"Lots and Lots of candles!" That is how a colleague (tongue in cheek, of course) responded to me when I asked the question: "If the conversations about young SBC leaders result in their taking the reigns of leadership, what will our convention look like in 30 years?"
Regretably, many who know of the recent conversations between SBC and emerging leaders would reply in the same manner, without trying to be funny! Others would balk at the thoughts of where our denomination is headed should these "young bucks" get hold of the largest Protestant group in North America. But I have noticed very few, substantive conversations that seek to conjecture the question; "Where would young leaders take us?"
Below is my own feeble analysis of this question. Based on conversations I have had with young SBC pastors and church planters, as well as books and other resources I have read on the emerrging church, I believe the things below are a very real possibility! But before you explore my personal attempt at "futuring," let me throw up a two-fold preface:
1. I have listed things here which I believe, given the current trajectory of emerging leaders, WILL happen in our denomination should they be given the reigns of leadership. But although I am in favor of many of my predictions, the reader should not mistake my predictions for an endorsement of everything they read.
2. At the start, let me admit to my own ultimate ignorance of the future, and offer an open invitation for anyone to respond with critique of my predictions. My goal here is not to be an "autonomous knower," but rather, to foster discussion, which means of course, that I have failed if no discussion is generated from this post. You are encouraged to leave your own views on this post as a response.
And now; fast-forward with me about 30 years into the future:
-"Southern Baptist Convention" will no longer be used, as the multi-national and multi-cultural nature of our denomination is reflected in a new title. (anyone want to suggest what it should be?)
-Although the national convention will still convene, attendance will plummit, not because of any lack of interest, but due to the regionalization of annual meetings to different parts of the United States and other nations. The national convention will then be simulcast to these regional meetings.
-State Conventions by and large will continue to decline, as their influence continues to wane, and as newer churches opt to be resourced either by non-denominational entities outside the SBC, or by professional educational staff in their own churches. Eventually, state conventions will be 'streamlined' so that many both state and associational staff will include those who also work bi-vocationally as pastors and staff members in the local churches which support these entities. Continuing education and leadership training will move closer to the local level, as larger churches provide their own professional staffs to be at the disposal of the smaller congregations.
-Local associations; well, their fate depends solely on how relevant they are perceived to be by the churches they serve, which means that many will die, and die soon! Others however, will assume a place of prominence that was once held by the state convention, as localized equipping and training will be seen as more appropriate for their context. The "Director of Missions" job description will radically change, eliminating the idea of the DOM as a "bishop without power," and replacing it with the view of the DOM as a "missions facillitator." As these more traditional understandings pass, the DOM will be expected to fulfill a job more closely associated with a Church Planting/Church Growth Strategist, thereby resulting in the elimination of those positions at the associational level.
-Local churches will, by and large, adopt governmental systems that, while still "congregational" at their base, are much less "democratic." The use of "elders," church councils, etc. as administrative advisory arms to the Senior Pastor and staff will grow exponentially. The "team" approach to leadership (i.e. co-pastors, or plurality of elders) will also see a sharp rise. "Robert's Rules of Order" will be an unfamiliar term to the vasy majority of new churches. In addition, the title "Reverend" will go the way of the dinosoaur, as younger leaders eliminate the essential distinctions that have been made by the modern church between clergy and laity. Ordination will still exist, but only for legal and tax purposes. Those who lead God's church will prefer the Biblical term "Pastor" to "Reverend," "Preacher," or even "Doctor."
-The role of women in church leadership will rise. Many will serve as deacons, and a few will begin serving as elders. We will see a surge of single women volunteer as missionaries, and be sent out by their local churches to the ends of the earth.
-As the lines between methodologies in North America continue to blur with those in other parts of the world, eventually the International and North American Mission Boards will merge. In addition, those who are funded through this new missions organization will not be "missions administrators" but rather, practicioners who are "on the field" among the people he or she is attempting to reach. Many administrative positions will be eliminated, as local church pastors and volunteers from the business sectors assume these roles, thereby giving local churches more control over the decisions made concerning doctrine, qualifications for appointment, etc.
