I visited my mom and dad in Florida last week to celebrate the old guy’s 90th birthday and as was to be expected, dad and I had some late night chats. We talked about the greatest sports team in the history of sports – the New York Yankees. We talked about family, about grandkids. We talked about old times. More than any other topic, though, we hashed out what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Dad devoted his life to ministry within the SBC. Dad was never a bigwig but his service in the convention made it such that he was widely known by people who were. A graduate of Southwestern, he was one of the earliest pioneering pastors in Iowa, where he built the first large and growing church. We then left and became SBC missionaries to Taiwan and settled in Florida after that term was over, where he pastored in Tequesta for a long time, taking a church that had run off 6 pastors in 16 years and turning it around. He traveled around the country doing Bible conferences and had some mildly successful books.
I used to attend Annual Meetings with him early in my ministry. He had a lot of friends and knew most of the big names. I remember when Adrian Rogers saw my dad and stopped to talk to him (I was in awe). We chatted with Jim Henry and Paige Patterson and others. He was a loyal member of the Conservative Resurgence but counted men like Keith Parks as friends. He never seemed to care about climbing the ladder or gaining entrance into anyone’s inner circle.
He was upset with me when I decided that I was going to stay in the SBC.
He had fought the fight but had grown weary of it. As a Bible expositor in a convention that at the time was mostly devoted to “three points and a poem” preaching, as a man who rejected the “numerical idolatry” he saw in the SBC, he constantly found himself as a maverick and an outsider even in the conservative movement he sought to advance.
He tried to convince me to leave the SBC and find another denominational home.
At the risk of losing some of you, I sensed the direct call of God to serve in the SBC. The times in my life when I sensed the direction of God most strongly was when he was leading me in opposition to my dad’s advice. It was if he was saying, “Dave, your dad is a good and godly man, but I am your Lord, not Lew Miller.” Leaving Dallas Seminary to get my degree at SWBTS (oh, dad was torqued about that!), staying in the SBC, a couple of my early job choices – each time God led me counter to my dad’s advice.
Last week, as I told him some of the stuff we’d seen in the last couple of years in denominational life, he just shook his head. I’m not going to detail those things here, because this old dog has learned a few new tricks. If I mention the things I told him, those issues will reignite in the comments and I’d rather not pick those scabs. I told him about some entity happenings, about some of the stuff we encountered with Pastors’ Conference, about political infighting and such. His response was pretty much the same as it was in 1980 when I told that I was transferring to Southwestern to remain a Southern Baptist.
Is it worth it? Why do you bother with it when there is so much dysfunction, so much political infighting, so many social climbers and hangers-on? Why not just get out and let the Southern Baptist Convention go?
I will admit it is a question I’ve considered a time or two myself. The more I see of the inner workings of the SBC, the less impressed I am with many of the people involved in those workings. There is much of the flesh that is painted in a heavy coat of Spirit (or Gospel, if you are of that tribe). When you spend a lot of time on social media your view gets jaded, like homicide cops who develop a negative view of humanity at crime scenes. When you hear the behind the scenes stuff related to personnel searches then hear the public presentations as if they just prayed and God revealed “His man” it is easy to become queasy. When you see guys who are out to build their platform and would do anything to be included in the “company of the greats” (inflating their Twitter feeds by buying bots, currying favor with flattery), it can turn your stomach. There is much in the SBC that is petty, broken, fleshly, and discouraging. Many have despaired and said that the SBC is not worth it. There are blogs that have turned their anti-SBC fervor into money-making ventures. Negativity sells. And our decades-long statistical decline shows no signs of abating.
When dad asked me if the SBC was worth it, I was taken aback for a second. There is a story about a battle in WWII that Allies and Germans got involved in, both expending thousands of lives, millions of dollars, untold resources, and at the end, realized it was a strategically pointless battle. Instead of fighting so hard for that piece of ground, the Allies could have just gone around it. Is that what I’m doing in my blogging, in social media. Is our struggle just an unnecessary battle? Does what we do make a difference? Are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?
