By Jimmie Sheffield
During a recent meeting with ABSC staff, I shared a few of the major changes I’ve seen take place in Southern Baptist churches and our denomination over the last 60 years. These are simply my observations and are not all inclusive, but they are changes that have impacted our churches and our work today as a state convention.
The first major change is the rate of change. In my early years of ministry, I hardly ever heard the word “change,” at least not like people talk about it today. Back then the rate of change was relatively slow, but today it’s like we are at warp speed. It seems that both church and denominational work settings change every day because of technology, cultural changes, and the desire for instant gratification.
The second major change is how churches do church. Years ago, almost all Southern Baptist churches had five primary programs: Brotherhood, discipleship training, music, Sunday School, and Women’s Missionary Union (WMU). Nowadays, about the only commonality in churches is Sunday School, but it might be called a number of things—Bible study, small group, fellowship group, home group—and meet at a time other than Sunday morning.
The third major change is missions giving. When I got started in ministry, the Cooperative Program (CP) was a relatively new way of giving to missions. Small and large Southern Baptist churches alike gave to missions through the Cooperative Program, and by doing so churches and associations were supporting the same mission efforts in North America and around the world. The Cooperative Program today is now one bullet on a list of many mission expenditures for a church.
So what do we do—as churches and as a denomination—with change? I doubt that we have seen the last of change, or that the rate of change is going to slow.
I think we must learn to be flexible and adapt as God leads. We cannot do church like we did in the ‘60s and expect things to happen, but we should never want to change just for change’s sake. Our changes should instead help us be more effective, and they should be consistent with Scripture.
Take social media for example. I see that social media is affected by the world, and churches may be hesitant to use it. However, in the hands of the church, social media can be a way to reach and communicate more effectively with new people as well as sharing the Gospel.
The Cooperative Program is another example of how we might embrace change, but doing so cautiously. The CP is not a new way of giving to missions, but it originated from how giving was done in Scripture. Though we might tweak the CP, the thought of working together to fund new mission causes is a spiritual truth that I believe we should not abandon.
We must be ready to change in order to meet the on-going needs of people—but without sacrificing Scriptural truths to do so.
Bro. Jimmie Sheffield recently celebrated 60 years in ministry and 30 years with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Bro. Jimmie not only has witnessed changes in both church and denominational work but also from a number of viewpoints. Jimmie first served in ministry as a college student and later as a minister of children and youth education, minister of music, associate pastor, church administrator, and as the associate executive director of the ABSC. He currently serves as the executive administrator of the ABSC.