Have you ever wondered “What does the ‘Southern’ in Southern Baptist mean?” It is a good question!
After all, the sun never sets on Southern Baptist missionaries planting churches and making disciples all over the world. We are truly a global denomination, working in joyful cooperation with like-minded churches and ministries in every continent. But for a denomination with such proud inclusivity today, our past has some skeletons in the closet.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded as a sort of church split by an entire denomination over the issue of slavery. Baptists in the south split from Baptists in the north to found a denomination that would allow the sending of missionaries who owned slaves.
Since that time, the denomination, as a whole, has taken key steps in overcoming our racist roots. In the 1995, we, as a convention, denounced the racist actions of our denominational fathers. In 2012, Fred Luther became the first African-American man elected president of the SBC. Just last year, the SBC denounced the Alt-Right (after an embarrassing first vote fail).
And a few weeks ago, an SBC entity (the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) partnered with an organization that has a strong SBC presence (The Gospel Coalition) to put on a conference focusing on racial issues in the church. The backdrop for the conference was a man who himself was familiar with controversy surrounding the issue of race.
On April 4, 1968 the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. The night before his assassination, Dr. King gave a speech in Memphis to inspire a group of sanitation workers that the struggle for Civil Rights was costly, but right.
He inspired them by preaching the parable Jesus taught about the Good Samaritan. He pointed out that the Priest and the Levite who passed by could possibly have thought, “Perhaps the robbers are still nearby. If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But the Good Samaritan came and could have acknowledged the danger but reversed the question, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” Dr. King would finish this inspiring speech, on the night before his murder, by comparing himself to Moses on the mountaintop.
“We’ve got difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anyone, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He has allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land! I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
These words have haunted me since I first read/heard them. And in Memphis last month, these words shaped the conversation on race for some 4,000-plus gathered.
More than 25 percent of the conference was non-Anglo, and about half of the stage personalities as well. This was a conference that focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and asked the question how should thoughtful Christians in our world today respond to the issue of racism?
Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC gave the opening keynote, calling us to sacrifice our preferences for the sake of unity in our churches. “If we have to change our worship styles, let’s crucify our worship styles. If God’s way upsets our political alliances, let’s crucify our political alliances. To be a Gospel people means we do not seek cheap reconciliation, but a cross reconciliation.”
Throughout the conference, a diverse group of speakers stepped to the platform to speak, sing and pray. The diversity was not merely ethnic, but generational, geographical, occupational and denominational. The conference modeled the unity and racial reconciliation it called churches and Christians to embrace today.
Southern Baptists in the state of Oklahoma need to embrace this today. God has used our state convention and churches across Oklahoma to see a multitude of persons reconciled to Christ, and we all have now been given the ministry of reconciliation. And that includes not merely being reconciled to God, but reconciled to one another.
There are some who would tell us that race is an issue that is being stirred up today in order to score political points. Shame on me and shame on us when we buy into that narrative. Race has been an issue since Genesis in every civilization. It would be hubris for us to claim that we are beyond race issues today.
The Church of Jesus Christ should be leading the culture in seeking racial reconciliation. This begins by repenting for our failures and by acknowledging the struggle of non-white brothers and sisters in Christ as well as our neighbors who do not know Jesus.
Some will tell us racial injustice ended a generation ago. Yet these same people will often speak of how following the Bible’s plan for families will impact your family legacy for generations to come. It is inconsistent to claim that the proper use of Scripture can have generational impact for good but to deny the past misses of Scripture matters today.
In 2012 in New Orleans, Southern Baptists voted to add an optional descriptor of churches in our convention “Great Commission Baptists”. This is truly what unites us. A laser-focus on our Savior’s final marching orders to his people. We are called to make disciples of all nations.
There will come a day when the Great Commission is complete. On that day we will worship around the throne with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. When we see Him as He is, there will not be a worship style, political alliance or tribal identity of any kind that prevents us from worshipping the King of Kings together. Let’s not wait for The Day to seek for unity. Let us each confess our own fears of what unity would cost us and crucify our own comforts for the sake of true Gospel unity in our churches today.
