Hi and welcome back! It’s spring, when a blogger’s thoughts turn lightly to the continued decline of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Recently, J.D. Greear, the president of this venerable fundagelical denomination, admitted to that decline being very much an ongoing problem. Here’s how he dropped his hint, along with his official suggestions for getting out of it. And because we’re very very helpful, here are also the reasons why nothing will change as a result of his suggestions.
The King of Sex Predator County.
A while ago, LeekSoup perfectly summed up J.D. Greear, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC):
JD [Greear] got this position with no training on how to be a CEO, probably no proper media training, no strategic management skills, no organizational psychology skills. That’s stuff that isn’t taught to church leaders. He’s got where he is by preachin’ and knowin’ his Bible and playing the church politics game – kiss the right asses; condemn the right things.
So, here he is, King of Baptist County, when he’s contacted by a newspaper who ask him to comment on a story they are about to break. He probably doesn’t understand the danger. And he isn’t curious to find out more.
Then the story breaks [Abuse of Faith] and suddenly he realises (or someone explains to him) just what a catastrophe this is – how he is suddenly the King of Sex Predator County and, maybe even he realises that people will be looking at him squint-eyed from now on. And that scares and confuses and annoys him. But he really doesn’t know what to do about the situation.
Yep. J.D. Greear tried his damndest to become president of the SBC. He kissed the right asses, played the church politics game, and parroted all the right culture-war talking points. He did it for years before his efforts finally paid off.
Greear achieved his dream. Hooray Team Jesus!
Then, suddenly, the SBC faced a true crisis. They needed leadership.
And all they had was this guy.
If the SBC were just a bit grander, and J.D. Greear just a bit more hilariously-inept, I’d say he reminded me of Pope Clement VII, sometimes reckoned as the right pope at the wrong time.
As it is, he makes a good figurehead, I suppose.
Guess Who’s Back With a Brand
New Old Rap.
Today, we examine a new whinefest from the King of Sex Predator County. He (or someone, I guess) titled it: “Why aren’t Baptists… baptizing?”
Aside from the insertion of Millennial-style mystified pause ellipses, he poses a question that’s been asked before. The cosmic irony of Baptists not being able to find anybody to baptize has come up many times in the past. Heck, we’ve even covered some of those times. Baptists wring their widdle handsies over what they call their “baptism drought.”
And they should.
Southern Baptist leaders decided years ago that the number of baptisms in their churches would be their prime metric indicating growth.
My assistant today is Eminem.
The Give a Little Poot-Poot, It’s Okay.
It’s not my fault that Southern Baptists’ metric turned out to be not only utterly unreliable as a church growth marker but also primed to decline eventually. Once it began to decline, that number never stopped declining.
Baptists enjoyed a very slight blip upward once or twice in their recent history: a 10k bump in 2005 and 2k or so in 2012, both probably because frantic pastors had begun dunking toddlers and habitually re-dunking existing Christians they’d poached to raise their numbers.
Otherwise, baptisms have declined steadily for many, many years.
So J.D. Greear’s topic must seem like a safe bet for whining about.
Papa’s Got a Brand
New Old Bag of Toys.
Fisking Shears Activated!
The past few years have been challenging for many Baptist churches.
Yes, they sure have. Fundagelicals have completely lost all credibility as a group. In fact, they’ve even tainted the entire name of Christianity as a result of their antics. I’m not sure there’s any way for them to sink any lower in the public’s perception than–
Across the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, the number of baptisms we’ve seen has been steadily declining. And while there are some notable exceptions within the Convention — churches that are seeing people come to Christ and follow Him in baptism — we have to come to grips with the fact that something is awry.
So this isn’t going to be about scandals and the absolute cancer fundagelicals have become in the “body of Christ.”
J.D. Greear: HEY FUNDIES! LOOK OVER HERE! NOT THERE! HERE!
Those of us who own the “Baptist” label ought to see declining baptism numbers as a problem in urgent need of Gospel solutions. We need to ask some difficult, though faith-filled, questions.
Not the “Southern Baptist” label. The “Baptist” label. I mean, we already know that a lot of SBC churches literally don’t identify as SBC because of the absolute horrorfest that is public perception of the SBC label itself.
Sidebar: A Christianese Lesson.
“Gospel solutions” is Christianese, incidentally.
It means he’s not going to look outside his culture-war talking points for answers to his questions. He wants to improve his denomination’s baptism numbers, but only if he can do it without sacrificing those talking points.
