Early Sunday afternoon, I made my way down the I-35 corridor from Dallas to Austin for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. By Sunday evening, I was seated toward the back of Great Hills Baptist Church to hear the Rev. Dwight McKissic preach on the assigned subject, “The Pastor’s Helpers.”
Before the meeting began, I joked with Rev. McKissic that he should select Romans 16:1-16 as his text, highlighting the deacon ministry of Phoebe of Cenchrea, the ministries of Priscila and Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Julia and Olympas. McKissic chose Acts 6 as his text of reference, then proceeded to expound quite eloquently about the preparation, selection, and administration of ministry support staff. Before he preached, he received a standing ovation of the house, prompted by the applause of his own congregation, who had gathered in Austin to lead in choral worship.
Earlier that evening, the pastor of Great Hills Church, the Rev. Michael Lewis, preached on “The Pastor’s Harvest,” offering the challenge to personal evangelism and soul-winning that is standard faire for such conferences. At one point in his sermon, Rev. Lewis likened the sufferings of the Apostle Paul — stoning, shipwrecks, whippings and scourgings, etc. — to the the suffering experienced by Southern Baptist leaders at the hands of bloggers.
Somewhere in my mind images conjured of Br’er Rabbit being flung into the briar patch.
On Monday afternoon, I heard SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards of Resolution No. 5 fame preach on the subject of holiness. Richards is a good speaker, with an earnest style and pleasant demeanor. For the most part his sermon was a commendable reminder of the importance of personal sanctification, and he shied away from addressing the alcohol issue in much detail. I suppose he and I both are tired of that silly saga of Southern Baptist history.
Richards did share with pastors’ conference attendees that his home has an “angel box” that censors out vulgarity and profanity from his television. I have searched the internet to find such a contraption, but the closest I came was the TV Guardian 201 Series, which claims to filter out 95% of all television profanity while you watch. I don’t think I’ll be investing in one any day soon, however, because I don’t watch that much television to begin with. I’m curious what programs find their way onto Jim Richards’ television that necessitate such a device?
The Andy Griffith Show always seemed so clean to me, unless, of course, we’re talking about Otis Campbell’s moonshine swillin’ ways. No telling how many boys and girls ran out to build liquor stills on account of those episodes of reprehensible and irresponsible programming. For more on these and other concerns about the shows you thought were okay to watch, please refer to our old standby at Baptist Blogger, Pastor Tony Smith.
Of course, it’s a good thing Southern Baptists lifted our boycott of Disney last year. Now we can happily watch Fraggle Rock and Brother Bear and Power Rangers, sitcoms which are no doubt certain to remove any need for Rev. Richards’ little box.
At another point in his sermon, Richards juxtaposed the sins of embezzlement and fornication with the sins of “muckraking bloggers,” which elicited a mixture of approving hoots and grunts. I can hear it now:
“Microphone No. 2, please state your name and your motion.”
“I am Jim Richards, messenger of First Baptist Church of Ft. Worth, TX, and I would like to offer an amendment to resolution number three, ‘On Blogging.'”
“Thank you, Brother Richards, the Chair will recognize you for three minutes.”
“Thank you. I would like to insert the following resolved after the first “Be it resolved” to make the resolution read: ‘Be it further resolved that we urge no one to be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a blogger.'”
“Thank you, Brother Richards, do we have a second?”
(Somewhere down in front in the ‘reserved’ section a ‘second’ is shouted, followed by Jim Richards appeal that blogging is a sin like fornication, graft, and drunkenness — which explains why the SBTC website has removed their blog)
“And is there anyone to speak against the motion to amend? Microphone number one, are you speaking against the amendment.”
“Then please state your name and your church.”
“Thank you, Mr. President. I am (insert the name of your favorite muckraker here)….”
Late Monday afternoon, a Romanian Baptist named Paul Negrut preached on the subject of humility, choosing also to address his concerns about blogging and the internet. Having just watched this film, I was pleased to know that some sectors of Eastern Europe have internet access after all. Perhaps the tiny town of Glod should start a blog about the injustices they have experienced at the hands of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
My favorite moment of the SBTC Pastors’ Conference was the election of officers, which occurred at lightning speed without any need for ballotting. At the time to vote — a time when “pastors” are to be voting for officers of the “pastors’ conference” — I gleefully observed not a few women, including a former ERLC trustee and current IMB trustee from West Texas, Mrs. Skeet Workman, lift her hand — presumably not as a pastor — to vote for the candidates.
I am reliably informed that the SBTC passed a resolution on glossolalia, which I have not seen due to my having to leave Austin to conduct funeral services Tuesday afternoon for a church member. Early Tuesday morning, however, I was able to meet with a group of BGCT pastors for breakfast and discuss our similar concerns about our respective state conventions. A number of SBTC pastors have asked me what my plans are for continued participation in SBTC, and how I would advise them regarding their own affiliations.
My position is this: State conventions are tremendous wastes of time and resources. SBTC at least has the sense to continually minimize its own percentage of Cooperative Program dollars, though it is regrettable that any money is directed through SBTC to
backwards backwoods landmark insititutions like Jacksonville College.
Nevertheless, pastors do not affiliate with state conventions; churches do. I am affiliated with the SBTC by default because the church where I pastor is uniquely aligned with that particular convention. My sympathies may not concur with everything done in the SBTC, but affiliation with the convention was a matter of my congregation’s choosing, and I do not see any point in formally pushing or pulling Parkview Baptist Church away from that affiliation. At this point, Parkview sends 5% of undesignated receipts through SBTC, an increase from a flat $100.00 a month at the time of my election as pastor. This year, I have prepared budgetary recommendations for our finance committee that maintain this commitment, while exploring other channels for more direct missionary support. I have also prepared a letter of enquiry to SBTC leadership regarding the existence of means for negative-designation of certain ministry line items that might not harmonize with the ministry philosophies and visions of member churches.
If I was in a church that had affiliated with the BGCT, I would take a similar stance; and I have encouraged my BGCT friends not to jump ship to SBTC unless their laymen absolutely insist on it. We in Texas have two imperfect conventions, each with their own set of idiosyncratic problems and their own group of power-players. Likewise, they both have commendable opportunities for shared ministry venture and forums for healthy fellowship among churches in Texas.
My basic thought is this: Ride the horse you’re on. If it bucks you off, don’t try to saddle another horse in the barn. One of them has no brains. The other one has no guts. One needs a lobotomy. The other needs a swift kick in the hind quarters. Both of them have been outdated forms of transportation since the invention of the combustion engine.
Any way you slice it, state conventions are a dying species. Personally, I passed the time at SBTC’s pastors’ conference trying to count white heads and portable oxygen tanks. My few moments in the BGCT plenary session left me with a similar impression. And while I don’t think we should hasten their respective deaths, I am fully committed to signing a “Do Not Resuscitate” order on the both of them. Others, no doubt, will keep the feeding tube flowing long after rigor mortis has set in. Only the church universal has the guarantee of heaven’s bulwark against hell’s gates. Conventions of churches, like spring dandelions, may flourish with beauty for a season. In the end, however, they usually produce more weeds.