Just when there seems to be a hint of a trail-head leading 'emerging SBC leaders' out of the SBC's denominational morass, we may find our feet plugged in the muck once again.
Jimmy Draper is the leader of Lifeway, the uber-resource for Southern Baptist publications. He is also the one SBC leader who had enough guts to care about and facilitate talks with young SBC leaders. In the mix is Lifeway's Younger Leaders Solutions board, which is an almost worthless (though noble-intentioned) place for emerging leaders to offer our 2 cents about the need for the SBC to change. I've offered an alternative which is growing every day, Emerging SBC Leaders.
For the record, I am very encouraged that Dr. Draper has spent time with young leaders, opened his ears and heart, made an honest attempt, and so on. I am encouraged by his concern, have nothing against him personally, and I look forward to meeting him at the SBC Annual Meeting in June.
Draper thinks we need a lesson in economics.
Evangelicals need a basic business lesson. Research shows that evangelicals are not supplying the Gospel in a manner that matches the public’s demand.
What is demanded by Americans? Draper gives his opinion.
A recent MSNBC/Newsweek online survey asked readers the following question: “Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead after the crucifixion?” Eighty-one percent of those who answered responded “yes,”....It reflects other research showing that the population at large is searching for meaning in life.
So, according to Draper, people's belief in the resurrection shows they are searching for meaning in life. And churches are failing to supply the meaning of life to those who demand it. Why?
Draper believes it's because evangelism isn't the highest priority for pastors.
Sadly, according to a previously released Barna Group study, fewer than half (46 percent) of the Protestant senior pastors surveyed listed evangelism and outreach as a ministry priority. Spiritual development finished No. 1 at 47 percent. (Sixty percent of Southern Baptist pastors place evangelism as their top priority).
Spiritual development is important, but it is not the primary purpose of the church....We’ve turned churches into comfortable country clubs for members when, in fact, the purpose of the church is to reach those who are not members. Evangelism is the proper expression of mature, or discipled believers.
I don't think Draper adequately shows that a cultural belief in the resurrection means people are seeking the meaning of life. Honestly, I'm not sure what it shows. It probably shows that most Americans are liars, or have cultural beliefs but not real beliefs, or are willing to go along with what mommy and daddy told them to believe. I think he makes a tremendous leap here to make "supply and demand" seem plausible, but I don't see it.
But I do believe it's a biblical notion that God has made us for something bigger than the mirror, and therefore everyone is in some sense looking for meaning in life. People are inescapably religious. But sadly people are usually falsely religious because they reject the God of Creation for other things (Rom 1). Let's leave that theological point aside and focus on those who are truly hungry.
Draper's answer for meeting this innate spiritual hunger is to avoid focusing on discipleship more than evangelism, and then do more evangelism.
But we should never attempt to put evangelism against discipleship. Jesus didn't when he said in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations. That means more disciples (evangelism, baptism) and better disciples (teaching/discipleship). Evangelism and discipleship are organically connected vines, not puzzle pieces locked together.
But Draper seems to understand this already when he says, "Evangelism is the proper expression of mature, or discipled believers." I think he realizes it's not less discipleship, but better discipleship that results in evangelism.
And I think Draper's answer, that we need more evangelism, only hints at the problem. Surely there isn't enough evangelism, but we don't need more bad evangelism. We need more better evangelism.
We need evangelism that doesn't see people as a demands to be supplied, but as image-bearers to be loved. We need evangelism that is not first organizational, but organic and relational. We need evangelism that is not about keeping a tally of distributed tracts (look for the tally at June's SBC), but about spending time shooting pool with sinners.
It's no wonder that Draper and other SBC leaders are struggling to understand emerging generations. He takes statistics and economic ideas and tries to paint the church as a failing business that needs to retool on the fundamentals of 'supply and demand.' But emerging generations see things more organically.
SBC leaders, please hear us. We will not be professional pastors who are running a "supply and demand" business. We want better disciples believing better theology and doing better evangelism through better families and homes and churches.
Draper told us that Jesus said in Matthew 9:37, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." No doubt, we need to pray for more laborers. That's biblical. But more of the same evangelism and discipleship we see today will never solve our problems.
That is, in my opinion, a big part of what being an emerging SBC leader is. The status quo is not acceptable. Reformission is necessary and good.