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Are We Watering Down the Gospel and Weakening Our Collective Witness?
Saturday, February 24, 2007

The chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, wrote a memo to company executives on February 14, 2007 in which he stated,"that automatic espresso machines, bagged coffee, and 'cookie-cutter' store designs had led to a sterility at the chain that had invited competition from fast-food companies and others." He further wrote that "in order to achieve the growth, development and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have (led) to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand." Then he wrote, "We desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it's time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience."

What is true for Starbucks is true for the Southern Baptist Convention with one huge difference. Most corporations have the Chairman, the CEO, and the trustees to lead the way. We have the Living Lord Jesus to lead the way! It's time to look into the mirror and relook at the heritage and tradition of our Convention, and the passion we all have for our Savior and Lord. Read on, lest you miss what I'm saying.

If you didn't know otherwise, you might think the chairman of Starbucks was describing the state of the church at the beginning of the 21st Century. His conclusions might well be transposed onto the church. No doubt, times are changing. The older and younger generations are separated by the greatest gulf in history due in no small part to "Al Gore's" invention of the Internet. For the first time in history, the man on the street has equal access to the public through a brand new vehicle of communication regardless of the field of expertise; government, business, or professional services, including the ministry.

Access to the masses is no longer the reserved domain for leaders only. In these early days the Internet has become more of a forum for the impatiently disaffected and disgruntled individuals and groups and less of a forum for those who are patiently loyal and optimistic. However, most bloggers see themselves as no more than the loyal opposition whose primary purpose it is to keep the rascals in leadership honest and on their toes.

The Internet has become a forum to call the troops to arms, challenge them to climb the hill, and argue for change, needed or not. Sometimes, but not always, facts, wisdom, and worthwhile and workable solutions are in short supply because breaking news seems to demand a response, regardless of the facts or the lack thereof. The Internet has provided a means and a medium by which the previously unheard can be heard. Such freedom without implementing certain disciplines can be intoxicating and a person can easily feel the license to say things he/she would never say in any other circumstances. The very opposite is true with my generation. Rather than being intoxicated with public discourse as a means for registering differences, my generation is tempted to do everything quietly, away from public view, with pre-set agendas, persuasive phone calls, and whispers in an attempt to control an otherwise neutral environment by whatever means is necessary to achieve a political end.

The contrast is revealing. The older generation prefers to work with others one-on-one in an effort to influence them to embrace a particular opinion. The younger generations, due to the advent of the computer and Internet, prefer to speak openly, candidly, and publicly, often about personal opinions as well as private and/or corporate deliberations and decisions. The older generation has been inclined to perusade others by applying political pressures. The younger generations have been inclined to persuade others by informing the public and implying shame. Neither approach has room to boast as long as their accusations against each other have the common goal of demanding a specific answer without wise and careful deliberations in a context free from threats, intimidation, and rewards to the so-called "faithful." The Southern Baptist Convention is a corporate structure, not a family structure. We do ourselves a disservice to act either like unruly and undisciplined children or angry parents making harsh and unreasonable demands upon their children.

My observation over the 14 plus years as president of the Executive Committee is that any number of members (trustees) of the Executive Committee find themselves lobbied by various Southern Baptist leaders prior to facing major issues that call for a decision. They are forced to fight the temptation to concede to the wishes of the lobbyists.  They have to remind themselves that as members (trustees) they are to listen carefully in committee meetings and decide prayerfully how they will vote on any given issue regardless of pressures others attempt to bring. Year after year I have seen the members turn their attention to the tasks at hand and ignore the pressures of those who would try to persuade or dissuade them of an opinion.

Southern Baptists would be proud to see the high standards Executive Committee members require of themselves in their decision-making responsibilities. Do Southern Baptists, leaders or not, have the right to attempt to persuade Executive Committee members about a given issue. Absolutely! But it should be done openly so that a fair and equitable conversation or even debate can take place. To lobby anyone for any reason on any subject in political whisper tones in an effort to unduly influence that person is a disgrace to our Lord and this Convention. Sure, we would expect all interested parties to think about and talk about an issue, but I am talking about efforts that are more severe than understandably good-faith conversations that occur any time decisions are being made.

Will the generation comprising the over 65 crowd, men and women who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and slowly ascended into a role of leadership, ever connect with the new generations spawned by the Internet? To date, I think no one knows the answer. Sufficient time has not passed to make such judgments. It will be a tragedy for all generations if it doesn't happen.

Sooner or later, all the lions of leadership walk haltingly off the scene and are left with little more than an occasional toothless roar that is barely heard and hardly noticed by the pride that he led with such majestic carriage. It will happen to us all regardless of our age at the present time. Younger generations are less conscious of that day because it seems so distant to them compared to older individuals. God designed it that way so that as the older generation begins to walk more cautiously and with increasing maturity, younger generations will bring vision, vitality, enthusiasm, energy, creativity, and innovation to any discussion, any project. Both the older and younger generations bring more to the table than my abbreviated list and both should engage in solutions to make the world better and our Convention more effective for the sake of Christ's Kingdom. To treat each other with comtempt and disdain no doubt saddens the heart of God. We should talk with each other, not to or about each other. We should talk about issues, period!

Is there a place in our Convention for individuals from every living generation? The answer is a resounding "Yes!" The older generation reminds us of the great history and heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention. It reminds us that all tradition is not bad. It encourages us that while we are attempting new and creative innovations, we must never depart from the very essence of our existence, that is, the pre-existence, virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whether we worship in meditative silence or with shouts of joys, we must never change the message and that message should extend beyond declarations of doctrinal truths, reaching into our hearts and minds and causing us to be more Christ-like.  The world around us needs to see Christ in us! If the generations cannot connect at the foot of the Cross, we all shall be accountable for inheriting a Convention that was once a powerful witness for our Lord Jesus and watering it down to an unrecognizable, pitiful whimper for Jesus. 

It's time to listen! To the Lord. To our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. To the unsaved world desperate for an answer to its mounting problems. None of us has all the answers, but we do have the Answer. All of us can be tempted to be filled with pride, arrogance, selfish ambition, self-seeking promotion, and a hunger for the things of this world. Remember! Sin is defined by John as "all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:16). And Jesus said, "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away" (Luke 9:25).

The only place we can find true self is in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the sake of connecting generations for God's glory and our good are we willing to restart, beginning a new chapter among cooperating, conservative Southern Baptists by standing, even kneeling at the foot of the Cross...together?

Dr. C

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