Bridging the Generation Gap in the SBC
The research is out and the verdict is in. Only a small percentage of younger Southern Baptists are attending the annual Convention. The LifeWay research confirms what others have been noticing about the attendance at each year’s meeting.
What are some ways that we can bridge the Generation Gap in the SBC? I humbly offer several suggestions for young and old alike:
1. Let’s take each other seriously.
Younger leaders are not taken seriously in the SBC. A pastor in his late thirties is having coffee with a pastor-friend in his fifties. Up to the table comes a pastor in his fifties, who immediately assumes that the 30-something pastor is “on staff” at the 50-something pastor’s church. When older pastors find it hard to imagine younger leaders serving as senior pastors, we have a problem.
I am a 26-year-old Minister of Education and Missions. I believe I have something to offer in service to our Convention. Regretfully, I must accept the fact that I will probably not be considered a serious voice within the SBC until I am well over 40. That’s okay for me personally; I’m not on an ego-trip trying to propel myself in Convention matters. But if the above story accurately describes the mentality of most older leaders, we are in trouble. Are there no younger leaders who have something of value to offer? Shouldn’t younger leaders be taken seriously?
On the other hand, younger leaders need to take the older generation seriously too. Many of these men fought for the Conservative Resurgence we tend to take for granted. Most of these men have been pastoring and teaching for decades now. We have much to learn from the Pauls and Peters of the SBC. Should we choose to spend all our time listening to other Timothys and Tituses, we will impoverish our future ministry. The older generation deserves to be appreciated and commended.
Young leaders should not be written off as too young and inexperienced. Older leaders should not be seen as men with nothing more to offer, men whose time has passed.
2. Let’s not assume the worst about each other.
I fear that older leaders in the SBC will see the LifeWay reseach numbers about declining attendance among young leaders and assume that the younger generation is completely indifferent to Convention matters. There are many reasons why younger people have not been going to the SBC in recent years (perhaps that will be the subject of another post), but indifference to SBC life is not the primary one. I encourage the older leaders of our Convention to not automatically assume the worst about us younger leaders.
On the other hand, younger leaders need to stop assuming the worst about the older pastors. We have a tendency to peg the well-known pastors of the older generation as being consumed by personal ambition, political maneuvering and Convention power. Perhaps that is true of some leaders (just as the “indifference” charge might be true of some young pastors), but it is a vast overstatement to claim that the entire generation of older leaders has incorrect motivations.
3. Let’s Get Together
Did Jimmy Draper’s initiative in putting together the Younger Leaders’ Summits help bridge the generation gap? Yes and no.
Yes, the Summits were helpful because they gave attention to the younger generations. But we should ever be asking: why is this necessary? Is there anyone calling for an Older Leaders’ Summit? No… because, unfortunately, many of the SBC’s main events might fit that category.
We need to spend more energy in rubbing shoulders with one another, not in setting up different camps. The SBC resembles a gigantic family reunion. Pastor-friends of one generation get together and talk about old times. Young pastors connect with fellow-bloggers and seminary-friends.
I don’t want to burst the familial bubble, but wouldn’t it be more rewarding for the Kingdom if older pastors took an active interest in mentoring the upcoming generations? Wouldn’t it be more rewarding if younger pastors sought out the members of the older generation for advice and prayer?
4. Let’s preach together.
If you want to see increased participation of young people at the SBC, put young preachers up on the platform next to old preachers. (And when I say “young,” I’m not referring to men in their forties). Yes, you might hear some complaints from some of the older-generation messengers who are upset they didn’t get to hear all fifteen of their favorite pastors who are over 60. But after several years of consistent generational variety in preaching, even those messengers will be proud to see the next generation accepting the SBC mantle. And even better, we will see a marked increase in younger-leader participation.
My brothers, we preach the same gospel! Whether we’re 20 years old or 70, we believe in and preach the crucified Jesus as Risen Lord of the world. Let’s put the gospel on display by showing that our preaching spans the generations. What a testimony it would be to see the 80-year-old preacher shouting ”Amen” to the 25-year-old preaching the gospel!
5. Let’s heed each others’ warnings.
Younger leaders need to heed the warnings of those who have gone before us. We need to watch out for liberalism. When the older leaders tell us that liberal teachings might be creeping into the Convention again, we need to be careful not to write off such warnings as the result of paranoia. We need to keep our ears open.
Older leaders would do well to heed the warnings of the younger generation. When the younger leaders complain that conservatives are now turning on each other, fighting the same battles, tightening parameters of cooperation, older Southern Baptists should take note. Let’s not kill each other over non-essentials. After all, legalism is as poisonous as liberalism.
Can we bridge the generation gap in the SBC? I believe we can. It will take humility, patience, and exhortation from both sides. Let’s put our hands to the plow together for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.
written by Trevin Wax. © 2008 Kingdom People Blog