How about a little thought experiment? No hidden agenda; just a way to explore the contention that certain things make all the difference.
Imagine for a moment 12 Baptist churches (that may be enough for some of you right there) in my own little Appalachian corner of the world, southeast Kentucky. These 12 churches are scattered across our area, which is almost entirely rural, quite poor, deep in Appalachian culture and all that goes along with it. They are churches dating back a century or more, the people are largely uneducated and some are even illiterate. There are deep problems of unemployment, health care, family dysfunction and substance abuse.
The churches are declining. For the past 15 years, the membership has been ingrown, with no significant influx of outsiders into the area and no significant church growth. The churches are growing older in average age, though several of the churches keep some kind of youth ministry going on. It is very rare to see young couples in church, and the congregations are graying rapidly.
The churches have been led by a variety of area men called to be pastors, with only a couple of local Bible school graduates in the mix. Pastors come and go quickly, with many leaving before two years have passed. Going from one church to another in a type of “Merry-Go-Round” is often a reality.
The theology of these churches is poor. They are a mix of Baptist doctrine- remembered, never written-, revivalism, second hand Pentecostalism, strong moralism (especially in regard to the Ten Commandments in school and strong enforcement of drug laws), and mountain “Holiness” religion with its emphasis on legalism and externals. Most of these churches are KJV only. A clear proclamation of the Gospel has been almost unheard of. Instead, repeated experiences of surrender and getting “really saved” have prevailed.
Music is a major drawing card in each church. This includes traditional hymns (mountain style) and “mountain music” played on local instruments. Contemporary worship music only appears in rare “youth services.” Some churches take very strong stands against any innovation in worship, defending their “mountain ways” as important to being a “real Christian.”
As in often true in this culture, these are churches that are very suspicious of outsiders. Pastors from outside the region will find it difficult to break into the “clans” and family groupings that dominate these churches. Attention to the needs of extended family members is considered a pastoral priority. There is a special appreciation for those in the military.
These are people with genuine faith. They love God, though many do not know correct Christian beliefs and are guided by their loyalty to what older family members and respected pastors of the past have believed. What they do believe, they believe with tenacity, but with zeal and genuineness.
These are people who believe in prayer, and they love one another. A public testimony is important to them. In this culture, getting “saved” assumes a deep and observable change of life.
There are many events that cross denominational lines in the area, such as “singings,” “youth revivals” and special holiday events on th Fourth of July and Christmas.
All things being equal to the current trajectory, within ten years, many of these churches will be on the verge of closure due to the deaths of their core, loyal membership.
So…..imagine all 12 of these Baptist churches come “open” at the same time, and by some unknown arrangement, 12 new seminary graduates from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary all come to pastor these churches.
Calvinists all, going to churches that don’t know what Calvinism is; churches that are strongly inclined toward revivalism and emotionalism.
These are young men trained in TULIP. They believe in verse by verse exposition of books. Eight years in Romans is real preaching. They believe in no public invitations, church government by elders and the regulative principle. Their models are Macarthur, Piper, Mahaney, Dever and Keller. They understand the church planting ideas of Mark Driscoll and ACTS 29. They are sympathetic to the missional approach of Ed Stetzer. They believe in doctrinal Christianity as the basis for experience and church life. They love the Puritans and believe in books as a way to disciple their people. They have a strong commitment to complementarianism. They are the new breed of SBC pastors and this is their chance.
What’s going to happen?
What could happen?
What won’t happen?
Will it work? Can these churches be turned around?
Will it work?
Are these the men to do it?
What will be the key factors in success or failure?
(If you don’t talk about this, then this post will be a real dud.)
I’ll give you my thoughts in the comment threads later.