In previous installments of this interview with Jonathan Akin, NAMB’s director for Young Leader Engagement commented on his personal passion for evangelism and how generations can learn from each other. In this, the final installment of the interview, Akin expounds on the key to relationships among Southern Baptist leaders of every age and the ultimate purpose in building those relationships.
The Christian Index: What one thing would you want the older generation to know about Millennials?
Jonathan Akin: Of all the things that characterize a younger generation of Southern Baptists, I think the one thing I think the older generation should know is younger Southern Baptists are passionate about the sufficiency of the Bible. Younger Southern Baptists love the Bible and think the Bible is enough for their lives, their families, their churches, and everything else in life.
This confidence in the Bible alone may mean that younger Baptists let go of some things their elders passed on to them because the younger generation sees them as potentially extra-biblical. This confidence in the Bible alone may mean younger Baptists utilize different methodologies than ones they grew up with. This confidence in the Bible alone may mean younger Baptists view the gospel as not only the message you believe to escape Hell, but also as the means by which you grow in Christian maturity (2 Peter 1:5-9). And, this confidence in the Bible makes younger Baptists passionate about the global Great Commission – not just funding it but getting their hands dirty by participating in it.
What I hope younger and older Baptists come to recognize through shared relationships is that we really aren’t that different and we really are trying to do the exact same thing (change the world for Christ), even if, at times, we may go about it in different ways.
And what I’d say to younger Southern Baptists is this: Whether you recognize it or not, you owe your confidence in the Bible to older Southern Baptists who fought hard to pass down that confidence in an inerrant Bible to you!
The Christian Index: What would you say to those of us who have been in ministry for many years about how we can accept today’s young adults (Millennials) who are in ministry and how we can rightly influence them for the Kingdom and the cause of Christ?
Jonathan Akin: I think the key is relationships. Once we get to know each other, we get to know each others’ hearts, and I usually find that we figure out we have more in common than we thought! Cross-generational relationships often reveal to us that we share the exact same desire even if we go about achieving it through different forms.
Therefore, treat younger leaders the way you would treat your sons. There is no generation gap between my brothers and my dad. We love and respect each other deeply, even though we don’t always agree with each other (especially about sports!!!). I would say to the older generation: be okay with younger leaders who may do things a little differently than you like or who are passionate about things you may not be as passionate about as long as they never compromise biblical convictions or shirk back from biblical mission. I heard Adrian Rogers preach on the radio, “In the church we can be brothers without being twins; we can have unity without uniformity.” Once again, I think we should all listen to Dr. Rogers!
The Christian Index: What would you say to your peers in ministry about how they should accept us so we can work together for the advancement of the cause of Christ?
Jonathan Akin: I would say to my peers: Be grateful. Be respectful. Be humble.
Be grateful because an older generation contended for the faith delivered to the saints and have passed it down to you. Great men like Criswell, Patterson, Rogers, Vines, and many others led something in the Conservative Resurgence from which we have directly benefited! Therefore, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. For them we should be grateful.
Be respectful because, even more than the known public figures in SBC life, there are tons and tons of unknown pastors, staff members, missionaries, Sunday School teachers, RA and GA volunteers, dads, moms, and grandparents who labored in obscurity faithfully pastoring, witnessing, serving, discipling, and giving to hand us what we have today. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and we certainly owe them our respect. And, we need to humble ourselves to listen to them and gain counsel!
Be humble because, despite our youthful energy and idealism, we don’t know everything! We aren’t perfect leaders. We aren’t aware of the ins-and-outs of everything that is going on. For me, pastoring my own church has humbled and taught me much. In the same way that young married couples idealisms about parenthood are blown away when their three-year-old is up puking at 2 a.m., my youthful criticisms of how I’d pastor better were quickly washed away by the difficulties and realities of pastoring. Let us be humble!
The Christian Index: My generation is handing off to you a culture and a denomination fraught with problems and challenges. We owe you an apology for not doing better. Most of us are grieving for the kind of world our children and grandchildren have inherited from us. Please forgive us for not leaving a better legacy. How do you see the work of Baptists in the future in spite of inheriting a more volatile and hedonistic planet than we did?
Jonathan Akin: First, I would say that your generation should not be so hard on itself. You did eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sleep in your cars to hand us confidence in an inerrant Bible (I don’t have confidence that me or my generation would’ve been willing to do that!). So, you gave us everything we needed to handle the difficulties of the world we will live and lead in – the Word of God!
Second, East of Eden, every generation inherits a cursed, broken, and sinful world, and every generation must fight anew to reject the lie (that God has not said) and to tell the truth (Christ has been raised from the dead). If Baptists will join together in those two ways – shared theology and shared mission – I think we will be just fine in the 21st century and beyond.
Truth be told, I’ve never been more excited to be a Southern Baptist than I am right now. At national and local levels, think of all the amazing things that are happening:
We have had perhaps the largest foreign mission force in the history of Protestantism, and Dr. David Platt is leading us to unlock limitless pathways to get even more folks to the unreached! In Global Hunger Relief, we have one of the most effective starvation fighting organizations in the world that is pushing back hunger in North America and around the world. We have a North American Mission Board led by Dr. Kevin Ezell that is working with state conventions in strategic partnerships to plant more churches and win our nation for Christ.
If you want to get excited about the future of the SBC, go to a SEND conference or walk on the campus of one of our seminaries! We have seminaries and Christian universities, with an unwavering confidence in God’s Word, which are training and launching tens of thousands of young people to storm the gates of Hell. We have a disaster relief ministry praised by national news outlets as more efficient than the U.S. government! We have children’s homes not only caring for orphans but equipping Baptists to make a difference as foster parents.
It’s an incredible time to be part of the Southern Baptist family!
The Christian Index: Until Christ comes or until my generation’s work on earth is done, what can we do together do make a difference for the One who died for us all?
Jonathan Akin: Focus on the main thing. Jesus died for the world. Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. There are billions in darkness here and around the world. Nothing should distract us from working together in the task of propagating the gospel.
The Christian Index: Can you tell us what your primary function will be with the North American Mission Board? How can we pray for you?
Jonathan Akin: My primary function will be to develop a brotherhood among young leaders within the SBC so that they can better connect for cooperative mission within SBC life.
I certainly need prayer. I need prayer for wisdom, for the humility to gain insight from godly counselors, and for support from the entire Southern Baptist family. Dr. Ezell will be putting a strong, diverse advisory board around me as well, and I am grateful for that. I also need prayer to prioritize time with my family and to be the best dad and husband I can be. And finally, I need prayer that God would guide this initiative to be as helpful as it can be, and I pray that He will use it for a move of the Gospel!