Sometimes I am pulled back there… my former life. I am proud of that life. I miss it regularly. Many things take me back there in an instant; the beginning of a ball game, a funeral, the sound of a bugle…
…6am: The sound of Revile haunted the already warm, dank air of Ft. Sill as the earth was preparing to be scorched by the Southwest Oklahoma sun. Families were tucked away nice in their beds, but Soldiers, long awake, stood with bodies rigid at attention saluting Old Glory as the Colors were raised again victoriously over another day–a tradition going back generations. There I was, a young Captain standing behind my Soldiers at 6am. I was 28 years old, lean and a little mean. I felt so proud to have been given this opportunity to command this Battery – something that is considered a great privilege that not everyone gets. Already with one deployment under my belt I was fast tracking my way through the Army.
I dropped my salute along with the 120 Soldiers whose lives I was now responsible for and turned around to see the Brigade Commander walking quickly my direction. He was my superior, two levels up in Command, three in rank, four in deployments completed, and 20 in years served. He was a man’s man at 40 years old with the physique of a man half that age and a Ranger Tab to boot. A serious professional. His profession? War. There was an incredible seriousness and humility about his leadership. He wasn't fake… he actually cared about Soldiers. I learned much from him.
The Old Man, an affectionate nickname for the Brigade Commander, made a b-line for me. His pale blue eyes set in chiseled granite, he looked at me and said: “Captain Jones, give me an account of your Soldiers.” Having only just taken command two days earlier, I was unprepared for the level of detail he required but I answered the best that I could. I said: “Sir I have 120 assigned and 102 present for duty.” The Old Man said: “Well where on God’s green earth are the rest at?” I had no answer… I didn’t know.
In a firm and graceful manner, my Commander assured me that this would be the last time in my life that I did not have an account of every Soldier I was responsible for. From that day forth I understood part of leading was keeping accountability of all the people under your command, and not just because your supervisor might ask but because you actually care for the people. You cannot actually be a real leader unless you care for your people. So from that point forward every morning a card was brought to me after first formation that detailed where everyone was. I did my best to know my Soldiers and care for them as people; people that mattered. Now that I am out of the Army, that little card means more to me than all the awards I ever earned. Because that paper represents to me the people I had the privilege to lead.
Now that I am out of the Army, feeling ten years older than I should, and a pastor of a local congregation, I remember this encounter with my commander from time to time, especially when reading verses like:
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Acts 20:28 (ESV)
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
God’s word tells us that pastors will give an account to God for how they have cared for the souls of the people of their local church. The church of God, which was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. These words are enough to strike fear into the heart of any pastor who believes the Bible is the very word of God.
Yet despite this fact, and despite an openly professed belief that the Bible is the very word of God without any mixture of error, the denomination I am in cooperation with, The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is a denomination guilty of dereliction. So much so that I ask myself this question often: “Does the Army love it’s people more than the churches that compose the SBC?”… And the conclusion I have come to is that the SBC has a major problem with basic pastoral responsibilities and is guilty of dereliction–the sort of dereliction that would get you thrown into prison in the Army and in years gone by would have gotten you shot by the firing squad. Brothers we must repent of this grave sin.
Proof is in the Annual Church Profile (ACP). The ACP is a report submitted by local congregations every year and is the primary means of capturing data at the local congregational level including; baptisms, membership, Sunday School attendance, and worship attendance, etc. Information is compiled on the state and national level. The evidence speaks for itself.
Here are the facts: Lifeway’s blog reveals the national data for the SBC in 2015, the most recent year available: http://blog.lifeway.com/newsroom/2016/06/07/southern-baptists-look-to-build-momentum-despite-baptism-and-worship-declines/
My church is located in Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s data is available here: http://ds.bgco.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-18135/2014.pdf. The latest information available online is 2014 and is as follows:
Please pause for a moment and let this sink in. The SBC on a national level, as of 2015, is reporting 15,499,173 members, while only 5,674,469 attend worship. These are not just numbers–these are real people. People unaccounted for…
In Oklahoma it is no better. The ACP captures the following as of 2014: 609,459 members are reported while only 153,032 attend worship. Again, these are not just numbers–these are real people. People unaccounted for…
Our denomination does not know where 10,000,000 people are. TEN MILLION.
