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.