What If Your Church Was the Last Church Family You Will Ever Have?

The local church is often considered to be a family. Most churches, mine included, use words to describe, promote, and explain the value of being a member that are good, right, and even biblical. Words like "family," "life," and "community" come to mind. Yet sometimes it seems (my opinion here) that those terms are often only used because they are trendy, marketable, and useful in advertising programs in an attempt to grow the church numerically.

There is nothing inherently wrong with marketable phrases and graphics. Our church uses such for sermon series, mid-week gatherings, and special events just as most evangelical churches do.

However, just using the right terms does not mean that the church actually is creating or fulfilling that which is promoted. "Come to our church. We are friendly, welcoming, and love people" is a wonderfully kind invitation, but just saying those words does not automatically turn every member into an outwardly focused, welcoming, happy-to-be-around person. And at this point, you are likely thinking of the saint in your fellowship who embodies the term "curmudgeon." Just don't sit in his pew.

Most recently a group of friends from church and I have been working through a teaching series by Del Tackett titled "The Engagement Project." One of the convicting themes that resonates throughout this series is the command of Christians to truly love our neighbors and as believers in a local church to love one another at a level often never experienced between the morning prayer requests, coffee and doughnuts, and the 45-minute biblical lecture known as a Sunday School lesson...much less what occurs in the corporate worship gathering. 

The Growth of the Formers

Not every church experiences this, but those similar to ours (suburban church, historic heritage, former hey-days of high attendance, changing community demographics, etc.) often have revolving doors of church membership. Maybe due to this, many newer churches do not even bother with official membership?

At funerals of long-time members and even at community events, I notice a large group of formers in the room. These are former church attenders, former church members, former event participants, former Sunday School members, etc. They have been disconnected from our church for so long that most conversations I can have with them center on common stories from decades prior rather than current life stories.

I am not angry about this. I think I am beyond being disappointed or surprised. Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, but this large number of formers from our church family just is.

Of course, it could be said that our church just needs a better membership philosophy and to be more biblical in this area. That is likely true, but I am not sure that would actually fix the majority of the issues revealed. It certainly will not heal past rifts.

What are these formers doing now regarding the local church?

Some are members of other local churches. Some found new places of service and moved to a church closer to their homes. Some simply do not attend anywhere. Perhaps they stopped once their children graduated high school and then just slid into a new schedule. Some are simply spiritual orphans without a faith family and in many cases, they either do not care or realize how dangerous that is.

My conviction is that far too many of the formers in our community just slipped away, did not show up for a few weeks, then were basically forgotten until seen again at a funeral or community event. 

Smaller, Healthier Groups Are Key

It hit me last night as our group was meeting and discussing the value of deep friendships with a small group of fellow believers. We discussed the need for relationships with others that can survive ups and downs, that lead people to be there for one another, that create a sense of security where isolation is not an option, and where faith grows deeply.

I don't think this type of connection can be created in a large group. I do believe in the group philosophy that churches have used for generations, whether groups are called Sunday School, Small Groups, Connect Groups, Life Groups, or something else. It should be noted that just because you creatively label your groups the desired life-long connections are not automatically the result. Disciple-making takes place in the "one anothers" of life and more often than not in groups where everyone is known and loved.

Is that the missing element? Perhaps. 

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There is much to be done in this regard. It could entail a restructuring of group strategies. It likely will require an adoption of a new scorecard for the church where just cramming as many in the room as possible is no longer viewed as a win. 

We know this, but our marketing-motivated, big-is-always-better cultural reality makes this so very difficult. This is not only difficult for pastors who continually are fighting the messaging that they are not good enough, but also for the church members who desire to be part of the biggest, most significant church in the community.

The Last Church You Join

But...what if?

What if when people joined a local church they truly believed that unless God were to call them into full-time vocational ministry, the church were to commission them and send them out to plant a new work, or some unforeseen and uncontrollable life issue were to happen, that the local church they joined would be the last local church they would ever join.

It is family they say and family shouldn't be forsaken and exchanged for a new one (Yes, I know that happens outside of church as well. It is sinful then, too.)

I am not referring to cheap church membership that asks nothing of members. I am not speaking of the type of church membership where one's name is simply put on a roster and a mailing list to be held in perpetuity so that one's children can get a free facility for an upcoming wedding or a large room for a future funeral. 

I mean "What if the local church member joined a fellowship that truly became family, not a spiritual version of a local community club?"

It would be messy. Doing life together is difficult. 

Maybe that is why so many church family relationships fail to go deeper than the surface?

Maybe. I don't know. This is just a thought that came to mind last night as I was praying and asking God to lead our church to engage well and love as he loved us.

There is more I am sure. May we see it come to fruition.


The Question I Should Have Been Asking All Along

The challenges that pastors of legacy churches in older, changing communities continue to increase. And as Carey Nieuwhof shared in recent post, crisis is both a revealer and an accelerator. Carey writes...

The crisis of the last few years has done two things for every church and business. It’s revealed what’s working and what isn’t. And it’s sped up the consequences of both.

While a few churches have seen rapid growth during the crisis, most churches are still hovering between 30-70% of their 2019 attendance.

A survey of over 15,000 churches conducted just before COVID hit shows that between 2000 and 2020, median church service attendance dropped from 137 people to 65.

The updated graph will probably show an even more precipitous decline.

So what’s the insight?

Because crisis both reveals and accelerates, perhaps you’re seeing today what your church would have looked like in 2030. The longer your church has been fully open for in-person services, the more true that is.

As sobering as that might be, perhaps it’s a gift.

If the old approach hasn’t been working for 20 years, the accelerated decline can be a gift to help you see that a new approach is needed.

If the old approach never led to renewal, trying harder won’t bring about different results no matter how hard you try.

And if the old model of church wasn’t working before, it’s probably not going to work again, no matter how sincere you are, how loudly you shout it, or how desperate you feel.1

When I speak of pastors in older, legacy churches in changing communities I have first-hand knowledge. Our church turned one-hundred years old last May and our community that bumps up to the southwestern corner of Jacksonville, Florida is changing at a rate hard to comprehend. In just a short number of years our area has moved from being a destination for families to buy homes, imbed themselves, and remain for decades to being a "drive-by" community from the fast-growing Jacksonville to the former swamp and forest-filled areas in the central and southern part of our county where new subdivisions have been and continue to be planted. New highways and thoroughfares are being built in these areas and the old-timers who may think nothing is going to change are in for a rude awakening. 

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Years ago I shared with our church's deacons and leadership about how missional mapping reveals the great difficulty of actually getting to our church's property from many parts of our county. Barriers that keep people from moving from location A to location B include gated communities, divided highways, waterways, bridges, railroad tracks, and more. As an example, for me to drive from my home to my office at the church, I must cross a divided highway, go by a gated community (I don't live in one,) cross a waterway over a bridge, and cross a railroad track. Thus the "Field of Dreams" philosophy that states "If we build it, they will come" that developed through the church growth era is defunct, if it ever was truly valid.

