Stay the course” or “Chart a new direction”? Which expression do you think is most needed within the GARBC in particular, and in independent, fundamental Baptist circles at large? Rather than picking one or the other, I would say both. That answer does not come from a lack of leadership confidence nor a straddle-the-fence posture that tries to coddle factions. It is a realistic assessment of where we are as an association and as a larger movement today.
Stay the course
I believe by conviction that a Regular Baptist position is Biblical and has merit today. I think it is wisest in moving forward that we not redefine or broaden our network to become more generic or nondenominational.
I believe distinct theological positions such as dispensational premillennialism, congregational polity, a noncharismatic view of the gifts and the Spirit’s ministry, creationism, and the sanctity of life and marriage, to name a few, must not change.
I believe preaching must retain a preeminent place in our churches. Pastors must continue to articulate God’s Word with confidence, skill, and love. Propositional truth is the commodity that the church is responsible to deliver and that the world most needs to hear, whether it wants to or not.
I believe a balanced view of separation that understands levels of personal, church, and associational cooperation without compromise, applied with wisdom, decisiveness, and gentleness is still the best way to go.
I continue to believe that within the family of association churches-all of which agree to the same doctrine-there is room for personalized approaches to ministry. We respect each other’s freedoms. We willingly and humbly defer to each other when we come together.
I continue to believe God has given the GARBC a tremendous platform for influence through our churches and our ministries.
In my mind none of this should change. Staying the course in these areas provides us with a north star that should not be viewed as outdated but as essential in keeping us from losing our way.
Chart a new direction
This is also a day of opportunity, demanding that we chart a new direction in several areas.
Young Baptist leaders are stepping to the forefront. They are pledging to stay the course with the heritage of our fellowship, but are also bringing their creativity, insights, and energy to the table. We need these leaders. I am committed, as Paul was with Timothy, to see these men and women perpetuating our values and collaborating in building our association. To that end we have been working as older and younger to launch The Quest, a network of young Regular Baptist leaders. A new website is the primary channel of communication for this group: garbcquest.org. We are encouraging active participation in our fellowship. The website features six different sections: Christianity and Culture, Books, Worship/Ministry Resources, Preaching, Theology, and Youth. The site includes contributions from older and younger leaders. They do not want this site to be an exclusive domain of the under-40 crowd.
These young leaders have expressed a sincere desire to be mentored. To that end, Jim Vogel and I are initiating a biweekly six-month mentoring program. We are opening this to a maximum of seven men under 40 years of age, either in vocational ministry or preparing for ministry. Any who are interested in participating are invited to send an e-mail stating your desire to be included in this group and your reasons for wanting to be involved. I am trusting that we will see a growing framework of meaningful developmental relationships forming as older and younger pastors forge friendships.
The GARBC was built in large part by the sweat equity of church planters. What once provided a river of new churches for the association has dwindled to a trickle. God bless church planters. Our association needs a thoughtful, aggressive church-planting strategy that does not violate our associational polity but designs a coordinated plan to increase the flow of new churches. My administrative colleagues, the Council members, and an advisory team, along with the input of state representatives, have been contributing to a growing reservoir of information that will be used to devise a strategy. I hope over the next year to collaborate in constructing a church-planting-model proposal to set before you. I ask for your involvement. We are long overdue for action.
The Internet is providing amazing opportunities to communicate. During the last year we have been testing a great new tool. We are hosting online training events, working committee meetings, and even prayer meetings. We are growing in our understanding of the online environment. We believe it holds enormous potential. It is our plan in the year ahead to have a significant number of online opportunities in which group learning and group problem solving take place with the aim of encouraging and enhancing the ministry of pastors and churches.
We have expanded our ability to assist churches through consulting services. With the assistance of my GARBC colleagues, we are helping pastors and churches with pastoral placement, pastoral counsel, strategic planning, outreach strategies, church finance and business, pastor/deacon relations, and much more! We want to help you with your ministry. We invite you to take advantage of this service available to association churches.
Our doctrinal heritage, and ministry philosophy and approaches are worthy of broader exposure. I want to see our brightest minds writing and published. I am looking for some committed donors who would help fund several important writing projects. Voices who hold our position need to be heard. Serious books from a Regular Baptist perspective need to be written. I ask for your help to that end.
I see a new day of opportunity among independent, fundamental Baptists. As I travel and communicate in my role as national representative, I find dear brothers whose core values are the same as our values. With the Council’s encouragement, I am making a conscious effort to cultivate friendships with others with whom we share much in common. I think some unique possibilities could grow out of these new contacts. Together we could maximize our competencies and resources without disrupting the unique cultures that mark each group. In today’s arena of theological and ministry-practice discourse, the voices of Biblical orthodoxy from a Baptist persuasion deserve to be heard.
To help our churches better understand our association’s ministry, services, and history, we just completed a special GARBC DVD presentation. My hope is that you will secure a copy, host an association Sunday, play the video, and take an offering to help this influential ministry.
On a personal note
I have maintained a full schedule of speaking, writing, networking, and ministry among pastors and churches. The schedule ahead is filling. My colleagues and I would love to be in more of your churches. Call and schedule a date soon!
I have also been pursuing continuing education. I completed another doctoral level course and will soon complete another. I plan to do one or two more in the year ahead.
Many of you know that I have helped provide leadership for Regular Baptist Press for the past couple of years. It was my desire to see RBP gain a renewed sense of vision and structure, a retooled product line, and a clearly articulated educational philosophy to give guidance and intentionality to all that is done. Many of those goals have been achieved. The time has come to appoint a director of Regular Baptist Press who does not have to wear multiple hats. I hope over the next two years, as funding is available, to find and appoint through the appropriate channels a leader for RBP who can give undivided attention to this important arm of the GARBC that holds enormous potential.
Thank you for permitting Daria and me the honor to represent this great fellowship of churches. We remain your servants.
I ask you to join me in staying the course and charting a new direction. Let’s go! Together we can accomplish more!
John Greening is national representative for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.