I'm starting a new occasional post called "Reasons Why I Hate Us." These posts will be about why I'm frustrated with the SBC and are geared to get us to think about what needs to change. This is not about complaining but looking toward a better future. And yes, "hate" is a strong word, but since I'm talking about "us" and not "them" I feel I can use a bit of harshness fairly.
As a first installment I offer an email from someone I've gotten to know over the last year. I often get emails from people who read my blog and want to discuss some aspect of the SBC with me. Too often they are frustrated with being in the SBC or trying to get in the SBC. Here's an example of a guy who looked at the SBC as a place where he might be able to serve and was frustrated with how he was treated. Yes, I know that our churches are autonomous and people can merely have bad experiences with some churches. But I think this is a pretty common experience with the SBC and have gotten several emails like this.
The following has been edited by me with permission of the emailer.
I've read that you're at a Southern Baptist Identity conference. The last couple weeks have been interesting to me, and I thought I'd share my experience with you to: 1. get your thoughts, and 2. maybe add some perspective of the Southern Baptist identity from someone who is not one.
I've been looking for pastoral ministry positions over the last couple weeks. My family is heading back to the Northwest soon and we are thinking seriously about planting a church or replanting in the _____ area. As you may remember, I spent time as an associate pastor of a fairly large church in ______ before deciding I wanted to be a lead pastor so we moved to another state to finish my MA and now we're heading back. I have some leads already, and I was actually offered a job at a big church as an associate, but because I wanted to either plant or replant a church, I thought about looking into the Southern Baptist movement (esp. since I was impressed with Ed Stetzer when I was at The Resurgence and the NAMB's focus on missional church planting). To make a long story short, I've sent resumes to a couple different SBC churches and one church that was looking for a church planter for the ______ area (either of which I was really interested in). However, these churches responded to me and said the same thing, "You're not a Southern Baptist, so we don't really think you'd be a good fit." I have to admit, I was floored. Since I have never been affiliated with any denomination maybe this isn't news to you to hear this, but I was actually expressing interest in being involved in the SBC, I'm from the NW and I understand its ethos and people, I have years of experience as a pastor in ______ and therefore I am really well connected to other churches in the ______ area and with many other pastors who are friends, and I'm well educated (Bible college, seminary and graduate school!). This is basically the formula for a successful missional church plant. I have to be fair, though. The church plant that said we don't want you is actually sending my resume onto the NW SBC headquarters because they do think I "might make a good fit somewhere." So they are not necessarily done talking to me, but I kind of feel like a wheel in the cog.
So, what is the reason I'm telling you this? I'm definitely not looking for sympathy or for you to help me find a job because I wouldn't have made anything of it if these churches had said to me, "We don't want you because we want a guy with more experience" or something. Besides, I'm certain I'll find a church. But, I'm writing because I've been turned away because I'm not "one of you;" and you're one of the only Southern Baptists I know. You wrote on your blog, "The only thing missing, in my opinion, were thoughts on networking beyond the denomination. I think post-denominational networks are crucial, not just for the sake of the mission, but also for the sake of the denomination. We will be healthier, stronger, more missional when we stop thinking we are the self-sustained force of the Great Commission." I have personally experienced what you wrote, and honestly I find it really sad.
I asked to hang out with you and Joe once because I wanted to ask you questions about the denomination. We didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about it, but I think I walked away with more confusion about what the SBC is about than ever. Between the alcohol prohibitions (even though I don't even drink) and now this focus on "inbreeding" (!), I have to admit that it SEEMS like the SBC is more concerned with the denomination than with Jesus and reaching the world. Obviously, I know this is not true, but I feel like I'm a Gentile and we play for the same team. It's got to look worse from those who are not church-goers.
Seriously, do you really have to go to a SB Seminary to be a SB pastor? I appreciate you and I know you love the SBC and I'm certain there are great things to love about it. But I'm wondering if the denomination has gone on an adventure in missing the point? Where is the focus on finding gifted and qualified people who LOVE an area and commissioning them to minister there instead of finding someone who doesn't know the area, but is SB, and transplanting them there? I know I'm not the only one who has experienced this, as I have a friend who has recently felt the same walls (and he's trying to be a youth pastor).
I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts. I did not write my comment on your blog because again, I do not want to be decisive. But I have to admit, my latest experiences have really turned me away from wanting to be involved in the SBC. Can/Should this be the reality?
No, this should not be the reality. But we are too often about the SBC brand than anything else.
There are many in the SBC working in another direction that includes a love for the best of the SBC and a humble understanding of our common mission with other Christians and churches. Ed Stetzer is a great example. He is a key leader at NAMB yet he works with the Acts 29 Network. I know a number of other SBC'rs who are involved with other networks, and I think they are the best example of how our churches should think.
I pray that the SBC would embrace a vision of the future that would be less about SBC pedigree and more about the mission.