Saturday, June 24, 2006

Where Do We Go From Here

I would like to welcome guest contributor Chris Humphreys to Truth or Consequences. I received an email that he wrote from a Pastor friend and contacted him about posting it here. As I read through it I thought his perspective and clearness of thought was great. He correctly diagnosis some of the biggest on-going issues within the Southern Baptist Convention churches.

I unfortunately am able to relate to so much of this email, and I believe a lot of you will to. I can't encourage you enough to take the time to read through this.


One Bible preaching, doctrinally solid pastor I knew of had a surprise waiting for him when he came to his church study one day. On top of his desk were some ashes leftover from a burnt offering some men in the church did to some of the pastor's books in his library. They were showing their displeasure at his preaching certain truths which they found distasteful.

Another good pastor friend of mine began his ministry in our state by preaching the Word Sunday after Sunday in a faithful manner at his new church. He did not make any radical changes of any kind, nor had he touched upon that much any of the truths that precipitated the burnt offering that the other pastor had experienced in his church. But this pastor friend made a fatal "mistake"; he dared to attend a Founders Conference in our state. His deacons became aware of it, did some research, found out what the Founders were about, and before you could say Unregenerate Church Members, they had conspired together to toss him out of the church. He is no longer pastoring a church anywhere.

Another pastor friend in our state has been out of pastoring for two years, although he is still seeking to pastor a church somewhere. At one Southern Baptist church that was halfway interested in considering him as their pastor, they grilled him over "reformed" doctrine, because they got wind that this gentle, caring, faithful pastor believed in the whole counsel of God. As far as that church goes, and probably many more churches than this pastor knows about, that determination alone was the end of the line in regards to considering him as pastor.

These are not meant to be sob stories to evoke any kind of reaction, but simply to convey what is going on out there that many people in our churches may not be aware of to the extent that it has reached. Here are some considerations that may be worth pondering:

(1) Many pastors, because they know of what has happened to others just like them, feel trapped in their respective churches. When God made me aware of His glorious sovereignty many years ago, I knew then that it would spell the end of my pastoral ministry eventually at the church that I was then pastoring. Teaching the truth can be an occupational hazard. I wanted to fellowship with other pastors, though, who knew these glorious truths, and I found several in our state who believed these truths.

When I began calling around other pastors in the state who were of like mind, I soon discovered something: some of these pastors who felt trapped in similar circumstances were afraid to identify themselves with other pastors by attending pastors fellowships or certain Bible conferences, because they wanted to stay out of trouble. Any pastor today in a typical Southern Baptist church needs to watch his backside if he begins to associate with certain kinds of pastors, reads certain books by certain authors, begins to preach more boldly, or if he attends a certain kind of Bible conference. The word will get out.

One of the reasons why I love where I am now is that I am not trapped. I wouldn't trade my freedom to preach the Bible for anything else. I would not cherish the situation, given my old age now, of being placed in a church anywhere where I had to tread lightly when I came upon certain scriptural texts. Simply put, many pastors don't have much freedom to preach what they know to be true where they are now. They know what awaits them should they exercise more freedom, and they will have to make a judgment call over time--should I strive to please men and keep my job security in tact, or should I strive to please God even if it causes me to lose my church? While it may be easy for any of us to say which one we know should be done all the time, I can sympathize with pastors who agonize over these matters, because they do have a family to support. Having said that, we must trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

(2) Pastors who come into these truths will soon discover that it is almost impossible (nothing is impossible with God, I realize) to reform an existing church. It is far easier to turn a row boat around than an ocean liner, especially one that has Titanic written on its side. So what does a pastor do at this point? Here is where I believe we have dropped the ball a long time ago, and we are paying for it dearly now. We should have implemented a nationwide sovereign grace church planting strategy so that we would have been able practically to build a whole new fleet of row boats.

(3) We have our church organization model all wrong, which only makes the problem that much worse. We Baptists love to point out to Catholics that their first Pope was married. While that is true, Peter also was not The Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jerusalem. Our church polity allows each church to have its own possible pope. We have so democratized the church that we can not conceive of the biblical order of a plurality of leaders called elders. We consider that strange doctrine today; something that will divide current churches. We think The Pastor flying solo in a church is the only way to go, because we have always done it that way. End of discussion. Lately we were "warned" by a high ranking denominational leader at the national Southern Baptist Convention that all SBC churches should avoid going to elder rule, simply because it is not baptistic and too divisive.

Let me tell what is divisive--going against the Bible. We have seen the fruits of our traditional, long-standing church organization, and it is anything but a pretty picture. When I returned to pastor a church in Oklahoma in 1992, after I had been there for awhile and I saw trouble
brewing, I began reading the seventy-five year history of our church. I had been there for four years at that time, and I discovered to my chagrin that I was the second longest tenured pastor of that church! I would ask church members and pastors, especially of the smaller churches which predominate in our SBC, to make the same investigation as I did, and in most cases, they
will find similar results where they are now. Now what does the revolving door policy say about our cherished one pastor rule model? How does this model increase stability and unity?