It's Not Just Small Churches Needing Revitalization

Church networks, mission agencies, and denominations have been and are working to develop strategies to help the thousands of churches across our nation that are on life support. In many cases, the targeted churches are in communities that have had dramatic demographic shifts and yet the church seems to be living in a time warp where upon entry one feels as if they've stepped back a few decades. 

Some have found their membership aging and numbers dwindling to just a a dozen or so. In these cases, one does not need a degree on anthropology or even an advanced math degree to determine that unless something changes, the church will soon no longer exist.

Many in these smaller churches do not realize change must take place until it is too late.

Sadly, many in historically larger, legacy churches in our communities have the very same blind spots. They just have more financial resources so they often do not recognize their very real needs until decades after they should. And as stated before, the crisis of the pandemic has thrust us all about ten years into the future as it relates to church attendance. So, some are now thankfully noticing such needs that would otherwise be ignored for years.

But What To Do?

In our most recent deacons meeting the men asked some very sincere and needed questions regarding the many changes that have recently happened in our church. These changes have included the retirement of two full-time pastors, the retirement of an administrative assistant, the shift from full-time to part-time for some employees (by their request) and the very real issues of deferred maintenance to our buildings that are now having to be addressed.

Concerns abound that we are doing less ministry than in the past, but after discussing this honestly with our deacons and staff, it is not so much that ministry is not happening. It is more that we have been forced to take the steps we should have years prior to eliminate the mindset that the "professional Christians" (e.g. paid pastors and staff) do the ministry and the church members receive the ministry. While there is certainly ministry actions and services offered to church members, we all know that one of the roles and callings of pastors and ministers is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Thus, we have been recently blessed with a shift from obvious consumer-Christianity to biblically-based gospel service.

I will say that it is a very difficult shift for those who have spent decades in a church model that seemingly fuels consumer-based thoughts and functions to one that is biblical. I understand this and actually feel this tension.

In our discussion and in many one-on-one talks I have had with church members, I hear recommendations from those seeking to serve the Lord through our church. As ideas are shared I hear the desperation in the voices. Examples of what could be done (or should be done) clearly are based on what has been experienced in decades past, or in other churches. I have heard well-meaning saints express that we should implement a bus ministry (but we don't have a bus,) restart our children's sports leagues, sing more hymns in worship, sing more praise choruses, increase our choir numbers, get rid of the choir, turn up the lights, turn down the lights, have a big youth event weekly, do more trips, restart mid-week meals, do Bible studies in homes, offer better and more classes for Sunday morning, have the preacher (me) do more topic-based sermons, have the preacher (still me) do more verse-by-verse sermons, go back to what we did years ago (in various ministry age-groups,) and more.

The good news is that all these brothers and sisters care deeply about our church.

The challenging reality is that just about every recommendation comes from a rear-view mirror. That makes sense because we know what we know, not what we don't know. What we know is what we have experienced. We often think about how church was when we loved it most, met our spouse, had our baby dedicated, developed deep friendships, experienced revival, etc. and long for that again.

The Question That Hit Me Like a Brick

Back to that deacons' meeting. We talked. I wrote on a white board. I listened. I offered opinions. Then one of our men asked a question. It was a question I did not expect, but should have. It was the question that caused me to stop and to be honest, led to a bit of a conundrum in my mind. 

You see, I believe that planting new churches is needed in our nation and throughout the world. I serve with our mission board as a cohort leader for new church planters. I serve in our local network to connect church planters with legacy church pastors. I offer expertise (what little I have) to church planters looking for resources, insight, demographic studies, and next steps for the churches God is leading them to begin.

But this question...well, it shook me.

This brother asked "If our church did not exist but you were a church planter looking to plant a church at this location, what would you do and what would you not do?"

Uh...

This is the question that must be answered.

While the legacy of one-hundred years of service in our community is good and vital, in order to continue serving the Lord faithfully and impacting our community...our dramatically changing community...I must ask this question regularly.

It has been said often and must be repeated, the unchanging message of the gospel is never up for debate. The doctrines of the faith are cemented and secure. Who we are as God's church is founded upon him. Yet, to live missionally in any community means that contextualization must continually occur. Otherwise, we will wake up one day to the reality that we have systems in place and structures developed as a church that are perfectly designed to reach a people who no longer exist.

What would I do if I were planting a church here today? 

It seems we have been thrust into this due to the global crisis and this "time machine" has led us now to what otherwise would not have been recognized by many of our church members until years from now. But it is now and God has sovereignly allowed us to remain as his light in this darkness. To be salt and light in this community remains founded on the very same Word, but the way we share that with the world may be changing. It obviously has. 

I am thankful that things are not as dire as they could be, or are for many. But, I know that to ignore the realities of now by simply going backward is not the answer.

We cannot put new wine in old wineskins, though many try. 

I will wrestle with this question as will many others in our church. Perhaps by reading this, other churches and leaders will as well. In the midst of very challenging post-pandemic (or current pandemic) days, may we not cease to live as missionaries and ambassadors to a world not seeking God, not desiring God, but needing him. 

______________

1Carey Nieuwhof. “5 Faulty Assumptions about the Future Church.” CareyNieuwhof.com, 21 Jan. 2022, careynieuwhof.com

 

It is Great to Be Gospel-Driven, But You Don’t Have to Tell Everyone

Church life is replete with themes, growth strategies, title phrases, and trendy belief statements. At one point the only differentiator among churches in a community was the denominational tag.

As non-denominational churches expanded and those within our Baptist world divided, grew, and launched into the church-growth strategies so prevalent in the late twentieth century, we added to our lexicon such church designators as seeker-friendly, purpose-driven, contemporary, family-based, and more. As a response, or perhaps a reaction, other churches sought to ensure that they were known for not being any of those things declared by neighboring churches by promoting their version of church as traditional, “old-time religion” or even “KJV-only.” Words matter and these were designed so that potential church members would know they version of church that was available.

It sounds like a marketing strategy because it is.

Often these descriptive phrases ended up on promotional pieces, church signs, t-shirts, banners, and whatever could be used to promote the local church.

As we work with church planters and journey with them through the process of naming their church and getting the word out to the community, often these same marketing techniques, though updated for the digital age and changed to be more “relevant” tend to rise to the surface. I am not at all opposed to a proper marketing technique and right ways to get the word out about one’s church. I do believe there are some things pastors should consider.

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If you’re intent on being a gospel-centered or gospel-driven church, then be that. You just don’t have to put that on your promotional material. I actually believe every church should be gospel-centered/driven because the gospel is the good news and the good news is Christ. If a new church is seeking to reach the previously unchurched, lost, unsaved people in its community the phrase “gospel-centered/driven” will actually mean nothing…because that’s a church phrase. However, if a church is intent in reaching the already churched, those who attend other churches, disgruntled former attenders and church members, etc. the term may work. Yet, if the goal is to be a church that presents the good news to those who have never heard it, drop the churchy taglines and just be that type of church.

Be gospel-centered/driven. It will become clear as you reach and disciple those who need this good news.

