My how we SBCers do love the ‘National Blue Ribbon Task Force’ approach to addressing seemingly intractable, long-running problems in the SBC chief of which is the steadily declining baptism total. Steve Gaines appointed and the Convention approved last year such a group, the Evangelism Task Force.
Baptist Press reported on it with a couple of stories:
The ETF produced a report that included a section on “affirmations” and “denials” about evangelism. Naturally, soteriology is infused in the report. I haven’t seen any Cals or Trads complaining about the wording. Maybe we agree on it, or, perhaps the more vocal of the two camps is just being tight-lipped about it.
I’ve already seen a gripe or two about the statement that, WE DENY that the gospel is primarily concerned with social justice, political engagement, or secular aims resulting in the call to personal repentance and faith being minimized or ignored. I’m comfortable with that statement and the report does go on to state that WE DENY that the gospel only addresses personal spirituality and individual behavior. Seems to be a balanced statement to me.
No prob with the “sinner’s prayer” being legit: WE AFFIRM that a sinner’s prayer is a biblically appropriate and practically effective method by which lost people can personally receive God’s gracious offer of the gospel in repentance and faith. The report goes on to state that WE DENY that people are saved merely by mouthing the words of a specific prayer. Everyone happy with all this?
Vocational evangelists, a shrinking group in SBC life for a number of reasons, receive a plug: WE AFFIRM that God gifts certain individuals to function as evangelists as a gift to the church in order to lead in the harvest and to equip believers for greater effectiveness in personal witnessing and corporate outreach in order to build up the body of Christ…and WE DENY that the ministry of the New Testament evangelist ceased at the conclusion of the apostolic age and therefore is not a valid expression of God’s calling and gifting today. Everyone, presumably, can say a revival worthy, AMEN! to that.
The ETF report includes – in the form of recommendations for churches, pastors, seminaries, DOMs, state convention CEOs, NAMB, the Executive Committee, and all SBCers – concrete actions. The most significant ones are:
State convention CEOs: …should “prioritize evangelism in your staffing, training, and ministry…” My observation from the hinterlands is that evangelism staff were not effective unless the measure was in conducting conferences and training events. Although the recommendation is sensible and should be taken by state CEOs, I have a suggestion below that may prove more helpful in advancing baptism numbers.
NAMB: The ETF recommends that “senior level leadership” be hired. This is a throwback, I think, to an earlier NAMB. If NAMB goes back to creating evangelism resources and training events, there should be some metrics that justify devoting budget to such. Not having high visibility evangelism personnel has been one of the complaints about NAMB. I don’t know that it is justified here but I’ll state anyway that one of the things SBs do best is to throw money at a problem. Perhaps the new NAMB can rethink this and design something from the ground up that will do more than provide offices for staff and materials that churches might use.
DOMs: The ETF suggests that these “identify, celebrate, and use as training models churches and pastors who demonstrate evangelistic effectiveness resulting in baptized believers. We ask that you invite Baptist colleges, seminaries, state conventions, and churches who have effective evangelism ministries to assist churches that desire to increase evangelistic effectiveness.” Good ideas. If the DOM, many of whom are likely in a semi-retirement, terminal ministry position with few responsibilities would stir himself to do this, it may actually move the needle for some associational churches. No slam here against all DOMs, but most pastors know what is meant.
Executive Committee: Put a Sunday on the denominational calendar for “Baptism Day.” I think this is a good idea. If still a pastor, I’d join this one.
Here are a few suggestions of my own:
State Convention CEOs: Make it a requirement that your staff, all ministerial staff, engage in personal witnessing and report on it in staff meetings. Employ only those who model personal witnessing, starting with yourself. I’m all for competent administrators. I appreciate staff specialists in different ministry areas and I’m always pleased if they have preaching abilities. But, what would happen if all state staff had the reputation of being effective in personal evangelism? I am reminded of the overseas seminary prof who protested a requirement that he engage in personal evangelism with indigenous churches. He expressed that he thought teaching in a classroom was sufficient.
Seminaries: Almost half a century ago, a new Southern Baptist seminary was started that required personal witnessing by all students and faculty: Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. The six SBC seminaries would do well to adopt some version of this model and I think maybe some schools have done some things along these lines. The recommendations the ETF makes for seminaries, that they conduct annual witness training events for employees and students, consider enhancing curricular requirements in evangelism, and involve students and faculty indirect efforts to reach the lost through mission trips, local mission partnerships, and their local churches, are all good. You mean our seminaries, seedbeds for pastors, missionaries, and other SBC ministry workers do not already do these things?
I appreciate the ETF’s work. These are serious, experienced, and knowledgeable individuals. I’m not optimistic that much will happen out of their work that will move the needle on SBC baptism numbers. I’d make a wild conjecture that NAMB will make some movement in this area. The rest, I don’t know. Maybe some seminaries will change a few things. I think Steve Gaines missed a good opportunity here by making this an all-male task force, though he couldn’t have known that women’s issues would be a dominant theme of #SBC18.
It will be interesting to see if this goes the way of the SBC name change of a few years ago: do it and forget it. I hope not.