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Archive for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)

Jun
13

A Way Forward for the SBC

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I grew up in Southern Baptist life. My father was a Southern Baptist pastor. I was ordained in a Southern Baptist church, and educated in Southern Baptist institutions. I served SBC churches in Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas. My personal departure from SBC life came due to my inability to reconcile the denomination’s position on women and women in ministry. There was a disconnect between a hermeneutic that, on one hand, was woodenly literal, while on the other hand adapted perspectives based on cultural shifts.

Today and tomorrow nearly 20,000 delegates of the SBC’s churches will descend upon Nashville, Tennessee to conduct denominational business for the first time since the pandemic. While positive reports will be celebrated of the number of new churches that are planted and new missionaries that are commissioned for service, a cloud looms large overhead. The SBC, like other denominations, is challenged by the #metoo movement, which trends heavily in Twitter as #SBCtoo. It appears that the SBC is facing pressure to act on these local church issues, which is sticky given the denomination’s strong stance on church autonomy. The question to be considered surrounds whether or not this is a denominational issue and whether or not the SBC actually has any power over a church other than to withdraw fellowship. Is the denomination culpable for the behavior of ordained ministers that, in fact, they didn’t ordain?

Ordination in the SBC has been left to the local churches to determine and administer. There is no hierarchical process for qualifying candidates, credentialing candidates, or monitoring candidates. No educational requirements are in place. Generally speaking, the only limitations are that a candidate be male, and preferably not divorced.

Most mainline denominations have more stringent guidelines. When I became a part of the ABC-USA denomination in 2012, I found that ordination and credentialing came from the denomination, not the local church. A Master of Divinity was the baseline requirement. I was also required to sign that I would be compliant with a standardized code of conduct. Since my ordination was through the denomination, I was entered into the denomination’s national data base, which serves as the clearing house for ministers. I would be expected to keep my profile updated. They verified my education and employment history. If I was open to a relocation, I would notify the national data base who would make it known that I was open for a transition. If a church’s pulpit was vacant, they would notify the denomination who, in turn, would connect available candidates with the open church. If a candidate had a professional misconduct issue, their profile was flagged. The denomination’s system probably wasn’t perfect, and they certainly didn’t enforce candidates on churches who still were responsible for their selection process. But it did provide reduced risk for churches that sometimes don’t ask all the right questions, dive deeply enough into candidates backgrounds, or who found themselves at the mercy of the candidate’s personal references.

I don’t anticipate that the SBC will institute a process such as I have outlined. But until a system for transparency and communication is attempted, #SBCtoo is going to be an ongoing problem. Membership in any organization is not a right, it’s a privilege. And with privilege comes responsibility for transparency and communication that is mutually shared by clergy, congregations, and the denomination as a whole.

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Last week, Dr. Robert Jeffress created a storm of controversy with his personal endorsement of Texas Governor Rick Perry for President. The reaction to this has been strong, given that Jeffress cited the Southern Baptist stance on treating Mormonism as a cult. I have always been a seperation of church and state person, siding with those who believe that there should be freedom of religion, freedom for religion, and freedom from religion. While the prophetic pulpit should speak truth to power concerning social ills, bi-partisan pulpit endorsements have not been my style nor my leaning.

Today’s Des Moines Register ran Cal Thomas’ syndicated take on pulpit endorsements and I think he did a pretty good job of dealing with some of the concerns. You can read it by clicking here. What do you think? Do you think its appropriate for pastors to endorse candidates?

This morning I came across the new list of Southern Baptist Mega Churches provided by Thom Rainer on his blogsite. You can find the list by clicking here.

Rainer’s report reveals that the SBC now boasts 177 mega churches, which are churches that cite an average weekly attendance of 2,000 or more. As I looked at the list, a few observations came to mind. First, the multi-site movement has made a profound impact. Many of the churches on the list have espoused this strategy, providing multiple locations under the umbrella of one local body. Some of these locations are video venues, some have itinerant pastors who travel from location to location, some use a team teaching approach, while others have established pastors who routinely speak. The big benefit is that the church is able to grow larger by growing smaller, given that each venue can create a more intimate feel than trying to place thousands in one geographical location. The other feature that is compelling is the sheer economics. We live in a day when church construction averages in excess of $155 per square foot. By utilizing established facilities, such as public schools and movie theaters, these churches are financially unfettered to grow.

My second observation concerns the struggle of the historic, pulpit driven, larger than life personality churches of yester year. As I college student and a young pastor I looked up to churches like First Dallas and Bellevue in Memphis, dreaming of the day that I might grace one of those significant pulpits. As time passed and leaders passed, these historic churches, and others like them, have struggled to find their identity beyond their gifted leaders.

Finally, there are some churches that are absent from the list. Rainer passes this off as a failure to report, however it points to a deeper issue, which is the reluctance of many of these churches to publicly identify with the SBC. Some churches on the list are familiar to those who read bestsellers or attend conferences. But who knew those pastors and their churches were Southern Baptist? In some instances, their own publications and websites don’t even mention the affiliation. While I celebrate the kingdom success of those who made the list, it seems clear that the SBC has an identity crisis. Or at least a public relations problem.