In the mid-1990s, I was in the national office of the Evangelical Free Church of America to speak about denominational transformation.
While waiting for the meeting to begin, I saw a magazine that focused on ministry with men. Opening it I read that an executive with this denomination edited it. However, the publisher was the Baptist Sunday School Board, SBC.
I inquired of the executive. He indicated the magazine, which Evangelical Free started, was now owned by this SBC national entity. They contracted with him to continue as editor. The magazine was distributed across evangelical Christianity.
This was my first personal evidence of one aspect of the new vision statement BSSB adopted a few years earlier that called for them to become the premier provider of Christian literature worldwide.
In 1998, BSSB was preparing to suggest a new name for their entity to fit their new vision statement.
In February of that year, I was speaking to the state staff and associational directors in one of our oldest state conventions. Again, we were discussing denominational transformation.
A pastor serving in retirement as a part-time association director asked me, “What do you think about churches who are not proud of the name Baptist?”
Having known a church that took Baptist out of its name, and having very hopeful feelings about the pastor and the direction the church was taking, I answered the director’s question from a positive perspective. That did not satisfy him.
I finally asked him, “What are you going to do when later this year the Baptist Sunday School Board announces its proposed new name, and it does not have the word Baptist in its primary title?” The reaction in the room was a collective gasp. “You don’t really think they would do that do you?” said the director.
“I guarantee it!” I went on to explain that to fulfill their vision, the change was essential.
Six months later when the name — LifeWay Christian Resources — was announced, I sent an email to my host from that earlier meeting with the title, “The Big Gasp.”
What Lifeway understood, that all SBC national entities and institutions still needed to understand, was that their role in our denomination is to have a broad economic scale so they can best serve the size and diversity of Southern Baptists.
The specific strategy for the new Lifeway was good. Unfortunately, about the time they got fully established in fulfilling their new vision, the internet presented a new paradigm that required all entities and institutions to go back to square one and rethink their ministry methodology. Some did. Some did not.
The three dimensions of our denomination — national, state and association — each has a focus that fits various aspects of an economic strategy.
National entities and institutions need to be focused on the big picture, broadening their scale and discovering the innovative approaches which are just fads versus true trends. Then, they must figure out how to adapt without losing the core Kingdom mission. I would call their focus one of developing strategic frameworks.
State conventions should develop an in-depth understanding of state and regional culture and demographics, and how the scale of strategic frameworks fits the scope needed in their state. Their focus is developing contextual frameworks.
How the good news of Jesus applies in New England is different than in New Mexico. What is needed in the Northwest is unique compared to what is needed in the Bible Belt of the Southeast.
In rural areas and among smaller membership congregations, one approach is needed. For metropolitan areas and among larger membership congregations, the approach is different.
Baptist associations as the organism, family and wisdom dimension of our denomination are about solutions.
As members of their association, congregations need contextual strategies. Such strategies must bubble up from the grassroots, informed by what the other two dimensions offer.
This is yet another example of how each dimension of SBC should travel in their lane and not leave a vacuum. The role each plays within their lane is too important to abandon. Efforts for one dimension to take over the ministry of another spoils the cooperation, communication and collaboration that makes our denomination strong in ways people outside our denomination cannot understand.
When the significance of scale, scope and solution gets confused, we are weaker.