SBC Nickname: Adventures in Baby Splitting? Not!

I’m in a Seinfeld state of mind.  First Mr. Mendelbaum and now Newman. Even Postal Employee Newman — Kramer’s friend and Jerry’s nemesis in the popular 1990s sitcom — was wise enough to know that you can’t split a bicycle in half. Upon hearing the news Monday night that the unofficial Name Change Task Force was recommending no official name change for the Southern Baptist Convention, but instead recommending adding an optional nickname — Great Commission Baptists — I was perplexed.  My initial thought was, “this doesn’t make any sense.”  My wife had a more pithy word to describe the recommendation.

Surely this Task Force, whose members include such Convention stalwarts as Dr. Paige Patterson, Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Kevin Ezell, Dr. Tom Eliff and others, are surely wiser than Newman, thus applying the Old Testament principle and realizing that Conventions — like babies — cannot be split into two different groups with two different identities and, knowing the New Testament principle that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” must be applied to any proposed Name Change recommendation. That being the case, it is hard for me to understand how this can be a “win-win” for the Convention of churches now known as Southern Baptists. However, with a long drive from Dallas to New Mexico on Tuesday, I had plenty of time to come to an understanding of what I think Dr. Draper, in his report to the Executive Committee for/through President Bryant Wright, meant by “win-win.”

Perhaps he meant it like this:  Suppose a good-sized County Seat First Baptist Church was in search of a new pastor.  The church, although the oldest in the county and the mother church to all the other churches in the area, had hit a bit of a rough spot.  Not content to continue on a downward spiral, the Pastor (or Elder if you prefer) Search Committee interviews a nice young man about serving the church.  He is passionate and energetic, telling the committee that he wants to reach families in the area.  The committee likes what it hears.  Who wouldn’t want to reach families for Christ?  Of course, when the Pastoral candidate said “families,” he really meant people under 40, but the committee thought families included senior adults as well.

The committee recommends the pastoral candidate to the church and the church, based largely on the committee’s glowing recommendation, calls the new pastor.  Eager to make an impact and purposefully-driven to implement his vision, the young pastor arrives on the scene, only to find that the church has very few families, at least not how he would define families. He’s really not sure how this church has survived this long because it doesn’t seem like they know what a “true” church looks like. He sets out to “bring ’em in,” and, in fact, does attract a lot of younger families with children (which is a good thing). So many new families start coming to the church that a second worship service needs to be added.  Not to worry.  An early morning worship experience at 8:30 a.m. would be perfect.  Not too early and not too late so as to interfere with Sunday School.

Just to mix things up, why not try something different at the early service.  How about more contemporary songs and a praise band (not that there’s anything wrong with that — another Seinfeld reference)?  The folks who have been at the church, despite their initial reluctance and questions, get behind the pastor because they believe that he sincerely wants to reach people for Christ.  After all, more families have started coming to the church. After the new service is announced, but before it launches, the pastor has a change of plans.  Not a big deal, really.  It turns out that young families with children don’t get up early on Sunday morning (I can vouch for my family on that). It would be better if we moved the “traditional” service to 8:30 a.m. (old people get up early and they are the only ones who would go to a traditional service, anyway) and the new, contemporary service to 11:00 a.m.

While some of the older folks are not happy, the pastor begins to pull out the Al Haig card, “I’m God’s man here and I’m in charge. I cast the vision for my church.  If you don’t like the direction that my church is heading, then there are lots of other churches down the road that you can go to.  Anyway, we’ve attracted 50 new families to my church in the long six months I’ve been here.  If we lose one or two older families, it won’t matter much because I’m growing my church.”  Now mind you, this is said to an elderly Deacon and his wife who have been pillars in the church for over 50 years.  What the pastor has just said is, “you can shut up and get with the program or you can get out!”

If you think this is far-fetched, then you have not been in Southern Baptist life for any length of time nor do you know anyone who has been in the SBC for any length of time.  Churches have been destroyed because of “driven” pastors — driven by methodology, theology, or their own cult of personality.  There are Calvinists, non-Calvinists, anti-Calvinists and, Arminians among the driven bunch.  It takes all kinds!

Why do I share this story?  Because the pastor of this story, when selling new — and sometimes radical — ideas, will often use spiritual language similar to what we have already heard from the Name Change Task Force — it’s a “win-win” situation. Tell that to the older Christians who were displaced from the church that they loved and lovingly served for 50+ years. Tell that to pastors and lay folks in the south who have labored for the Kingdom by sending missionaries throughout North America and the world, all the while identifying themselves as Southern Baptists but, apparently unaware of the stigma that attaches to the name.

