Jeff Iorg Blog
Our denomination’s national statistics for 2012 were released a few days ago. The most troubling number was 314,956 – the number of people who were baptized in Southern Baptist Churches in the previous year. While it seems like a lot of people, it was the smallest number of baptisms reported since 1948.
One person lamented, “We are becoming the new Methodists.” What he meant was this. A hundred years ago, Methodists were a leading evangelistic denomination. They were known for convictional preaching and progressive small group “methods” – the source of their name. Now, Methodists are known more for liberal theology and social action than for evangelistic prowess. From my perspective, we are more likely becoming the new Presbyterians. We are now better at debating theology, insisting on church order, and improving political and social status than we are about evangelism.
Southern Baptists have never had more money, more trained leaders, more materials and programs, more technology, more of a national presence, and more of an international reach. Yet, despite all this, we are becoming less and less effective at actually communicating the gospel and baptizing people – the first public step of discipleship. Why is this?
The answers are many and varied. They are theological, methodological, philosophical, and practical. They have been long in developing and are, in some cases, now deeply entrenched in our denominational psyche. Solutions will not be easy and may require fundamental changes in how churches are led, seminaries train leaders, and denominational agencies resource efforts. None of this will be easy. The issues must be confronted, however, if the movement called Southern Baptists will retain its viability. Right now, we are on a slow death march. The pace can intensify more quickly than you might imagine as downward momentum gains force. We must do something now.
Over the next few weeks, I will outline some of these issues and solutions from my point of view. My hope is you will be motivated to think with me about these issues and use your influence, wherever you serve and lead, to reverse the decline in our evangelistic effectiveness.
See you in Houston
Jun 10 2013
A few years ago, I described the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting as a Southern tent revival colliding with a Baptist business meeting at a flea market. I have also described it as a family reunion – complete with distant cousins, in-laws, outlaws, and crazy uncles (some put me in the last group since I’m from California). This year it happens in Houston, Texas – home of the struggling Astros, a few million gallons of humidity, terrific seafood restaurants, and some of the strongest Southern Baptist churches in the world. The city, along with those churches, will no doubt be a great host.
Our annual conventions are fairly predictable, but always interesting. We will debate doctrine (Calvinism is the issue right now), resolve to confront issues (the Boy Scouts will be front and center), hear reports from Baptist talking-heads (of which I am one), promote our mission of getting the gospel to every person (usually the best part of the program), and hear outstanding preaching from our president, Dr. Fred Luter. All in all, a full three days of drinking from the Southern Baptist firehose!
This year, the Golden Gate report is on Tuesday afternoon (June 11). Over the years, we have had some interesting time slots on the program. One year, I spoke just after President Bush addressed us by video from the White House. I spoke to the backs of 10,000 people going to the hallway to rehash the President’s remarks. Another year, I spoke just after Condoleezza Rice addressed the convention. Once again, I spoke to a departing horde all headed out to discuss what she had to say. Last year, I spoke just before our presidential election. The arena was packed with messengers prepared to elect the first African-American president of the SBC. When I finished speaking, I jokingly told Dr. Luter, “I’m glad I could gather a crowd for your election.” Barring any last minute changes, it looks like Golden Gate’s report will happen this year without any of these interesting conditions.
If you are in the Houston area, come see us. Various Golden Gate personnel will be manning our booth and connecting with alumni, friends, and potential students. They would like to meet you. Our Alumni and Friends Luncheon is Wednesday, June 12, at 12:15 p.m. Stop by our booth and purchase a ticket. I will be at the booth on Tuesday afternoon, from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. and would enjoy meeting you as well.
Southern Baptists are good people, who at their best, love God and serve people. See you in Houston as we celebrate those two profound commitments expressing themselves through our cooperative work.
Spending time with a modern day warrior has reminded me how good my life is and how much I need to stop whining about small problems. The young man in question has spent the past several years in the most violent places on earth, dealing with people driven to destroy as many people as possible. His stories are sobering and the personal price he has paid – relationally, physically, and spiritually – is humbling.
In my recent graduation message, I reminded students they have chosen a life of sacrifice, frugality, and limited financial security. A graduate from 1963 was in the attendance. He told me, “In my day, we never thought about asking the salary and benefits. We believed God would provide if we were in the center of his will.” He then lamented, “Nowadays, every person we interview to be employed by our church wants to know ‘the package’ in the first conversation.” All of us – experienced leaders and recent graduates – need to hear his lament and the concern it raises
While asking about compensation at the right time is appropriate, I understand this veteran leader’s problem. Many younger ministers approach their work as a profession, thinking of their work as building a career. What happened to pursuing a call as the mark of ministry leadership? My warrior-friend considers his life mission – protecting others – as a calling. He has read Romans 13 and understands the government’s role to defend the weak and liberate the oppressed. He willingly serves despite the limited compensation and personal cost. His example humbles me. It also motivates me to deliver this message to ministry leaders, “Stop whining.”
American ministry leaders face so little true opposition. We are not persecuted, not physically threatened, and seldom even verbally attacked. Based on my conversations with hundreds of pastors, when those attacks do come, they are usually from other Christians – not outside authorities.
Let’s readjust our perspective. Our sacrifices are minimal. Our lifestyle, even if we live frugally compared to others in our community, is comfortable from a global perspective. Our work is not a career, it’s a calling. Our focus is building His kingdom, not ours.
Ministry leaders have hard days – but so do plumbers, physicians, and public school teachers. Let’s adjust our perspective, stop whining, and get on with the work!
It’s graduation time at Golden Gate! We now have six commencement ceremonies each spring – one at each of the five campuses and one in San Quentin prison. I get to lead and speak at all six. One person lamented, “Sorry you have to go to all those graduations!” Sorry?! Have to go?! I don’t have to go to graduations, I get to go. Graduation is the whole point! We work hard for years shaping students toward the day when they complete their diploma or degree. Watching them graduate is one of the best days of the year.
This is a milestone graduation season for Golden Gate. During commencement at the Northern California Campus, our 8,000 graduates walked across the stage. That’s quite a number – 8,000. It’s hard to believe our school, often perceived as “the small seminary out west,” has graduated 8,000 ministry leaders. But we have! It was fitting the 8,000th graduate was a Master of Missiology student. While we train all kinds of church leaders and missionaries, our passion to get the gospel to the nations is well known. Having a milestone graduate typify this passion is exciting.
While we are happy to graduate so many – more than 250 each year – it’s also sad to see them go. But then we remember new students are coming! In a few weeks, new students will start their seminary journey. The cycle of training the next wave of leaders continues. We have our sights set on 10,000 graduates! We will probably hit that number sometime around 2021-22. If you are a high school senior or college freshman, you could be the magic graduate – number 10,000. Start planning on attending seminary – and not just any seminary, Golden Gate!