This is the true for just about every other church-centric tagline that is used. At the church where I pastor, we thought about putting “We love God. We love people,” on our church sign, but we have nixed that. Why? Because if I have to emblazon this truth on our sign that we are the people who love our neighbors…it may mean that we have never shown them that we love this. It could mean that we do not love them actually, just philosophically. We desire our community to know we love God by our actions. We want them to know we love people through what we do and how we treat them. We desire that all know we love where we live because we exemplify that. We desire to do all this in Christ’s name, for the glory of God. While we won’t shy away from using the words, there is more value in saying it to someone in person while showing these realities to them, than by just posting them on a sign or website.

Nevertheless, we do have these things visible within our church building and on internal communications as part of our church’s vision frame.  We continually repeat the values of “Love God, love people, love where we live, etc.” not for the people outside our church family, but for the members already here…just so they/we do not forget. Like the ancient Israelites, we are all forgetful.

Pastor, planter, replanter, revitalizer, I encourage you to know why you do what you do. Know the unique version of local church God has called you to be. Preach the Word. Stand firmly in the faith on the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but focus more on being than on telling everyone what you are. Otherwise, your tagline will be little more than aspirational and you may just miss your target.


The Power of Panic

There are many questions about life that come to mind when a young person is preparing to step into full-fledged adulthood. Questions about work, marriage, relationships, and many other things abound. Faith questions are real for those who grew up in the American evangelical Christian world. These young people begin to flesh out their faith in Christ. Do they truly believe or are they just holding onto their parents' belief system? Is Christ real? Would they believe in Jesus if they had grown up in a non-Christian family? What about...fill in the blank?

I actually loved growing up in a family that treasured God and his church. My faith was strengthened throughout my childhood by my parents as well as God-fearing adults and teachers in the churches where we served. This does not mean I did not have questions. I did. I just found that God in continually drawing me to himself provided answers through his Word and through his church. During my first couple of years in college I found I was actually more secure in my faith than I was in high school. Sadly, I also found I was drawn to a certain sub-culture of Christianity that sensationalized certain things to create a sense of urgency. It was not a biblical urgency based on Christ or his great commission, but an urgency that seemed to grow louder and more angry over time, seeking to create stories that did not exist for the purpose of "rallying the troops." (We Christians tend to love militaristic metaphors.)

I started to listen to talk radio and enjoyed the takes on politics and personal freedoms that were displayed. This may actually be the genesis of the age of mean-spiritedness disguised as free speech that we now have. I even found Christian talk radio programs that paralleled the political ones. In fact, there was not much difference in the programming. Both were bombastic and loud. Both were built upon the personality of a host who was more entertainer than news reporter. Both were perpetually raging about the dangers of the "others" out there, most often liberals and evil spirits. Both were selling products–maybe a newsletter subscription, books, caps, t-shirts, and bumper stickers. 

Then, in 1988 while I was a junior in college, something happened that thrust the evangelical Christian world into panic. Due to me being hooked by the voices of the day, I found myself deeply interested. A movie had been produced by an Oscar winning director that would depict Christ in a blasphemous way. In addition to the Oscar-winning director, the film featured some big name Hollywood actors, but that was not what pushed it to the front-page of my university's newspaper and the others in cities across America.

It seems that even without seeing the film, a backlash from evangelical Christians grew so loud that the production company did not really have to spend money on promotion. The controversy was enough. Thus, when The Last Temptation of Christ was released many went to see it just to discover what the big deal was all about. 

When Evangelicals Panic

What was the big deal in 1988 regarding this film? This was The daVinci Code before Dan Brown ever wrote his blasphemous novel (BTW - Christians did the same thing in 2003 with Brown's book and the movie when it was released. I am guilty of getting on that bandwagon.) How could a film cause so many Christians to panic? Christian leaders such as Bill Bright, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, James Wildmon, along with Catholic leaders in the United States pushed very hard to stop the production and to keep the film from premiering. It has been reported that Bill Bright even offered Universal Studios ten-million dollars to buy up all the film prints and negatives just to destroy them.

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Photo credit: antgirl on VisualHunt

No wonder people lined up to see this film. Curiosity alone makes the typical person think "I need to see what all this is about."

While Christians gathered with placards and protested the studio and movie theaters, more and more stories about the film, its content and message were shared. It also seems that more people actually paid money to view the film than otherwise would have. As they say, any publicity is good publicity, right?

To put it bluntly, the organized Christian talk radio effort, petition signing, and righteous rallying did little but cost money and create the opposite of what was intended. According to Coleman Luck, a Christian who worked for Universal in Hollywood at the time, it did more damage to his evangelistic attempts to love his coworkers and community and introduce them to Christ than any other single event at the time.

This was so long ago that many have likely forgotten the story. We as evangelicals were scuttled from one panic-fueled protest to another over the years in order to "fight the good fight" and "win the world to Christ." Looking back I just am not sure that these boycotts of Disney, AT&T, Universal, MTV, Microsoft, Burger King, Ellen, JCPenney, Old Navy, Nutrisystem, and many other companies and groups actually did was was intended. I have yet to meet anyone who has come to Christ as a result of a corporate boycott. Perhaps it has occurred, but I have yet to see it.

What was the actual win?

"Well...they knew where we stood on issues." Okay, I get that. "They" being the decision-makers at such companies and organizations, I presume. I still am not sure if this had any real impact.

Syncretism Fueled By Panic

In addition to such cultural boycotts and stances the church also, at least seemingly, married the state in many areas as the syncretistic union of faith and politics occurred. In Julie Roys recent interview with Coleman Luck, he states "Two-thousand years ago, Jesus Christ said that His Kingdom was not of this world. His followers have been trying to prove him wrong ever since.”

I wonder of we are actually aware of the power of panic in our lives and in our churches. 

Panic is a tool used to get groups to do what is desired. It is a true motivator, but a fear-based motivator. When panic is fueled, anger grows. Have you encountered anyone living like that? Do you know anyone who is seemingly so overwhelmed with fear that they are perpetually angry. That anger is strengthened by the talk shows they listen to, the podcasts they subscribe to, the news shows (which do not actually share the news) where talking heads declare the worst that is being done by others, and the echo chamber they live within. Sadly, sometimes these panic-fueled moments are exacerbated by the church and even by church leaders.

This is not to say that Christians should be living with a "Pollyanna" worldview defined by weakness and overt passiveness. Yet, just as I was enthralled as a young person by the loudest voice in the virtual room that used warnings and scare-tactics to grow an audience, so too can it happen now. Age alone does not bring along maturity. Only Christ can truly give us mature spirits. 

We surely should be active in our faith. We must be fulfilling the commission given to us by Christ. We actually do not have the privilege of opting out of the expected lifestyle and worldviews scripture proclaims. Yet, we must not slide into falsely believing that God needs us, that God is so thankful we were finally born so that we can right all the wrongs in the world, that our strength is in our numbers, our volume, or our political acumen. We must remember that to live as Christ lived is to understand that coming as a servant, a suffering servant, is key. Sure, Christ was righteously angry at times and when he turned over of tables in the temple, it was pretty amazing, but many Christians seem to live as if that is the goal - turn over as many tables as you can and claim your anger is righteous when in fact...it is just anger.

