I want to share a true story with you. The names have been omitted, except mine, because it’s my story and I want to tell it that way.
Once upon a time in a good ole SBC legacy state, there was a church. A church with “Together We Build” envelopes in the pews, WMU Circles, a day care, a youth group and grumpy old deacons. The grumpy old deacons were the guardians of everything in that church. There was one, in particular, who knew how to play the politics and play them well.
He manipulated the operations of the nominating committee. He forced out youth ministers like a Steinbrenner. He was the force behind a deacon resolution about not wearing sweatpants to church. He was a stickler for the old ways, the necktie, and the Cooperative Program. He would use whatever means he could find to see to it those things were honored in the church. He would move that motions be tabled so they could be brought up next business meeting, knowing that gave him time to consolidate his votes. He would work behind-the-scenes. He could have given lessons to President Clinton (note: it was in Arkansas. He might have).
That church scheduled, as so many did in those days, Fall and Spring Revivals.
In the fall of 1991, as revival time rolled around again, he pushed for his agenda: he wanted a specific preacher, specific dates, and he wanted youth pizza night on Thursday, not Wednesday. Youth should be showing up on Wednesday anyway, so there’s no ‘reviving’ them if they don’t have to come an extra time. Yes, seriously.
He pushed and pressured and got his way. He always did.
The catch in this story? While a huge amount of this man’s life forms my basis for “What Deacons Ought NOT Do,” he also politically pushed through the environment that led me to Jesus.
See, I was absent that Wednesday, don’t remember why. I talked my friends, who I knew were lost (and still are, unfortunately,) into coming for pizza and staying for the service. That preacher that was insisted on? Preached classic hellfire and brimstone.
And when I responded to the invitation, that grumpy old political deacon led me to Jesus.
I still see his methods as wrong. I still see the echoes of the damage done in that church by the battles between his faction and the other factions.
But the other factions would have ended the revival on Wednesday. Still, though, they all came together and served up a ton of pizza (not sure if that’s an exaggeration!) for a group of youth on Thursday.
So, I have mixed reactions to the politics in the SBC. I do not like committees that meet that appear to have preformed conclusions. I do not think that the SBC should be used to advance one person’s legacy or fame, unless that man be Jesus of Nazareth. I think that the denominational publishing group should focus on providing material that strengthens and disciples, not divides or softens. I think openness builds trust.
But I know this: this past year whomever each of us would deem the “worst offender” in terms of political machinations in the SBC has done work for the Kingdom of God. Whether your bugbear is Calvinists or Arminians (tired of not-Calvinist. Open to suggestions of other labels, since we seem to need them), megachurches or rural churches, GCRs, Name Changers, Old Namers, Southern, Southwestern, Founders, Bloggers, Loggers, or what-not, do you really see evidence that your opponents are doing nothing for the Kingdom?
I know that’s it’s possible that there are people who will destroy more than they build. I’ve been accused of that myself. I know that doctrine is worth fighting for and that the means must be as biblical as the ends.
I also know that God can work out through the mess. I was saved one night because a church put aside the bickering and put together one man’s agenda and God worked anyway. Despite, really, the best efforts given to stop it.
What about us? As SBC participants? I have mixed reactions because I know this: God can work, even if the Name Change Committee convinces the Executive Committee to adopt “United Federation of Baptists” as a dba and never presents it to the Annual Meeting. Because the Gospel does not change, no matter what they do in Nashville or New Orleans.
Do I think we should surrender all efforts to do the politics rightly? No. The church where I was saved hit that classic Baptist “plateau” and stopped growing and making disciples for several years. Then, a crisis drove new leadership into place. Light shined into the processes and the way things were done changed.
The old deacon resigned from deaconship, citing that he was “too old” to keep up. His legacy fades. The church? It’s growing now, reaching people for Christ, making disciples.
His name fades: most of the folks baptized by that church in the last decade never knew him. Some people do remember him fondly, but mostly that’s just “those years when things were so contentious.”
My hope and prayer is that we’ll get past these issues in the SBC. I know that many folks had high hopes that the post-CR days would be the days that things were better, that we got back to reaching people and making disciples. That was my hope as well, but that’s not where we are.
We need to get it straightened out. We need to move forward to a place where “above reproach” is the norm. I honestly do not know how we get there. Are there people who are trying to use the SBC for their purposes? Probably so. Are there agendas that distract us from what matters? There are. Are there competing versions of what the future should hold for the SBC? Certainly.
Yet God is still working through the SBC. He can continue to work even in the mess. Does the mess need to go? It does.
Someday, most of our names will be forgotten. Even denominational presidents and entity leaders fade into history.
Trust God to work. Speak the truth and stand for it.
Hold on to what matters: make disciples of all nations.
Because the next generation depends on it. Even if we cannot fix the politics now, we can make disciples who will carry the Gospel. That’s the critical call. Not to save the SBC, not to be sure all the committees behave, but to make disciples.
Let that be our focus, please.