With all due respect to the unofficial Name Change Task Force, I’m not sure that a committee which was created to circumvent the will of the messengers and perhaps contravene the Constitution and By-Laws of the SBC in the process, are the best folks to unilaterally declare the nickname option a “win-win” (although some of our leaders sure like to do things unilaterally; some don’t even need a vote to change the name of a seminary). That only a few EC members had the courage to vote against bringing the recommendation to the floor of the Convention is a sad commentary on the “ends justifies the means” mentality that is so often employed in the hardball political process of the SBC. And, when trustees dare to speak up against the establishment, they subject themselves to ridicule from “denominational servants.”

The Nickname path, as has already been demonstrated in the report, is one that will surely lead to more division in the short run. How?  Wrap your minds around the concluding paragraphs of the Name Change Task Force Recommendation:

“That the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, that it will study ways in which the use of the phrase “Great Commission Baptists” might be protected and preserved for use by those churches and institutions (emphasis added) which find its use beneficial and will assess how using the phrase in various ways in its communications and publications might be helpful to those groups.

We deeply believe that if the phrase “Great Commission Baptists” is regularly used in publications and promotions of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as in state conventions, associations and churches, that it would provide an identification that not only tells who we are, but what our mission as Southern Baptists is — the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

Before the Task Force Recommendation has even been officially approved by messengers in New Orleans, the President of our oldest seminary tweeted this:

“Let the word go forth: THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary proudly is a Great Commission Baptists institution”

I guess Southern now joins Lifeway in demonstrating that they really don’t care what the messengers have to say at the Annual Meeting.  But, I do applaud the boldness of Dr. Mohler in making such a statement.  Coupled with the wording of the Task Force Report and Recommendation, Dr. Mohler’s words are a clear signal of where our Southern Baptist entities will head. Those entities whose trustee boards are populated by “yes men” — who think their job is to serve the interests of the entitiy head instead of the interests of the SBC — will embrace the Great Commission Baptists moniker quicker than the Kardashians recycle husbands.   If the Convention messengers meeting in New Orleans vote to approve the recommendation, those who still choose to identify as Southern Baptists — folks who cling bitterly to their God, their southern heritage, their outdated identity, their traditions (CP, State Conventions, Local Associations) and, their anti-Great Commission mindset — will be on the outside, looking in, and muttering to themselves, “What happened?” But, the Great Commission Baptists will be a leaner, younger and, smaller house, much better off without those traditional-minded folk who just didn’t understand how to do church in the first place.  And, get this — no longer a divided house, either.  After all, it’s hard to be divided after the troublemakers leave!  Just ask conservative Southern Baptists what happened when the Moderates left.  Well, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea.

 

15 comments for “SBC Nickname: Adventures in Baby Splitting? Not!

  1. February 22, 2012 at 5:26 AM

    Why do I share this story? Because the pastor of this story, when selling new — and sometimes radical — ideas, will often use spiritual language similar to what we have already heard from the Name Change Task Force — it’s a “win-win” situation.

    The language in your example story and the language used by the task-force don’t seem the same to me. Maybe I am missing something.

    • February 22, 2012 at 7:31 AM

      Stephen,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. It may not be that your missing something as much as it is you are not reading the story through the same lens as me and others. If you have never experienced a church situation like I describe, then it may be hard for you to understand what I was trying to communicate with that story. I can assure you that there are lots of Southern Baptists who know exactly what I mean. In short, this is not a “win-win” for the SBC. It might look like it on the surface, but the nickname proposal will not be some grand compromise that unites us all under one banner. In fact, it is already splitting us even further into two camps — SBC and GCB. Longterm, both cannot endure. Sooner, rather than later (and we are already seeing this with some entity heads such as Dr. Mohler), we will be known as Great Commission Baptists, all done without an “official” name change. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

      • Max
        February 22, 2012 at 9:22 AM

        “I can assure you that there are lots of Southern Baptists who know exactly what I mean.”

        If “lots” haven’t shouted Amen to that, they soon will! It’s coming to a church near you. I can throw a rock from where I am sitting and hit three Southern Baptist churches which were disrupted and divided recently by young pastors on a reform mission. Young, restless and reformed pastors used stealth and deception to get those pulpits, and quickly went about changing church governance, methodology and missiology of long-established works of Christ, reducing the ranks to a <40 crowd, with older members essentially forced to leave. I have heard many other sad stories of this sort. I can assure your readers that the portrait you describe is being painted across the SBC landscape. Dr. Mohler is their general and the words you cite from his tweet serve as fuel to their revolution. I never thought I would live to see "Great Commission" being used this way.