There is power in panic and as sheep of the Good Shepherd we must be sure we are listening to his voice. Otherwise the loudness of the sheep rustlers that are everywhere will continue to influence us into actions that not only embarrass the Good Shepherd, but fragment the flock and lead us to losing our witness.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear (so don't panic...that's my paraphrase - DT) but of power and love and self-control. - 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)


Baptists, Sexual Abuse, and the Long-Awaited Next Steps

Sometimes stories trend and then disappear. They become the lead story in the news or online for a season and then there's another story that pushes it to the side. Often it is just one tragic reality after another as readers and viewers take in the depravity of our world. Whether a shooting, a trial, an exposé of abuse, or the latest celebrity controversy (like Britney's conservatorship,) trending stories come and go. Yet, for those who are the subjects of such stories the focus and impact often never ceases. 

For example when the current trials in Wisconsin and Georgia are complete, families of all involved will continue to relive the issues being discussed, as well as the aftermaths while the majority of Americans shift to the next trending story.

That is just how it is. It is how it has been for as long as there have been news outlets and latest headlines and updates.

Trending Sexual Abuse Stories - Not Just for the Catholics

In the 1980s the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals involving priests and coverups became known globally. Since that time, more and more stories have been shared. Victims may have received settlements and some clergy may have been removed, but scars and pain remain. 

In Baptist life, when the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an exposé of independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches regarding hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by pastors and leaders, many in local evangelical churches began to take note. It wasn't just a Catholic issue (like we ever truly thought it was.) Yet, even then it seemed that many were saying "That's terrible! At least it didn't happen in our church, or in our denomination." 

But we knew better. 

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The victimization of the vulnerable has been a tactic of the enemy since Eden. With humanity's depravity on full display due to the inherent sin nature of all, the sinful desires of evil men and women at times infiltrate the most sacred and holy places. 

In February 2019 the truth was laid bare for all to see when the Houston Chronicle's exposé regarding sexual abuse within Southern Baptist (SBC) churches was published. Suddenly, many shifted into damage control, but sadly, this was more than a story to be addressed or a trending issue to be survived. The instances revealed were not hearsay, but documented cases of pastors, ministry directors, and volunteer leaders who abused boys, girls, and teenagers sexually, leaving many to doubt the righteousness and love of God, not to mention the validity of sacred trust and leadership within the local bodies of faith.

I have written in the past of the disgusting and systematic abuse perpetrated by a pastoral staff member at the church I now have the honor of pastoring (though this took place many years prior to my arrival) and the tragic impact it has had on our church, community, and especially the men and women who were teenagers at the time of their victimization. My article about this is available here.

Sexual Abuse Pushed to the Forefront

What has happened within the past few months within the world of Southern Baptists has been the very public conversations, debates, votes, arguments, and varied issues brought to the floor of the annual meeting of Southern Baptists and the subsequent meetings of the SBC Executive Committee. Whether one agrees with the steps now taken regarding the waiving of attorney-client privilege (by the mandate of SBC messengers) of the Executive Committee is not my focus here (as I have also written of that here.) What is the focus is what is now occurring in many of our state conventions.

I do not know anyone personally who has excused proven sexual abuse issues within the convention's entities or cooperating churches. No one I know personally is seeking to minimize the impacts of sexual abuse within the faith community. But...as they say, perception is reality often and the perceived ignoring of sexual abuse, especially partnered with the perception of cheap forgiveness with no actual consequence has caused great harm. 

Perhaps there some within the SBC who truly hate that sexual abuse has occurred within our network of autonomous churches, have grieved over the hurt done, said the proper words regarding these issues, but would rather this just be an issue for a season, delineated in a toothless resolution, filed away as a dark chapter in our history, then ignored (maybe ignored is too harsh a word, so possibly just pushed to the back burner) so that the next denomination-wide emphasis or church theme can be promoted well and...we can move on. Yet, just as when a trending story is no longer on the front page, the pain felt by those impacted remains.

State Conventions Take Steps

November is state convention season in our network. For two to three days, Baptist messengers from churches affiliated with local state conventions gather for meetings. This is not unlike the national meeting when it comes to the business sessions and polity on display. Perhaps the major differences (as evidenced by updates on social media from participating pastors and messengers throughout our network) are that most often the state conventions now have less negative drama, more intentional focus on unity and mission, and a true sense of family as pastors who may be on different sides of the aisle when it comes to denominational politics and processes seem to actually like each other. 

I serve in Florida and our Florida Baptist State Convention was held in Lakeland on November 8-9. In what may have been a historic moment, the State Board of Missions (full disclosure - I served on this board for seven years, completing my term on November 9) brought only four recommendations to the state convention for a vote. Each recommendation was simply stated and affirmed with no issues. The only recommendation that elicited any comments from the floor was Recommendation 4. This recommendation was for the newly elected president of the Florida Baptist State Convention (Paul Purvis) to establish a special committee of the state convention to examine all policies and procedures governing sexual abuse allegation reporting, sexual abuse survivor care, and sexual abuse prevention within state convention entities and partner ministries. 

The full recommendation is included here in an article from Florida Baptist Convention by Barbara Denman -> CLICK HERE.

The comments from the floor were to ensure that while having a female sexual abuse survivor on the to-be-established committee, we must not ignore the reality that there are many men who are survivors of clergy (or church leader related) sexual abuse. This is the reality of those victimized decades prior in my church. The comments were received as friendly.

As I have read from related stories online, other state Baptist conventions have or are making similar steps.

Questions Remain

Though the vote in our state was clearly in approval of this recommendation, not all messengers were, or are certain this is needed. These conversations will continue to occur. Some fear that churches may be stepping too far into what has been termed "cancel culture" by presuming guilt rather than innocence. I do not see that as the intent of the recommendation at all. There are varied lists of "but what about..." that I have heard and continue to hear. Sorry, I don't have answers for all those potentials and while I do agree that in some cases this may be a Pandora's Box of issues, I believe that perpetually ignoring or pushing to the side the issues of such heinous sin is worse. 

I also do not believe the passing of our recommendation will fix all the issues that continue to be revealed in our churches and entities, but I do believe it is a good next step and clearly states that our intent is action, not just words. Of course that ultimately remains to be seen, but I seek to be an optimist.

Healing Fueled by Prayer

The Florida committee will include eight people. I am praying for our state convention president, my brother and friend Paul Purvis, Pastor of Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace, as he compiles this team. I am praying for the committee as they seek to glorify God, listen well, seek truth, and do all they are enabled to do to ensure that if any steps need to be taken in our state entities, if any policies need to be updated, if any guidelines must be restated, and more, that their recommendations will be heeded.

I am praying for Tommy Green, the Executive Director-Treasurer of our Florida Baptist Convention as he continues to lead our state convention well. I thank him for spearheading this recommendation and leading our State Board to address it.

