EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is adapted from SBC president Ronnie Floyd’s message to the Executive Committee, “What time is it in the Southern Baptist Convention?” on Sept. 22 in Nashville. Floyd is pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
NASHVILLE (BP) — When you compare today’s church to the church of Acts, one major reality is missing: urgency. They knew how to tell time; do we? Most of the time we act as if time does not matter at all. At times, this is also visible in our Southern Baptist Convention. We must recapture a sense of urgency.
I have served as SBC president for just over 100 days. Over conference calls, personal calls, emails and meetings, I have connected with leaders in Southern Baptist life from all spectrums. I have listened to them, prayed with them and strategized with them. I have already spoken in numerous cities and states. Simultaneously, over these past 100 days, the entire world has faced unprecedented crises, while we continue to see our rapid moral slide as a nation.
Here is what I know from our leaders: Desperation is rising and there is a growing sense of urgency that we must see God fall down upon His people with fresh power and with fresh fire from heaven. We are learning that “we cannot fix ourselves.”
What time is it in the Southern Baptist Convention?
Romans 13:11 tells us, “Besides this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to wake up from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”
“Knowing the time” — perceiving and seeing this “time” — is not “chronos,” but, rather, “kairos,” an undeniable moment and season, fixed by a sovereign God as a moment of destiny. Interestingly, the apostle Paul writes this with the expectation of our Lord returning soon. Therefore, Jesus is nearer now than ever before. The urgency is upon us.
“Wake up” challenges our spiritual slothfulness or apathetic condition spiritually. Paul was telling them, “God is at work and we cannot be unresponsive, asleep and missing this season of decision and opportunity.”
Southern Baptist leaders: We are so blessed that Sovereign God has chosen us to live at this point in human history, in this decisive and critical season, and we must rise up and be more responsive than we have ever been because the urgency is upon us.
We need to be like the leaders mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:32 “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”
Southern Baptist leaders: We must be in touch with our times and know these are urgent and strategic days. These are God moments in human history. Are we sitting around using a calendar template from the year before or just meandering through our days as if they do not matter?
These days call us to faith, to believing God for the impossible, and to change not once, not twice, but perpetually to be able to be positioned continually as a denomination to reach the world for Christ. We must be willing to die to ourselves, die to our preferences, die to our disagreements, die to our biases and prejudices, and be willing to die to our ways, practices and actions that may prohibit God’s power upon us from reaching the world for Christ.
Let me remind all of us, we are not the same convention we were in 1845 when we began; nor are we the same convention we were in 1925 when we began the Cooperative Program; nor are we same convention we were in 1979 when the Conservative Resurgence began; nor are we the same convention we were in 1995 when the Conservative Resurgence began to be realized; nor are we the same convention we were in 2010 when we moved toward a Great Commission Resurgence. Our churches are ever changing; therefore, our convention must be ever changing and we cannot conduct ourselves preferring ancient systems in modern times. The main thing that brought our forefathers together in 1845 was to organize a “plan for eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort, for the propagation of the gospel.”
This is what we must recapture from our past. We must prioritize the focus of having one sacred effort, the propagation of the Gospel.
Therefore, in this urgent hour, we must rise up like never before and do what we know we should do. I want to challenge us as leaders tonight to rise up with a sense of urgency about these seven matters:
1. We need to believe God for the next Great Awakening.
I say it again: We cannot fix ourselves. Most of us know history relating to the awakenings of the past, but however you want to describe it, we need a mighty move of God in this nation like none of us have ever seen.
Personally, we need spiritual revival and live in it daily.
Corporately, the church’s number one need is spiritual revival.
Nationally, we need a Great Awakening, a season when the church has come alive powerfully, and God sets down upon regions, locations or on the entire nation, resulting in millions of people coming to Christ.
Internationally, we must take the Gospel to every person in the world before they die eternally.
All of these things are connected together and dependent on one another. We need to learn from over 250 years ago when Jonathan Edwards called for all of God’s people to come together in these three things:
Clear agreement: We need revival in the church and awakening in America, as well as clear agreement that we must get the Gospel to every person in the world because the Lord is coming soon.
Visible union: Visible union together, for all to see, and do so for the greater cause. Visible union how?
Extraordinary prayer: Extraordinary prayer is more than we are doing today personally, more than our churches are doing today, and more than our convention is doing today. We need to call out to God with great urgency, with a firm conviction, that revival and spiritual awakening is our greatest need. Therefore, we will not stop crying out to God until God brings it to us.
This is why I am trying to enlist thousands of Southern Baptists to begin to pray regularly for a Great Awakening and to reach the world for Christ. Surely we can agree on these two things. Please go tonight to pray4awakening.com and join us now. Go to your churches and beyond to make the appeal passionately. We must rise up and pray like never before.