Of course, due to this sole pastor rule model, we have invented a system whereby we encourage pastors to move on, in order to climb up the corporate church ladder, so to speak. You start in the minor leagues and work yourselves up to the big leagues, I heard one pastor say. I have heard women in a church say frankly that they refuse to get very close to a pastor's wife anymore, because they know she and her family will not be there for a long time anyway.

The little secret is that we do have elder rule in our SBC churches; we just don't call it that. In most churches, we elect men to serve as deacons, and in far too many cases, they win a popularity vote but they are not biblically qualified to serve in that position (1 Tim. 3). Then to stir the pot even more, they may begin to think of themselves as elders that rule the church, but in the wrong sense of the word and for all the wrong reasons. Talk about trying to put a square peg in a round hole. So now we have unqualified men serving as deacons in name, but who are trying to serve as elders in practice, which they are more unqualified to do so. Then that is where they get the idea that if they can easily hire a pastor, then they can also easily fire a pastor. Or they can make his life so miserable, that he will resign to retain his sanity.

Nine out of every ten Southern Baptist seminary graduates will be out of the pastoral ministry in thirty years. An alarming number of those will be out within ten years. These graduates are by and large going into a church government system that believes in a sole pastor model with ruling deacons. If one hasn't noticed, we have churches splitting or dying all the time. I was personally told by a denominational leader in our state convention that up to 40% of our churches could be dead within a dozen years or so. Churches have fought, feuded and split over a wide range of issues, and in 99% of the cases, those churches involved were not embroiled in any type of disagreement about going to a plurality of shepherding leaders.

Statistics have shown (and Southern Baptists love statistics) that churches who have a plurality of elders will have much longer tenured leaders (they don't bounce around from church to church like a ping pong ball). There is also the proven, documented pragmatic benefit (and Southern Baptists love pragmatism as much as or more than statistics) that churches with elder rule will have much less instances of leaders falling into gross immoral sin than what we find in churches where there is much less accountability with the sole pastor model.

So after stating the obvious, and after looking over the rampant mess we find ourselves in today, how can anyone even dare to suggest that biblical eldership is divisive, and that eldership is the ruination of our churches today?

I fully realize that just having in elders in place is not the sole cure for all of our current church woes, nor do I fail to see that there have been instances where elders were the cause of many of the problems in particular churches. Sinful human flesh does not discriminate on the basis of church structure. I still contend, though, considering the incredibly high percentage of SBC churches that do NOT have biblical elders in name and practice and considering what we have reaped through the years with our current sole pastor/deacon rule model, that it is a bogus point for anyone to suggest that going to a plurality of servant leaders called elders is dangerous and divisive.

Along the same lines as I said last Sunday, preaching doctrinal truths in love in our churches do not really cause disunity; it just happens to be the thing God uses to bring to light the hidden division and pretentious unity that is already there in our churches. (Luke 8:16-18)

So how does all this relate to Frankenstein?

Tune in for next week's article.

Yours in Christ,
Chris Humphreys

P.O. Box 16424
Oklahoma City, Ok 73113


Anonymous said...

I can relate to this article. I have several established SBC churches not consider me because of my reformed doctring. Perhaps we should start a reformed church planting movement in the SBC.

Justice said...

Unfortunately, I bet more and more people can relate to this common frustration of church life.

Chris Hinton said...

I think that the real problem lies at the core of the church and it's membership. The common pew sitter no longer knows the deeper truths of the bible. Take the average Spurgeon or Edwards sermon; most of the Christians in this country wouldn't understand them and those are the people on the Deacon boards, which is a subject for another blog.

Justice said...

I would have to agree. The extent of biblical illiteracy is a very severe problem. Most people sitting in the pews do not even know who the puritans are/were and why they matter. The common excuse is "I am not smart enough to understand dcotrine or theology" - That commoent alone when looked at in depth explains it all.

Matthew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Spurgeon 2005 said...

I can certainly relate to your essay. I have been a pastor for 33+ years. The church I now pastor is in an uproar due to a couple of men who are determined to destroy any ministry I might have here. It started over the inerrancy issue, but when they discovered, by searching the internet, that I had written a tribute to a former professor, who died last year, in the Founders Journal . . . bam!! That really added fuel to the fire. God is faithful, however, and the storm will pass. But biblically illiterate people will damage many others before the calm comes. Oh, how we have failed our churches as pastors for many generations . . . making the preaching of God's word nothing more than entertainment and "feel good" lectures. Neil Postman (not a Christian) really hit the majority of evangelicals squarely with just the title of his book -- "Amusing Ourselves to Death"

Justice said...

Brother Spurgeon,

You are right, the majority of churches are doing exactly what you said. I will pray for you and your ministry. It is a wonderful comfort to me as I am sure that it is to you, to know that God has purpose in all of these challenges. I have faced similar battles with inerrancy, and Salvation through other means . God has been good and as I have battled these things, my ministry in this church has been strengthened.

I will pray the same for you.

Soli Deo Gloria!