The Great Hall next to Powell Chapel in the Truett Seminary building on the Baylor University campus isn’t the kind of place that was built for pep rallies and loud cheering. The wood beamed ceilings, fireplaces, portraits that hang on the wall and other furnishings give the room a kind of quite peace, perfect for contemplation or small group discussions in a cozy environment. There are places on university campuses where cheering is not only appropriate, but expected, but this room isn’t one of them.
However, there were moments during the listening session Friday night when I really felt like cheering when I heard what my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ from various places in the BGCT had to say, or at least bursting forth with a hearty “Amen”, which would have also echoed, but may have been more appropriate for the setting.
We’re about doing Kingdom work. I couldn’t have said that better myself, and in fact, wish I had said it before saying anything else. The whole purpose of the BGCT, the SBC, and any other denominational entity or structure, is to advance the Kingdom of God, which is the church, here on this earth prior to the return of Jesus himself. We forget that and get caught up in the material things of the structures and organizations we build to do that work. Sometimes (I’m being blatantly honest here) I think we set up organizations and structures and claim the cause of the Kingdom as a reason to do it, when it is the atmosphere and business of the structures and organizations that appeal to our human nature.
So, when one of the pastors attending the meeting, a humble young man with a clear heart for his ministry work serving a small church in a small town, made that statement, I cheered on the inside. When he talked about always taking the high road, regardless of what others do, I cheered on the inside again.
We’re Christians. When our relationships with other Christians get challenged with things like doctrinal disagreements, or differences of opinion over how a state convention or a national convention should do its work, and we don’t get our way, we should still take the high road. Sadly, the evidence of our turn onto the low road is quite visible in a split convention and the condition of our relationship with the SBC. On a good note, it appears that many others have noticed this state of affairs, and not only are saddened and grieved by it, but want to fix it.
Can we stop the spitting contest with the SBC? That deserved some cheers as well. Perhaps, had the audience been a bit larger, there’d have at least been some hardy “amens.” We are, after all, Christians. There is a Biblically prescribed way to settle these differences which neither side has followed. The fact that there are at least a few people who recognize this, and want to see it changed, and are willing to participate in the effort to help it change, is worth cheering about.
I realize that the “other side” has done some things in this squabble that have had some greivous consequences for some individuals. I’ve experienced some of those things myself. Leaving a position you love and feel called to without assurance of something else to support yourself and your family can be quite painful, as I well know and have experienced myself. And when you are in that position, the hardest thing in the world to do is to suck it up and do the right thing by following the Bible’s instructions for settling the difference. It may well be that the offending brother never sees the error of his ways and continues to behave badly. That’s not in your hands. Responding by retaliating may make you feel good for a while, but in the long run, it makes it very difficult to live with yourself. When it makes the papers, it makes it very hard to turn around and do Kingdom work.
It’s time to move forward. No one wants to quit. In spite of the difficulties, there was a spirit of optimism about the future that filled the room. Those present, though small in number, were willing to talk through and invest in bringing about a resolution that leads to taking two important steps. One is helping Texas Baptists in the BGCT recover the trust between convention and churches that is clearly at an all time low. Recognizing this to be the case, and desiring to incorporate this realization into the all-important step of choosing the next leader is definitely something to cheer about. The other is investing time, resources, effort and energy into younger pastors and church leaders who represent the future. That requires a high degree of unselfishness and a lot of visionary thinking and some extremely hard work. But on having those qualities in the next executive director, there was total agreement.
There were no defeatist attitudes. One of the attendees was an older gentleman who identified himself to me as the pastor of Prairie Hill Baptist Church, in a rural community about 18 miles from Waco. A graduate of Baylor and Southwestern Seminary, this gentleman had been called as pastor of that church as a student, and is still serving the same congregation 57 years later! What an example of committment and persistence! Perhaps he set the best example of all by sitting quietly through the entire meeting, listening attentively, and saying nothing. If we could all learn how to do that, we’d be much better off.
This is God’s work, and it may be that we just need to get out of the way and let him do it.