Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What the Southern Baptists Are Missing

Nathan JonesPDFBy Nathan Jones

"The nation's largest evangelical denomination reports it gave more to missions work, but lost members and baptized fewer people last year."

That statement made by OneNewsNow.com ("Giving to missions up, membership down among Southern Baptists" by Allie Martin, Apr.28, 2009) sums up the pain the Southern Baptist denomination is experiencing as they put more and more funding and manpower towards reaching out with the Gospel, yet are seeing fewer and fewer accepting salvation.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in their 2008 Annual Church Profile (ACP), a yearly report looking at the work and ministries of each church within the denomination, contains the worrisome statistics. While total giving to missions reached $1.36 billion in 2008, wonderfully supporting more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world, baptisms fell for the fourth straight year to 342,198, a drop of 1.1 percent, the fewest number of people since 1987.

Thom S. Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay, the ministry within the SBC that compiled the Annual Church Profile. While Dr. Rainer praised Southern Baptists as being "among the most generous and mission-minded people in the world" who will "give even when they're hurting so the spiritual and physical needs of others are met," he also noted that "the numbers simply tell us that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did." As Dr. Rainer reports, "It still takes 47 Southern Baptists to baptize one person for Christ."

Why is that? Why are the Southern Baptists excelling so much in missions giving and implementation, but are seeing ever-declining results?

The answer, I believe, lies in the Profile's Sunday school enrollment statistics: "Sunday school enrollment dropped 123,817, or 1.6 percent, to 7,752,794." And, that these Sunday school statistics are affecting membership statistics: "Total SBC membership fell by 38,482, or 0.2 percent last year, to 16,228,438."

Before I explain why I believe the declining Sunday school statistics reveal the reason, understand that I am currently a member of the Southern Baptist denomination. Throughout my life I've been a member or attendee of many denominations, and as long as they were solid on doctrine and strong in the expository teaching the Word of God, I was there. And, when seeking a seminary that stood on those essential teachings, I became a student of the doctrinally solid Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. In a time of growing apostasy in the Church, the Southern Baptists in the past almost fell off the precipice into apostasy until Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., led the charge back to doctrinal soundness within the denomination. I respect the Southern Baptists and their stand, and so joined up.

Going to Southern Seminary and attending a Southern Baptist church can be two different things, though. While Dr. Mohler is writing important books like He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World that teach the essentiality of expository preaching, the churches' sermons teach very little except the importance of missions and social justice. While the Seminary instills the importance of strong corporate Sunday school study and even provides the full weight of LifeWay teaching resources, the churches starve out the Sunday school classes in favor of small home groups led by unqualified "facilitators" who are given materials that only teach... missions.

Missions is the key passion of many Southern Baptist churches, and as a former Missions minor myself, I applaud the denomination for its strong desire to reach people for Christ. But, missions without educating those who are going out into the field in what they believe lets loose an army of short-term missionaries that have no idea of what they believe or even how to share it. The "missionaries" all understand the importance of doing missions, but lack the basic Sunday school training to defend their own faith. They can't answer the tough questions of the faith that on the field the world will certainly be lobbing their way.

In essence, the churches are sending forth spiritual children to do a spiritual adult's job.

And so, what are the Southern Baptists missing when scratching their heads over the conflicting statistics?

We are missing that necessary step of equipping our own people in what they believe. And, an important component of what we believe is encapsulated in Bible prophecy.

Bible prophecy is an almost unheard of topic in many Southern Baptist churches. Preachers don't understand it so don't sermonize it. Pastors worry Bible prophecy could be divisive and result in numerical loss so avoid it. Missionaries have no idea how vital a topic it is when sharing the Gospel with the lost world and so are ignorant of it.

Bible prophecy is one-third of the Bible, so important to its author, the Holy Spirit. It contains the promises of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and only Savior, to mankind and to the whole world. Bible prophecy reveals that Jesus will return for those who have accepted His salvation. It provides hope in a world gone crazy. Bible prophecy teaches what happens to a person when they die, describing their eternal destiny in the grand scheme of God's plan for the ages. Bible prophecy reveals that each believer is part of something bigger than just the Church, but rather are a vital part of God's eternal kingdom. And most importantly, Bible prophecy teaches how just amazingly awesome God really is.

