Tennessee Baptist Convention

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Listening Sessions — Twenty Towns, Two Ears

Step off the elevator on the second floor of your Church Support Center in Franklin, turn right and you’ll be looking straight at this large reminder: “Tennessee Baptist Mission Board is a Christ-centered, field-focused, Great Commission organization created by Tennessee Baptists to serve Tennessee Baptist Churches. We value relationships, innovation, stewardship and excellence.”

Our mission statement for many years has been, “Making Christ Known by Serving Churches.”

What does the TBMB do? Simply put, we serve churches.

The tip of the spear in Baptist denominational life is the local church — your church.  Our great desire is to serve you effectively so that you can be most effective. To do our job well and accomplish our mission means knowing your opportunities, challenges, and needs. The only way to know all that is to listen to you.

Randy C. Davis

The Bible says, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning. And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5). President Woodrow Wilson said, “The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

Over the last few months, members of your TBMB staff and I held listening sessions in 20 cities, towns and communities across Tennessee. We are not yet finished. So far, we’ve visited more than 500 Tennessee Baptist pastors, associational leaders (key partners in the listening sessions), and laymen representing more than 400 TBC churches. The turnout was amazing and very appreciated.

We made a point of not arriving at these meetings with a program to promote but with a heart to listen. A primary question we asked was, “What are the opportunities and challenges you and your church are facing?”

The flood gates opened. While we recorded many excellent responses, several rose to the surface as frequently repeated. The geographic locations didn’t matter whether it was inner-city Memphis, Liberty, Johnson City or any other Tennessee town. Here are the top challenges you told us you faced.

(1) Apathy. It is obvious we are in need of a spiritual awakening. I heard the broken-hearted concern about too many church members being unfaithful in attendance and carnally minded in lifestyle. At least one leader voiced concern about the number of church members that are really not born again.

(2) The culture. “How do we speak biblical truth with bold conviction in a North American society growing more post-Christian by the day? We heard this repeated everywhere.

(3) Revitalization. Churches on the decline and how to reverse the trend was top of mind for many. The truth is, an estimated 40 Tennessee Baptist churches are closing their doors every year or are getting to the place they probably should.

(4) Reaching the next generation. There is a tremendous burden for Generation Z, those children currently 20 and under. If trends continue, only one out of 10 of that generation will enter into adulthood knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Side note: It is encouraging that leaders are realizing we have a generation in Tennessee that is spiritually lost and are expressing a need to reach children and students with the gospel.

(5) Discipleship. People asked about the best tools and processes to disciple new believers. They wanted to know how to make the most of the limited time they have with members to biblically equip them for life. Related: A great concern was voiced over a lack of ministry leaders and workers.

(6) Pastoral leadership. This is a biggie. I see it as I travel across the state and share my own concern for it. The question: How can we equip, care for, find and develop pastors and other church leaders? We are facing a leadership shortage and the overall spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical health of our church leaders is critical to the health of local churches.

Many other challenges were articulated, but those six repeatedly rose to the surface. It was encouraging to hear how so many have their finger on the pulse of the vital issues we face as believers living in this contemporary culture. It was also encouraging to experience how many were passionate about ministry that matters through local churches.

And it was important to hear from you. In my next Clarity column, I will address these challenges and outline how your feedback will shape the TBMB to serve you moving forward.

Until then, it is truly a joy to be on this journey with you.