Having recently recounted the rich history of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and presented a case for why the KBC still exists today, I want to look toward the future. Will the state convention continue to be relevant moving forward? Why or why not?
Elton Trueblood first popularized the term “postdenominational” in 1967. In an article appearing in Christianity Today, Trueblood stated, “If we are truly conscious of what time it is, one of the chief facts we must know is that, so far as the Christian religion is concerned, we are in a post-denominational age.” Nearly 50 years have passed since Trueblood made that statement, and we still have our denominations. But for how long?
I grew up reaping the benefits of denominational life without realizing it. For example, my Sunday School literature and offering envelopes were produced by the denomination. The hymnals and pew Bibles were from the denomination. Most of the songs the choir sang were published and provided by the denomination. My pastor was educated by the denominational seminary. My youth pastor was being educated at a denominational Bible college. Most of my family members who went to college attended the school we now know as the University of the Cumberlands, an institution supported by the denomination. I attended summer camps built and staffed by the denomination and youth events sponsored by the denomination. I learned about missions from missionaries supported by the denomination. While some of that has changed, much of it has not. But that isn’t meant to suggest things are staying the same.
In fact, the reorientation of American religious life—and of Southern Baptist life—seems to be accelerating. Beginning with the reorganization of the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and many of our state conventions, the advancement of the Great Commission Resurgence agenda at the national convention, state conventions, and even in many local Baptist associations is deeply impacting resources, personnel, organizational structure, and even the basic missions assignments. Thrown into that mix, a host of retirements marking the generational transition of leadership, and the shrinking financial commitments of local churches to the Cooperative Program means everything about denominational life seems to be in flux.
I contend, however, that one of the greatest changes we are experiencing is the diminishing understanding of and interest in the Kingdom role of the denomination. Some have hastily and, I would argue, wrongly dismissed it as irrelevant. Some church leaders see it as financially competing with their budget agendas and have chosen to redirect mission funds to staff salaries, funding volunteer mission trips, or countless other ministries. Some have failed to understand the principle that brought Kentucky Baptists together to begin with, i.e., we really can do more together. Some simply refuse to exhibit the kind of loyalty required for denominational structures and ministries to thrive.
In spite of these challenges, the state convention will continue to be relevant moving forward. I know this to be true because most Kentucky Baptists still believe in working together, and because the needs that were addressed by the churches that formed state conventions still exist and will continue to exist into the foreseeable future. Baptists still need a voice in the public square, still need to work together to be effective at planting churches, and can be much more efficient in ministries like disaster relief, orphan care, and higher education as churches organize themselves and partner together on the state level. The need of churches to be part of a tribe connected by common theological and missional convictions is growing rather than diminishing.
For all of these reasons and more, the KBC’s future is bright. Kentucky Baptists still need each other and remain committed to working together. My prayer is that God will continue to use us to reach Kentucky and the world for Christ.
Paul Chitwood is the executive director-treasurer of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.