The Mind of the Pastor

This is the time of year I struggle with indigestion.  Oh, it’s not because of my diet, though I could do better, it is because our national convention is meeting this week!  We, as Southern Baptist, are a big family.  Our convention is comprised of around 47,000 churches.  Just a reminder, no individuals are members of the Southern Baptist Convention, only churches are members of the convention.  I few years ago former president Jimmy Carter announced that he was leaving the convention, that he was no longer a Southern Baptist.  He never was.  He was a member of a Southern Baptist church but he himself was not.  That aside, I’m a Southern Baptist in that I am a member of a church that is cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.  Additionally, I’m in agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message, the official confession of faith of that convention.  At the same time, our church along with every other SBC church, is autonomous.  That is, we are a law unto ourselves.  There is no outside structure that governs our business or demands we use a certain curriculum or preach a certain message.  We voluntarily cooperate with other churches in missions (both home and foreign), education through our 6 seminaries, and other areas of ministry.  Thus, we are bound together, as one denominational leader put it, with a rope of sand.  That means there is a lot of diversity within our family.  Has been, is and will be.  That means when our family gets together it can be…well…interesting.

Our convention is meeting this week in New Orleans.  There are important, substantial issues that will be dealt with.  There is a heated presidential race.  There will be discussion and a vote on sustaining the action of the convention to deem some churches, “Not in friendly cooperation.”  That means the convention does not recognize them as one of us.  Chief among these is Saddleback Baptist Church in California founded by Rick Warren.  Of concern is Saddleback’s ordination of women and the current pastor’s wife listed as a “teaching pastor” of the church in direct violation of our Statement of Faith.  Another issue will be a vote on an amendment to our constitution.  The amendment would stipulate that any church that has a woman serving as a pastor, in any capacity, would be declared as, “Not in friendly cooperation.”  The problem with the amendment is that if a church had a woman serving in the children’s area, as long as her title is “children’s minister” that would be fine but if it is “children’s pastor,” they are out.  If I were in New Orleans, I would vote to sustain the action taken against Saddleback and against the amendment.  I think the amendment goes too far.  Other issues will be dealt with as well including the implementation of some of the recommendations of the sexual abuse task force.  It all makes for an interesting few days.

My big concern is that our convention reflects more and more the overall culture of our day.  Sharp lines are being drawn and polarization is increasing.  Too often discussion leads to demonizing the other side.  Too often varying viewpoints are declared the enemy.  By all means speak the truth, contend for the faith, call for reform but acknowledge this is a “family fight.”  We are not enemies.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ and our goal is the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.  Our goal is the spread of the name and the fame of our God.  I’ve read, in recent days, from folks on both sides, “This is the most critical meeting in our convention’s history.  If the vote goes this way, it will be the end of the convention as we know it.”  I’m 63 years old and I’ve been hearing that same thing for at least the last 25 years.  I’m not a prophet but I’m going to make this prediction: the convention ends on Wednesday afternoon, on Thursday morning the sun will rise, the world will not end, and we, Trinity Baptist Church, will still preach the gospel, continue to love one another and do our best to love our community.

The Kingdom of God, let alone the world, does not rise or fall based on the decisions coming out of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.  That’s not to say it doesn’t matter what the convention does.  I’m not saying, “I don’t care what happens.”  I’m saying, “Let’s keep things in perspective.”  I’m also praying that cooler heads will prevail, and that Christ will be honored by what goes on this week in New Orleans.  I hope you will join me in that prayer.

I’ll see you Sunday!