From the Elephant Room website:
Is there a future for denominations? Will networks simply replace them, or will they reinvent themselves? What can denominations offer that networks of churches cannot? Describe the health of world missions and missionaries as you see them serving around the globe. Is the model of sending missionaries through a mission agency still effective? Or is church planting through healthy churches the way to go? Is there a lack of accountability plaguing most missionaries? How can that be changed? How does para-church help or hinder the local church in world missions?
Session 1 - With a little help from my friends
Driscoll, Graham, MacDonald
A day filled with grace and truth conversations.
Jesus said take the whole gospel to the whole world with your whole heart. Frank conversation on how to steward the gospel message.
There is no question that denominations are declining and diminishing in impact. Frankly, a lot should go away. Especially those whose theology and commitment to missions is nonexistent.
Technically, I’m not part of a denomination, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like one…we’re like a network, a convention of churches. I’ve always been involved in a cooperative movement.
Getting together for the sake of the gospel with like-minded churches is crucial. SBC is a local movement, not top-down, hierarchical. For the purpose of ministerial training and church planting.
150 years of history indicates we’re good at what we’ve been doing. Now, we need to get a lot better. Hundreds of millions are given annually to fulfill the great commission.
To answer the question, are denominations diminishing? Absolutely. While labels and denominations are increasing, there is still a high participation among baptists. I’m in and will stay in as long as we stay committed to a doctrinal resurgence…we’re the only denomination that was drifting left theologically that turned around…now we’re in the process of a missional resurgence. We’re a healthy denomination. A denomination is a para-church organization if done the right way.
I’m not a Baptist but I love Baptists, but not all Baptists love me (laughter).
We do networking through Acts 29, and some of our best guys are SBC. We have guys that want do have a dual affiliation because there are benefits to both denominations and networks.
Benefits of denomination are funding for church planting and great seminaries. Networks don’t have those kinds of opportunities.
Networks you can work across denominations, learn from folks who think different, avoid some politics that come from within you tribe.
What’s transitioning now is, What’s you primary affiliation? Some guys say first denomination, second network. Others say the opposite.
As long as people are meeting Jesus, that’s all we care about.
Lot’s of money is given, but is a lot of good being done? Millions are given, but sometimes the impact isn’t equal to the money given.
Enough money has been raised since 1980 for the Bible to be translated into every language four times. Should we do it a 5th time?
The question is one of accountability and stewardship…when I was President of SBC, the God-moment was together with 12 regional leaders…it was like a Pentecost, and it’s only getting better.
Take Haiti for example. 1,800 volunteers travelled there. This is out of the churches, not an organization. The denomination helped mobilize them. 272 new churches were born, and a lot of work with existing churches.
A couple in Egypt as a missionary with baby with health problems. The SBC is bringing family back and taking care of the health costs and then sending back when better.
Those are a couple of small examples of what happens on a daily basis. Can we do better? Absolutely.
What do you mean by 272 churches? It’s a small place.
They’re house churches. How you plant a church is different than how you do it.
Statistically how many will still be in operation in 5 years?
We’ll find out. You’re asking is it effective. I’d say SBC church plants are effective. There are 163,000 churches oversee with their own pastor.
Denominations don’t have a lot of sizzle. A lot of my friends are going to say, “Graham is up there defending denominations?” I’m committing to defending the fact that what we have is worth saving. This is Beatles theme right? Imagine if there was no SBC, and it went away completely. It’s taken 150 years to build and strengthen and influence. If it all went away, that wouldn’t be a good thing.
I’ll go on the record and say I praise God for the SBC.
I’m like Nascar. I don’t care what patches are on the sleeve. Just get around the track.
One thing that has happened in Baptists is there is a strengthen of the stakes and a broadening of the tent.
One thing I’ve had push back on, in a denomination it’s not about a person. A network seems to be about extending the platform. Are you concerned?
