Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Baptists' Future Depends on Young People

Last week, I attended the annual meeting of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, held on the campus of Dallas Baptist University.

This year's theme was Baptists and Education. Among the many topics addressed by speakers in both general and breakout sessions were the legacy of Baptists in securing religious liberty in the U.S.; a comparison of women's and men's theological education among Southern Baptists in the Seventy-Five Million Campaign of the early 1920s; and the origin and development of Houston Baptist University.

On Saturday morning, a two-part panel discussion addressed the question, "What is a Baptist university?" Part One focused on the mission of Baptist universities; Part Two focused on how they put that mission into practice. Panel members and attendees agreed in expressing concern over the difficulty of communicating the importance of Baptist history and principles to today's generation of college students.

This is a concern facing not only educators but all who care about the survival of the Baptist movement. I don't have the answers, but I'm looking for them wherever I can find them, as all of us should be. Keep dwelling on the old solutions, and we'll lose the young people. They are the Baptist future - if there is to be one. They are the only ones who will be around to tell the Baptist story to generations yet unborn.

During the conference last week, one Baptist leader told me, "I wake up every morning thinking about how to reach young people." It struck me that this should be the attitude of every concerned Baptist. We - and that includes me - have let our focus on perpetuating Baptist institutions blind us to our alienation of Baptist youth. We are losing them! They don't care about building bigger institutions. They don't care about doing church just for the sake of belonging or even of worshipping. What they do care about is giving their lives to something that actually makes a difference in people's lives - and their lives.

If we truly believe that being Baptist is important to authentically sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we should be concerned not only about our loss of those young people but about their loss.

God meets us where we are, not where our parents were; by the same token, we need to meet these young people where they are, not where we are.

We need to start listening to our young people - and responding to them on their terms, not ours. The old rationales won't suffice! We must hear what's important to them and discover - and communicate - how Baptist history and principles are relevant to their concerns.

That should be our mission as Texas Baptists. I can guarantee you that these young people are on God's heart - they're God's mission. If we are to be faithful to God's call, we must make them our mission as well.

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