Southern Baptists, we are missing a vital part in the good work of bringing people to Christ — we are missing the power of the teaching of God through Bible prophecy. When we put study, especially the study of Bible prophecy, back into our churches and our missions, we will see God bring more souls to Him, changing those conversion statistics to His glory.

28 comments:

Vasily Stepaniuk said...

Amen. It's great supporting missionary work, but:

1. What message are we sending out?
2. Has the common denominator of mission work become, not Christ, but fellowship and social and economic outreach?
3. How can we best prepare our own church members to witness for Christ ?
4. Has it become all too common and easy for church groups to focus on "big issues" like homosexuality and abortion and politics? Have we become somewhat self-righteous?

5.Has a personal "short cut" to salvation led people to a false assumption that they need not bother with an education in the Word?
6. What should a local church expect or strive for as a basic education for every member?

Gideon said...

Nathan,

I agree as well. I attend a Southern Baptist church and have a great pastor. His sermons contain a lot of scripture and speaks on the rapture in some sermons. He does not preach a lot of prophecy other than the rapture and the second coming, though.

hartdawg said...

i dont know how it is in the bible belt and i dont know a thing about southern baptists. things like what they believe, do they believe in toungues, eternal security... but many many churches up here dont have evening services, no mid-week services, just huge morning services geared for non-christians and new christians. they do have sunday schools but with a church of 2,000 only like 15 are in a typical class. they promote it from the pulpit but do very little practically about it. such is the leodicedian age. does that resemble in anyway what you're talking about or are the demographics different up here in the northwest? i suspect a little of both, but it aint no "bible belt" up here

son of thunder said...

It's interesting to hear that about the SBC. I really have no point of reference as I attend a Church of God (of Cleveland, TN.) which teaches prophecy, but unfortunately doesn't seem to be able to reach anyone.

It's my experience that most people today are interested in Bible prophecy (thanks in part the History Channel and the "Left Behind" books) and what it means to them. Tragically, they hear what is said, but don't listen. They usually say something like this to me, "Welllll, I don't know about that" and then move on.

So, Nathan, where'd you live in the great metropolis that is Louisville (pronounced Loo-ah-vull or Loo-ee-vill) when you were here? What did you think of our wide-spot on I-65?

hartdawg said...

thunder, i was raised in that church of God of cleveland, (there are many church of God denominations) til i was 12. they preached a lot on prophecy and were always having camp meetings and revivals (they were very long and as a kid i was forced to go to every single one) this was in the early to mid 80s in alaska. has it changed alot or is it still like that? went from church of God to assembly of God to foursquare to non-denominational.

son of thunder said...

If they do, I'm not aware of them. I know every year, they have a revival (and I could use one right now) of sorts at the regional headquarters in Austin, IN, but camp meetings are getting to be a rare thing even in the Bible Belt.

Now, I'm almost the exact opposite: I grew up in a non-denominational, but moved away from church altogether. To me, everything felt empty and forced. They started a praise band and built a gym (which they could not afford and went into much debt). The sermons were meaningless: they were all about love. Much milk, no meat. They eventually (after I'd left) started using the "Purpose Drivel Life" (sarcasm mine).

Some troubles found me about 10 years ago, and my current pastor and best friend (aside from my wife) was Jesus to me when I needed Him. 9/11 hit me hard, like it did most people, and I thinking about God. 6 years ago, my grandad died and I got to thinking about mortality. Next thing I know, I'm in a Church of God of Cleveland, TN, and realized that I had never known God before. I was baptized as a child, but had never known God.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nathan:

You are right about that. I go to a baptist church affiliated to southern baptist church. I am going to ABF ( Adult bible felowship) or comonly known a bible study class on sundays. One of the teacher started studying the book of revelation, that abf went from 15 to 35 people atending the abf. Now the pastor is preaching the second coming and I could see more people comming to the church. The most important about the bible prophesy is to be ready for the death or the rapture. Our Human nature is sinful and our daily battle against our nature is big and we need to be ready. Many churches nowdays, preach about prosperity based in money, but not based the spiritual prosperity it is when starts in addition money is just an illusion of this world. The best riches are on heaven with our lord Jesus Christ. Good Article Nathan.

