By Doug Munton, pastor and author
I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. That’s a bad start for confidence in my predictive powers. But let me speculate on the future of the Southern Baptist Convention with whom I have been associated my entire life.
In many ways I am describing what is more than what will be. Perhaps this is more of where we are than where we are headed. While it seems likely we will have more of what we currently have, God can change things dramatically. Perhaps we will have a great revival. Perhaps we will have ruin. But here is where it seems we are and where we are headed. (Keep in mind the “neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” part.)
1. We will be less evangelistic. It is hard to imagine a denomination being much more evangelistic than the SBC was for several decades. While not all churches were evangelistic, and certainly many individual members weren’t, the denomination as a whole was focused on reaching people.
For a variety of reasons, we are less so now. Focusing on those reasons is for another blog. (Is it theological, cultural, because evangelism is so hard, etc.?) But it seems obvious we are less likely to be involved in evangelistic activities. We even talk about evangelism less. We are, for example, far more likely to use the terminology “church planting” than “evangelism”. This change is a seismic shift in our midst- sort of “San Andreas-like”. Is our future to fall into the ocean like California?
2. We will be more focused on academics. I like academics. I went to school for a hundred years and earned a Ph.D. in an SBC seminary. So an emphasis on academics isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. But the down of that up involves a few things. We may end up focusing less on practical ministry. (I think seminary education ought to focus students more on the practical side of being a pastor, missionary, church planter- learning how to teach and preach, exegete correctly, provide servant leadership, etc.- than on preparation for earning a Ph.D.)
It appears we are becoming better at theological argumentation than apologetics. Perhaps we are becoming more likely just to be argumentative as though being a good debater is the goal of ministry.
Our leaders and models are now more likely to be in academia than in a pastorate. This is a real change that is worth noting. Whether that is a good change or a bad change, it is a real change and ought to be recognized as such.
While I like our emphasis on academics, do note the biblical emphasis on godliness, holiness and passion for God that is deeper than merely earning good grades. Academics aren’t the ultimate goal of the Christian life.
3. We will be less Baptist. We are less likely to talk denominational distinctions in general these days. (Unless it has to do with Calvinism. Then it is all we talk about. :)) Distinctions separate and we tend to want to unite with other Evangelicals. This will most likely continue as biblical Christianity become less popular in the culture.
I already hear of some Baptist churches that accept people into membership who have not been immersed after conversion. That was practically unheard of until recently. We use the Baptist name less now and that seems likely to continue. It is sort of odd how quickly the word “Baptist” started being like a cuss word. (Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard Baptists cuss before, they just didn’t use the word “Baptist” as a cuss word!)
4. We will be less connected. We are less likely to be united by a common methodology. We are less likely to agree on issues of sotierology. We are less apt to attend meeting where we might have seen each other. Many tend to value the work of local associations and state conventions less and attend their meetings less frequently. We seem to be growing less connected as a group.
We are more likely to connect via affinity subsets than by our denominational connections. It is very understandable in many ways. But, we do miss some good things by being around people who are older, younger or otherwise different than us. Those personal connections were certainly valuable to me and, should you try them, might be to you.
Okay, perhaps I was more descriptive than predictive here. But the truth is, none of us knows the future. In fact, I’m not sure I have the present down too well! I do know this. God has blessed the world through the work of the SBC. I hope there is more of that to come.