In the days leading up to their annual meeting, Southern Baptists are echoing the same sentiment – we can do more together than we can do apart.
This week in Louisville, Ky., thousands of leaders from the Southern Baptist Convention are again hoping to confront and end the infighting and renew their mission for reaching people, particularly in the United States.
"I do believe we're in a critical moment in the SBC," said Dr. Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an interview featured on Baptist21, a blog run by young Southern Baptist leaders.
Akin introduced a Great Commission Resurgence manifesto early this year to help move Southern Baptists away from factionalizing and toward a missional resurgence.
Although grateful for the Conservative Resurgence that defeated theological liberalism in the denomination decades ago, Akin said it was never meant to end there.
"It (conservative resurgence) was always for the purpose of evangelism and mission," he said, according to Baptist21. The real need now, he said, is to build upon that resurgence with the Great Commission Resurgence.
Nearly 4,000 Southern Baptists, including SBC president Johnny Hunt and R. Albert Mohler, Jr. of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, have signed on to the manifesto which, among other things, reaffirms core Christian doctrines and commits to being missionaries in non-Christian cultures.
Evangelizing North America is a major focus of the manifesto as SBC churches begin to see decline. Total membership dipped for the first time in years in 2007. The 0.24 percent decrease was followed by another decline in 2008 by 0.2 percent. Baptisms also fell for the fourth straight year.
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and a prominent missiologist in the SBC, says Southern Baptists hold a high view of Scripture and of missions but have failed to place "that mission thinking and that biblical theology into a North American cultural context."
"We've distanced ourselves from our context in such a way that we're more cultural warriors than cultural engagers [and we're] known more for what we're against than what we're for," Stetzer said on Baptist21.
That's where the younger generation of Baptist pastors comes in.
Older and more traditional Southern Baptist leaders are encouraged to find a rising group of young pastors upholding the authority of Scripture while at the same time reaching thousands of students and young adults with more innovative methods.
Mohler, who unashamedly preaches the inerrancy of the Bible, said on his radio program that he has real hope in the future of the SBC as he sees young Baptists preaching Gospel-centered truths even if they're not dressed in a suit and tie while doing so.
While Southern Baptists have often squabbled over dress codes and music styles in church, Mohler says the absolutizing of style is a real problem.
Among the axioms laid out in the Great Commission Resurgence manifesto is a commitment to "a methodological diversity that is Biblically informed."
"In the past, Southern Baptists were characterized by a remarkable uniformity in both style and substance, but those days have long passed," the manifesto states. "Though we must remain united in substance, we must embrace a healthy, biblically informed diversity in our methodology if we are to effectively evangelize North America.
"As long as our varied methods communicate gospel truth, with theological integrity, unto God’s glory, we should not allow our different approaches to divide us."
SBC delegates will consider adopting the Great Commission Resurgence at their June 23-24 annual meeting which is themed "Love Loud: Actions Speak Louder Than Words."
"Being Baptist in the 21st century means being Great Commission people," Akin said, while cautioning Southern Baptists against feeling nostalgic and trying to go back to "the glory days."
"We need to trust that God has the best days ahead for us and in the future."