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Thursday, October 27, 2011 

Thoughts on the GBC's Younger Leaders' Forum

On Tuesday of this week, the Georgia Baptist Convention sponsored a forum for pastors and ministers 45 years of age and younger. The purpose of the forum seemed to be to allow younger leaders to voice their concerns to the convention and for the convention to address some of those concerns. There were approximately 120 of these younger leaders gathered together in the same room, along with Dr. Robert White, Executive Director of the GBC, and many of the employees of the GBC.

Without going into much detail about the format of the forum, we essentially divided into groups based on specific concerns that you most wanted to address. Then each table presented their concerns to the entire group and the microphones were opened to allow other leaders and/or Dr. White to respond to and address those particular concerns. After each table presented, there was an open forum with open mic time to deal with anything not brought up previously or to hammer down further on the ones already addressed.

After having attended the meeting, participated in both the presentation and open forum time, and talked with others there, I wanted to offer 5 observations:


1) It was good to meet other younger pastors and ministers who are concerned about some of the same things that I am.

It's always good to know that you aren't alone in how you think. And this forum showed me that there are a number of other guys under 45 years of age who feel exactly as I do when it comes to the GBC and convention life in general. However, it may be disturbing for some to learn at the meeting that pastors aged 45 or younger in the GBC make up only 20% of the total number. That's a tremendous amount of older pastors who will be leaving pulpits in the next 25 years or so only to see those pulpits filled with today's younger pastors. In other words, 80% of the pastors in GBC Churches are halfway to retirement or closer. This fact alone should get the attention of the GBC.

2) Younger Leaders are concerned about money - particularly the use and abuse of Cooperative Fund giving.

We seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about money at the meeting. So much so that when we finally moved on, I tweeted in celebration. Younger leaders want to know that the money they are sending in to the GBC is being put to good use. They are concerned about the $43 million dollar building in Duluth that seems to be a money hog, draining needed resources from ministry and putting them to use in decorating, maintaining, and utilizing a huge structure. In answering the concerns, Dr. White was gracious, but really offered nothing that hadn't already been said before, save one statement in which he did admit that had he known what would have taken place with the economy after the building was built, he never would have supported it. That was helpful, but I don't know if it went far enough to dissuade people from further criticism. More helpful was the comment that what's done is done and we can't sell the building and hope to recuperate enough costs to do any better now. Thus, we should quit complaining and move on to better stewardship in the future. Still, it would have been nice to hear, "We made a mistake in erecting a building this large, this opulent, this unnecessary. We should have done better." Perhaps even, "I wish David Platt would have written Radical and Francis Chan, Crazy Love, before we built the building - it would have saved us a lot of grief knowing how the younger crowd would react later on" (because I think we all know that those two books and individuals probably have done more to influence the under-45 crowd in regards to stewardship that any other books or personalities in the last 50 years).

3) Calvinism was a topic the younger leaders wanted to discuss and deal with, but unfortunately most were disappointed in the lack of response by the GBC representation.

Calvinism came up in the very first presentation. Ric Blazi, who was coerced chosen to speak on the topic, described some older pastors' take on Calvinism as "the great red dragon" who was coming to get them. A question immediately went up on the Twitter feed as to how many people in the room were "Reformed." Wayne Bray, President of the GBC Pastors' Conference and one of the facilitators of the event, stopped and asked the "4+ pointers" to raise their hands so they could see exactly how many identified themselves as Calvinists. To some people's surprise (probably those facilitating and those who were employed by the GBC), easily a little more than half of the younger leaders gathered there raised their hands. There was, however, little to no discussion on the topic during the response time and we moved on quickly to the next set of presentations. Later, I brought the topic up during the open forum time, asking the GBC leadership and other influential pastors and leaders to help tone down the rhetoric against those who identify themselves as Reformed. There was no discussion or response. A final time it was mentioned was in regard to a comment made by Ryan Lyons, an Acts29 Church Planter in Milledgeville, who remarked that he wasn't sure if he and other Acts29 planters were welcome in the GBC. Again, there was little to no discussion. In the end, I think many of the Reformed guys were disappointed that Calvinism wasn't addressed by Dr. White or other GBC facilitators. Obviously, it is a huge concern and a point of contention between younger and older leaders. Yet, it was given less importance than the discussion on money.

