I have been following the InternetMonk’s recent posts about the Southern Baptist Convention with interest. I can identify with some of the themes that he is talking about and some of the issues, and I think some of the solutions are already in our midst as well. I would like to give you some insight from the edges of SBC life in the north.
I grew up in the heart of the SBC in western Arkansas. It was in a Baptist Student Union at Westark Community College that I met my wife and was called by God to service in ministry. I served as a youth pastor in several small churches in northwest Arkansas and to be honest I didn’t know much about any of the denominational structure of the state at all.
That changed a few years ago when God called us to move to South Dakota as Mission Service Corps missionaries. I had never even heard of the MSC program before we began to follow God’s call, but I was blessed at the power and flexibility of the missions opportunities that Mission Service Corps offers. We spent four years in the field as MSC missionaries serving two churches for two years each. In that time, I got to know and befriend many of the state staff members at the Dakota Baptist Convention. They were in our churches to visit and help out and encourage and serve often. Recently the DBC decided to do away with the traditional model of a state office and has regionalized its state staff. In our modern world of instant communication, they are still able to keep in touch with each other and be closer to the ground level of ministry in the churches. It has had its bumps and rough patches, but the indications I get from our state convention staff is that it has made a big improvement in their ability to minister to churches in the Dakotas. The DBC is focused on planting churches and strengthening the ones that are here already. There is a strong emphasis on evangelism and some unconventional ways to carry it out.
One example is a DBC sponsored ministry at the Sturgis Bike Rally that has seen hundreds of people make decisions for Christ in a single week for three straight years now. We didn’t do this alone. There was help from NAMB and Ronnie Hill ministries and other states conventions and churches and associations. This ministry is a perfect example of a non-typical event. I remember the first year we did it. At the time as I was serving at Black Hills Baptist Church near Sturgis in Whitewood, SD. Our church held the evangelism training sessions in the morning and local volunteers were scarce as many thought the ministry had no chance of working. We were giving away a Harley Davidson motorcycle and the only thing anyone had to do to enter the drawing was listen to a three-minute gospel presentation from one of the workers in the tent. That week, we saw over seven hundred people pray to receive Christ and there has been no shortage of help since.
I say all of this to offer hope in the face of the problems and challenges that we know are out there. There is no perfect solution, because we aren’t perfect in any case. The SBC has a long and rich tradition of reaching our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ and it must continue. It won’t happen the “way we have always done it before.” I see hope for our future.
Our hope doesn’t lie in the size of our churches (the Black Hills Area Association where the Sturgis Rally is held doesn’t have a single church that is larger than a couple hundred members), but in the cooperation of our churches. This has always been the strength of the SBC. Here in the Dakotas, where our state convention may have fewer churches that some associations in the south, cooperation is a lifeline to survive and an opportunity to thrive. I think that sense of cooperation has been diminished in other SBC areas like the south, where long standing SBC churches feel more self-sufficient and may be less inclined to consider the strengths of cooperation. What do you think?