I am praying for the men, women, boys, and girls who live with emotional scars and deeply felt wounds that have impacted them in ways I cannot fathom. I am praying that they will know they are deeply loved with a pure, selfless, permanent, unconditional love and will experience the healing they so desperately need. 

Our focus must be less about fixing organizations, and more about ministering to those most vulnerable and carrying the hurt of a formerly trending story. Ultimately, this glorifies God.

I believe this was the correct next step for our state convention. It will not be the final step.


Halloween on a Sunday Leads Our Church to Make a Shift in Event-Centered Ministry

Do you know what almost NO ONE in your community is asking regarding the upcoming October 31 events? They are NOT asking whether they should participate in their neighborhood Trick or Treating. They are NOT debating whether or not they should purchase overpriced candy to give out at the doors to children dressed as superheroes, princesses, and Bluey. They are NOT asking which local church they never attend may be having an event they can attend (though many may be considering such if convenient.) Oh, and since October 31 is on Sunday this year, most of your neighbors are NOT feeling conflicted about Halloween being on the Lord's Day.

For years our church has hosted a "Trunk or Treat" event for the community that has drawn great crowds, tired many church members, and left us thinking "Well...that was very tiring, but good." Yet, this year we are doing things a bit differently.

After deciding to not host our "Trunk or Treat" event, our leadership team began asking what, if anything could or should be done on this second-most popular holiday in America. Of course there are all the "Should Christians Celebrate Halloween" articles and discussions that come up this time of year. To be honest, over the years, I have likely held every differing opinion on this. And since I do not desire to write an article on the subject of Halloween and Christians, I'll just link to Travis Allen's well crafted one here on the Grace To You site (click here) and move on.

As our team contemplated our calendared events, knowing there are some in our church who will be upset that we are no longer doing exactly what we have done in previous years (There will always be that group. I think we still have some members that are a bit frustrated we no longer have "Hanging of the Green" at Christmas. We stopped doing that in 1992, two years before I joined the staff here. I am grateful.) There are some who will likely like the fact we are not hosting a "Trunk or Treat." And...there are many who simply do not care either way.

That's how it is for most church-based events.

One of our values as a church is that we "love where we live." It's practical, aspirational to a degree, and needed. Yet, to love where we live means that often we must do the work of the minister not just at the church building (or in the church parking lot on Halloween) but in our own homes, neighborhoods, and communities. Therefore, we are attempting a shift this year. Perhaps this will be the year that we can begin to pry apart the philosophy that Christian activities must take place at the church buildings only. There's something about equipping the saints and commissioning believers to be on mission in their own communities, neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and cul-de-sacs.

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Seeking to discover how best to do this for Halloween, without compromising any theological beliefs or matters of conscience I found a sister church in our network that has produced a logical, point-by-point, step-by-step, how-to strategy for Halloween outreach for their members. Since stealing is a sin, our church will be gleaning (that's a good biblical, not sinful word) from Fruit Cove Baptist Church and present similar ideas and plans to our church family. Thank you to Fruit Cove and Pastor Tim Maynard and staff for this great idea. A portion of their plan is below.

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Just a portion of Fruit Cove Baptist Church's Halloween Outreach Plan. More at fruitcove.com/neighbor

I do not know how many of our church family will actually take this advice and do this, but I am optimistic.

Imagine hundreds of believers refusing to isolate themselves from the very people they have been commissioned to reach with the gospel. Imagine hundreds of Christians actually having fun and smiling as dozens of children (potentially) come to their doors asking for free candy (and by the way - give out good candy and don't give out tracts.) Imagine relationships beginning that could eventually lead to a gospel conversation. Imagine the church focusing on going where the crowd is rather than always trying to create a crowd.

Of course, if you just cannot move yourself to do anything on Halloween.  That's understandable. No guilt throwing here.

But even if that is your conviction, I encourage you to pray that somehow, in some way, God would use his grace-filled, redeemed children to live as missionaries and love where they live so much that others may hear and experience the gospel and that angels will rejoice.

As for me and my house...we will be eating all the Reese's before any kids start ringing our doorbell.

 

Here's a link to our webpage with ideas for our church members - click here.


With All That Is Happening In the Southern Baptist Convention, What Are We To Do?

"Oh no! What are we going to do? What's next?"

These are the words of desperate, fearful, overwhelmed, and despondent people. And sadly, over the years I have found myself saying these very things. 

Whether the questions revolve around national politics, global health issues, local community problems, natural disasters, denominational or religious issues, or even the very personal issues such as marital breakdown, prodigal children, grief over death, or even terminal diagnoses, we tend to all find ourselves at one point or another asking these very same or similar questions to anyone who would listen.

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There is a black hole of despondency that has a gravitational pull so very strong that it feels impossible to ignore. The circumstances of life, the interruptions of our personal peace and daily schedules, the frustrations brought upon us by actions or inactions of others...or sometimes just the random "bad news" that arrives in our stories can suck us into a place of fear and hopelessness.

I awakened this morning and after reading the Bible (working on that "read the Bible in a year" plan still) and praying, I checked the latest goings-on via Twitter. I understand that Twitter may not be the most accurate news source, but it is immediate and trending stories catch my eye. Through all the vital updates via the trending hashtag, such as Robert Pattinson's strange "Batman voice" in the teaser of the upcoming film, the latest on the MLB playoffs, and Prince William's declarations that billionaires should not focus on building rockets, I noticed the latest updates in the sub-culture of Southern Baptist (SBC) life.

There is much more to every recent SBC story than I could delineate clearly here, so I will leave that to the more accomplished wordsmiths who understand more fully the latest controversies, polity issues, and scandals that gain likes, responses, or fuel Twitter-wars.

Nevertheless, I do care very much about what is happening. I have strong opinions (as do many other SBC pastors and leaders) about decisions made recently and am praying for what is to come. I am not disinterested, nor am I disengaged. I believe we owe it to those who have been harmed, abused, and impacted in the past to do the right things now. I have shared about that prior as well as other issues, so will not go into depth in this posting again.

But ultimately, on this day, I find myself thinking on the nature of God. The sovereign God whom I serve (whom I seek to serve wholeheartedly,) and worship never has to check social media to see what is trending or to discover the latest dust up regarding SBC life, or any other pertinent issue.

The God who is never surprised, never shocked, never taken aback, never not knowing what to do, and never at a loss for words is who he always has been and always will be.

This gives me assurance. This gives me hope and strength. This is my fear melter.

I know these to be true. God knows results of votes before they're counted. He knows appointments to offices and positions and callings of ministers and pastors before anyone else does. He knows about resignations and retirements prior to it ever happening. He is never surprised by the details in an email or letter. He knows. And he is Lord of all the details.

This does not mean that we are simply to throw our hands up and disengage in areas of church and community life believing that nothing we do matters because "God knows" but this reality of God's nature gives us not just hope, but strength for the day and the days to come.

Encouragement to Pastors

In the little sub-culture that I live known as the SBC, God is not uninvolved and he is fully aware of all that is happening at the denominational level (yes, I know, by the strict definition the SBC is not a denomination...but you understand what I mean, I hope) as well as the upper level of our non-hierarchical convention known as the local church.

