This morning I read a really eye-opening article from Thom Rainer about people's gut reactions to the word "Baptist." In an informal Twitter survey, he collected responses and categorized the top 15. Here's a screen shot from the article with the list:
I'll be honest, I wasn't surprised by many of them. I got saved in the middle of the Disney boycott and wondered what the big deal was. I've sat through business meetings where I wondered if people were even Christians by how they were talking to each other. And I've heard more than a handful of sermons that were more about culture and preserving a way of life than advancing the gospel. But I also was impressed to see some positive and worthy connections in here. I love that being Baptist means being sound theologically, that we're big on immersion, that we're people of the Bible, committed to missions, and that we still believe in the covered dish. And surprisingly, only one person mentioned "grape juice."
As we navigate the changing cultural landscape and try to figure out how to remain faithful to our identity and calling, I'm indebted to groups like Baptist21 and others who are asking hard questions about who we are and what we do. With that in mind, I want to give a few application principles for how we can be a faithful Christian and distinctly Baptist witness.
1. Be loving in humble in our convictions - When Russell Moore took the lead of the ERLC, he started changing the narrative of cultural engagement, moving from the Moral Majority approach to one he called "convictional kindness." In love, with humility and grace, we must continue to hold to our fundamental beliefs about the Bible, salvation through Christ alone, and marriage/gender/sexuality.
2. Be willing to adapt - Each generation has brought with it some incredible changes to communication, technology, worldview, and worship style. When Rainer reports that many perceive us to be stuck, we've got to recognize that while our convictions and theology won't change, our methods need to be adaptable. Revivals, tent meetings, youth rallies, and ClipArt used to be effective ways of engaging people. They're not anymore. Engaging culture now requires a digital presence, and being willing to move from a come-and-see to a missional approach to engagement.
3. Never waver in the commitment to evangelism & missions - When we yield our emphasis on people's need to come to Christ and our urgency to take the gospel to the nations, we've not only failed as Baptists but as Christians. No matter what, never give up that ground. Dig in deep that "people need the Lord," and always keep missions as a priority. One of the reasons I love the SBC is that we are willing to invest millions of dollars and thousands of people to fully supported missions and church planting.
4. Be known for what we're for - One of the rightful critiques is that we're too often known for what we're opposed to rather than what we champion. I think a lot of this is because we're in an extra cynical cultural climate, but we've also not helped our cause at times over the years. As we lead our churches forward, let's change the narrative. Let's emphasize what we're for. We're for Jesus. We're for seeing healthy and strong families. We're for happy and holy marriages. We're for seeing communities changed. We're for seeing people set free from addiction and sin and strongholds. That's why we believe the Gospel really is "good news."
How are you seeing the word "Baptist" used, and what have you seen to help bridge the gap to connecting people with Jesus?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.