Does God need us to build His Kingdom? If we would cooperate with His agenda, would the Kingdom of God be bigger right now?
Does the selfishness of His people prevent God from doing all He could if everyone was more generous? Would God be more well-known if the liberal media didn’t take references to God out of news reports and television?
The Bible’s answer: No.
God does not need you to build His Kingdom. Our God sits in the heavens and does all that He pleases. There is no task which God wishes to accomplish that He is unable to complete for lack of human cooperation. Upon Peter’s confession, Jesus responds, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Nothing will stop God’s Kingdom from being built.
God does not need your money. Our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. If He were hungry, He would not tell you, for the world is His. In Acts 17, Paul criticizes the Greeks for their belief that God would need man for anything. It is God himself who gives to man life and breath and everything! God does not need your sacrifice or your money.
God does not need you to make Him famous. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims Him. Everyone can see God must have created all things and understand His attributes of justice, goodness, power, and truth. God has made Himself known to men through His power and nature since the creation of the world, so people are without excuse. God does not need you to make Him known.
God does not need you… But God wants you.
God wants you to join Him in His work in the world. God is not limited by any of man’s lack of cooperation. Yet, God chooses to invite men into his work. Consider: Not only did God forgive you, redeem you, adopt you as His own, but God also invites you to join Him in reconciling all things to himself. He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. This is not a duty, but a delight of God’s family.
God wants you to give your money to support Kingdom causes. This is not primarily because your church or Christian ministries need your money. God does not need you to give so He can grow His kingdom. God wants you to give so He can grow your faith.
The purpose of your generosity is not to give God something He does not have, but to give you what you need: release from the bonds of materialism. God does not need you to give your money, but you need to be released from money worship.
God wants you to make Him famous. While His power is clearly seen by all people, the message of the Gospel is only known by those who have heard it from those who have been Romans 10 sent – “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
But the good news is only good if it gets delivered in time. There is an urgency for us to share. Not because God needs us, but because others need God.
In Matthew 6, God gives us a sweet assurance for the fears that surface if we live the life God wants for us. “Do not be anxious about what we will eat, drink, or wear… your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
God does not need you. God wants you. But do you want God?
When I finished the 5th grade, my mom rewarded my hard work by taking me to Best Buy and buying a GameBoy Color. I bought one game: Pokémon. I was hooked. I battled my friends, collected the cards. I WAS a Pokémon master. Now that Pokémon Go is here, I can safely say if I were a kid I would be HOOKED. I have played Pokémon Go a little bit, and I don’t want to brag, but I’ve caught a Pikachu, and I’m a level 8. I don’t play it every day, by any stretch, but I get why many people do. Pokémon Go is awesome.
I have seen many Christians encourage people to STOP playing Pokémon. There is a lot of “PokeHate” rolling around social media.
There are two great reasons for concern: safety and sanity. It is not safe to be on your phone for anything while driving or for children to wander away from their homes without their parent’s permission. Also, we as a society are losing our sanity because we stare at screens of various sizes far too much of our day. But that’s also true not only for Pokémon Go, but for Netflix binging, social media creeping, and internet browsing.
There are several valuable aspects of Pokémon Go worth celebrating. I think Christians should actually support Pokémon Go. Here are five reasons Christians should stop the hate and celebrate Pokémon Go.
- People are going outside. People must walk around outside in order to catch Pokémon. This is providing an excuse to get fresh air for people who love gaming. We have yet to see a movie or television show provide the incentive for outdoor activity that comes from Pokémon Go.
- People are having to exercise to play Pokémon Go. This game cannot be played on the couch. You have to be moving around. Not only to catch Pokémon, but to hatch eggs you collect on the way. I even heard of a guy who admitted he had no motivation for years to exercise until Pokémon Go got him off the couch and out the door!
