The old story goes that once upon a time in a Sunday School class, the children were talking about how they wanted to die. (Scary Sunday School class, I know.) One child expressed his feelings quite clearly:
“I want to die peacefully in my sleep, just like my grandpa did.”
“Oh, really, Timmy?”
“Oh yes, peacefully in my sleep. Not screaming in terror like the 4 people riding with him.”
Now, you may think that’s an absolutely horrible story. If so, I’d recommend you not listen to me teach classes. I’m not that bad when I preach, but I get that corny on Wednesday nights sometimes.
Why did I tell you that story? What point could I have?
1.) Even if we’re all in one Accord to get somewhere, somebody’s still behind the wheel. Be it Grandpa or whomever, we autonomously got in the car and chose him to drive. Now, I may not have wanted Grandpa to drive, but he’s there, and I’m here in the backseat.
2.) Is screaming in terror doing me any good? Have you ever fallen asleep driving? I have—and to be woken up with screams was almost more problematic than me snoozing. Ann has gotten pretty good at waking me calmly and then getting me out from behind the wheel. Screaming, really, doesn’t help a lot.
3.) What is the best way to keep a sleepy driver safe? Well, besides not letting him drive? Conversation. If he’s still not making it as the driver, then you’ve got to get someone else in the seat.
However, truth be told, I’m a little convinced that death comes when it’s going to come. That if it’s not Grandpa snoozing, it’ll be Cousin Herbie checking his iPhone while driving or Aunt Babbette spilling her Starbucks Mega-Costa-Latte and then yanking the wheel into the river. The screaming, really, doesn’t help anyone.
Besides addressing my deterministic worldview, there’s more to this:
As you can tell by the friction around here, there’s a wide variety of views about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some think our best days are ahead, some think them behind, and others doubt we’ve ever had them or ever will. For a portion of SBC participants, it’s not the whole lot of the SBC but one or two entities that puts the slaw on their BBQ. (Which is bad. Not good. Listen not to them Carolina people that do it. It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s actually more unholy than supporting New York Sports teams.)
There is the view of a vocal group that the Southern Baptist Convention is, in fact, much like ol’Grandpa’s car in the above story: headed for certain doom. I tend towards that view myself. I think that, sooner rather than later, lack of transparency, superstar worship, and infighting are going to shred the SBC that I’ve grown up in and love. As an aside, though, I’m even more paranoid that we won’t retain freedom of worship and association long enough to see it, and that real persecution will show up and purify the American church before the SBC falls apart. That’s another discussion….
Anyway, here’s the point I’m going towards:
1. There is no evidence yet that Grandpa as he drives the SBC (or NAMB, or EC, or ERLC, or IMB, or
Radio and Television Commission or Brotherhood ) car is asleep. He might be shown to be reckless and he might be starting to nod off, but we’re not yet at the place that he’s taking us to certain doom. We still have a lot of road to cover to get there. It’s easy to sit here and guess at the future, pick one possibility, and project it. I certainly have, but I acknowledge this: there were 100% accurate prophets then, and I am not one now. While we may be starting to wonder about the driver’s skills, we’re not doomed yet.
2. Even if he is asleep, we’re not doing a good job of waking him up. I’m starting to see the same polarization that nearly shut down (and probably eventually will shut down) the US Government recently. We are all talking and pushing our views and not taking time to listen to the other’s views. We’ve reached a point that for some folks the answer to “What can Grandpa do to show he’s a capable driver?” is only “He can quit and we can get another driver.” That’s counter-productive and we all know it. It’s typically counter-productive for a church to take that view of a pastor, and it’s not much better in a denominational system. We need to converse, discuss, and stop yelling at each other.
Part of the underlying issue is the rapid cycle of information, disinformation, and opinion. Within 48 hours of any opinion, initiative, or nomination, there’s blogs, counter-blogs, and the tweet-cycle to keep everyone up-to-date on the issue. Except there’s an element often missing: a little humanity. Complaints get lodged on twitter, answered by a third-party on a blog, and then what? There’s no “Official” blog or twitter feed that speaks for the SBC or the dissent-voices of the SBC or anything else. And there’s no real way to know what criticism a person is answering, slapping back, or ignoring. For all I know, no one knows I whined about them on Twitter. Or maybe they do. Or they don’t.
Back to the car: as we keep shouting at Grandpa, and our voices get louder and more overlapping, he’s not hearing any clearer, is he? No, he’s just hearing the screaming. What does he say when he wakes up? “STOP YELLING AT ME!” We need to stop yelling.
3. In the SBC, we have one additional benefit over the people that went off the road with Grandpa above. We all autonomously got in this car to begin with. We liked the car, liked the destination, liked the testimony of Grandpas past that had driven it. Yet we can autonomously get out whenever we like. True, your church may have a rescission clause or whatever, but you aren’t bound to it. This is not, for all the concerns, a hierarchy. Even if it is, even as it becomes one (maybe), Nashville does not hold the keys to the Kingdom. You have the Word, and the Spirit is calling, so you don’t actually need the SBC to be saved. Get out of the car if it’s going to crash.
Now, to address the first misunderstanding: yes, I think the “powers that be” of the SBC should do a better job listening to the “ordinary” folks who remind their church treasurers to write that CP check every month. No, I do not think we should not ever express frustration, irritation, or dissent. We should. We should do so publicly at times. However, I think we’ve pushed the rhetoric too far. Let me rephrase: I have pushed the rhetoric too far.
Then, to address the second misunderstanding: yes, I implied that if you don’t like it, you can go. Why? Because we need to decide if it’s really as big of a deal as we make it. Just like I said about the Pastor’s Conference brouhaha–at what point do we say “Enough, I’m done.”? If you’re not there yet, or if the church you lead is not anywhere near there yet, then maybe it’s time to dial it down. Conventions and denominations and boards will come and go, but the gates of hell will not prevail against the church of the Living God.
Where am I? I have a church to lead. We have 10,000 lost people within a 30 minute drive. Over 2 million within half-a-day’s drive. We have other churches that we can partner with and reach farther than those distances, and we will. We continue to hand the keys to Grandpa SBC to guide us in reaching the places our feet don’t touch through the CP. I will continue to agitate at times, speak up and speak out, resolve, vote, nominate, but here’s the truth: from my seat in the back of the pickup truck, I can see people that I can share the love and truth of the Lord Jesus Christ with. That must be my effort. If Grandpa’s headed over a cliff, hopefully I’ll see it in time to jump, but if I go down, I’ll go down shouting, but not at him. At those who are perishing needlessly, I will shout, sing, speak, whisper, whatever it may take.
The rest of this? It is not as critical as I’ve made it.