A history-making event took place recently at the GARBC Resource Center in Schaumburg, Ill.
Attendees at the Council of Eighteen meeting suddenly got younger! A group of young ministry leaders from our Fellowship came to the meeting, not as observers, but as participants. The topic of discussion was the rejuvenation of the GARBC. Over a three-day period Council members and young leaders interacted, each group sharing its generational perspective.

Engage with my permission in a little speculation about this unusual meeting. . . . What were the topics of discussion? What was the prevailing mood in the room? What might have been the expectations of each group? Which group do you think talked more? Did a generation gap exist? Was there any joking about age? What types of dinner menu selections did each group choose? Do you think these men accomplished anything of significance?

As you consider your conjectures, you might be surprised to know of the groups’ eagerness to enter into the discussions. As regional guests of Council members, the young leaders-John Arnold, Mike Augsburger, Joe Earle, Scott Greening, Aaron Hand, Will Hatfield, Mike Hess, Nat Kealen, Mike Myers, Eric Puff, and Mark Vance-came primed and ready to participate. It didn’t take long for the interaction to begin.

To introduce the meeting I posed the challenging question, “Can we rejuvenate the Association?” followed by, “If so, how do we do it?” Rather than having free-for-all interaction, I charted a course for the discussion around six strategic actions: launching a church-planting movement; revitalizing declining churches; designing training programs to assist churches; integrating young pastors into the Association mainstream; reformatting the annual conference; and creating the next generation of publications.

We designed presentations to get the creativity flowing. For the church-planting discussion, I prearranged to have a conference call with Roger Ridley, a veteran church planter in the greater Omaha, Neb., area, and his young protégé, Blane Barfknecht, who is planting a daughter church in an Omaha community. The men described the model they are using and how it works. Following the conference call, Chris Hindal, director of GARBC International Ministries, presented church-planting initiatives he viewed firsthand on his recent trip to Asia. Chris shared pictures and faith-stretching stories of aggressive church planting that is currently taking place among our international partners. Then the GARBC administrative staff presented church-planting resources that the Association can offer. Seated around several round tables, the men formed breakout groups to discuss thoughts and ideas from the presentations and transferable concepts for U.S.A. church planting. The interaction was so active it was difficult to end.

Later in the evening the visiting continued around tables at a popular Italian eatery. The tasty deep dish pizza, pasta, and salad were seasoned with plenty of good-natured kidding. I observed that the chemistry was starting to grow between the old and the young guys.

The next day we listened to a presentation of a new online meeting program to which the Resource Center has subscribed. This Web meeting format enables Resource Center staff members to host live discussions as well as to offer distance learning training Webinars. From the buzz of the group, I sensed they were beginning to realize the many possibilities for the creative use of this Web format and other available resources for our GARBC rejuvenation efforts.

As the Council moved into executive session to address fiduciary matters, the young Baptist leaders huddled for a skull session to list key issues related to their integration into the Association. As the groups reconvened in a joint session, I wondered if sparks would fly. To the contrary, the old and young listened and learned from each other in a mutually respectful and humble manner. The young men emphasized to the Council they were committed to the Fellowship. They stated that it was not their desire to start a subversive movement, but rather to collaborate for building a stronger and more relevant network of churches. They articulately and passionately shared their thoughts. Though individuals within the groups might view methods or styles of ministry differently, there was rock solid agreement on the subject of doctrine and Association values. Surprisingly, the younger and older participants found they were not as far apart as they had thought. The biggest eyepopper for the older group seemed to be the young men’s desire to sink their teeth into substantive theological subjects and to observe commitment to truth and godly living in such an intense way that everything else paled in importance. These men were not superficial or immature; they were living out the counsel Paul gave Timothy: “Let know one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

The meeting concluded with an affirmation to continue the dialogue, not simply for the sake of discussion, but to lead to an action plan to execute. What’s next? Our desire is to take this type of interaction to the place where the real Association exists-the grassroots level of local churches. This discussion across the generations needs to happen in local, state, and regional fellowships. This is not meant to create a wild free-for-all of unrestrained ideas, but rather mature discussions among people who value the gospel and doctrine, possess a love for God, and have a loyal commitment to making our Fellowship better. My hope is that these interactions will not happen exclusively among GARBC groups, but will take place in the larger family of independent Baptist fundamentalists. We all need to consider how we can maximize our potential in the few remaining days before the Lord returns.

Am I just whistling in the wind, or could this dream happen? I’m ready. How about you? Let’s talk.

John Greening is national representative for the
General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.