2. We need to come together in unity.
Our culture of factions, divisions and fragmentations is a disease that is paralyzing our advancement. How can we expect God to look the other way when His Word calls us to value all people, respect each other and love each other unconditionally? We need to abandon any culture, conversation or persuasion that results in a 1 Corinthians 3 result that is full of: envy or contentious rivalry or jealousy; strife or wrangling with one another, debating every issue, resulting in divisive actions. Paul said these were actions “like unbelievers.” We need to cease creating parties built around human personalities or their views. Paul called this “unspiritual.” I want to remind all of us tonight: We are Jesus people, bondservants of Christ, dead to self and alive only in His grace.
As SBC leaders tonight, I have been and will work toward unifying us. Please contribute to unity, not distract from it. We must come together in unity.
3. We need to recapture what it means to cooperate together.
I would ask each of us to take time to read what our own Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states about cooperation. I will just read a part of this article:
“Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom. Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people.”
It is time we trade in independence and competition for cooperation.
4. We need to elevate the Cooperative Program, both its need and value.
Somehow, some way, we need to discover ways to help all generations understand the Cooperative Program’s importance for what we do today and for our future. Pending the adoption of our church’s ministry budget this coming Sunday night, beginning Oct. 1 and 12 months succeeding, we will once again increase our financial gifts though the Cooperative Program in a very significant way. Why? I believe we must reach the world for Christ and we need to do it together. I believe in what we are doing and the leaders we have to help us take the Gospel to the entire world.
Tonight, I want to call on all of our churches to come together and give more than we have ever given through the Cooperative Program in order to help us get the job done locally, regionally, in our respective states, nationally and internationally.
While I believe in what I just stated, please listen carefully because I also want to be clear about our present reality: While I am passionate about the Cooperative Program, I also recognize that we are in a “funding crisis” as a denomination. We have a divide that is growing over this issue and I recognize that. As your president, I will not put my head in the sand as though it is not existent or hope it will go away. I will not just believe all of our problems will go away by telling people to give more money. Nor will I try to shame others into doing what we would prefer they do because shaming pastors and churches is wrong and very unwise. Churches are autonomous and they will each do what they believe God wants them to do. Our denomination is seeing what our churches have been seeing for almost 20 years: loyalty to a brand is no longer automatic but is earned continually. No longer are churches going to be “loyal because they are asked to be.” They are asking us “hard questions that cannot be ignored.” I believe, we have a funding crisis not only in dollars, but also in philosophy.
Therefore, I will do all I can, to bring our leaders together soon and work through these differences toward a common goal. We cannot let this simmer into a boiling division. What I do know is that Southern Baptists are committed to the path of the Great Commission. Now we must accelerate dramatically our pace of fulfilling the Great Commission. Our challenge is not our path, but our pace. To this end, I will lead. I need you to pray. I am asking us to work together and work through it immediately. Regardless, wherever we are in this discussion, we need to rediscover our commitment to unity, cooperation and partnership. This will take all of us working together for God’s glory.
5. We need to recommit ourselves to personal and church evangelism.
We need to reverse immediately our present trajectory of decline in baptisms. Last year’s dismal results matching what we did 62 years ago, in a nation with at least 160 million more people today than then, and our SBC having thousands of more churches and ministers today than then, is frightening. Once again, we somehow must prioritize personal and church evangelism.
I have been conducting several conference calls with Southern Baptist leaders and groups of leaders, with as many as 20-plus leaders on the phone at once, trying to call all of us up, strategizing now, where 18 months from now we can see a turnaround.
I have talked to student pastors, collegiate pastors, young adult pastors and education pastors. For the past three years, the collegiate group focuses on a day, Oct. 14, called Engage24, challenging their Baptist students on university campuses to share Christ on this day. They have seen great and growing results.
They challenged me, “Pastor Floyd, what if you as president would ask Southern Baptists to join us?” After days of praying and considering, last Monday, I issued the call to all Southern Baptist Christians and churches to target Tuesday, Oct. 14, in that 24-hour period of time to share Christ in some capacity. Our own church is going to join in this effort, even targeting and creating several ways we can have evangelistic ministries alive and well on that specific day.
Please join us and challenge others. Challenge our churches. Spread the word. The level of our reaping will only be to the level of our sowing the Gospel and praying as we go.
6. We need to come to Columbus, Ohio, June 16-17, 2015.
As we work toward addressing matters relating to our annual meeting and the future of it next year and years to come, I want to call on all of us to prioritize mobilizing people to Columbus, Ohio. I have already had a conference call with our Committee on Order of Business a few weeks ago and we are meeting together here this Wednesday (Sept. 24). Please pray for us.