Now I know that many reading this will undoubtedly bring up the homebound church member. I will spot you some grace here. Let’s exaggerate this number and say that five million of the missing are homebound. I doubt that is the case, but for the sake of argument let us say that it is. Brothers, that still leaves FIVE MILLION people unaccounted for. We should be ashamed. This is inexcusable. We will give an account… Don’t you doubt it for a second.
If Jesus Christ returned today what would He find? Brothers among the SBC He would find a people that are passionate about preaching the Gospel, passionate about missions and church planting. Yet at the same time we profess the Bible as the inerrant word of God, we openly deny our profession of this truth by our pastoral practices as revealed in the ACP. Our pastoral practices as a whole, denominationally, reveals that many pastors do not really believe they will give an account to God for these missing people.
These missing people are currently counted as members, which means these people have been baptized and brought into the membership of a local church. Then these people, those whose local churches have said that they believed Jesus purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28), have been allowed to disappear without a trace. They are Gone… Missing… Vanished… except for the number on an ACP; the only evidence of their one-time church involvement. The ghosts of their numbers inflate the roles locally and nationally, making the SBC the “largest protestant denomination” but, in a twist of irony, actually reveals great pastoral dereliction. Brothers, we must repent immediately. The Chief Shepherd is coming. (1 Peter 5:4)
In recent years our national gathering has called for and prayed for revival and a new Great Awakening: This was a primary focus of both 2015 and 2016. http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc15/. May I submit to you with humility that I do not believe God will answer our prayers, nor will true revival occur as long as we are a derelict denomination consisting of TEN MILLION unaccounted for church members. Let us repent of this practice and perhaps, in His mercy and grace, the Lord will grant us what we ask for. Why would the Lord grant us new conversions when we don’t shepherd the souls we already have?
Churches from small to mega are guilty of this. It is not an uncommon thing for a small local church with an attendance of 75 to have 500-600 members listed in their ACP. Likewise, for large and mega churches the numbers are similar; 2000 in attendance while 7000 are listed as members. Please see these numbers for what they really are; proof that by and large our pastors do not really care to do the hard work of shepherding. Do these missing people even know the Lord? How can they be gone so long and not either: one, be re-evangelized so that they might repent and believe the Gospel and come back into fellowship; or two, lovingly disciplined according to the Lord’s commands so that they might repent of their sin and return to a local church? They continue to be missing in action for so long because at some point pastors stopped believing the Bible. They stopped believing they were actually accountable to God for how they cared for the Lord’s people. But WE WILL GIVE AN ACCOUNT. Jesus will return…
Imagine what would have happened to me as a young Field Artillery Commander had my Commander, the Brigade Commander, The Old Man, returned a year later and when he asked me to give an account of my Soldiers I sounded off: “Sir, 120 Soldiers assigned and 40 Soldiers present.” And he says: “Jones, where in God’s good name are your missing Soldiers?” Imagine what would occur if my answer was: “Sir, I don’t know.” I would have been relieved of command on the spot and court-martialed.
Yes brothers, I am often pulled back there… the sound of men singing, the smell of gunpowder, reading God’s word and the great expectations He has for pastors has often pulled me back. And sometimes I am back, back on that field and my Colonel is holding me accountable for the care of my Soldiers, His Soldiers, The American Peoples’ Soldiers…
So I ask you, does the Army care more for its people than many local SBC churches do? Brothers, with pain in my heart and tears in my eyes I believe that the answer is yes. Please repent with me and prove me wrong.
Your brother pastor,