This article is based on parts 1 and 2, and ran in the 2 July 2010 Rockdale Citizen.
We are living in a post-denominational age. That means that denominations (or the national bodies that represent denominations) are having less influence over local congregations, public policy, and culture as a whole. Most of the major denominations are in decline as a result.
This past month the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) gathered in their respective annual meetings with little to no fanfare. Don’t get me wrong: I love Baptists and Baptist life; but trends are popping up amongst these two organizations that threaten to undo the fabric of organized Baptist life as we know it.
The Southern Baptist Convention is struggling with at least two post-denominational trends. The first is generational conflict. For the past two years a task force has formed the Great Commission Resurgence, a document and movement that tackled diversity among the leadership within the Convention.
In creating a proactive, lively policy, the SBC hopes to keep young leaders in its fold without marginalizing seasoned leaders who are cynical about emerging church-growth movements.
Generational differences are but one piece of the puzzle. Economics is the second trend facing denominational life. With fewer resources at their disposal, local churches tend to give to local causes more than the national denomination.
To alleviate the competition between local, state, and national fundraising, the Great Commission Resurgence sought to restructure various entities within the SBC juggernaut. This restructuring was among the most controversial aspects in the GCR report.
Southern Baptists are not alone in economic woes; the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship faced a similar fate. During the CBF General Assembly, executive coordinator Daniel Vestal announced a budget shortfall of nearly 30 percent.
Part of this shortfall is due to the vision of the organization: Unlike the SBC, the CBF has invested heavily in young leaders, hiring small-church, church-start, and seminary graduates; this investment will garner greater returns in the future, but for now it looks to be merely a foundation-building move.
Though economics is the most damaging trend facing denominations, others persist. Another is the lack of influence that denominations have on public policy. Certainly, the SBC has been effective in political influence; but the various motions pertaining to public policy coming out of the SBC this summer comes closer to partisan posturing than missional engagement.
In contrast, the CBF has abandoned any stances whatsoever on policy and, thus, risks becoming culturally irrelevant. It is true that the CBF does a great job helping churches tackle political and culture issues facing local congregations, such as human trafficking. But in casting a wide net to include churches from across theological and political spectrums, the CBF has failed to lead on some of the most controversial issues of our time.
For instance, the CBF passed a policy in 2000 prohibiting homosexuals from working in its ranks; this stifled dialogue concerning issues surrounding same-sex orientation over the past decade.
The CBF finally allowed one break-out session about same-sex orientation this summer. It basically included several pastors who gave testimony as to how their churches were engaging homosexual populations within their communities. Problem was that any one of the 200 participants in the break-out session could have delivered similar testimonies. (Source: http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5290/53/)
The CBF was still talking about people, not talking to the people that need to be included in this complex conversation. For clergy in the audience, the Fellowship’s first-step approach by giving “testimony” was too little, too late. While the SBC is trying to push Congress to maintain a military “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy, the CBF is practices the policy within the church body as status quo.
In light of this article, I don’t want you to think that I am not for denominations. I love my denomination and will continue to attend the annual meetings, but I also feel that the undercurrents of what we Baptists face are surfacing more quickly.
If we fail to confront our future with courage and creativity, there will not be much of an annual meeting to attend.