It's not every day that I quote Amy Grant favorably (please direct your hate mail to...), but one interview she gave contained a real nugget of wisdom, IMHO. Asked about criticism she had received for something she had done (I think it had to do with her crossover project that she released with Peter Cetera), Grant offered a viewpoint of criticism that struck a good balance, I thought, between the foolish refusal to listen to criticism (which can often help us to grow) on the one hand, and the foolish practice of listening to all criticism immediately (which will paralyze us, robbing us of productivity).
It was Grant's analogy that I thought was truly profound. She compared her entertainment career to the painting of a great work of art. An artist, Grant said, can't set up the easel, squeeze out the paints onto the palette, pull out a brush, paint a single stroke, and then step back and ask the world, "What do you think?" before painting stroke two and repeating the request for criticism. No, Grant observed, sometimes you just have to dive into the canvas and paint. Then, later, when the painting is done, that's the time to request and evaluate criticism of the finished project. The painting of the masterpiece rightly takes place behind closed doors, and then its exhibition and evaluation come publicly when it is finished and ready for showing.
There's a good reason for this—every painting is a mess at some point in the process. I love to watch the PBS show "The Joy of Painting" with the late Bob Ross. He was a bit quirky and odd, but I think his show is entertaining. In a mere thirty minutes (minus network time), Ross paints an oil painting from scratch. There's always a point about ten minutes into the show where I find myself staring at the screen and saying out loud to nobody in particular, "Well, he's messed up! He didn't mean to pull that paint all the way over there. That's not going to look good at all."
Of course, when the end of the show comes, the painting always looks precisely as it should. That's why Bill Clinton would make a horrible painter—you can't build masterpieces with daily opinion polling.
Recently I began to work to build support for the Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership. RCM is a principle that matters a great deal to me. Although I am not the author of the resolution's wording, I am thankful to be able to do my part in carrying it forward. Malcolm Yarnell wrote the original draft of this resolution. When he did, he approached several people and asked them to suggest revisions or indicate whether they could support the resolution. This all took place in 2007, quite some time ago. As I began my efforts to bring the resolution forward this year, my first task was to contact all of the people who had already seen and tentatively affirmed the resolution in order to learn whether they were still in support of the resolution and willing to lend their support as the process went forward.
It is a selective culling of this conversation, carefully trimmed to put forward a false impression, that Wade Burleson released in a recent post. Later, Nathan Finn published a post declaring that there are no more secrets in Southern Baptist life.
I am posting today to say that, if there are no more secrets in Southern Baptist life (presuming that the email exchange I initiated qualifies as a "secret"), then we will be much the worse for it. There's a reason why authors don't publish their first drafts. There's a reason why you pastors out there work on your sermons in the privacy of your study before you proclaim them from the pulpit. There's a reason why Christ's own commanded procedure for the most serious bit of business a church might consider—the exclusion of a member by church discipline—is a process that begins very secretively before it becomes a public spectacle down the line.
The reason for all of these things is quite simply that ideas need to mature, facts need to be checked, proposals need to be vetted, and negotiation needs to take place, in the vast majority of cases, before the whole world gets caught up into some public show about something. I'm a big proponent of congregationalism, but the very worst form of congregationalism takes place when somebody stands up in a public meeting and throws upon the floor some question that neither the congregation, the moderator, nor he himself has ever really pondered before. These moments typify the phrase "the pooling of our ignorance." No, I'll take every time the person who has given careful thought to what he wants to do, has sought the advice of others, and has brought to the congregation a thoroughly considered and well-worded motion for the body's perusal.
Secrecy in the wrong places most certainly can be a problem. Other than exceptional cases, the convention and her entities ought not to be able to act in secrecy and ought not to be able to cover up past actions. Here's a brilliant idea: We ought to arrange to have a free and open meeting where all of our decisions are made in full view of the public with all of our churches having an opportunity to participate. People ought to be free to work privately before that meeting to decide what is the best thing to propose, the best way to explain a proposal, or the best person to advocate for one thing or another. But when the hour arrives and the time comes for Southern Baptists to make their final decisions, those decisions ought to take place in an atmosphere of open discussion and free debate. Now THAT would be a system that would combine the strengths of private preparation with the strengths of open discussion and decision-making. We ought to put together a system like that.
Oh wait a minute…that's the system we ALREADY HAVE.
Or at least it is the system we ought to already have. I'm troubled by rumors I heard in this discussion that, unlike at SWBTS, at some of our entities the salaries of entity heads may be a closely guarded secret kept even from trustees. Our public decision-making process and our past actions (such as the setting of salaries) ought to be made in openness and kept freely available to Southern Baptists, while we preserve the freedom of individual Southern Baptists to seek counsel, negotiate with one another, and develop proposals in whatever level of privacy they desire and wish to attempt to have.
As a final note on this topic, allow me to say that the most curious and comical aspect of this entire latest melodrama in Southern Baptist life is the fact that the three principals involved—Tom Ascol, Malcolm Yarnell, and myself—have gotten along so swimmingly well throughout it all. Others suggest that we would have a combined resolution rather than two resolutions if everything had played out on a blog from day one. From my perspective, I say au contraire, the very best and most productive collaborations we ever had have been the ones that have taken place with the greatest level of privacy (secrecy, if you wish). The more people who have been involved, and the more melodrama injected into the process by others, the more elusive has been the challenge of coming to a single unity of thought. In my opinion, Wade and Nathan's advice is precisely the way NOT to get anything productive done in the SBC (OK, Nathan's post wasn't precisely in the way of advice).
I think that I speak for both Malcolm and Tom when I say that both of these resolutions are good resolutions, and that we three are cordially and fraternally committed to seeing something good and productive on the topic of Regenerate Church Membership passed at this year's Annual Meeting. Were there nobody else in the Southern Baptist Convention, the three of us would already have something put together. Of course, if we were the only three people in the SBC, there would be neither any need for such a resolution nor any interest from the world in what we wished to say!
So here's the deal: I have in the past and will in the future continue to work "behind the scenes" any time I have anything that I wish to accomplish in the SBC. If you ever hear me offer a resolution, you can be absolutely certain that I had someone else look at it to see whether there was anything stupid in it before I stand up in front of the Jumbotron and start trying to read it through the five-second delay. I may have had fifty people look at it. I may have had five hundred people look at it. To do otherwise is just foolish, as is the expectation that I would have to CC: the sixteen million Southern Baptists on every email I send out in order not to be secretive.
After all, we don't even know where all of those people are.