Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Al Gilbert's Convention Sermon made significant points

Over the span of the last 40 years I've attended more than 30 annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. Most often I have not found the annual "Convention Sermon" at the meeting to be particularly exciting or newsworthy. Sometimes I've found that "message" to be downright dull.

I wasn't at this year's annual session in Indianapolis—too busy launching my new book, Witness to the Truth, at Book Expo in Los Angeles and doing media interviews in Texas—but I sure wish I'd heard Al Gilbert's "Convention Sermon" this week. From Baptist Press reports, sounds as though he hit some really important nails on the head. Some of his comments sound like some of the messages about church bureaucracy I've delivered in Witness to the Truth and on this blog.

As I've said before, the Southern Baptist Convention has become the nation's Big Bureaucracy denomination—a label the SBC used to try to pin on Roman Catholics. 

Don't get me wrong: church bureaucracies are fine in moderation. But left unchecked they can become self-serving, self-perpetuating institutions more caught up in their own self-importance and well-being than in supporting the local churches they are supposed to serve. 

For the sake of transparency, let me tell you that Al and I are friends. About a decade ago he and I both worked for the same same SBC bureaucracy for a while: the International Mission Board. We even had the same title, but at different times: Special Assistant to the President. 

Al and I didn't communicate about his sermon beforehand. Nor do I believe he would agree with everything I said in Witness to the Truth. But I do think Al is pointing in the right direction in the following quotes he offered in his Convention Sermon:

"Soon, we will be passing the baton to the next generation, and I don't know about you, but they tell me they are not sure they want it. That should make us sad and that should make us ask how we want to hand it off to the next generation."

"Our baptisms continue to fall. We know that we are not impacting the world for Christ. We are not even winning our own sons and daughters like we should."

"We have acknowledged that we have inflated numbers of membership and an incredible number of people on our rolls that are inactive and probably lost."

"Could it be that we have established processes in our organizations that are really bureaucratic barriers, instead of mobilizing us to win the world to Christ?" 

"Can we really defend our bureaucracy to the next generation?"

Click here to read more about what Al, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC, said:

All I can say is, Preach on, Brother Al! And may all Southern Baptists take heed to these crucial words.

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