We need the cross-generational disengagement from our meeting to change. I will be working together with our leadership to see this done. The Southern Baptist Convention meeting must become a celebration of what our churches are doing together to reach the world for Christ. We need to celebrate what God is doing! It should result in not only attracting people to come, but once there, motivating them to go back to their churches and tell the story. This should result in greater passion and resources than ever before to help us reach the world for Christ.
As a result of our recent trip to Columbus, our church produced a video that calls people to Columbus inviting them to join us. This is being shown in our state conventions and board meetings of our national entities. Not only do we have an English version, but a Spanish version.
This coming year in Columbus, we will have 1,000 college students involved in Crossover Columbus connected as summer missionaries with the North American Mission Board. They will be staying over for our meeting. I am thankful for Bryan Frye of the North American Mission Board and Mark Whitt of LifeWay, who have really worked together with me. Additionally, Dr. Paul Kim and his wife Rebekah, who live in Boston, believe God wants them to mobilize 500 Asian college students they are connected with, from across the world, for our Columbus convention. Rebekah is a recognized by Harvard University as a Southern Baptist chaplain ministering to Asian Americans. Therefore, please know, the flavor of our meeting will change dramatically and will become one great encouraging moment.
Additionally, I am announcing tonight, I have also enlisted the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board to do a joint commissioning service, prayerfully commissioning 100 missionaries between the two of them. This will be one fabulous moment. This is who we are and what we do best together. We need to experience it and celebrate it.
Therefore, come to Columbus. Sound the trumpet with me. We are going to gather the people and pray together like never before for God’s power to come upon us to see revival, spiritual awakening and the world be reached for Christ.
7. We need to elevate before our churches the international crisis in Iraq and Syria.
A friend recently sent me a quote from a Christian who lived in Germany during the height of the Nazi Holocaust. I’d like to read it to you:
“I Iived in Germany then. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it. … [A] railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars. Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded hearing the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. We knew the time the train was coming, and when we heard the whistle blow, we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. … [A]lthough the years have passed, I still hear the train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me, forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians and yet did nothing to intervene.”
When we hear a story like that, we often wonder how anyone could shut their ears to such horror, how anyone could do nothing in the face of such obvious evil. Yet the truth is that we’re doing it again, this very day.
Perhaps you know or maybe you don’t, but currently in Iraq and Syria we are witnessing a once-in-a-thousand-year destruction of the Christian church. A modern book of martyrs is being written.
Just three days ago, I was invited to a confidential briefing with 40 global Christian leaders. What I learned on that call was that the situation in Iraq and Syria is even worse than any of us have imagined. Christian children have been beheaded, Christians are being cut in half, Christian women are being raped and trafficked by the thousands, and more than 500,000 Christians in Iraq alone have been displaced.
This evil, called ISIS, has literally gone from one Christian place to the next and killed, captured or forcibly converted everyone who couldn’t leave. What they have done to these people is demonic.
It’s an attempt at a brutal genocide, a kind of Christian holocaust that is also effecting other religious minorities, and it’s happening right now in our world, right under our nose, and most are not even talking about it.
And as leaders, you and I must face the fact that we have influence at this very moment; therefore, we must stand courageously.
I don’t want to sing louder in my church while my Christian brothers and sisters are crying in horror in Iraq and Syria.
So, I plead with you to join me in doing three things: (1) Pray every day for these brothers. Pray the prayer of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 that God might deliver them from wicked and evil men. Call on your church to pray even this Sunday about it. (2) Pastors and Christian leaders, educate yourself and speak up on behalf of these brothers and sisters in your churches and on social media. Don’t let the world ignore this. I call on each of us tonight as Southern Baptists to be a voice that resounds loudly and clearly about this issue. (3) Provide generous support financially to our own Baptist Global Response and our Global Hunger Relief on Sunday, Oct. 12. Both of these are providing assistance now to the major needs of these brothers and sisters being persecuted and displaced.
The Bible says, “When one member of the body suffers, everyone suffers.” We must speak for them as we hope they would speak for us. It is, for sure, a matter of life or death.
In closing: Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, these are days of crisis, urgency and opportunity. We must increase our pace in all we do. We need our own holy version of a hurry up, no huddle offense in fulfilling the Great Commission. We will only do this when we work together in this urgent moment, to pray more than ever, to unify more than ever, to cooperate more than ever, to give more than ever, to be more courageous than ever, and to commit ourselves more than ever to finish the task of reaching the world for Christ.
I want you to know: I am all in. Are you? Let’s do it together.