I was honored to have been asked to preach at the 2014 Pastors’ Conference for the South Carolina Baptist Convention last week. The circumstances were a God-thing, and I was humbled to be a part.
Speakers at the 2014 Pastors’ Conference, which met under the banner of “This Hope” and featured sessions on “Hope for His Servant,” “Hope for His Church,” and “Hope for His World,” included Mike Runion, Richard Harris, David Mills, Keith Kelly, Ken Hemphill, Travis Agnew and Greg Mathis. [Pictures by Baptist Courier]
Getting a few hundred Baptist pastors in the room creates a unique and memorable environment in which to preach. Such a lively and affirming group. As I talked about the need for churches to equip parents to evangelize and disciple their children, I watched the passion in the room grow in a desire to see this happen in our individual churches.
At the conclusion of my sermon, I asked for anyone there who had children or grandchildren walking away from the Lord to stand up and to be prayed over. It was incredible to watch at how other ministers rallied around these people and called upon God on behalf of these families. It was break taking.
While I had some great conversations with empty-nesters to expectant parents after the sermon, my favorite moment came when a pastor who was in his 70s-80s came up to me while the service was still going on, grabbed me by the neck, and pulled me closer to him.
“Son, you did a wonderful job. Listen to me, don’t you stop preaching this message! Others need to hear this, and you better not back down, you hear me?”
“I’m serious, you do not slow down. I once had a pastor tell me that Prov. 22:6 was not a legal guarantee, well, I told him then John 3:16 isn’t a guarantee either! I trusted God on his Word that if I would raise my children in a godly manner, they would not depart from it. You know what? My son has been away from the Church most of his adult life, but he just came back to Jesus in the last 3 months! Prov. 22:6 is true! Don’t you back down, you hear me?!”
I definitely heard him. My body was sore as he kept pulling me down closer to his eye level. Pointing people to the truth about the home is a passion, and I pray I don’t ever slow down from proclaiming it.
I wrote out my introduction to the message. Usually, I don’t do this, but if I feel that I might ramble or take a while to get to the point, I write out the introduction and pseudo-memorize it. If you are interested in it, the introduction is below. It also includes some very interesting trends I discovered in the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
Hope for His World – The Family
Psalm 78: Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.
My brothers and sisters, I humbly come before you today and propose that the great hope for this world is not found in the most cutting-edge programming that your church can possibly afford. This hope will not come from the hippest youth pastor in town, the most Disney-esque children’s programming, or the flashiest of facilities that your city has ever seen. You can replace the Sunday morning team upon your church platforms with worship leaders glamorized in tattoos and skinny jeans instead of pearls and Sunday’s best, but it will not be the great hope that this next generation needs. Deck out the stage with smoke and lights, turn the music up so loud that you need earplugs, and change your attire and preaching style and we will still be missing the mark. Screens here, iPads there, pizza parties left and right, hashtag this, highlight that, and yet we are still far off.
For when I look into the rich depths of Scripture I see no sign of any method concerning reaching the next generation other than the family.
Make no mistake about it – our world is in trouble.
The great hope of this world is not in the Southern Baptist Convention. It does not lie upon the back of some political party. And if the great hope of this world rested solely upon the United States of America, God help this place. No friends, the hope of this world is found only in the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
And, through his word, he has commanded parents to evangelize and disciple their own children. And as church leaders we have to stop telling parents to drop their kids off at church and we will take care of the rest.
Because, honestly? We’ve done that the last 30 years with lackluster results.
Let’s get really clear here for a moment. In the last 30 years, the South Carolina Baptist Convention has been the top denomination and faith movement in this state. During that time, it has grown more than any other group. We can rejoice over that as a denomination.
The 1970s proved to be a great time of growth for churches as the Jesus Movement began sweeping through the US. With such an influx of young people professing Christ and emerging from the baptismal waters, our Convention began to grapple with what to do with all these young people.
Starting from those days, the Southern Baptist Convention began to develop new seminary degrees to equip youth pastors and children’s ministers. Churches began to birth new programming for the up and coming generations. Collegiate ministries were started on numerous campuses. With all of this intentional use of people and resources, we anticipated capitalizing upon this movement and see an ever-increasing amount of young people converted and baptized. Did that actually happen?
Unfortunately, somehow it slipped beneath the radar that not only were we failing at maintaining those growth numbers, we slipped into a state of stagnancy.
There were some good things that happened. Let’s bring it closer to home if we can.
Did you realize that:
Since 1980, the South Carolina Baptist Convention has added 436 congregations to bring the total to 2,110 churches.
I was pleasantly shocked by that number. While we have lost some congregations along the way, we have a net gain of 436 Southern Baptist churches in this state alone from 1980 to 2010.
Let’s get even more specific:
Out of those 2,110 churches, we have added 111,611 members to our church roles.
Think about that. That’s 111,611 Southern Baptist additions in the last 30 years bringing our total to 913,763 people in this state alone. That’s almost 1 million Southern Baptists…on paper.
In 2010, we had almost 1 million Southern Baptists out of the 4.6 million citizens of this State. That means that 22% of this State is a member of one of our churches. No wonder there are so many fried chicken places to eat at!
While those numbers can seem somewhat encouraging, let’s get even closer to home.
If 2,110 churches added 111,611 members over the last 30 years, that does not mean all of those are converts. Many of those were relocated by their jobs to this State. Many of those are transfer memberships from another denomination. And many of those reflected in that number represent a person who got emotional, walked an aisle, said a prayer, but never was truly saved by the blood of Jesus Chris yet there they lie upon our membership roles.
But if we divide that conservative number of additions by 2,110 churches over the span of 30 years, do you know what we find?
Each church in the SCBC has added only 1.8 people to its membership each year for the last 30 years.
Brothers and sisters, we have a problem.
For all of our ingenuity, innovative spirit, and increased amount of manpower and resources, we are not making a significant dent in this state or in this world. Even with more student pastors than ever before, our youth are walking away from church. Even with an increasing amount of polished children’s programming, our children are biblically illiterate. Regardless of how relevant your services may be, we are not seeing the next generation come to Christ.
Because we have expected the church to do what God expects the family to do.
TEACH FROM DEUTERONOMY 6
- We cannot teach our family something we have not learned ourselves.
- Don’t allow your church’s sufficiency to create parental complacency.
- Don’t disqualify yourself from the ministry of your church because you neglected the ministry towards your family.