I will not give the churches over into the hands of the lawyers, the academicians, the risk analysts, the CEOs, or the politicians. Christ put the church into the hands of simple, Spirit-filled Christians.
While we must neither lie nor steal, we are not beholden in the operations of local churches to academic rules about footnotes or attribution of sources. This is not to excuse Ed Litton (yesterday on Twitter I said what he did was wrong in my opinion), but rather this is to throw off the yoke of Turabian in the context of a local church. Sunday, Michael Linton used in a sermon of his own an illustration about Fannie Heck and Annie Armstrong that he had heard me preach. Want to use my illustration about Fannie Heck? Do so. No need to cite me. It’s an historical anecdote in the public domain that is your story as well as mine. The idea that you would need to mention me to use that story as an illustration is just silly. Silly, and utterly unbiblical. I recant NOT ONE WORD of my saying so on Twitter yesterday against a horde of naysayers. Now, if you were writing an academic paper, sure, you’d need to cite your source for the story. But a local church is not a seminary, and your sermon is not a research paper. This ought to be a simple and acknowledged fact, and it is only rank partisanship that obfuscates here.
While we must neither break the law nor act in a cavalier fashion in the operation of our local churches or entities, we are not beholden to lawyers or risk analysts about questions such as those presently before the SBC Executive Committee. Sometimes simple, Spirit-filled Christians could learn a thing or two from lawyers about how not to break the law (inadvertently). But lawyers aren’t always advising you about how not to break the law; sometimes they are just advising you at how to save money, that is, how to avoid being the target of a lawsuit. Sometimes a lawyer needs a simple, Spirit-filled Christian to say, “My main objective here is not to save money and not to avoid a lawsuit. My main objective here is to do what is true and just and let the chips fall where they may.”
We benefit from lawyers (just as we benefit from academicians!), but God help us if they become our masters rather than servants of the people into whose hands God placed His churches.
I’m thankful for CEOs. My own father was an entrepreneur and a CEO. I recall fondly a moment when, in the final months of his life, he was trying to purchase another company—a ceramics factory in Kentucky. He brought in my brother, my brother-in-law, and me into his office. After more than an hour of discussing the pros and cons, he polled us one-by-one.
My brother: “That business is failing, and we don’t know any better than its current management how to make it succeed. I’m against buying it.”
My brother-in-law: “We’ve got all we can manage right here in our present business. This is two states away. I’m not moving there to manage it. Neither are you. I think this will not end well. I’m against buying it.”
Me: “I’m a pastor. I’m headed soon back to seminary. This will affect you guys, not me. I’m not even going to cast a vote.”
Dad: “Well, the last time I checked, I own a majority of the shares of this company, and I say we do it.”
And you know what, he was right.
But also, we were left wondering why we wasted an hour making a “decision.”
No one owns a majority of the shares of the church. Jesus Christ is Lord of the church. And that’s why we can’t act like CEOs in the operations of church matters. I’m thankful for the CEOs among us. CEOs in my church provide us with helpful advice and wisdom. But we cannot take the operations of SBC churches or SBC entities and just place them into the hands of CEOs.
I’m not just talking about people who are entity heads; I’m talking about the CEO mindset that many people will bring into our entities. Sometimes we prioritize placing on our boards people who have served well as CEOs in other areas of life, or even pastors who have adopted more of a CEO model in the operation of their local churches. I hope they realize that churches and our entities are something different from a mere corporation.
The idea that says, “I know what those messengers think, but the last time I checked, we’re the ones with the power here, and we know better,” while perfectly appropriate in the C-suite, is odious in the realm of the churches. It would be disastrous to leave the messengers thinking what my brothers and I thought: wondering why we waste three days making “decisions.” Far worse than our little family business decision, because these churches constitute the sole means of the SBC Executive Committee’s support.
Let us consult people with these skill sets that I have mentioned and with these callings, for sure. But Jesus placed the churches into the hands of simple, Spirit-filled Christians. And I will not see them shackled to any of the professional classes.