NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If Southern Baptists will continue to prevail in the days ahead, it will be because today's pastors, deacons and church leaders are able to encourage and elevate an emerging generation and give them the freedom to spread the Gospel in ways never imagined, Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham told members of the Executive Committee Sept. 22 in Nashville, Tenn.
Graham recounted the opportunity he had to attend the funeral service for Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, in July. While he was there, it occurred to him that the imprint of Southern Baptists was evident across the household of evangelical faith that had gathered for the service. Graham mentioned such Southern Baptist leaders as Robert E. Reccord, Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley and Jim Henry and said it reminded him of the importance and influence of Southern Baptists in the evangelical world.
"Southern Baptists are the leading edge of faith, particularly as it relates to missions and evangelism, in all of the evangelical world," he said. "All of the Great Commission kinds of churches across America and across the world understand the importance and the significance of what God has called us to do as Southern Baptists."
Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, said it was not an accident but rather providence that God preserved the Southern Baptist Convention through the doctrinal and denominational resurgence of the last generation.
"And while Bill Bright was being ushered into heaven by the praises of so many, it occurred to me that he passed along to a succeeding generation his vision and his mission," Graham said. "It reminded me that that's what God has called us to do in the days ahead in Southern Baptist life."
Graham explained that the emerging generation of young leaders across America has the chance, if they are directed, mentored, elevated and encouraged, to be the next great generation.
"I truly believe that," he said. "There's something different about these kids, about these young fellows. There is a commitment to go where no one else has gone and do what no one else has done. We must pass the baton of faith to this emerging generation. And I'm not talking just about training them to be pastors and missionaries, as vital and as important as that is."
What has happened in Southern Baptist life across America, in Graham's view, is an unleashing of the laity in churches. The marketplace has emerged as the great mission field, and the new generation is willing to engage it.
Graham believes Southern Baptists should start training the new leaders when they're young, and that's why he promotes Kingdom education to teach boys and girls a biblical worldview early in their lives.
"We all know the statistics of secularism and its influence upon the lives of students, and it's getting younger and younger and younger," Graham told the Executive Committee. "The influence is oppressive in the lives of these young junior high and high school and even elementary students. While Christian education and church school education I'm certain is not for every student, I'm challenging parents all over where I can use my influence to pray about Kingdom education for their children."
He mentioned the division of LifeWay Christian Resources specifically committed to Kingdom education and helping develop a new generation.
"It's also true of course in our seminaries as our seminaries are developing a new kind of church leader, a new kind of disciple, aggressive and powerful in their witness," he said. "If you were in Phoenix, you noticed that our convention was appreciably younger this past year. While our overall numbers were down, I'm telling you that was a good sign for Southern Baptists."
Graham attributes the youth movement in the Southern Baptist Convention in great part to the seminary leadership that has encouraged young people to invest in the Southern Baptist Convention first with their lives and ultimately with their resources as God uses them.
The North American Mission Board will have two important conferences next year, he said, called "Elevate."
"Elevate is not for the preacher boy or the missionary but rather for the student and the young professional which may not go to a seminary but will be prepared to go to the marketplace in science, in technology, in media, in sports and athletics of all kinds and to develop this generation as they embrace a culture and engage a culture that desperately needs Jesus," Graham said.
Salt and light ministries are essential for this time, he continued, because the Gospel is light and must be visible. The Gospel is not only to be declared but to be demonstrated, underscoring his endorsement of Empowering Kingdom Growth.
"The essence of the Kingdom is to practice the Kingdom, to proclaim and to practice the Kingdom of God, to be salt and light," he said. "And we need salt and light strategies for our churches, for our congregants, to enable them to minister and serve in order to gain the platform and the pulpit of preaching the Gospel and sharing Jesus Christ."
Social ministries used to be taboo, Graham said, because many assumed that if something was connected to social ministries it was connected to a so-called social gospel.
"But there's really no such thing. There's only one Gospel. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but this Gospel has social application and implication," he said. "And churches have got to find a way in their own communities to break out of our comfort zones and move out of our boundaries, and that includes our racial boundaries and that includes our cultural boundaries, to the suburbans and the urbans and somehow penetrate people's lives that are not like us with the Gospel of Christ, and we only do that through serving and ministering and touching people as Jesus did, not only in words but in deeds."
Graham said he is convinced that if Southern Baptists keep doing church the way they're doing church, they'll lose the cutting edge of evangelism and missions that God has given them.
"We must be willing to get out of our comfort zones and out of our own neighborhoods and start living the Gospel and serving our communities and being salt and light," he said. "And guess what? We've got a young generation coming up that is willing to do that, but we must be willing to pray for them and unleash them in the world."