        • February 22, 2012 at 10:22 AM

          Max,

          Shoot me an email at bob@bobhadley.com

          Thanks!

          ><>”

        • February 22, 2012 at 1:37 PM

          Max,

          Although I surprised at the proposal (a brilliant move, by the way), I am no longer surprised by what many within the establishment are doing. If you can use Great Commission to get a radical overhaul of the Convention passed, then what would stop you from using it again to get a name change through? Within 6-12 months from New Orleans, what we will be left with is self-identifying Southern Baptists — who have supported the SBC through CP, Annie, and Lottie — completely marginalized, much like the older generations have been marginalized in churches that have been taken over by driven pastors. In the end, those SBCers who have not started identifying as Great Commission Baptists will have a choice to make –quietly be resolved to stay in the GCB and keep giving, even though they don’t like it or leave. It is a dilemma with no good outcome. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

  2. February 22, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    Howell,

    Your comment to Stephen is exactly what I believe is taking place: “It might look like it on the surface, but the nickname proposal will not be some grand compromise that unites us all under one banner. In fact, it is already splitting us even further into two camps — SBC and GCB. Longterm, both cannot endure. Sooner, rather than later (and we are already seeing this with some entity heads such as Dr. Mohler), we will be known as Great Commission Baptists, all done without an “official” name change.”

    I have said it will be interesting to see who lines up behind the new moniker and runs with it. I think the “new branding” will include more than a name. Mohler’s tweet concerning SBTS is certainly an interesting tidbit to the discussion.

    ><>”

    • February 22, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      Bob,

      I don’t think it will take a rocket scientist or a brilliant theologian to figure out how this will play itself out. Dr. Mohler has provided an invaluable service to grassroots Southern Baptists (and to his allies within the GCB) about what is coming. No sooner than an affirmative vote is recorded for the unofficial nickname — proposed by an unofficial committee through the EC — most megachurches, most YR&R churches, and most trendy, contemporary churches and, most of the entities will start using the GCB moniker, along with catchy logos and such, in their official communications, websites, papers, materials, etc. If I were a conspiracy theorist wackadoodle, I might even venture a guess that some marketing gurus have already been hired (of course through some megachurch so it could be said no CP money was used) to come up with a catchy new logo. After all, the Recommendation encouages this for “churches and institutions.” Everyone thinks this is a done deal — and maybe it is — but this process has been tainted from the get go. I guess the ends do justify the means in Southern Baptist Great Commission Baptist life. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. February 22, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    If it were true that years of old-timey Baptist preachin’ had led folks to believe church was all about tending their needs and giving them support, then your story makes perfect sense. And I’ve seen some folks, thus indoctrinated, leave our church when we A) started paying our musicians when we went the praise & worship route, B) had a black quartet to a spirited and lively concert at our church, C) move the offering within the service, and D) call a lady as our worship leader.

    Your post speaks of two separate issues .. inadequately prepared preachers, and self-centered members. And it’s a good post.

    Biggest problem with the name change: somebody’s thinking they actually did something to address our declining numbers.

  4. Stephen Williams
    February 22, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    Howell, you guys really stop at nothing do you? Whatever dividing lines there are, are furthered greatly by stabs in the back like this posts. As one of the leaders of a church that has attempted to stand on God’s Word and been run out on a rail, the reality that sets in is TRUTH. God’s Word is truth and God’s Word clearly mandates the Great Commission, something our churches by in large are failing miserably at, and I believe numbers and anyone with much knowledge about the SBC would agree to. People respond two ways to truth, by 1) embracing it or 2) rejecting it. I’m a Southern Baptists fully, but I pray way more than being a self-centered member that requires the attention of budgets, building, pastors etc on me, I’d be on mission with Christ going into our neighborhoods, across our states, and throughout the world. At that my brother we are failing miserably and there are reasons why. What you’ve done here simply further divides that effort.