- People are interacting with other players. Play the game or watch those who do, and you’ll quickly find people are engaging with others, not just the game on the screen. There is an opportunity to meet people while battling at a gym or stopping at a PokeShop. Again, safety is needed as a precaution, but this is a great opportunity to engage with people in our city you otherwise never could meet. There are even churches using this as an opportunity to welcome people to come catch Pokémon at their church. Genius!
- People are finding common ground. In a day when politics has never been more divisive in our country, we have an opportunity to experience a little cheap unity by coming together around Pokémon Go. I realize this is a ridiculous unity creator, but it is also ridiculous that national tragedies are now politicized and divisive as well. We need to begin to be reminded that there is more that we all have in common than different.
- Pokémon is a clean game. There is not a single curse word in Pokémon Go. Not only are the cartoons modestly dressed, there are no inappropriate sexual undertones. The battles are the closest thing you get to violence, and that is pocket monster to pocket monster. This is equivalent to Mario of a generation ago. The one caution for concerned parents is they do teach evolution. My suggestion: Use it as an opportunity to talk to your kids and let them play the game.
Don’t be unaware of the potential downfalls. Have a healthy balance in how much you time you spend on Pokémon Go. As the welcome screen warns, always be aware of your surroundings. But I say, enjoy it while it’s popular for the next couple months. If you don’t find it appealing to you, that’s fine. Don’t be the crabby Christian who hates something that is as innocent as Pokémon Go. With everything else that needs our criticism in the world, let’s celebrate a harmless kid’s game.
Admit it, you have heard bad sermons before at your church. The preacher may not have been teaching false doctrine or calling congregational members sins out by name; he was just boring. You are sitting there wishing you had recorded the worship service so you could fast forward past the sermon. Trust me, I get it! Not only have I listened to boring sermons, I have preached some myself!
Your pastor could use your help to make his sermons come alive. Actually, you could use your help. Many of the criticisms people have with preachers are actually shortcomings of those of us in the pews to listen well. With that, here are five ways you can make your pastor’s boring sermons come alive
1. Pray for your pastor’s preparation.
I have found that one of the best ways I can help my pastor’s sermons come alive is by praying for him. You can bless your pastor by praying for your pastor’s love for Jesus, family, and for the church. But don’t stop there. Pray for their preparation as they work hard each week to write a sermon for Sunday.
I remember trying this for the first time as a high school student. I prayed for Michael Butler’s teaching for the coming Wednesday every day for a week. When Wednesday night finally rolled around, I could not WAIT to hear what he had to say. Take the challenge: pray every day over the next week for your pastor’s preaching come Sunday.
2. Study the passage before Sunday.
Have you ever made an effort to study the Bible along with your pastor? It is amazing how this makes the sermon come alive! Chances are good, you are in the middle of a sermon series at your church right now. Your pastor probably tells you what scripture reference you will be studying in the weeks to come. Use this as an opportunity to study the passage before Sunday.
Not only will you learn more from your pastor’s sermons, you will come into church with a strong understanding of the Bible text. This will allow you to enter into a “dialogue” with your pastor. Hopefully he addresses some of the questions you had about this passage. If not, be sure to ask him after service or in an e-mail later in the week.
3. Have a posture of expectation.
Let me guess: You sit in the same chair/pew every week with your bible app opened, and you might fill in a few blanks or tweet a good quote as a way of taking notes. Here is a physical change you can make that will affect your mind. Change your posture. Instead of slouching or leaning back as if you were watching a movie, sit up straight or lean forward as if you were playing a video game. Sit ready to listen as if you EXPECT God himself to speak to you. Be sure to have your Bible and journal in hand to take notes so you don’t forget what was said when He does.
My friend used to sit in the balcony and complain about the sermons his pastor preached. I dared him to move to the pew front and center in the worship center. He accepted my challenge. Later, he admitted he felt very awkward the first few weeks. But after about a month, it was amazing how much better the sermons became! The pastor’s sermons did not change, but my friend’s posture did.
4. Review the sermon with others.
Maybe the best thing you could do is to make a habit of reviewing the sermon with others. This also helps you to listen well and take good notes during the sermon, so you can have something to say when you meet with your small group or discuss the Bible with your family at lunch.
