birmingham. Panelists include (left to right) Jamie Dew, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board; H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Orange Park, Fla.; Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee; and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Moderated by MBTS President Jason Allen, the discussion featured Paul Chitwood, H.B. Charles Jr., Ronnie Floyd, Kevin Ezell and Jamie Dew, filling the room with nearly 1,000 attendees Tuesday, June 11, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

In light of "an inflection point" in Southern Baptist history with several new entity heads taking office in the past year, Allen queried the panelists on how Southern Baptists can "keep the main thing the main thing" -- winning souls to Jesus Christ through the convention's mission and ministry.

"It's time for people in this great denomination to rally together and to renew our commitment to this great work," Allen, Midwestern Seminary's president, said. "Ultimately, it's about the ministry -- what we're doing through our entities and the churches -- and then most importantly about the mission of reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Allen asked the panelists questions about the health of the denomination; how to emphasize the importance of being called to full-time ministry, growth in the SBC's missionary-sending entities; the viability of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000; and what each panelist loves about/is most encouraged about in the SBC.

In response to the question about reinvigorating the number of men being called to ministry service, Charles said, "It begins with us praying to the end that God would raise up missionaries, raise up pastors, raise up men and women to serve the church, to serve the next generation of the church."

Charles said there must be "pastoral intentionality of calling out the called and challenging those who have a burden for the Lord ... to take seriously the call of God on their lives. Then there must be the building of a culture within the church that prays for, supports, encourages and raises up those who are called to do the work of the Lord."

Chitwood, discussing the current status of the missionary pipeline, said the number had shrunk to historic levels due to a number of factors. However, now that financial issues have been addressed, he said the number is on the increase again.

"We're in a position financially to begin growing the field headcount again," Chitwood said. "Our team has worked really hard, and we've tried to create a new narrative to show the denomination that there's an opportunity to go again through the IMB. There are now 270 candidates in the process, so that's a threefold plus increase, and we want to show the denomination the need now is to rebuild the missionary force overseas."

On the topic of the BF&M 2000, Allen suggested he would not change a thing in the statement of Southern Baptist beliefs because it "speaks to all the right issues while maintaining conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical Southern Baptist thought."

Additionally, Allen noted the need for Southern Baptists to avoid focusing on divisive issues that detract from the main mission.

"We have to have the maturity denominationally and personally to differentiate between issues that we should fight over and issues that we should merely advocate for," he said.

"Those are two important categories. I'm willing to fight over issues that are outside of my confessional and our confessional commitments, namely the BF&M 2000. I'm not willing to fight fisticuffs with brothers and sisters about issues within our confessional statements. I am willing to advocate winsomely and cheerfully for positions that are within that, whether they're issues of eschatology or where you are on the spectrum of Reformed, theology, soteriology, etc."

Wrapping up the discussion, Allen took a moment to encourage attendees to examine and reflect on the work being done by the convention on the issue of sexual abuse in local churches and within society.

Calling the report on sexual abuse coming before the messengers on Wednesday a "serious report with serious documentation, serious reflection and serious recommendations and proposals," Allen noted that he's encouraged by the progress being made.

In light of liability concerns on a national and local scale, Allen further urged that now is the time to act instead of waiting to find a more suitable time to address the issue.

Allen further explained that working to resolve the issue is both a testimonial and a Gospel issue for the convention.

"Who amongst us isn't committed to protecting the vulnerable in our midst, especially the women and the children?" he asked. "This should rally within all of us a sense of urgency.... If people walk away from the church because of some activity that we could have prevented or have addressed on the backside more properly, Lord, help us.

"But if we are clear in our witness, clear on our action and clear about our determination to protect the least amongst us and to be a Gospel people in these things, I believe we can deal with this in a way that's faithful, strong and healthy for our denomination -- and in a way that strengthens our churches and honors and protects the abused and the potentially abused."

The full panel discussion will be archived at www.mbts.edu.

T. Patrick Hudson is assistant professor of communications and history at Spurgeon College and institutional editor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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