The lie he’s telling his denomination is simple: that they can keep the talking points AND improve their baptism numbers.
So this post of his is about him contorting. He seeks, among his tribe’s talking points, a viable, working strategy for improving their baptism numbers.
There isn’t one.
But that truth contradicts another of their talking points. Thus, he’s not allowed to do anything else but what we see here.
He’s gonna drill down extra-hard on the talking points.
A Hilarious Opening Shot.
I laughed at Greear’s opening shot:
I think the primary problems are spiritual:
He’s the leader of the biggest Protestant gang in the world. He worked his ass off for years to get his position. More than that, even, he leads a huge megachurch. So this guy’s got, at his fingertips, the money to hire real live strategists and analysts who can tell him exactly what the problems are in his denomination.
Hell, I’m not even a real live strategist or analyst, and I’ll tell him for free what his denomination’s problems are in a minute.
“Spiritual” is Christianese for “stuff we say exists that doesn’t really exist.” Of course he’d use it here. By leaning on a totally nonexistent cause for his very real problems, he is guaranteed to come out with surreal non-solutions that are impossible to put into practice.
The Big Problem Here!
He goes on to outline what he blames for his denomination’s decline:
First, many of our churches have lost the urgency of the Gospel message. Many churches in the SBC have grown complacent and don’t have the same evangelistic drive that they used to.
That means he doesn’t think his salespeople are doing enough to sell his shoddy product.
Their product, incidentally, isn’t “Jesus.”
It isn’t even “salvation” — by which I mean conversion to his beliefs in nonsense.
It’s membership in his particular group.
The salespeople must create new recruits for his group. They sell the group itself.
They don’t want to persuade people to their general beliefs only to see them join other groups. That’s an incomplete sale. They need recruits–most particularly, recruits who will pay dues to their very expensive clubhouses and who’ll create new recruits of their own in short order.
Every sales failure of every SBC salesperson is a potential recruit’s time and money not flowing into J.D. Greear’s coffers. In a minute, I’ll show you just how bad that failure gets in the SBC.
There’s Not Enough Thinking At the Ceiling Here!
His second Big Problem Here consists of Southern Baptists not thinking at the ceiling nearly enough:
Second, we are no longer known as a people of prayer. Prayerlessness is a sign that either we believe we no longer need God, or that we no longer believe He is ready to move as He promised.
But how does he even know how often his tribe prays? It’s the easiest thing in the world for Christians to lie about. Nobody’s filming them 24/7 like in The Truman Show to find out exactly how much they pray.
But all Christians do know, based on their own example and that of their closest associates, that they lie constantly about how often they pray–just like they lie about how often they go to church and how well they follow their group’s behavioral rules.
Why There Isn’t Enough Prayer.
Christians lie. They always have. And they must. If they told the truth, nobody would buy their product. So the furthest they’ll go is admitting that they don’t pray nearly as much as they know they should. And they admit even this much with a sheepish wince.
Greear’s right, though, about why Christians don’t pray. When I was Christian, I figured out fairly quickly that prayer doesn’t do anything that my tribe promised. It took me years to come to grips with that knowledge, though. It’s the big selling point of the religion: if you ask Jesus for stuff, he gives it to you–if you do it just right. Other Christians probably figure out the truth just like I did.
Praying constitutes a waste of time and energy. So Christians use their time more wisely.
And their leaders, in turn, know that it’s a very safe bet to assume that their flocks don’t pray as much as their marketing says they do and should. Of course they don’t. Christians’ claims aren’t true and they know it, so they use their time more wisely than that.
Where Are Our Mini-Me Sith Apprentices?!?
The third Big Problem Here involves the dearth of Sith Apprentices in the Southern Baptist fold:
Third, we are not raising up enough leaders to lead in Gospel ministry both inside the church (pastoral ministry) and outside the church (in the community). At its core, that is a deep discipleship issue in the SBC.
And he’s being dishonest here, but what else is new? LOTS of new SBC pastors hang out their shingles every year–even in the Southern Baptist Convention.
I keep a database of SBC stuff, including SBC church plants. So I know that in 2017, the SBC actually saw a slight uptick in church openings.
(From 964 to 975, specifically. For some reason, the 2019 Annual Report didn’t seem to contain numbers for 2018 church openings. Weird….! Maybe the 2020 report will help me out.)
There are, in fact, considerably more SBC pastors than there are paying pastor positions for those men to fill–prompting new trends like bivocationalism and tentmaking (pastors holding “day jobs” and receiving far less than a living wage–if any wage at all–for their pastoring).