4) It was clear that there are many younger leaders who want a say in the Convention and some are just downright frustrated.

It was said at the meeting that 25% of the under-45 pastors in the state participated. That's a pretty good crowd considering that the event was held over lunch on a Tuesday in Duluth (not the best time or place for almost anyone). That shows how much younger people want to be involved in the conversation. And that was clear in the discussions, which were often times passionate (though never disrespectful). Hearing the tone of those of those at my table and during the open mic times led me to believe that many people are frustrated with the GBC and the SBC in general. They want to see change, they want to be a part of the change, but they aren't sure how to get a seat at the table. If anything comes of this meeting, it has to begin by trying to find a way to get more younger leaders to the table of influence in the GBC, which brings me to my last observation:

5) If this meeting is the last one of these, or if nothing is done to intentionally include more younger leaders in the GBC leadership, then it will have been a waste of time.

It was obvious when the meeting was over that we could have gone another couple of hours had we been given the time. Though the event was scheduled to take place over the course of 3 hours, it really felt like it was not nearly enough. The discussions were hurried, the mic time cut short, and in the end much was left unsaid or undealt with. And as one person on Twitter put it, there was no "action plan" given for what should happen next. So this cannot be the end of the younger leaders' forum. If so, then we will have wasted our time. There must be more discussion, more clarification, more opportunities for feedback. After all, within 25 years, this group will move from being 20% to 80% of the GBC. And then they will have all the say in the direction of the Convention. Regardless, this was a good start.

Well said Daniel. I am encouraged by your review of the meeting. I too wish we could have had more time to spend of other issues. I wrestled with the format, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances. There are possible plans for regional pastors' forums next year, perhaps four around the state. This would provide opportunity to focus in on four topics, maybe one per location. I would appreciate your feedback on that idea.

I also wish we could have spent more time dealing with the issue of past treatment of calvinists in the GBC. It was simply not on the order, and would have caused us to neglect a topic that had been requested by those surveyed. i really wanted to be transparent and yielding to the will of the 120 participants. They did not bring that up in the surveys, therefore, it didn't get any time in the sessions. Perhaps future discussion will come, but I am encouraged.

This was the first time reformed theology has come up without a degrading remark. In fact, I found the spirit of acceptance refreshing. Having graduated from CIU and now Southern, I have become very familiar with reformed theology. Though I do NOT speak for the GBC (I'm a nobody), I personally believe we must move past that debate. The mission is bigger than those issues. While I understand your desire to hear it discussed more, I was encouraged by the lack of discussion. This shows spiritual growth on the part of younger leaders. We will NOT make it a test of fellowship.

As long as a man is missional and desires to see the nations shaken for the glory of God, I could care less what he calls himself. I think that's where most guys are in the GBC. I appreciate your assessment and honesty. Please know my desire was never to move past or hush any discussion. Instead, I wanted to maximize the time we had.

As for the future changes coming. I believe we will look back in two or three years in amazement at what God has done. Much is happening among Georgia Baptists, and this meeting was just one small part of a greater movement of God in our midst. I believe the GBC has an awesome future, and you're part of the reason why. This was a good first step toward where we need to be.

Your review is much appreciated. I will share it.

Glad to see you on Tuesday. I agree that this forum was a good "start" to the conversation. I look forward to seeing some regional forums designed to appeal to bivocational & volunteer leaders and those who just generally cannot (or will not) make a trip to Duluth. I had 11 hours in the round trip myself and I was a co-host :)

I really think the suggestions you raise here are valid and are best understood in viewing this meeting as an introduction to a lengthier conversation.

Additionally, the topics were designed around responding to the surveys. Wayne and I wanted this forum to address the issues and concerns that the registrants requested. And I don't recall anyone raising this issue beforehand.

