GREENSBORO, N.C.–Telling the Southern Baptist Convention Pastor’s Conference, “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything this hard before,” Houston pastor Ed Young said the SBC must remember it is a Great Commission denomination and desert the “side streets” it is on–or risk becoming a footnote in history.
The former SBC president spoke during the second night of the Pastor’s Conference, preaching from Mark 10:13 on the story of Jesus welcoming the children who had flocked near him and proclaiming, “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Calling on Southern Baptists to again reach children and youth with the gospel and to leave the “side streets” of non-essential doctrinal issues, Young said Southern Baptists “have forgotten who they are and because of this, we do not know where we are going.”
Young noted how Russian priests were arguing about components of the liturgy in a church building when just six blocks away, the first shot was fired in what became known as the Bolshevik Revolution.
Like those priests, Southern Baptists “are on way, way too many side streets at this moment in time.” Young charged.
“We are in a moment of crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention–an absolute moment of historical crisis,” Young said, noting that his message weighed so heavily on him he thought of changing it. His wife, he said, told him to speak what God laid on his heart.
The SBC has settled that it believes “every bit” of Scripture, in the virgin birth; in the sinless life of Christ; in the substitutionary atonement of the crucified Christ; that he was three days in the grave; that he resurrected bodily; that he ascended bodily; and that he will return soon.
“Our theology is biblical,” Young said. “It is not systematic. Therefore, we as Baptists, we are not Calvinists and we are not Arminian, we are Baptists. That’s who we are. And we’ve always come down somewhere in the middle because that is where we believe the Baptist comes down in our faith and in our doctrine.”
Young stated, “Our mission statement is the Great Commission,” the SBC market strategy is Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the world, the product is the gospel, and the profit is changed lives.
“That is who we are functionally. We are a Great Commission denomination. Now this is my thesis: we have forgotten who we are.”
Young said he sees no side streets in the International Mission Board’s work, stating that through IMB missionaries 459,000 new believers were baptized last year and 17,000 new churches started.
“By the same token, we who pastor in the United States of America, there is clear evidence, clear evidence, tragic evidence that the churches in America are on many, many, many side streets.”
Southern Baptists in the U.S. last year–counting church closures and new churches–netted only 234 churches and baptized 86,000 fewer people than the IMB did internationally.
The IMB reports 7 to 8 million church attenders weekly; the SBC reports 16.3 million members in the U.S., with “about 10 million Southern Baptists the FBI can’t find,” Young said. Furthermore, Young said, quoting LifeWay President Thom Rainer’s research, about half of those who are inactive have never been converted.
Young said that beginning around 2000, SBC baptisms among those 18 and under began dropping an average of 4,400 baptisms annually. Almost 40 percent of SBC churches–around 17,000?reported zero baptisms among those 18 and under.
Pointing to a group of cardboard cutouts representing young people, Young said, “If that is not tragic enough, I have on our platform … eight young people who were born in Southern Baptist homes, who attended Southern Baptist churches, and with two separate, intensive studies as to what happened to our kids born and raised in our churches … the kids brought up in your church and my church, six out of every eight when they are 19 have not been won to Christ, and as far as we know and [from] any studies we can give, they are gone from the kingdom of God.”
If Houston evangelist Voddie Baucham’s prediction is accurate that in four generations Southern Baptists will number about 250,000, Young stated “the Southern Baptist Convention will be a footnote in kingdom history if Jesus tarries—because we’re on side streets.”
If SBC churches are to survive, Young said, “Number one, we need to get back in the youth business with our kids.” Every church can do one thing that “will change your church evangelistically. …You know what that is?”
“It’s simply to have a family of faith that genuinely loves kids. …To do that a lot of our churches will have to turn everything they do upside down” and place the best people in ministry to youth and children, Young said.
“It is the genius, it is the basic methodology of evangelism. Show me any evangelistic, growing church and they may have contemporary worship, they may have a seeker-friendly congregation, they may be addressing the boomers and the busters and tweeners, they may be talking about all the New Age movement and postmodernism. Listen, that is a secondary target in our churches. Two-thirds of all people in our churches who come to faith in Jesus Christ come to faith before they’re 18 years of age.”
“How many of you became a Christian before you were 18? Would you lift your hand up high?” Young asked as the majority of the crowd raised their hands. “I rest my case.”
Young said Southern Baptist must experience supernatural unity, noting the ancient plea for unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials and in all things charity.
James 3, which speaks of the tongue as a fire, must not only be preached but also practiced, Young stated, adding that 15 words would solve many divisions: “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. I need you.”
He recalled the recent words of a “liberal” who left the SBC during the battle for the Bible saying that he knew eventually “all the tire slashers would begin to slash one other. We know that’s what’s taking place now,” the man said.
You say, “But I’m right.”
“I can be right and wrong by my attitude and my spirit and how I communicate that. And we have seen way too much of that. There must be a supernatural healing among the fellowship.”
Young said Southern Baptists must get back to “the kid business” and pour resources into missions, then “we will remember who we are, we will see where we are going and we will repent in tears. And we will be back in the Great Commission business, and the Southern Baptist Convention will no longer be on side streets.”