Important to note: I am not suggesting analyzing the preacher, or even the preaching event, but the passage preached on. Taking time to discuss the Bible afterwards with others will help you grow as you hear others understanding of the text, and you will help them as you pass along your thoughts as well. Just be sure the focus is on the Bible, not on what you think!
5. Listen for God’s Words not man’s words.
The best thing you can do to improve your pastor’s sermons is to improve your hearing. Every sermon could be better. Pastors have many flaws. Only by listening to their sermons well can you hear God speak. Make the effort every Sunday to test what they say with the Scriptures. This will help you as you listen to a man speak God’s Word.
Pastors, let me encourage you to continue to preach the Word! Christian Millennials not only need it, they are looking for it. I wholeheartedly agree with Russell Moore’s recent statement on Twitter:
If your preacher has encouraged you, take time to encourage them! Send them a note or get them a small gift card as a way of showing how grateful you are for their work. In a day when many people are looking to have their ears tickled, strong gospel preachers are a gracious gift to their churches.
What are some suggestions you have for me? How can I become a better listener? I would love to hear your thoughts below or on Twitter or Facebook!
A lot of people are ready to kill the church. I commonly hear people say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” Church makes for an easy target. My generation in particular is scrambling to find a new and better Christianity that is different from that of our parents. We love the idea of walking together in a community that loves Jesus. We love the capital-C Church of Christians everywhere. But we do not want to commit to one local church.
There are some good reasons behind our lack of commitment to the local church. We are not interested in denominational division or tribalism. We are not interested in churches that define success solely on numbers. We are not interested in a church with dated practices and procedures. Most of all, we are tired of churches trying to build up themselves. We want to see the Kingdom built!
We see brokenness in the church. Our response: kill the church and start over.
However, I fear we have made a tragic error. In an effort to be Kingdom-minded, we have neglected commitment to a local church. In thinking we are living out the church of Acts, we have become less biblical. Yes, the Kingdom of God is people not buildings. God has called us to commit to the broken people where we live — in local churches by regularly meeting together, by placing ourselves under the teaching and authority of church elders, and by helping one another grow in our faith.
Consider three reasons local church commitment is critical for the Kingdom.
- The Gospel is Defined and Displayed in the Local Church.
The local church exists to define and display the Gospel to the world. In each new generation, the church exists to express and embody the Gospel. The Gospel does not change, but the culture does. God has appointed His people to define the Gospel for the world by proclaiming it in a way people understand.
Our witness is given its saltiness by the way we live out the Gospel in life together. This enables others to see the Gospel visibly through the local church.
- The New Testament Assumes Local Church Commitment.
By committing ourselves to a local church, we are following the New Testament pattern. Rick Thompson, my pastor, often comments on how the Bible never commands, “Thou shalt go to church.” What it does is something even more profound! The New Testament assumes local church commitment.
Most of the New Testament letters are written to local churches. We see a pattern in the New Testament of the apostles establishing local congregations, appointing elders, and themselves belonging to a local body of believers.
There is not a single example in the New Testament of a Christian who has not been baptized and committed to a local church. If we are going to live like the church of the book of Acts, we must make local church commitment a priority.
- The Kingdom Cannot Grow Strong with Weak Local Churches.
Commitment to a local church is not the enemy of a Kingdom mentality. Commitment to a local church is the foundation of a Kingdom mentality. The Kingdom is not made strong by Christians withholding commitment to a local church any more than a brick wall is made stronger by removing the cement that separates the bricks.
Imagine if the military, in an effort to have greater commitment to the general himself, dissolved all units and the chain of command. Would our military be stronger? Not at all! The military is strong because each soldier has intense commitment to his or her particular unit and commander. Each unit works arm-in-arm for the good of our country.
In the same way, the Kingdom of God is at its best when individual Christians are unapologetically committed to their own local church. Then, each local church can work arm-in-arm with other local churches to serve our city for the fame of our great God. As our local churches live and die, so does God’s Kingdom witness in our city.
Do you think people are becoming less committed to local churches? Why do you think so?