A couple of weeks ago I attended the inaugural dinner and discussion of the Texas Baptist Young Professional Network. TBYPN is an initiative of the BGCT's Christian Life Commission, and the evening was a great time of meeting other young Baptists in the central Texas area to talk about how we might collaborate with one another and with other Baptists to support the agenda of the New Baptist Covenant. Part of that means that we will be sending a delegation to the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta in January. Big Daddy Weave has more on that here.
The evening was a great chance to talk with young adults involved in all sorts of careers and ministries. As seminary students and lawyers, youth ministers and nonprofit workers, lobbyists and graduate students, we talked about several things at the meeting, including the exciting prospect of sending a multicultural group of young Texas Baptists to Atlanta, and that we are going to try to have a group of young Austin-area Baptists from different backgrounds involved in ministry together before we head to Atlanta. What an amazing witness that would - will - be.
We also discussed the meeting itself, what its purpose will be, and what tangible results will come out of this historic occasion. This has been very much on my mind of late, especially with respect to the question of the role of younger laity in Baptist life.
Why were we assembled in an Austin living room to talk about being Baptist? One of the reasons is most certainly the growing concern from the generations before us who fought the Baptist wars and who are concerned that the younger generation does not understand what was won, and what was lost. They are, probably rightfully, concerned that there is a brewing crisis in the lack of understanding about the Baptist battles that were fought and the real nature of historic Baptist identity, as well as the open question of the survival of moderate Baptist congregations in a post-denominational landscape.
There's no doubt that the cultural trends in American religious life are working against the sustenance of Baptist identity, and really of denominational identity in general. Young adults just aren't as committed to the idea of remaining loyal to one particular branch of the Christian tradition, and I doubt there's much that can be done to stem that tide with the vast majority of my peers. What more and more moderate Baptist young adults seem to value in "church" is a sense of engagement with the community and the culture, not a specific label that indicates adherence to a set of theological principles.
Which brings me back to the New Baptist Covenant, and its relevance to our discussions that late summer night. For while I do believe that there are certain Baptist ideas that are vitally important -- soul freedom and religious liberty among them -- to me, the New Baptist Covenant will be useless if it takes the form of just another assembly of Baptists. If it's going to be relevant to my generation, to my colleagues and friends, it has to result in action.
Don't get me wrong; I am looking forward to going to Atlanta and being part of this historic gathering. I agree with one of my fellow TYBPN attendees who pointed out that simply being present together is important.
But the challenge for the covenant's organizers - and the challenge for all of us - is to see that we are not content to simply sit in a convention hall with our friends, shake hands with a few strangers, and say nice things and go back to our comfortable lives. That will make for a nice vacation and little else.
What makes me so excited about the possibilities of the New Baptist Covenant is the chance that we could change the world. That's worth the trip.