Thursday, November 13, 2014

Florida Baptists, Millenials, and the Cooperative Program

This past week I attended the Florida Baptist Convention and her pastor's conference in Lakeland, FL. I was primarily there to support my friend and former pastor Dr. James Peoples who was the president of the pastor's conference this past year and was nominated and elected to be the president of the convention this coming year. However, some things struck me as I wandered the exhibit hall and encountered many of the different ministers at the conference. I would like to share some of my observations about the convention.

First, I noticed the lack of young pastors and ministers in general. My senior pastor is by no means an old man, but he has the crown of an old man....white hair. To me his hair is an identifier, because of its brilliant white characteristic. I came into the auditorium looking for him, so I could sit with him during one of the sessions. However, his white hair did not stand out to me this time. Instead, I saw a see of white, grey, and blue haired men. I could not locate my pastor, so I sat elsewhere. While sitting I continued to scan the congregation while the convention began to argue over finances and where a particular 4% would be sent this next year. On the one hand I was encouraged. I saw a great deal of African American and Hispanic pastors. Our convention has been plagued throughout the years of being a predominantly white convention, yet a major portion of the demographic of Florida is African American and Hispanic. I even saw some Asian ministers present, because the convention has been very intentional about planting churches among Asian people groups. However, by and large the bulk of people in attendance were older ministers. It didn't matter what pigment of skin, because many of them had grey hair.

It occurred to me that our convention of pastors is either getting older or the millennials are uninterested in the convention. I myself am a millennial, being born in 1986. I think like a postmodern, and I still have to carefully consider my skeptical attitude towards institutionalism, a trait held by many millennials. David Kinnaman has done extensive research in this area and reported it in his book You Lost Me. Kinnaman works for the Barna Research Group, and in his book, has defined many young Christians, my generation, quite accurately.

What is the reason for this disinterest in the convention? Another symptom of this problem is the trend of churches not giving to the Cooperative Program, but opting to send and train their own missionaries. I have spoken with many young ministers who say they have lost faith in the Cooperative Program and the convention. They do not give because they do not believe in the program any longer. Why?

The CP is supporting many church plants, missionaries, outreach ministries, pastoral care ministries, and many other purposes that millennials are passionately dedicated. Why would they refuse to give to something so noble and worthy of support.

I do not believe that this problem is as simple as millennials are selfish and want to know what they are getting out of it. I believe it is their lack of participation in the handling of the convention and CP. Very few young ministers are recommended to leadership positions in the committee and agencies of the convention. Few young ministers are asked to come preach at the events. I understand that the older ministers are wiser, more experienced, and more invested in these ministries, but if these older ministers want the convention, her agencies, and above all her missionaries and church planters to continue to be successful, then they will have to begin including the younger ministers.

Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, made an interesting comment during his sermon on the CP. If you haven't seen this sermon, it is certainly one of his best. He commented that he used to go to old preachers and ask them questions, now young preachers are coming to him. He touched on the subject that is greatly lacking in our convention: mentorship. The older preachers need to intentionally mentor younger pastors, pass on their wisdom, and pass on their zeal and commitment to cooperating together for the sake of the gospel if CP and the convention are going to survive. Yes, the younger men will change CP, but such is life. Let not our pastors become the ones who say, "We've never done it that way before." I believe that pastors should begin to consider their ministries, including the convention as a legacy to be inherited, not lost to the younger generation. A father looks forward to the day his son inherits the family business, and can lead in such a way to make the family proud. This same mentality is needed in the convention if we are to survive.

Jim Shaddix spoke at the pastors conference, and he used the illustration of a relay race. Armed with only his Bible and a relay baton, he gave a sermon about handing off the ministry to the next generation. An implication from the sermon for pastors is to not run to the best of your ability, hoping that someone is at the next leg of the race waiting for the baton. Instead, I believe pastors should be intentionally training up young ministers to accept the next leg of the ministry. I personally would be much more confident in someone, whom I have personally invested to run the next leg of the race, than someone I know little about.
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