The Southern Baptist Convention, through whom we, the Summit Church, do a lot of our church planting, has been undergoing some changes in the last few years. Many have called it the “Great Commission Resurgence.” Others have criticized it as a departure from institutional principles that have led to Southern Baptist successes in the past. Some have thought it is a desperate attempt to save a sinking ship.
I’d say it has been characterized by mostly positive developments, and I’m not quite ready to give up on the whole thing yet. There is a value to like-minded believers coming together to do ministry, and the agencies of the SBC (the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, etc) have been able to really advance the Gospel in some ways that individual churches or small networks of churches could not. Here are 4 things (2 today, 2 tomorrow) I think constitute the ‘need of the hour’ for Southern Baptists. I won’t fill them out much here, just mention them with a brief explanation.
- Southern Baptists are most definitely Gospel people, but Southern Baptist preaching has not been characterized, in recent years, by Gospel-centrality. By that I don’t mean that we don’t always present the Gospel toward the end our sermons and ask people to respond (because Southern Baptists are pretty good about that), but that our preaching rarely leaves people with a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty, magnificence, and grace of God demonstrated in the Gospel. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that the goal of a lecture is that people leave with information; the goal of a motivational speech is that they leave with action steps; the goal of a sermon is that people leave worshipping. So much of a Southern Baptist preaching could be characterized, in my opinion, as either “Bible lecture” or “relevant application.” In fact, the controversy in Southern Baptist preaching is about which of those 2 it should be—more doctrine lecture or more application-oriented. In contrast to both of these, our sermons should leave people not with information or things to do, but worshipping at the greatness of God shown us in the Gospel. It should give us a picture of God that leaves our mouths gaping in wonder, and from that vision people will change. That will mean our preaching will be less about what we need to go and do for God, and more about what He has done for us.
- We need to really define what the mission of God is, and the difference in that and the Great Commission (if there is a difference), and what the mission of the church is in light of both of those. God’s restoration of the earth encompasses more than just the saving of souls… God put us on the earth to glorify him–for example, by how we take care of creation and how we develop it through community-blessing business. Ultimately, the plan of God God is not to just snatch a bunch of people up to heaven in the rapture, He is also going to restore the earth and human endeavors on earth according to His glorious design. This means we must teach people who know Jesus how to live according to Kingdom principles, and not simply that God’s purposes for them are to come to church, be involved in church-based ministry, and give lots of money.
That said, the “mission of the church,” as Jesus spelled it out, was that we “be His witnesses” and go and preach the Gospel to all nations. He has not commissioned us to go and restore the earth. For example, you don’t see the Apostles lobbying for better race relations in Antioch. You see them preaching the Gospel, and then teaching the various races of believers to give a picture of Kingdom unity in how they get along in the church.
The mission of the church is Gospel proclamation. That said, any Gospel that does not lead its people to bless the communities in which they live by promoting righteousness (like racial equality) and does not lead its people to demonstrate the Gospel in the community by embodying justice and compassion is a truncated Gospel. The true Gospel produces people who take care of the orphan and widow and promote Kingdom principles in the place they live.
Southern Baptists have not embraced a good, robust philosophy of Gospel-centered ministry… a theology that keeps the preaching of the message central while pouring itself out for the orphan and widow.
2 more tomorrow…