The next generation & denominational life

For the past year I have had the privilege of serving as an officer of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC). While serving in this role, I often hear people ask, “How do we get younger people to serve in our convention’s life.” It is an excellent, and important question. There is a pervasive and understandable concern that we are losing more and more younger leaders from the realm of denominational life. I am 32 years old, so statistically speaking I am among the younger pastors that are part of our state convention. According to the most recent data, among our 1,978 MBC churches, we have only 278 pastors under the age of 40.* This means that only 14% of our MBC pastors are under the age of 40, admittedly an age which is not exactly considered young in most career fields. Even so, among these younger pastors, it seems increasingly difficult to engage them in convention life. So, all of this caused me to ask the question of myself, “Why am I involved in MBC life?

The truth is that I did not really want to serve originally. I have a young family and time away from them must be counted carefully. I love serving my church and there is much to do there; it is, and must remain my first and greatest ministry priority. Beyond that, there are portions of denominational life that I have not always looked on with great favor. Our polity can often be a difficult one to walk through and I am not always excited about the time investment necessary to be a part. Serving at the convention level has not been on the top of my list of exciting things to do. So why be involved?

I could offer that my involvement is because of theological reasons, and in part this would be true. A significant reason that I am a Baptist is due to the theological conviction that partnership with other believers in gospel advance is a biblical must. The truth is, though, that I can partner with other faithful believers and churches without doing so through denominational involvement. Many other pastors and church leaders have come to exactly this conclusion.

So, the question remains, why get involved? For me, the answer is shockingly simple. I was asked to. Not just asked, but lovingly, persistently asked, even after I said no. Most importantly, the one asking was a seasoned pastor who I love and admire and who cared enough about younger pastors, and me personally, to ask me to consider being a part of our denominational life. This seasoned pastor is a larger than life character for me. From afar I had watched his ministry and admired his faithfulness and desired to be like him. I did not know him, but he took the initiative to reach out to me, encourage me, and most importantly, pray for me. In spite of all that, when he asked me to consider getting involved, I said no, mostly due to the reasons I outlined above. Yet he patiently persisted and encouraged me to consider it. He did not let me say no very easily, and because he cared and persisted, I eventually decided that this might be something worth investing in and agreed to engage in this level of convention life.

So, why share this? I share it because I think this could be a major key to seeing younger leaders involved in our denominational life. I am convinced that many young leaders would engage if an older, seasoned pastor who they look up to would simply and persistently invite them to be involved. Too often we simply stand on opposite sides of the fence and point at each other. The younger generation desperately needs mature men who will love them, believe in them and persist in pursuing them. Scriptural precedent seems to remind us that the older men have a responsibility to bring along the younger men. I wonder what would happen if the previous generation, in masse, decided to grab a younger guy and not let him say no?

Could it be that the key to engaging the next generation is as simple as an older men reaching a hand out to bring them along? I do not know if it is that simple. All I know is that was what I needed. If I could encourage anything, it would be to persist in reaching out to the next generation and do not let them say no. Persist, even when they seem to be immature to you. They need you. We need you. Our convention life may well depend on it, but even more importantly, our ability to lead churches and family well may rest on it.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

4 thoughts on “The next generation & denominational life

  1. One thing that churches should consider is giving support staff, such as associate or youth pastors, interns, etc. the time and perhaps money to attend the annual state or national meeting. Many do so for the senior pastor, while other staff where many of the younger pastors are serving are not given these opportunities. Pastors may also consider helping a pastor from a smaller church or a seminary student go.

    Good post.

  2. My generation has a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

    I like your thought, in part: “[P]ersist in reaching out to the next generation and do not let them say no.”

    As you can see, these are conflicting thoughts.

    In the 90’s when I was involved in campus ministry, I came upon a book called, “The Idolatry of the Family.” While I did not agree with many of its theological premises, I agreed wholeheartedly that what I had been observing in our culture for a while was an overabundance of self-indulgence on the part of the family which could have been an attempt to make up for the failings of earlier generations to focus enough time on the family.

    This, combined with a materialism and focus on school and community based activities that begins well before a nuclear family is formed, I believe, could have lead to a reluctance on the part of younger men and women to be “in training” for critical leadership positions in church and denominational life.

    Indeed, as a parent and grandparent, it is tempting to opt out of important church and denominational business by saying I put my family first–but realistically, most of the time God grants me the opportunity to set priorities and stay involved through creative scheduling and a lot of prayer.



  3. I heard you speak at the SCBI Pastor’s Conference in Monticello a couple weeks ago. My pastor took me along with him because he felt it would be good for me. I know God is calling me to teach and lead and one day become a pastor. At my church, I have already begun teaching a Sunday school class and I have a group page on Facebook dedicated to experiencing God. Jimi, my pastor, knew that being around other pastors would be of great benefit to me and a wonderful opportunity to learn and discuss. On of the constant issues I have had with the church of today is denominational separation. We all started out following Christ and his teachings, then along the way someone disagreed with something that was said and split off, then another split, and another, and another. Today we have close to 40,000 registered Christian Denominations. Most are very much the same, though completely unique. I know I am uneducated in such matters, but how does a young, future pastor get over the rather large obstacle that 40,000 divisions of the church brings?

  4. I think one of the troubling points in your post is that only 14% of MBC pastors are under 40. That does not bode will for the convention down the road when guys of my generation are too old to effectively pastor. But your main point–reaching out to younger guys is correct.

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