I thought Dr. Stetzer was quite kind to some people who need a smack up sida da head, frankly. So let me be blunter: One morning, the SBC denominational types woke up, and networks like Willow Creek, Rick Warren, Acts 29, etc had showed up uninvited to the party.Those networks being effective, but not necessarily yielding a certain quality of results, if I may comment for the SBC.
These networks, unlike the SBC, don't insist on high levels of denominational loyalty, duplicate programs, a Director of Missions handing you a box of new materials every week or identical haircuts. These networks use technology savvily, [sic] focus their conferences on actually helping you do the job instead of asking you to support the denominational emphasis of the year, and so on. It's not hard to see why so many young missionals look at the majority of their interaction with the current SBC as something like a trip to the principal's office for a "talk," or why they relish and value their participation in these parachurch networks. These younger leaders are missionally focused, busy and looking for help now for their churches and ministries. The newer networks are helping them, and asking for little.I think there’s some value in your view here, iMonk, and you’re right about something which you sort of point at but do not name here: there’s a big problem inside the SBC when it comes to how we view our internal culture.
The SBC sees itself as sort of having arrived, spiritually. It doesn’t see itself as needing any reform because, by Memphis, we’re the only denomination in the history of the world to recover after having a lapse on inerrancy (yourself notwithstanding). And in that, conventionally-speaking, it thinks it has a mandate to shape the culture in its own image – it’s a sort of non-Presbyterian, pre-trib knock-off of theonomy, except it’s somewhat short on “theo” and awfully full of “me”.
But there’s also the problem of the networks in many ways being “effective”, but that their “effect” is not really any better than the standard SBC megachurch. A lot of nice people gather in a place which grows to multiple campi (the plural of “campus”, not clones our favorite completely-Reformed worship minister), and they have a community which is, itself, a little insular. That’s true to a greater or lesser extent depending on the network you are being specific about.
And in that, the SBC would like a slice of the network pie – and in my less-cynical moments, I think its because they’d like to see a network develop which also demonstrates the ability to keep men who are pastors inside some kind of orthodox bounding box. Because, as you know, the SBC is the keeper of orthodoxy. Genuflect as you walk past.
But all of that editorializing said, yes: the networks have a model which allows young pastors to get resources at low- or no-cost, and allows them to focus on “ministry”, whatever that means. I will accept the premise at face value.
Does the current leadership of the SBC realize what happened?In what way? Do you mean that they ought to diversify LifeWay to make it more Biblical and less rigid? I think that’s funny coming from a guy who likes the church calendar year of the more “high church” denominations.
I also think it’s a little, um, dismissive of the fact that (as examples I am informed about) Willow Creek and Saddleback produce their own curriculum. The major difference would be that there’s no “convention” leaning on anyone to use or not use those resources.
But that said, I think they “realize” what has happened in that it is impacting SBC growth. What I do not think they realize is that they are enablers of this migration away from the SBC.
Do they get the "network megashift" that has made Tim Keller more important than almost any SBC pastor?I think the answer is “yes”, but it’s like understating US Football when you only have 40 years of European soccer under your belt. They involve having the same number of players on the field, and a ball, and two halves, but if you rely on kicking the ball in US Football, you’re probably going to lose.
I think that the SBC is accustomed to kicking the ball, and sees some ball-kicking, and thinks it’s able to step up. There’s a paradigm shift which they are going to have a hard time working through.
Will our leadership respond? Can it? Or is it just too late? Stetzer should have kicked the door down with this issue, but I'll bet he knows exactly what I mean.They have to respond in some way. The irony is that Rick Warren, if you think Rick Warren is doing good, is SBC. And the SBC rolled out PDL and PDC – so in some ways they were in on the cutting edge of the “network” phenomenon.
I was interacting with Dr. Stetzer over at the Baptist Center blog a few weeks ago, and he had made some comment about what the BFM means to us, and whether we are a denomination. He said [I paraphrase here] he thought the distinction between denomination and convention was somewhat not important – but I disagreed for this reason: a denomination is a top-down hierarchy in which the confession is enforced and the real practical power lies at the top; a convention ought to be guided by its confession so that independent churches can agree to cooperate, and therefore the role of the convention is serving rather than mandating.
The SBC will have a hard time being a service organization in the sense I mean here.
iMonk's Q2 from me is found here.