No, what’s got Greear upset is how few young Southern Baptists look exactly like their elders in terms of beliefs and culture-war outlook. He wants a small army of Ed Stetzers: made men who have never met an SBC talking point they didn’t love. What he’s got instead are younger Southern Baptists who question more of those talking points than anybody ever has in his life:
“The generational shift happening in the SBC has thrust the group into the middle of an identity crisis,” says Barry Hankins, the chair of the department of history at Baylor University and co-author of Baptists in America: A History. “The younger generation thinks differently than the old-guard Christian right about culture and politics, and they are demanding change.” (Source)
J.D. Greear was supposed to be the olive branch extended to those younger members. He’s absolutely not an agent of change. He’s actually just as die-hard a culture warrior as his opposition that election year, Ken Hemphill. Maybe even worse, since he’s a Calvinist, a doctrinal stance which represents about the only way to make fundagelicals into more horrible human beings than simply enlisting them into the culture wars. The few mini-mes the SBC indoctrinates seem to be signing onto Calvinism in greater and greater numbers–taking the evil of the culture wars further than their parents ever dreamed.
So Greear was supposed to substitute for change. Though young, he was a mini-me for those older culture-war veterans. He was supposed to mollify DA YOOT into stopping their demands for change.
Instead, he’s only reminded them of why they need change and why they need it yesterday.
Pointing Three Fingers Back At Himself.
Finally, J.D. Greear points his finger at the big boogeyman he perceives as The Big(gest) Problem Here:
Finally, many churches are too tied to their cultural preferences and ways of doing things to keep up with what the Spirit of God is doing in a new generation. In many cases, we have simply failed to adapt with our culture. . . I’ve heard it said, sadly, that the biggest enemies of what God wants to do next can sometimes be those with a front row seat for what He did last.
That is downright hilarious, isn’t it? Because what he wants is for his beloved Conservative Resurgence to continue forever and keep gaining new recruits forever.
He doesn’t mean for them to drop the culture wars and all that hatred they’ve amassed over the years. No no! What he wants is for them to update their websites or get cooler worship music or something. He does NOT mean for them to change a single one of their current operating worldviews.
And I’m not even talking about their childish, wackadoo, outright-idolatry takes on the Bible. By worldview, I mean their hatred of those who are different and those who defy them, as well as their feverish, nonstop work to gain totalitarian control over the private lives and bodies of every person in the world. I mean what those takes on the Bible take them to: the end-run of those beliefs, their translation into real-world behavior.
Greear wants none of it to change. He just wants a few display elements to shift with modern sensibilities, to gain recruits who don’t realize just what sickness lurks beneath the surface of those slick websites and hip worship songs. He’s like an old-school bachelor who cleans his home “once every girlfriend” on the premise that by the time she realizes what the “real you” is all about, she’ll be in love and won’t care.
Campaigning After His Election.
J.D. Greear must feel a special attachment to this message of SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY. It is, after all, the primary and cornerstone platform of his entire campaign to become the King of Baptist County. He’s pushed this message for years.
He claims that his sales techniques work to create new recruits. Well, they don’t. As I’ve said, I created a database of his denomination’s numbers. Using the SBC’s own annual reports, I compiled stats that go back 30 years. Here’s a highlight reel:
- 2016: 280k baptisms
- 2017: 254k baptisms
- 2018: 246k baptisms <— year 1 of Greear’s rule; also the year they kicked out the entire Washington DC sub-convention for being entirely too nice to gay people
His approach doesn’t work to create recruits.
One might even say that it is irrelevant.
Oh, but his followers and fellow leaders don’t care. All they care about is how well he parrots their talking points and how fervently he wages their culture wars.
If the SBC held its leaders accountable, he’d be in very serious doo-doo. But they don’t, so he isn’t.
The CD Just Skipped.
We don’t know yet what 2019 will bring for the SBC. Not exactly.
But Greear has hinted to us exactly what we need to know:
The news for 2019 won’t be good for him or his people.
The decline continues. It continues in every single direction, and he’s all but told us so. If they’d managed to eke out more baptisms than they got in 2018, in fact if they’d managed to improve a single metric they measure, he’d be over the moon shouting about it.
Confusing Blessings With Political Power.
Lastly, he tries to encourage the flocks:
I truly believe that the best days for the SBC are yet ahead of us. They have to be! There are still over 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, and history cannot end until they have been given a Gospel witness.