But it's a valid point nonetheless. Thanks for a great review of what I think was a great meeting.

Praying you have a blessed Sunday!

Wayne,

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. It means a lot to hear your feedback. I appreciate what you and Mike did in putting this forum together and I think you guys did a great job.

Having registered late, I didn't get a chance to participate in the survey, but I understand a little more how you guys organized the forum, so thanks for that information.

I hope I didn't come across as being critical of you or Mike or Dr. White in regards to not discussing Calvinism more directly. I was simply expressing my disappointment that we didn't dig deeper there. And I did feel like the money discussion went on too long, but it seems as though that was designed based on the surveys (which I wasn't aware of previously). Perhaps in a future forum, Calvinism can be discussed further.

Which does bring up a question for you:

Were you surprised at the number of guys who identified themselves as 4 pt + Calvinists, or was it pretty much what you were expecting?

Additionally, I want to say that I think the idea of regional conferences sounds great. And I am excited to know that these forums are going to be taken further.

So thanks again for stopping in and also for taking your time to put together the forum.

Mike,

Thanks for stopping by the blog as well. It was great to meet and talk to you on Tuesday. And as I said to Wayne above, I appreciate all the time and effort you took to put on this forum for us. It says a lot about you guys and the GBC's desire to reach out to us younger guys.

And again, I understand better now that the discussion was steered in the way that it was based on the response of the surveys. That makes a lot of sense now.

Still, I think that after talking to some others after the meeting, many of us were anxious to hear some discussion of Calvinism and even Acts29. So I appreciate your point about this being a good "start" to the conversation. I certainly agree it was. And knowing that you guys have in mind further discussions makes the experience Tuesday even more fulfilling and worthwhile.

So again, thanks Mike for all your work to make the event on Tuesday a success. Hope to see you again in a couple of weeks at the annual meeting.

I have read what each of you said to one another and am puzzled? Pastor you made valid points and yet they still did not answer. They know they did not answer completely. Are we not all the body of Christ and each one of us is a part of it. God has appointed each of us a gift. I am very candid but so is God's Word. Especially to leaders. I believe sometimes even more so. From what I read not once did I read how God inspired "the money to be spent" on the building. How long did the congregation fast and pray before the decision was made? My Father says in Corinthians 13 "If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love. Love never gives up...Love cares more for others than for self...Love doesn't want what it doesn't have...Love doesn't strut...Doesn't have a swelled head, Doesn't force itself on others...Isn't always "me first". Doesn't fly off the handle...keep score of the sins of others...doesn't revel when others grovel...take pleasure in the flowering of truth...Puts up with anything...Trusts God always...Always looks for the best, never looks back, keeps going to the end. Love never dies!" Your inspired speech and understanding will end someday...your knowing of the truth is limited...incomplete. We don't yet see things clearly. What we see its like squinting in a fog, or peering through a mist. But soon it will be clear. Soon it will be very clear as it is to God. We are not wise gentlemen...we must step in His steps. You may think me foolish, but I see...so many believers had come together and yet one needs to ask oneself: "Am I a Christ follower or am I asking Christ to follow me?"; "Am I serving God's purposes or am I asking God to serve my purposes?" or "My intentions are good, but am I revolving my life around God -- or am I wanting God to revolve Himself around me?" Let us pray.

I did not receive your comments as critical at all. I appreciate honest dialogue. I really wanted to know how we could improve. So, I'm glad you mentioned those observations.

You asked, "Were you surprised at the number of guys who identified themselves as 4 pt + Calvinists, or was it pretty much what you were expecting?"

I wasn't surprised bc I knew 1/2 the guys in the room already. One thing that has frustrated me through the years is our misunderstanding of issues. I'm convinced that most Georgia Baptists are within a point of each other on the issue of reformed theology, but they refuse to communicate.

I can talk to 2 men who identify themselves in 2 totally different camps and still find them saying the same things in different ways. I realize we are different, but I believe our differences are not too large to overcome if we simply communicate.

Thanks again brother.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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