[For the first installment on this subject read Rowing in the Right Direction. It now looks like this will be the second part in a series of three.]
This new associational model is definitely a move in the right direction organizationally, but the Tulsa Metro Association of Baptist Churches has its work cut out. I believe that Art Roger’s description of TMABC as having a “Missional Posture” is well worded. The “Posture” is certainly there in the model. Actually being a “Missional” association will depend on the member churches. Do they have a passionate vision for missions? I’m not sure.
Concerning our new missional-modeled association, I have to say that the annual meeting’s low turnout this last Sunday was less than a vote of confidence from our member churches and their congregations. I would guess that our association of 150-plus churches represented itself with about 150, maybe 200 messengers, or at least attendees. Assuming that churches would let their evening services out to attend, and considering who the keynote speaker was, the turnout was not very impressive.
“We’ve never done it that way before.” is frequently on the lips of Baptists, so the these men with a vision for this need to get out among the member churches and their congregations and sell this idea, educating and informing them on what’s going on. I am sure there are pastors and church leaders in our association who think that because the association has quit administering the various ministries that were once under their umbrella that they don’t oversee anything anymore. Change is always difficult, and education is always the answer. Also keeping in mind the negative pressure from the state convention, this could be a hard sell.
There is another issue related to all of this that is of a much greater concern to me. About that vision I mentioned earlier; I don’t think it is in place yet. What should it be, and where will it come from? We can have all the right structure in place, but if there is no vision we will just be an association with a different model. I fear that we, not just locally, but our whole convention, are laboring with a man-centered philosophy of church ministry, primarily interested in the preservation of our SBC-brand identity; not everybody, but I believe it is a sizable problem. I also fear that our churches, in the main, don’t beat a steady drum beat of the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2) from their pulpits. When we do proclaim the gospel from the pulpit it is couched in watered-down terms like “Won’t you let Jesus into your heart?”, which is less than a full, biblical gospel.
Can we look to our SBC leadership for that vision? I wonder. I believe Dr. Frank Page’s message to us this last Sunday evening was a classic example of what concerns me so greatly. I mean no disrespect, and I am not calling Dr. Page’s faith, sincerity, or devotion to the SBC into question, but the message he delivered to TMABC last Sunday evening was lacking in a number of ways.
Let me lay out Dr. Page’s message in a very abbreviated four-part outline: the premise, the story, the Scriptures, and the application. These outline headings I’ve used are mine and not Dr. Page’s.
- The Premise:
- The Problem: “Eighty percent of Southern Baptist Churches are either plateaued or in decline. When I came to First Baptist, Taylors eight years ago, they were one of those eighty-percent churches. They had been in a steady decline for a number of years.” Later in the message Dr. Page cites projected figures predicting that forty to fifty percent of SBC churches could cease to exist twenty years from now.
- The Solution: “I told the people that we were going to plant a new church every year.” Dr. Page then went on to tell of
- his church’s growth: a two and one-half-times increase,
- their large number of baptisms this last year, and
- a number of new ministries they had started, roughly one each year, as promised. All impressive, to be sure.
- The Story: A golfer rears back and swings at a teed-up ball, numerous times, each time hitting an ant hill instead. Finally, when there are only two ants left alive, one ant says to the other “What are we going to do?” The second ant answers back “I don’t know, but if we don’t get on the ball, we’re going to die.”
- The Scriptures: There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless
you repent, you will all likewise perish[we get on the ball, we’re going to die (Dr. Page’s insertion, not mine)]. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ” Luke 13:1-9 ESV
- Application: What Does the Passage Say?
- What the Passage is Not Saying: Where there is much suffering, there is much sin.
- The Point to the Passage: “If we [SBC churches] don’t get on the ball [start planting new churches and baptizing lots of people] we’re going to die [cease to be the leading force in Evangelical Christianity].
I am going to stop there for now and come back with my specific concerns based on this message. In his post outlining Dr. Page’s message, Art Rogers gives a bit more of a natural flow of the message. You might want to go there and read. I’ll be back on this in a day or two.