The title of this article is also the title of a song from back in the 1980’s by Bruce Hornsby. It is still one of my favorites, both for its musical arrangement and its words. It’s kind of a laid back commentary on American culture. There are things that don’t change much, and there’s not much you can do about it.
I don’t think Hornsby was a Baptist, but it almost seems like he could change just a few words and have a very accurate depiction of Baptist life, as it is.
There’ve been a lot of discussions on this blog about aspects of living out Christian faith in a Baptist context, and the institutional life that comes with it. A lot of people, some involved in vocational ministry, others involved from their own interests, have participated in the discussions and have provided great insights, thoughts from places that you might not encounter otherwise. They are thoughts from people who are living their faith in a real world, encountering real life situations and trying to deal with them. They are mostly from people who have a sense of what Baptist identity is, and what is going on with the way Baptist churches and their members are trying to live out their faith and reach their world with the gospel message.
One of the common threads is the need for change, prompted by the perception that our churches are dying. They are, in fact, for the most part, doing exactly that.
As you may know, I’m a vocational minister on the staff of a church that has been pastorless since June and largely staff-less since December, when two of our age group ministers departed. The fact of the matter is that we are not actually “pastorless,” since most of those responsibilities naturally seemed to find their way into my office, but the church is still seeking someone to call into that particular position, as well as someone to be the youth pastor and the children’s minister.
A close examination of our approach to all three of these needs may give some clues as to why, at least in our part of the Kingdom, our effectiveness as a church in making disciples, and teaching them to observe all things so that they can become disciple-makers themselves. We have a tendency to lean on our own understanding, and avoid seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I’ve observed the examination of resumes, and the workings of search team members as they go about their work, and essentially, they operate out of an understanding that relates to their own personal needs, developing their own agenda as they go along. Oh, they couch it in terms that makes it seem like some form of spiritual discernment, but it is really their own process, based on their own perceptions of what appeals to them. Thus, the individuals who have the more attention-attracting personalities get the attention, and those without those particular traits, but with other characteristics more valuable to a ministry calling, get pushed to the side.
That’s just the way it is.
That could be why pastoral tenure, especially in a conservative, evangelical denomination like the Southern Baptist Convention, where churches bear all of the responsibility for calling their own pastors, is so short, and why, after a couple of decades of megachurch influence, we are seeing a serious decline in evangelism and church growth. Notice I said “could be.” Frankly, I think it does have a bearing on both, though there are all kinds of other factors related to the way churches try to achieve vision and purpose that hinder them along the way. There’s a culture that develops inside congregations that sort of sneaks up on them and affects their effectiveness. As time passes, it becomes harder to change.
As a member of, and vocational minister in, a Southern Baptist church, I am concerned about what the next decade will bring to the churches of our denomination. But much more than that, I am concerned about what it will bring to the church I currently serve. We are making important decisions and I think that we have just as much a chance to miss God’s will for us as we are to find it. We’ve been highly influenced by the world’s way of doing things, have been told that this is O.K., just different, and continue on as if nothing is wrong.
That’s just the way it is.