In light of our autonomy as local churches, I know no one can tell a local church and its pastor what to do and how to do it. Yet, to my pastor friends I implore you to not lose hope. I encourage you to spend your time where you uniquely most valuable, and in some cases irreplaceable. This begins in your family, but follows closely in the local church God has blessed you to serve and shepherd. When you preach this coming Lord's Day to the flock, follow the Spirit's lead, study well, pray deeply, and do not allow the distractions of denominational issues become the message of the day. As you stand behind that holy desk (whether it be a pulpit like Spurgeon's, a music stand, or something in between) open the Word of God boldly and declare the truths within clearly. 

I encourage you in this...basically because I need to remind myself to do this weekly. 

I'm reminded of an old pastor of mine when I was in high school who would simply say to me "Just keep the main thing the main thing." I know it wasn't an original phrase of his, but it resonated then with me and continues to.

"What are we going to do?" Well, I would say we do what we have been as pastors and Christians, or at least what we should have been doing all along.

I tweet a Bible verse daily (thanks to Hootsuite, I just set it up automatically.) A friend once called me to let me know that something was wrong with my Twitter account as it kept tweeting the same Bible verse. I told him that was intentional, as a daily reminder to me and maybe to anyone who actually follows me that the calling as a Christian is a high calling. Our mission is clear. The gospel is true and how we live, act, and talk (even online) matters. So...it's my reminder. I need it daily.

 

So, if you're a bit overwhelmed about...well...everything, take heart. God is still on his throne. He is sovereign. He never fails and he remains constant - yesterday, today, and forever. And despite all that is happening and will happen in our SBC sub-culture, God is not shaken. In fact, just in case you need reminding, God is not relying on the SBC. It should be the other way around.


Running Low On Hope That the SBC Will Right This Ship

Sometimes in the Southern Baptist (SBC) bubble that I grew up within, serve within, and often live within, I think that everyone is talking about SBC issues and concepts all the time. The truth is the majority of my deeply politically-conservative, tradition-laden, church-on-every-corner, southern town is not Southern Baptist. The vast majority are not Christians and many only hold to a "God and country" version of American Christianity rather than a biblically convictional version. In other words, just like every other pastor and Christian I know, I live in the heart of a mission field where lostness has more reign than I desire.

If I am not careful, I will get sidetracked from the actual mission. Since I am a Southern Baptist and have been my entire life (I was Southern Baptist, at least on Sunday School roll, prior to my new birth moment) I often think in "Baptistese" utilizing a lexicon that not even all our church members understand (i.e. messengers, autonomy, Cooperative Program, IMB, NAMB, State Board of Missions, Executive Committee, UUPG, Lottie, Annie, etc.)

Within our SBC bubble things happen.

Good things happen.

Conventions occur annually on the state and national level. Associations and networks come together to intentionally fulfill the mandates of the Great Commission and Great Commandment for the glory of God. Board meetings and entity gatherings take place where saints intentionally pray and plan for wisdom to extend the reach of the gospel. Missionaries are sent. Churches are planted. Seminarians are trained. These are all good things (and the list is not extensive.)

But...bad things happen, too.

Sometimes this is unintentional. Sometimes...sadly it seems to be systemic. Maybe this is a result of brand-protection, propagation of a long-held buddy system, latent Christian celebrity making, or idol worship.

Then...yesterday. A Southern Baptist event took place that quickly moved to the front burner for many active and engaged SBC pastors and church members. I heard the phrase "the world is watching" from many and maybe that is so, but even if the world wasn't watching, I was. And more importantly, our Sovereign God was...and is.

What occurred was a special called meeting of the SBC Executive Committee (the managing and functioning agency for Cooperative Program issues and denominational decisions throughout the year excluding the two days when the actual Southern Baptist Convention is in session.) The polity of this organizational structure may seem strange to those who are not Southern Baptist, but suffice to say this group is the SBC decision-making group when the annual meeting is not in session. Yet, there is a very clear and specific caveat for this group. They work at the behest of the SBC and our messengers (voting representatives at our annual meeting sent from local, autonomous churches in good standing.) In June 2021 the SBC Annual Meeting took place in Nashville, Tennessee. It was one of the largest attended in numerous years due to two things - 1) the 2020 meeting cancellation due to COVID and 2) the genned-up in-house squabbles between factions hoping to get their respective man elected president. It was fun. Kind of like riding a roller coaster that makes you throw up all over your shirt is fun.

Our Most Recent Mess

Nevertheless, during the Executive Committee's presentation at our annual meeting where the intent was to unveil and promote a new vision for the SBC (It was unveiled, but this was no home run. It was welcomed with a collective "amen" that sounded more like "meh") a motion was made from the floor (remember - this is just a big Baptist business meeting) by messenger and pastor Grant Gaines regarding the widely-known sexual abuse scandals in many local churches and the response requested from the Executive Committee. His motion is below:

I move that the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 15-16, 2021, in Nashville, TN, ask the newly elected president of the SBC to appoint a task force within 30 days of the date of this Convention that shall be comprised of members of Baptist churches cooperating with this Convention and experts in sexual abuse and the handling of sexual abuse-related dynamics. This task force shall either assume oversight of the third-party review announced previously by the Executive Committee or initiate a separate third-party review. Said task force shall ensure that the third-party review includes an investigation into any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives. The investigation shall include actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021. This investigation should include an audit of the procedures and actions taken by the Credentials Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, which was formed at the Convention meeting in Birmingham, AL, June 11-12, 2019. The review shall be funded by allocations from the Cooperative Program.

We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review. A written report on the factual findings of this review shall be presented to the task force 30 days prior to the SBC Annual meeting in 2022, and made public in full form within one week of the Task Force’s receipt of the report along with suggestions from the task force for actions to be taken by our convention.

The motion was discussed and voted upon. (Full disclosure - I voted to affirm the motion.) An overwhelming majority of messengers affirmed this and we left the annual meeting with the understanding that since the messengers had spoken, the things within the motion would be accomplished.

That is how it is supposed to be.

The Executive Committee is comprised of faithful Southern Baptists throughout our convention churches (pastors, church staff members, church members, men, women, young, median age, and older.)

A task force focusing on the sex-abuse issues of the SBC was put together and gave wise, strongly worded, step-by-step recommendations to the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee met recently and found themselves at an impasse regarding the motion. Delays were made and amendments to press on were defeated. The sticking point was the waiving of attorney-client privilege.

A special called meeting was held yesterday (September 28, 2021) via Zoom. The meeting was streamed live online and many, like me, did watch. Was it the "watching world?" Perhaps. There were certainly many Baptists watching. 