    • February 22, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Stephen,

      First off, thanks for taking the time to read and to share your thoughts. Although we obviously disagree, I do appreciate your comments. I’m not sure who would say that the Great Commission is not clearly mandated in God’s Word? If anyone on this comment stream, or myself in the OP, has said such a thing, please direct me to that wording. Of course, I would disagree that what I have written divides or stabs anyone in the back. Usually those who do not like to hear opposition will respond in the way that you have. But, that just goes to prove your point — and one that I wholeheartedly agree with — that people either embrace truth or they reject it. What one man embraces another man rejects. Such is life, but truth will win out in the end. Thanks again and God bless,

      Howell

      • Stephen Williams
        February 22, 2012 at 3:02 PM

        Howell,

        Thanks for your response. Your words: “With all due respect to the unofficial Name Change Task Force, I’m not sure that a committee which was created to circumvent the will of the messengers and perhaps contravene the Constitution and By-Laws of the SBC in the process, are the best folks to unilaterally declare the nickname option a “win-win” (although some of our leaders sure like to do things unilaterally; some don’t even need a vote to change the name of a seminary). ”

        Usually quotes that begin like this have no respect and this is true here as well. The “stabbing in the back” simply referred to using the blogosphere as a means to assume/accuse Godly Christian brothers of something done wrongfully or with ill-intent. I realize we all have our freedom to express our point via social media, but you are correct, I simply do not like to hear opposition unless factually stated especially when it further divides.

        • February 22, 2012 at 3:28 PM

          Stephen,

          I do appreciate the dialogue, even though we will probably not see eye to eye on this issue. Since you quoted me, let me just say that I stand by the quote as written and as intended. You perhaps do not see it this way, which is why you are taking the side that you are. I understand that. There’s no question that this committee — which no one disputes was “unofficial” — was used as a way to circumvent (i.e. get around) the clearly stated will of the messengers who have repeatedly rejected even studying this issue. If the messengers would have been given the opportunity to vote on authorizing a study committee, they may have changed their mind (i.e., will) and voted this time to create such a study committee. Therefore, the creation of this unofficial task force circumvented the last known express will of the Convention.

          As to contravening the Constitution and By-Laws of the SBC, the documents do not give the President the authority to unilaterally appoint special ad hoc committees. There are express provisions within the By-Laws which state what committees the President can appoint, but a special ad hoc committee is not one of them, absent an express authorization of the Convention (which obviously did not happen). Of course, some would like to read more expansive Presidential powers into the plain language of the Constitution and By-Laws, but this is most certainly not a conservative interpretive philosophy. I hope these supporting facts help you to understand why I wrote what I did. And, opposing something does not mean that one is dividing. If that were the case, then the majority would always be right and the minority could never challenge any actions without being labeled “divisive.” I simply reject that type of thinking. Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

  5. Lydia
    February 22, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    People have a hard time believing this is raw politics by an elite who think the rank and file are stupid. Even Mohler’s insulting tweet does not convince them. Oh well. Now we see how things can happen so easily as many make excuses and go along. And since process is not important…..what next?

    I understood your analogy about the pastor taking over the church. Has less to do with experience than how the new pastor viewed himself and the congregation to begin with. Perhaps a pastor with experience would use difference methods to make changes he wants….. but how they view themselves and their “position” to make those changes is really the heart of the matter.

    You and I forsee the same outcome but I really thought this was a stepping stone in a longer term plan. You have made some really good points that this is really a done deal. Now I see the brilliance of a “nickname”. Think about it….voluntary. Any YRR and megachurches not on the GCB train will be on it, soon, because it is moving on. Patterson has his ticket.

    I have no problem with the name but I have a HUGE problem with how all of this was done. They don’t need messengers anymore.

    • February 22, 2012 at 4:42 PM

      “They don’t need messengers anymore.”

      Lydia,

      You have nailed it with that one comment alone! Lifeway, and now this, are perfect examples of what has become an elitist, mainly megachurch, mentality that has permeated the Convention. What people don’t want to see is that politics — for good or bad — are always a part of any organization. The SBC/GCB is no different. Sometimes the politics are the art of persuasion and sometimes they are of the hardball variety where leaders employ the “Golden Rule” — He who has the gold rules. I’ll have a short article on this mentality tomorrow. It is from a member of the GCRTF and it was revealed in a Tweet. Apart from my blog posts, which are automatically posted on my Twitter account, I can honestly say that I have never tweeted nor do I have much desire to. Some “leaders” would do well to heed the wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs regarding much speaking. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

    • Max
      February 23, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      “They don’t need messengers anymore.”

      Perhaps the plurality of elders governance within SBC leadership ranks no longer view congregational input (convention messengers) as the rest of us do.

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