And those groups won’t care either. They’ll care even less because they lack that cultural framework to appreciate the threats and promises Southern Baptists offer.
As I often say at the Summit, “past graces” are evidences that God wants to bestow future graces. God has been incredibly gracious to our Convention. Why would the Holy Spirit have done that if it were not to give us an unprecedented effectiveness among our neighbors, in our nation, and around the world [sic]
Gosh, why indeed, JD? I mean, all those “graces” can’t possibly have been purely earthly control-grabs his denomination made back when they had the political power to do it, right? It had to be the divine workings of a real live god, right?
The Monster At the End of This Post.
Fisking Shears Deactivated.
Here’s the free advice I’d give J.D. Greear and his pals if I could–and if they’d ever listen to a heathen like me:
Fundagelicals are so engrossed in their made-up moral panics and their culture wars that they have completely lost the plot of what makes a group appealing for new people to join and old members to remain part of. They’re a bunch of control-freak hypocrites, and more and more people today reject the idea of joining groups full of people like that.
But the problem gets worse. As I said, he’s angry at his salespeople for not creating recruits. He isn’t even thinking about keeping the few recruits they make–but he should, because they suck at that too.
He forgets that his salespeople are actually just customers enjoying the benefits of his clubhouses. They didn’t join to work! No, none of his salespeople tell these new recruits before signing them up that they’re going to be hard-pressured to find new recruits.
Instead, recruits join his groups to enjoy the benefits his salespeople promised them. That’s why Greear’s church, a megachurch offering a huge number of events and amenities to members, tends to grow–rather than shrink, as most Christian churches are doing.
And these dwindling numbers of new customers get quite cranky at the idea of being told to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY. Very few of them will actually ever give that task a real go.
So fewer and fewer marks–and fewer and fewer existing members–actually want what the SBC’s fewer and fewer salespeople can actually offer them even on a dishonest basis.
What Is Killing the SBC.
It makes me laugh to see how few Christian leaders can engage with what’s really going on here.
Once upon a time, Christian salespeople didn’t have to do much work to gain new recruits. The sheer cultural power of their groups did the heavy lifting for them. People needed to join some Christian group to fit into their communities. Even today, when Christians ask someone “What church do you go to?” they’re really trying to figure out where that person fit into their existing mental framework of power.
In years past, that question mattered a lot more than it does today in a lot more areas than it does now.
Back then, rejecting Christianity–becoming known as a dissenter–could destroy someone’s social life as well as their prospects for earning a living, finding a spouse and close friends, and enjoying a peaceful and loving family life. It could have ramifications on every aspect of life. Rejection by a powerful Christian group carried even more penalties.
And well, things are different now.
Christianity Can’t Survive Without Coercion.
Of course people converted to Christian groups back then. It didn’t happen because of their sales techniques, but despite them. Christian salespeople never had to learn how to appeal to potential marks on their own merits, nor work to retain those marks once they joined up. The threat of their groups’ retaliation was more than big enough to do it all for them.
And now they just don’t have those powers of cultural coercion anymore. They are very unlikely to gain them back. Even if they gain the political power they crave–and really, particularly if they gain it–they will continue to lose members and fail to attract new ones.
They can’t regain the power to force people to follow their leaders’ rules or pay dues to their clubhouses–because their own customers would reject such a move because even die-hard fundagelicals themselves would become furious if forced to follow their leaders’ rules or consistently pay dues to their clubhouses.
The religion is optional now–even to its own members. Without coercion, not even those existing members care what J.D. Greear demands or wants.
The Right King at the Wrong Time in Baptist County.
J.D. Greear, the King of Baptist County, rules as if fundagelicals still possessed those powers. His people evaluate sales techniques and exhortations on the same basis. They won’t ever change how they operate or eradicate the sickness in their core because they love both so much and it all defines them to such a grotesque extent.
If they could fix those problems they wouldn’t be Southern Baptists in the first place. And to fix those problems would eradicate what drew them to this group instead of something healthier. No, they’ll cling to this fast-crashing train all the way down to the ground.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a train wreck gift that keeps on giving, its members’ own worst problem, and the cause of as well as the non-solution to all of those problems.
So what I’m really saying here is that we’ll all get a front-row seat to a hilarious tragic comedy playing out in real-time for years to come.
Come on, Daddy Greear, give us a brand old rap again!
NEXT UP: Toxic positivity. It’s a thing, and it infests not only religion but a lot of secular thinking as well. We’ll investigate it next — see you then!
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