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Zoom meetings are the norm for many now. We use them in our church for committees and small group Bible studies. We use Zoom for local and state meetings. Yet, for this subject and with this much at stake for our convention, it became clear last night that a virtual meeting via Zoom was a poor choice. Despite the frustrating fact many apparently could not figure out how to mute/unmute, turn their cameras on/off, or vote electronically, there were bigger problems. The presentation showed a lack of professionalism, lack of decorum at times, inability to effectively count votes, and a revealed lack of respect for the SBC messengers by some, not all, on the committee. The recommendations from the sex abuse task force was disregarded. It was like watching a slow car wreck occur and those tuning in knew it would not turn out well.

The Enemy must love this stuff.

Sure enough, it did not turn out well. 

The fact that a vote on an amendment within the meeting had to take place by the committee members regarding whether or not they would do what they had been instructed to do by the messengers of the SBC causes me great concern. And I know some will say "But you just don't understand," or "You're not a lawyer," or "The messengers aren't privy to all the things this committee is privy to and they're just trying to protect the SBC," and other such things.

Those statements may be accurate.

Nevertheless, I am a Southern Baptist. And as a Southern Baptist I know our polity reveals that we are not a top-down, hierarchical denomination. We are a network of cooperating churches coming together for the sake of the gospel, to grow God's kingdom globally through evangelism, discipleship, and missions with doctrine and practices that conform to our confession of faith. It just seems to me that somewhere over the years a new system overtook the original programming. It's like a computer virus. It is a system that elevates brand over Bible. It's a system that says that people matter and that we care for the down-and-out, the hungry, the lonely, the abused, and the forgotten...but acts like it's more important to not be embarrassed publicly while doing more to promote programs, denominational efforts, and temporal issues that create celebrity pastors which harm greatly the church.

I have experienced much in SBC life over the years. I have heard angry preachers and angry Baptists attack one another at times.  Today I fear this moment may be the one that leaves more destruction, collateral damage, and unaddressed problems than we realize. 

Some are working to #DefundTheEC. There are cries by some to leave the SBC. A few are seeking to consider how to send funds to denominational entities of choice while eliminating the ones (in this case the Executive Committee) that anger them. A number of church planters are vocally wondering if they should remain in the Send Network and the SBC. 

Maybe it's just frustrated talk.

I doubt it.

I like to think that I mostly an optimist. Sometimes I doubt that I am an optimist. That makes me a pessimistic optimist. So, in my pessimistic optimism I believe that it is not too late. I want to believe that all those years and stories of sexual abuse survivors fighting for recognition, help, and justice will not continued to be ignored. I want to believe that when the majority of SBC messengers affirm a motion to do the right thing that those SBC agencies, entities, and committees given such assignments will stop hiding behind preference and legalese and do what they have been elected and appointed to do.

This is a watershed moment for the SBC. 

It is not too late to right the ship (I hope.) 

This means change must take place. That is most likely a change in leadership first, followed by a change in function and maybe structure. 

And maybe...please...can we stop having Zoom meetings like we just had so that our collective public embarrassment can be centered around issues and important topics rather than our inability to effectively utilize technology and behave like adults?


Southern Baptists Will Have To Decide If We Truly Are "Great Commission Baptists"

Every year when our Southern Baptist Convention gathers, banners and logos are pasted upon the host city's convention center. There are often placards throughout the city, near the hotels and where SBC messengers will be walking. It is no different than any other convention with a theme.

Each year's theme is presented by the current president of the SBC. J.D. Greear has been our president for three years thanks to the pandemic (the terms are for one-year only, and traditionally presidents will run for two concurrent terms.) In 2019, Greear announced the theme for the Birmingham meeting would be "Gospel Above All." In 2020, the announced theme for the since canceled Orlando meeting was "GSPL: Above All. Always." Apparently, 2020 was to be the year we avoided vowels (just kidding J.D.) I actually thought our 2021 theme would just be the 2020 one carried over, but when the Nashville theme was announced a change was clear. The 2021 theme for our meeting next week is "We Are Great Commission Baptists." 

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I'm anticipating (well hoping) a responsive reading at each session that will hearken back to cheer from the film "We Are Marshall!" Maybe Greear can just go to the platform and say "WE ARE..." and the messengers can respond "GREAT COMMISSION BAPTISTS!" But, alas, I doubt that will happen. Not because Baptists are against responsive readings or even gleaned university football cheers. It will not happen because even the theme likely would cause controversy. I'm sure it already has. 

Statements like "I thought we were SOUTHERN Baptists!" would resound. I can anticipate a question brought to the messengers and leaders from a well-meaning messenger who just cannot understand why we would avoid using the word "Southern." Then, of course, a messenger representing a church in Michigan, Oregon, Toronto or some other locale north of the Mason-Dixon line or west of Texas would stand at another microphone with a response akin to "We're not all in the south." And then...someone else would reference our collective history which includes slaveholders seeking to be missionaries, avoidance of civil rights issues, Martin Luther King, Jr., and maybe even the historical value or racial implications of the Confederate flag. 

It is clear that I have attended more than a few of our annual meetings.

Nevertheless, my Southern Baptist Convention has more issues this year than determining the theme for the annual meeting. It is just that as I plan my journey to Nashville, sign up for the pre-SBC Send Conference, gather my tickets to alumni luncheons and other meetings, I keep seeing "We Are Great Commission Baptists" everywhere.

I like the theme.

I really do.

I just wonder if it is true.

Is "Great Commission Baptists" declarative for who we are or is it aspirational for who we desire to be?

I know no Southern Baptist who would deny the value or commands that are included in the Great Commission (mostly looking at the Matthew 28:19-20 reference.) I know no one in my own church that would say it is unimportant. Yet, I also know that even in my own life, I do not always live and serve in such a way that keeps the "Gospel Above All" and as a Christ-commissioned disciple.

What must a Great Commission Baptist be? That's the question. Clearly it should not be presumed that every Southern Baptist knows what this means. It also should not be presumed that when verbal affirmation of the Great Commission is given that practical, lived-out actions automatically follow.

While we joke that Baptists love a good controversy and fight, it is actually evidence of our sin nature and our loss of focus upon the gospel.

I read an article by a former Southern Baptist, Erick Erickson regarding the current SBC issues. While you may or may not like Erickson's writings, statements, or beliefs in other areas, in this statement I fear he is sadly correct. Erickson stated:

A group within the SBC has decided to organize politically in response to some perceived liberalism creeping in. I have a lot of friends in the group and some who are on the outside and share the concerns. But, from my vantage point, it seems they’ve decided every fight is a matter of orthodoxy and anyone who stands in their way can be smeared — it’s just politics after all.

Another group within the SBC seems to have responded almost in kind and are increasingly vocal about racial reconciliation and a host of other social justice issues. In countering those pushing hard against critical theory and perceived liberalism, they seem to have gone off to other extremes.

Both sides share something in common — defining themselves in opposition to the other instead of defining themselves in support of the gospel. The actually have something else in common too — they treat the others as if they are political enemies, not just opponents and neither has shame for doing so, just rationale and justification. (The SBC: I Have Some Thoughts)

I'm Really Concerned This Year!

I have received text messages and have heard from other Southern Baptist pastors on all sides of various controversies in recent weeks. The common theme has been "I'm really concerned this year." I hear this and agree.