-Noe Martinez

Nathan Jones said...

Isn't Cleveland, TN on 75? I know Knoxville well.

son of thunder said...

Couldn't tell you, Nathan. Never been there. I could ask my pastor, though, as he went to Lee University.

son of thunder said...

The S.B. Theological Seminary is a good school, I hear, and Albert Mohler is right on.

You still haven't answered what you thought of Louisville, Nathan. Left you speechless, did it? I only ask, 'cause I live right across the river in Indiana (the Sunnyside of Louisville). Don't mince words, either. Be honest.

Nathan Jones said...

Great bbq, good people. Not my favorite spot to live, but it was home for a few years.

Nathan Jones said...

LOL, always went to Indiana for nature, Hubers and the best childrens museum in the world in Indianapolis. Maybe I should have lived on the Indiana side?

son of thunder said...

Of course you should have, Nathan! Taxes are lower and it smells better. ;)

Maybe one of these days y'all could hold a prophecy conference in what is now the Louisville Metro area?

hartdawg said...

indiana, texas, what difference? all rednecks;)

son of thunder said...

You know, hartdawg, up there in Seattle, if the sun actually came out for more than 5 minutes at a time, you'd have some rednecks too. ;)

And in Texas, rednecks are called "cowboys."

hartdawg said...

in alaska its "hicks" or "white ----" a big secret in seattle is that we actually have beautiful weather. people dont know that so they stay away and leave us the sunshine. 75 degrees right now. eastern washington is hot and dry like ea desert almost. (with tons of rednecks)

Dennis said...

I was a member of a Southern Baptist Church for many years. Sunday School was the primary vehicle for bible study. However many things changed especially when Calvinists who prefer to call themselves Reformed began to gain control of many of the seminaries and churches. My church stopped being Baptist. They even erased the name Baptist from the Church sign. The young Pastor began preaching Calvinist doctrine (TULIP) and the theology went from expecting Jesus to return for his Church to Amillennialist. Then the church became Family Integrated, finally sunday school was eliminated so other teachers would have no influence on the children because it was following Biblical Patriarchy. I found a Church where we still have Bible Study in Sunday School, We have intense Bible study and doctrine from the pulpit. Seems to me that my Church which belongs to no denomination is more Baptist than any I have ever belonged to.
I believe the Baptists have been leading the Church in evangelism and missions but seem to be losing their way somehow.

hartdawg said...

Dennis, not all calvanist are amillenialist but you are right. lets face it, sunday school dont bring crowds, sunday mornings are for non-christians, verse by verse preaching is out and sunday evenings are not for church no more. its "family time" where the family stays home and ignores each other. does that sum it up?

Dennis said...

Agree with you that not all Calvanists are amillenialist, Ron Rhodes claims to be a 4 point Calvinist but does an excellent job of refuting limited atonement on his website. Not sure how he would believe in unconditional election if he didn't agree with limited atonement. I am blessed to belong to a Church that holds Bible Study to be extremely important. Not sure that a purely evangelical Sunday morning service is what God intended if it ignores equipping the saints. I think in the last days (today) people are abandoning sound doctrine and will fall into the devil's traps all the while feeling so spiritual.

son of thunder said...

Agreed, Dennis. Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy about the Last Days in 2 Timothy chapters 3 and 4? "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, wthout self-control,brutal, haters of good, treacherous,, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (here it comes) holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power...." 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NASB, and "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings...." 2 Timothy 4:3 RSV.

Billy said...

Vasily said "Has it become all too common and easy for church groups to focus on "big issues" like homosexuality and abortion and politics? Have we become somewhat self-righteous?"

Vasily is 100% right in the wrong way. Most churches have becomed focused on BIG issues (yes, they ARE big issues, Vasily!) like homosexuality and abortion (as in murdering babies Vasily!). But most churches are preaching acceptance of this abomination (perverted sexual behavior) and murder (abortion).

Your attitude is part of the problem Vasily. To say preaching against perversion and murder is being self righteous. It's not being self righteous, it's being on the side of God.