-Deputation will again enter Southern Baptist life for the first time since the inception of the Cooperative Program in 1925! Mission Boards will still underwrite much of the financial support for keeping a missionary on the field, but the missionaries will be required to raise additional support from the local churches that reccomend them for service to the field. In addition, the local church will have much greater control over who is and who is not appointed. The result of this will be a closer, more personal connection between the missionaries and the churches that support them.
-While the Baptist Faith and Message will remain the de facto confession for our churches, less rigid statements (Such as that used by the Evangelical Theological Society) will be employed as guidelines for working across denominational lines with other evangelicals in the field of mission. The result of this will be cooperative, joint efforts with Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and others whom our missionaries are now told to limit their cooperation with because of diferences on secondary issues (such as speaking in tongues, etc.).
-The SBC (under its new title, whatever that may be), will appoint missionaries from other nations of the world to come to the United States for ministry, as well as other countries. As multiculturalism eventually engulfs the planet, there will be an increased amount of "crossover" as Americans go to other nations as missionaries, and vice versa. The single, mission board will be charged with the oversight of all of these missionaries.
-Giving to the Cooperative Program will plateau, if not decline, but special mission offerings. (Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and World Hunger) will skyrocket, as the churches participate wholeheartedly in direct missions giving and involvement.
-Seminary education will undergo major changes, as online and distance education becomes the norm rather than the exception. While the classical base curriculum for the basic degree programs (such as the M.Div.) will remain, many of the practical ministry courses will be re-written and contextualized to the world as it will be 30 years from now. Some of the courses that will undergo major overhauls include pastoral care and counseling, homiletics, leadership, and the practice of ministry.
-The sharp rise in bi-vocational and "tentmaker" pastorates will neccesitate that for many, the local association's training events become the primary locus for theological education. This of course, will mean "beefing up" the leadership curriculum.
-The whole basis of Theological Education is likely to be turned on its head, as the theological foundations of classical seminary education is replaced by a missiological emphasis. In effect, "Theology of Missions" will be come "Missional Theology."
-Retired Gen-Xers (sounds strange, doesn't it?) will return to the academy to learn theology and be equipped to start lay-led churches and house churches.
-Local churches will again assume the role of primary theological educator, as the seminaries once again simply act to augment this role.
-"Boycotts" will be history, as young leaders perceive these sorts of tactics to be unneccesarily alienating to those the church should be trying to reach. Instead, relational engagement will undergird the philosophy of how the church interfaces with culture. For example, instead of "boycotting Disney," Southern Baptists would purchase a showcase at Epcot Center and utilize it to speak to all who vacation there concerning the Gospel and how it relates to family values in the larger Christian worldview.
-The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission will continue to be a strong and conservative "prophetic" voice to our government. But while moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and embryonic stem cell research will continue to receive attention by this agency, other issues like taxes, gun control, the ten commandments on public property, and school prayer will largely be ignored, in lieu of subjects like the poor, and human rights throughout the world. (For example, many seem to ignore the fact that our "conservative" administration continues to advocate continued trade relations with China, which has an atrocious human rights record. Expect these issues to be addressed with much more strength.)
Obviously, this is a very incomplete list, and that is intentionally so! Where do you think we are headed, provided young leaders take the reigns of leadership. What I have left out? Where am I wrong?
The SBC is just a few weeks away, and I anticipate with excitement the conversations that I know will take place. But instead of simply complaining about the SBC as it is, why not begin discussion now of what it could be? Why not begin to speak now of how to honor its legacy? When we approach our esteemed present leaders, wouldn't it be great if, instead of a list of complaints, we brought our ideas of what could be to the table? I look foward to hearing your views. So let's get started building a vision together, shall we?