Predicting the future is a dangerous thing. I have a copy of Sports Illustrated that predicts that the Atlanta Falcons will defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the upcoming Super Bowl. Atlanta was to have defeated the Vikings in the NFC title game. These football experts get fewer predictions right than a broken clock. I track it.
I lack clairvoyance and am no great expert at the SBC’s inner workings. I have often not foreseen the issues that would arise. Who knew that 2018 would see the downfall of icons and heroes, presidential campaign tactics scraping the barrel in ways we have never seen, the transition of entity leadership at an unprecedented pace, and the explosion of the #metoo movement? I did not foresee the major events of 2018 so I am not prepared to try to predict the major events of 2019.
But I do think there are certain questions that we will have to answer, trends we will need to face. I would like to address 10 such questions, with brief commentary.
Question 1: Who will lead our entities?
This is the key question in many minds. We finally found a leader for our flagship entity, the International Mission Board, but LifeWay, the Executive Committee, and Southwestern remain in transition, with the planned retirement of Dr. Kelly at New Orleans set for this summer.
As far as I know, none of these entities is close to making a hire, though sometimes they surprise you.
Question 2: Will the SBC ever integrate its leadership ranks?
Many of us have been hoping that with 5 entity leadership positions open, there might be serious consideration given to minority candidates and even a minority hiring.
The response to this has been discouraging. I have been called a racist for even suggesting we consider hiring minorities! And the subtle response has often been that considering hiring minorities as entity presidents is “affirmative action” – hiring the less qualified (minority) candidate over the more qualified (white) candidate. “Shouldn’t we just hire the best man for the job?” is the mantra, with the tacit assumption that this refutes minority hiring.
The fact is that there are highly qualified and capable minority candidates for each of our entity leadership positions. We would not have to “settle” to have a president who is not white.
I only hear bits of information, but I have asked people “in the know” and as best I can tell, no minority candidate has been given serious consideration by our search committees yet. There seems to be a consensus among those I talk to that we are not going to see any minority hires any time soon
May we be proven wrong.
Question 3: Will the coming political season tear us apart as the last one did?
The 2016 political campaign was the most divisive thing I have seen in the SBC since the Conservative Resurgence. We share the blame. Those of us who are not enamored with the current president reacted with extreme rhetoric when his star began to rise in the GOP, questioning how Christians could support a man so lacking in moral character. The tide has shifted and now, the biblical fidelity of anyone who doesn’t support Donald Trump is called into question by some.
I am not interested in arguing politics today. My question is not about the merits of the Trump administration, or about immigration or refugees or any of the issues that have divided us. My question is whether we can find a way to love one another and honor one another even while we disagree with politically. We failed miserably in 2016 and it was an ugly time. Will we do better in the coming season?
Can we differ politically without anathematizing one another?
Question 4: Will a “regular guy” run for Pastors’ Conference president again this year?
I have appreciated the last two PC presidents’ focus on biblical preaching. This year’s theme is the Beatitudes.
But I am hearing a rising tide of talk supporting the idea of having a “regular guy” run for PC president again, someone who is not part of or blessed by the Mega-metro group.
To be clear, I have no part in this movement nor do any of the team from the 2017 PC. That wore us out. Not one of our guys has any desire to do that again, not in the foreseeable future.
But I am hearing “chatter” that makes me think this might happen this year.
Question 5: Will the SBC continue to be in the thrall of Mega-Metro Pastors?
The SBC is made up of small and medium size churches but it led by a coterie of megachurch pastors. The numbers are staggering. I believe it is in the neighborhood of about 96% of our 47,000 churches that run less than 400 on a Sunday morning and there are around 200 megachurches. Mega-metro is a fellowship group that meets to discuss ministry, evangelism, and other issues that come up. These megachurch pastors are good men who do great work.
I do not think there should be enmity between large churches and small in the SBC – we should be partners. But our presidents and key leaders are disproportionately drawn from the 200 megas. The SBC is a train whose conductors and engineers are tend to be from the mega-metro churches while the rest of us are passengers. (I am speaking of leadership here.)
This can only be so if we, the majority, acquiesce to it. Will we continue to do so? Or will we take part in leadership, to take our place as engineers and conductors and not just as passengers?
Question 6: Will the CR reignite?
The recent brouhaha at SBU raised the specter that the Conservative Resurgence may be anything but a dead issue in the SBC. It would be foolish to think that theological drift ended 20 years ago, but who knows where this will go?
Perhaps the SBU issue will be a tempest in a teapot or perhaps it will reveal that theological issues still exist in theological institutions and that greater oversight is needed.
I do not have an answer here but I certainly have questions.
Question 7: Whither Complementarianism?
I consider myself a strong, biblical complementarian, but to listen to certain pockets of the SBC, I am egalitarian, because I do not ascribe to all their narrow applications of complementarian dogma.
I believe God made men and women to complement each other; that men are given leadership at home and in the church, but the devil is in the details. Can a woman lead singing in a church? Can a woman lead in prayer? What does, “let the women keep silent…” mean? Is there any cultural aspect to any of this? I have labored long and hard to understand the biblical passages on men and women and I have strong convictions, but they are not the same convictions as some others. As complementarianism becomes less socially popular and as some with more extreme views dig in their heels, how will we respond?
The SBC is going to struggle with this. Witness the discussion about whether a woman could serve as president of the SBC (something no woman I have talked to or read about has expressed an interest in doing). Our BF&M defines us as complementarian but it doesn’t define exactly what that means.
What kind of complementarians will we be?
Question 8: What will happen to Traditionalism?
I am not a Traditionalist and have opposed the behavior and deportment of the often dysfunctional Traditionalist movement in the SBC. I was shocked and saddened to see the surliness, the derogation, the violation of biblical commands to honor one another than became the stock in trade of many of the leaders of that movement. It was rising to a head last spring then, poof, the movement just imploded.
As one who was a critic of the movement, I would be expected to gloat, or at least to be relieved. To the surprise of many, I find it unfortunate. Men like David Allen promote a scholarly alternative to Calvinism and we are a better denomination when soteriological options are articulated well. The problem was not THAT Traditionalism was articulated but HOW it was done.
A theologically robust non-Calvinism expressed within the boundaries of Christian dialogue, free of the rancor, pettiness, and hostility that was all too common, would be good for the SBC.
Will we see it? I hope so.
Question 9: Will any more dominoes fall?
I hope not, but who would have thought we would see some of the moral failures and personal kingdom collapses that we saw in 2018? Lord, help us, but sometimes people fail, even heroes.
Will another show his feet of clay? Will I shed more tears when I hear that a friend whom I deeply respect has fallen? Will more #metoo scandals show our failures?
We would like to think this is all in the past, but the flesh never is.
Question 10: Will the slide end?
The SBC Annual meeting has been a yearly time of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth over our statistical decline. Will it ever end? Are we on a neverending slip-and-slide trip to denominational oblivion or can we pull out of this dive and turn things around?
Again, I don’t have an answer to that but I do think it is an important question.
Do you have a question to add?
Do you have an answer to one of my questions?
Talk amongst yourselves.