Here’s what I told my dad:
The SBC has some problems, but it is worth fighting for. There are some great things happening in the SBC and there are better things that could happen. The SBC isn’t perfect but it is a great denominational home. I’ve not seen a better one. Yeah, it’s worth it.
Southern Hills Baptist will give a little over 300,000 in undesignated gifts this year and sets aside 10% for Cooperative Program missions. If you do the math (even people in Texas should be able to do it), that is a little more than $30,000 this year. We gave nearly $26,000 to Lottie Moon and as of last week were a little over $8000 for her cousin Annie Armstrong. So, add all that up and you have around $65,000 for the year.
Where, other than the SBC, could we get the same bang for our buck?
In the SBC…
We support the IMB!
Okay, because churches don’t support CP giving the way they used to the IMB had to cut back on its missionary force, but it is still one of the largest in existence and every time I meet one of them I am impressed with how competent and committed they are. It was the IMB (FMB at the time) that kept me SBC in my younger days and I am excited that my church has led Iowa in Lottie Moon giving since Noah got off the boat. (Actually, I haven’t checked stats the last couple of years.)
We support NAMB!
There was a time of turnover and turmoil when Kevin Ezell took over, but NAMB is planting churches across the country and the once-dysfunctional SBC entity is now a shining star.
We support SIX Seminaries!
I remember when conservatives tried to steer young preacher-boys away from our seminaries, especially away from Southern, Southeastern, and Midwestern. Now, we have six schools that are solid, God-honoring, Bible-believing schools. They teach preachers the value of text-driven preaching. I would advise a young preacher to choose this school over that one, perhaps, but all six of our schools are good schools.
We support the ERLC!
I realize that for some, this is a problem. For me, it is not. I support the work of the ERLC on pro-life issues and other moral causes.
If my church had millions of dollars, perhaps we could do something on our own, but with our $65,000, how can we do more? I do not see how a church like ours can make a better investment than in the imperfect SBC.
So, Why Blog?
The answer to that is simple. The SBC is a democratic institution. I know that bloggers are a bit of a pain in the neck and thorn in the flesh to the power elite and to entity heads, but they are wrong when they cast us all as negative nellies.
I blog because I love the SBC and I believe that while it is worth supporting, it can be better. It is our right and our duty as loyal Southern Baptists to speak out about those things we see that can be strengthened.
- The SBC will be better when it removes every last vestige of the racism that has been part of our warp and woof since the slave-owning Founders established us to protect slavery. When we break down every barrier to full participation by minorities in the convention, including leadership, we will be a better convention, so we fight.
- The SBC will be better when we expose the culture of abuse, of coverup, and of silence. We will be a better convention when it is as unthinkable to hurt a woman as it used to be to expose such a sin, and as evil to cover that sin up as it is to commit it.
- The SBC will be better when there is less done in the darkness and more in the light. Entities and powerful people have operated in secrecy for decades (centuries?) and one reason they disdain bloggers is that we shine a light on the things they do in darkness. We will continue to do so and they will continue to hate us for doing it. Hopefully, we can find that balance between what should be kept private and what should not, but sin grows in the darkness.
- The SBC will be better when the process is taken out of the hands of the few (mostly megachurch pastors) and the average church folks are included. One of our primary goals in the 2017 Pastors Conference was to show that there were good and capable leaders in the average churches of the SBC. It seems to me this lesson has been forgotten in the days since then.
- The SBC will be better when we strike the balance between doctrinal fidelity and unity. This is always a problem. There will be doctrinal drift – that is the nature of things. But the unkind and ungodly attacks that take place by many are not the way to handle it. We must speak the truth in love – finding that balance will never be easy.
I could go on, but that is the idea.
Yes, dad, I think it is worth it. The SBC is a noble idea and I still think the CP is genius. I am committed to it. My commitment to the SBC means that I will speak my mind about those things which I believe hurt our beloved convention. Mindless support leads to the deterioration of the denomination.
We will seek to constructively criticize. We will fail. Sometimes, we will not speak when we should. Sometimes, we will speak harshly when we should have held our ammo. But that is our goal and we genuinely attempt to follow that goal.
Things could change, but I plan to continue serving the SBC as a pastor, as a blogger, and yes, as a critic, as long as God gives me voice.