Concerns about me? Plenty. (laughter)
Seth Godin talks about Tribes. There’s leaders. The same is true in SBC. There are subsets. There are even kind of networks in SBC. The Reformed guys. The Charismatic guys, etc.
What’s true in a network is true in a denomination too.
How do you keep fluidity and movement? Denominations move toward institution which kills flexibility.
Maintaining focus on local churches rather than top down. Top down is the death of a denomination. People get trapped because grandma is buried outside the church…course she’d leave too if she could.
Local church focused denominations are growing.
Movement. Organization to support. Then institution. Then it becomes a museum. You have to keep going back to mission and movement. SBC in the 1980’s went back to movement and mission. It’s true for Acts 29 too. We have to always be on guard from institution and museum.
Younger pastors and leaders today are probably going to have dual affiliations. I think that’s a good thing as a Pastor.
I’m supportive of the dual affiliation. For the most part, it’s a good thing. The only caveat I see among independent churches is that when there’s a crisis there no authority there to speak into it. It’s kind of like the wild west. Something to think about.
How do you handle a renegae in A29?
We have regional leaders that handle issues in that area by bringing in that church and their elders with a discipline process. If there is not a good respose we remove them from A29.
What changes for them?
A29 is a brotherhood. It’s not a prison, it’s a home.
I was going to cry there. You’re not normally that tender. (laughter)
Church discipline is looking someone in the eye and saying hard words that I think you’re in sin and I love you.
We’re actually SBC. From the perspective of the 31 year old, let’s not be too cavalier in our dismissal of structures that people have sacrificed to build strong. Where is the honor for prices that were paid in the past? Even if God is doing a new thing, there has to be some respect.
I had a lot of people tell me that my church wouldn’t reach anyone if we were SBC. I had training through SBC and out of loyalty I wanted to honor that.
Earlier on we have to decide if we’re going to be Kingdom or empire builders. The elephant in the room is not denominations or networks. It’s leaderships. If leaders are good, the denomination is good. If bad, the denomination is bad. Don’t shoot at the framework.
Has the church focused on global missions at expense of local missions?
No. We all know some churches that it’s all about something that is “out there.” That’s a church issue, not a denomination or network issue. If you punt on local evangelism you’ve made a huge mistake.
This is a new era of world missions where we’re sending people, not just money and prayer. Our people who go overseas come back stronger witnesses, church members, and better for work locally. Enlarge the heart to work locally. Seattle is a mission field. Dallas is a mission field.
Don’t export what you’re not doing at home
Why did you choose not to affiliate?
I got saved in college. I got involved in an independent church and so we planted one. We’ve had requests, but I want to allow for A29 to be from all tribes. It’s best for A29 for me to stay out of denominational conflicts.
Among the younger SBC, you are loved and appreciated…including me. It’s raw evangelism at Mars Hill. It’s grace and truth. There is a great deal of respect among SBC leaders and young adults and churches with what you’re doing.
For me positionally if we can love and serve across denominations and bring people together, that’s helpful.
As we’ve tried to plant churches, we find denominations come forward and put the stricters on like baptism doctrines, etc. Distinctives say, this far no further. Why do you think A29 has struggle connecting with denominations.
We haven’t. We’re well loved within many denominations. Occasionally there is some noise but generally it’s good. Not everything that happens on the Internet is representative of the hearts of the leaders of denominations.
If you’re A29 and I have only 3 of the 5 tulip, can I be in?
If you get 4 we’ll let you in. If you get 3 and I like you, we’ll flip a coin (laughter). For us evangelism and mission is what drives and leaves. We’re not trying to be Calvinists. We’re trying to be evangelists.
This is a good discussion. None of this is getting settled today. I hope the grace and tenor comes through.
The preceeding were summary notes from the Elephant Room. These are not direct quotes but rather a play by play intended to give an overview of each conversation at this year's event. I encourage you to watch this year's conversations once available for fullest context. - Jake