I too am concerned. Yet, I'm less concerned that the "wrong" person wins a denominational election. I am more concerned that we may gather, have meetings in the big room and secret meetings in the hallways and smaller rooms. I am concerned that the real issues that must be addressed will not be. I am concerned that the things tabled in the past will never come up again. I am concerned that the Great Commission will be little more than a theme on a banner to be removed the evening following the final gavel and messengers will travel back to their respective homes reporting little more than political posturing, angry speeches, hurt feelings, with the few highlights being the restaurants in the city and the reconnections with old friends (those are not to be missed, by the way.)

But are we really going to be "Great Commission Baptists" who believe the "Gospel is Above All" in how we live, love, and serve our Lord?

I am just one pastor of a suburban church. We are not a mega-church. Our influence is small compared to others. I have a great church full of imperfect children of God who just want to see friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members saved. We want to see disciples made. We want to be equipped to serve well, engage lostness intentionally, and see God's kingdom expand. 

That's what Great Commission Baptists should want. Right?

The Great Commission is clear. 

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 CSB)

Great Commission Baptists who believe the gospel is above all will not allow:

  • Protecting a church's or denomination's brand by ignoring sin.
  • Nationalism over the gospel.
  • Abandonment of biblical fidelity (and inerrancy) in order to line up with the latest push from the moral revolution.
  • Political posturing disguised as theology (within the church, denomination, and the community.)
  • Abuse and victimization of others or protection of abusers. (Yes, we need a database of abusers.)
  • Idolatry of celebrity Christians (even in our own denomination.)
  • Legalism disguised as doctrinal gatekeeping. (And to be clear, I affirm strongly doctrinal fidelity as expressed in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, so I'm not affirming weakening such. I just believe Pharisaical posturing is so very easy and often ignored.)
  • Racism.
  • Classism.
  • Local church autonomy to be diminished, but also will not use autonomy as a false barrier to dealing with very real issues of sin.
  • And numerous other items that conflict with "teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you"

This is what I believe.

I am not running for anything. I am just one messenger attending my Southern Baptist annual gathering. I look forward to connecting with friends, reconnecting with old ones, and making new ones. While others are working to get their designee elected, their agenda moved forward, and their battles won (all valiant desires,) I will be praying that our agenda will be usurped by the Holy Spirit early in our gathering. 

May we see change take place this year in Nashville. And may it be a change precipitated by repentance. I am praying we collectively experience a brokenness next week due to the realization that for far too long we have allowed our own agendas and posturing to take center stage.

WE ARE...

GREAT COMMISSION BAPTISTS!

(I hope.)


Getting the Church "Back to Normal" Is The Wrong Next Step

Our church like many others, has been slowly moving to what we hope may soon be categorized as the "post-pandemic era." We have gone through a series of steps, not unlike others, which has included social distancing, face masks, taped off seats, hand sanitizing stations, and numerous other things that have been recommended by the CDC and others. While some churches in our community have moved back to pre-pandemic schedules and events in full, others never shut down at all, and still others are yet to meet in person. 

These are trying days for church leaders seeking to know what to do next.

Online church services became the norm for many and while personally I like in-person services best, God has used our streaming services to keep us connected to church members as well as expand our reach to others. The streaming numbers are deceiving, unless you delve into what they mean. So, while I know we are not really reaching thousands through Facebook Live (since they count a 3-second view as someone scrolls by as a view) we have seen God use the online portal for his glory. In fact, we will be baptizing a brother in the coming weeks who first found our church online, watched us online for a few weeks, responded to the gospel through the "virtual invitation," and now is attending our church in person and will be a member of our church following his baptism.

"Getting Back to Normal" Is Not the Way Forward

The phrase "getting back to normal" has been stated by many. I have heard it from church members and others in our community. It is clear that the phrase has been a cry from those frustrated by all the pandemic has brought and it is totally understandable and right in many cases.

However, for our church, "getting back to normal" would be a huge step backward and if fully implemented could actually do great harm to our church. This has nothing to do with doctrinal foundations, biblical fidelity, or ministry callings. This would be a backward step for us as it would result in repopulating our calendar with the very same events and activities that existed prior to March 2020. This would also mean simply focusing on getting groups back to meeting in person in their same rooms, with the same structure, intent on gathering as they have for years. 

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In some cases, this may not be a huge issue, but in our case, it is clear that our practice of groups ministry slid into what was easiest and least disruptive in years past while our philosophy of groups ministry became little more than an aspirational concept.

In other words, we know that groups must multiply in order to be healthy. We know group leaders must have continually updated resources, relevant insights, doctrinal guardrails, and groups coaching to ensure that our philosophy of "leaders are learners" remains in place. But, this has not happened. Thankfully, we do have some great group leaders who love the Lord, study well on their own, and love their groups deeply. But, overall, we have not provided for them as we must.

Another aspect of philosophy not driving practice has been our very overt and clear statements regarding family equipping discipleship and the need for strategic and intentional intergenerational ministry within the church. I have written about this for years and the fact that ministry silos are so normative in our American evangelical world makes it difficult, if not impossible for church leaders to make the shift away from the programmatic structure during "normal" times.

But...we had a pandemic.

One thing the pandemic offered was the opportunity to pause every busy ministry and event-driven programmatic offering the church has been expected to do by the Christian consumers in our sub-culture.

Groups and intergenerational ministries are just two examples. These are very real examples in our church. Other churches may have other things that have been done for years that need to be retired. Some programs never need to return, as the era for their effectiveness no longer exists.

Be Careful...It's Easier To Do the Same Old, Same Old

But now, the calendar is being repopulated and it is frightening.

It is frightening because as days, weeks, and months move by, we find ourselves closer to a full reopening and our default and easiest next steps would be to do exactly what we were doing before the pandemic.

But we must not.

We cannot.

If we do, we not only will be stepping backward, but eliminating one of the greatest opportunities to right the ship in regards to biblically-centered philosophy of discipleship and ministry.

Our leadership team met earlier this week and I discovered after the meeting that we were doing exactly what I am warning we must not (and I was leading the way.) After thinking and praying through this since our meeting, I communicated with our staff that I know God has some great things in store for our church and to simply put back on the calendar all that we did prior (even if church members expect those programs and events to return) without praying through the steps, ensuring biblical fidelity, and seeing how they line up with our clear philosophy of ministry, mission, and vision we will be guilty of wasting the moment. 

Now What?

Now is the time.

It is not the time to "get back to normal."

It is not the time to go backward.

It is time to step into a ministry season that simultaneously remains the same and changes. We must remain centered on the gospel without compromise. That is not negotiable.

Yet, we must also be more intentional regarding intergenerational ministry, equipping the family (the entire church family,) fulfilling our commission to make disciples, and strategically seek ways to reach the people who actually exist near our church's address (and the expansive audience through social media and online connections.)

I am thankful for the men, women, boys, and girls who make up my church family. Once we take these steps forward, I look forward to seeing how God uses each one of these brothers and sisters for his glory as his church.