And what is this "education" stuff? How well educated about Christianity was the man crucified with Jesus whom was told at the last minute of his life by Jesus "Today you will be with me in Paradise". He believed in Jesus and was saved, it was that simple. He didn't need to pass a written test.

Billy said...

To clarify, I'm not saying don't educate yourself about Christianity. I'm saying I believe simply reading the Word of God from the Bible is enough. You don't need to be a scholar. In fact, I think Jesus found most of the so called Biblical experts in His time to be the most ignorant of it's teaching. I guess some things never change.

Billy said...

I attended a Baptist church in my early life. This church had a great Pastor named Moody and if I had to choose a demonination it would be Baptist. (I personally have never known Baptists to speak in tounges by the way).

I attended a Lutheran church for a while until I realized they were liberals with non-Christian thinking.

The last church I attended was Shepherd of the Hills in Porter Ranch, CA (where I first discovered Dr. Reagan as a guest speaker). They are AWESOME!

The Pastor (Rutherford) isn't afraid to convict those in attendance with their sin. He has had everyone admit they've sinned then point out in the Bible the wages for that sin is death. Then point out Jesus took on that death penalty for us. It's not a feel good thing to think about - that you deserve to die - but it's a feel great thing to know Jesus died in our place.

And Rutherford is not afraid to have his congregation repeat after him on marriage "one man, one woman...one man, one woman". They do not tickle the ears of their congregation. They don't hold back on unpopular Biblical truths.

They do great missions work but their number one mission is bringing souls to Jesus via sound Biblical doctrine. Now that is my kind of church!

I missed Dr. Reagan on his last visit to Shepherd of the Hills...hope we will be coming back again!!!!!!!

Billy said...

I attended a Baptist church in my early life. This church had a great Pastor named Moody and if I had to choose a demonination it would be Baptist. (I personally have never known Baptists to speak in tounges by the way).

I attended a Lutheran church for a while until I realized they were liberals with non-Christian thinking.

The last church I attended was Shepherd of the Hills in Porter Ranch, CA (where I first discovered Dr. Reagan as a guest speaker). They are AWESOME!

The Pastor (Rutherford) isn't afraid to convict those in attendance with their sin. He has had everyone admit they've sinned then point out in the Bible the wages for that sin is death. Then point out Jesus took on that death penalty for us. It's not a feel good thing to think about - that you deserve to die - but it's a feel great thing to know Jesus died in our place.

And Rutherford is not afraid to have his congregation repeat after him on marriage "one man, one woman...one man, one woman". They do not tickle the ears of their congregation. They don't hold back on unpopular Biblical truths.

They do great missions work but their number one mission is bringing souls to Jesus via sound Biblical doctrine. Now that is my kind of church!

I missed Dr. Reagan on his last visit to Shepherd of the Hills...hope we will be coming back again!!!!!!!

Sorry for the long post all - I've been away from the site for a while and needed to get some posts out of my system :)

son of thunder said...

My father-in-law got kicked out of a Baptist church for speaking in tongues many years ago.

In fact, that's how the Church of God of Cleveland, TN started. Way back in the last centruy (I think around the time of the Azusa St. revival), some Baptists got into a disagreement about tongues and healing and what-not. Some left and started the CoG. In one of the Baptist denomination's darker hours -- I'm sure--, they actually tried to burn down the CoG building!!!

I have nothing against Baptists, personally. If I weren't attending a Pentecostal (which isn't really overly Pentecostal, i.e. no jumping and shouting) church, I would be in a Baptist congregation.

hartdawg said...

the Baptist live what they preach, my ONLY disagreements is they are more calvinist than i am (even tho i attend a calvinist church) and i believe ALL the gifts are for today (even raising the dead)

son of thunder said...

Personally, I don't get the whole Calvinist or not thing. I'm not Calvinist or otherwise. I read the Bible. I let it speak. I don't belong to any one sect or division. In fact, I'm not even a member of a church, humanly speaking: I go to a building every week, but do not sign a register. I don't believe that any one denomination is absolutely correct, as they have all been tainted by the 3rd century, medieval, anti-semitic church.

Just my opinion.

son of thunder said...

And, hartdawg, I agree, the gifts of the Spirit didn't come with an expiration date.