By Dr. Stan Norman

President, Williams Baptist University

Our mission field – the next generation

By Dr. Stan Norman

President, Williams Baptist University

“Not on our watch!” These were the words that one of my colleagues, Dr. Marvin Schoenecke, shared at a recent meeting of our executive leadership team. In his devotion, Dr. Schoenecke challenged and encouraged us to stay faithful and focused on our WBU mission – to equip the next generation of young men and women to serve the Lord with determination, faith, courage, sacrifice, and diligence – to prepare our students to be “salt and light” leaders. 

The passage from which my colleague shared his devotional thought was Judges 2:8-13: 

Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the territory of his inheritance, in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel. 

The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered the Lord, for they abandoned him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. 

My colleague’s charge was not so much about the spiritual state of the next generation, but rather, his focus was upon our generation and our responsibility to prepare the next generation to serve the Lord in gospel ministry in the church and the marketplace.  

I have reflected a great deal on this passage since that meeting, and as I have meditated on this passage, several truths emerge that have personally challenged me. I believe these biblical teachings speak directly and forthrightly to our mission as Arkansas Baptists and our mission at Williams Baptist University. These truths are: 

  • God calls and equips godly leaders in whom and through whom He fulfills His gospel purposes and mission. 
  • Godly leaders will eventually complete their life’s calling and mission. 
  • Until the Lord returns, every godly leader and every faithful follower of the living God will eventually die. 
  • A next generation always follows a godly generation. 
  • Each generation must choose whether they will follow and serve the Lord or embrace the beliefs and practices of the world around them. 
  • If the godly generation does not faithfully and intentionally equip the next generation, the next generation will follow the false gods of the world and abandon the true and living God. 

The teaching of the passage from the book of Judges is stark – and soberingly true. If history teaches us anything, we cannot assume – nor should we – that the next generation will follow and serve the true and living God just because some in our generation did. 

I believe a primary expression of any gospel mission or ministry must be to prepare the next generation to be Christian leaders. I believe the Great Commission speaks directly to the mission of the church to make disciples of all the nations, including the next generation. To use missional language – those in our generation must view the next generation as one of the greatest mission fields for engaging with the gospel. A serious commitment to missions includes a commitment to make disciples of the next generation. 

Several commitments are required to achieve this expression of the Great Commission.  

First, the church of today must be biblical in equipping the next generation. The Bible is the foundation on which our mission rests. Who we are, what we believe, and what we do must be based upon and guided by what God has revealed to us in Holy Scripture. In whatever way we engage and equip the next generation, we must equip and prepare them biblically, 

The church of today must also be intentional in equipping the next generation. We cannot assume the next generation will embrace the Lord and His purposes simply because some in our generation did. The Lord Himself intentionally gave His church its mission and clearly revealed His expectation that we faithfully and wholeheartedly obey His commands. Inattention and assumption have never, and will not ever, fulfill the Great Commission. 

Finally, the church of today must be strategic in equipping the next generation of followers of Jesus. Biblical commitment and intentional desire must be practically and creatively expressed – conviction and desire must have tangible expressions. Strategies are the methods we develop to engage and equip the next generation. Our strategies must be creative and relevant – the strategies of today may or may not be effective in reaching and engaging the next generation. Biblical convictions and missional intentions are non-negotiable, but the expression of our convictions and intentions must be like that of the Issacharites, “who understood the times and knew what to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). 

Williams Baptist University is one of the primary expressions of Arkansas Baptists to make disciples of the next generation – to equip the next generation to be godly leaders. As a Baptist school, we make every effort to equip our students grounded upon biblical convictions, driven by intentional aspirations, and expressed in strategic methods. WBU strives to embody all these traits. 

The Lord has blessed me with several wonderful mentors throughout my life and ministry. Some of these mentors include individuals I never knew personally but have influenced me through their writings. One of these is Dr. H. E. Williams, the founder of the school that bears his name. I have learned much and been greatly encouraged through his writings. Dr. Williams was a remarkable visionary, a godly leader, and an outstanding educator. In many ways, I stand on his shoulders (as well as other great WBU leaders!). 

Another one of my mentors is Dr. John Wesley Raley, the long-serving president of Oklahoma Baptist University. In an essay written in 1935, Dr. Raley eloquently describes the importance of a Baptist college in preparing the next generation of Christian leaders. He notes that “it is necessary that Baptists have some central place where our young people may be called into service and there given an expression of their desire to consecrate their lives for definite Christian work. . . . Of necessity there must be some place where these young people may find themselves in terms of what God would have them do.” Later in his essay, Dr. Raley states that “the right kind of denominational school is the only hope of the denomination for the right kind of leadership, reinforced by the right kind of laymen: common products of Christian education.” 

Along with other many Baptist leaders, both Williams and Raley affirmed the importance of the Baptist college for leadership preparation. Baptist churches cooperate to express their disciple-making and leader-equipping ministry in Baptist colleges. The heart of a Baptist school must be to make disciples – to equip the next generation of goldy leaders. A Baptist university is a primary way Baptist churches fulfill this mission. 

I am thankful Arkansas Baptists have joined together in cooperative mission to engage the next generation. One major expression of this cooperative spirit is our Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Arkansas Baptists also engage and equip the next generation by founding and supporting two outstanding Baptist universities – Ouachita and Williams. These two schools exist because Arkansas Baptists have a strong, faithful obedience to the Great Commission to make disciples – to equip the next generation to be Christian leaders for the church and the marketplace. 

I am grateful the Lord has called me to serve at Williams Baptist University. Without a doubt, I work with God-called men and women who share a passion and conviction to engage and equip the next generation to be faithful, convictional, courageous leaders who work hard in their callings to glorify the Lord in gospel mission. 

I daily sense the significant responsibility God has given to all Arkansas Baptists to make disciples of the nations, including the next generation. We cannot – we must not – neglect this holy calling to engage and equip the next generation. The book of Judges clearly reveals to us what happens when the next generation abandons the Lord and His ways. 

As Baptists, one of our distinctive beliefs is that each individual is personally responsible and accountable to God for his or her life. Some choose to embrace the gospel and surrender to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – others do not. There are no guarantees that our efforts will automatically create a generation of godly men and women who have given their lives to Jesus and follow His purposes. However, if the next generation does not follow the Lord, let it be in spite of our efforts and not because of our neglect or inattention to our biblical convictions, our Spirit-given intentions, or our gospel-focused strategies. 

Now more than ever, I believe the Lord is calling this generation to declare the words and embrace the commitment recently given by my colleague: 

  • “Not on our watch!” – may we make every and all effort to make disciples of the next generation 
  • “Not on our watch!” – may our sons and daughters be a mission field to us  
  • “Not on our watch!” – may we make every effort to equip the next generation to be Christian leaders for the church and the marketplace 

Making Great Commission disciples – this is the Williams Way! 

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