You know, sometimes I think that Southern Baptists get upset with the Southern Baptist Convention because of a basic mischaracterization that they make of our convention. They expect the SBC to be Apple, when really, the SBC is just Microsoft.
Apple designs things elegant and beautiful and enduring. Apple dazzles. Apple addresses people as more than producers of spreadsheets and acknowledges that nobody should waste a minute of this short life learning the nuances of the DOS Mode command. Apple brings you music and technicolor art, and yes, the occasional spreadsheet.
Microsoft buys out companies of other people who create things, mimics what appears to work, and then leverages what it can in the marketplace to squeeze out the less-business-savvy and make a profit.
The creators vs. the managers.
The Southern Baptist Convention stinks at creating. It always has. Indeed, this is endemic among most, if not all, Baptist cooperative bodies of churches. Creating is about risk and failure a thousand times over before you succeed. Bureaucrats are afraid of such things. The "shareholders" within the SBC have very little tolerance for them. Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular are GREAT at creating, just not our conventions and associations. Oh, I know that you'll want me to defend my little thesis here (as you'll see at the end, it isn't an accusation), so here goes:
- The Baptist Missionary Society ("Mother" institution of the IMB and all other such Baptist bodies)
- After Andrew Fuller and William Carey dreamed for quite some time of getting the Northamptonshire Baptist Association to undertake a project of worldwide missions, those interested finally went outside the local association and created a separate society to (ultimately) send William Carey to India.
- John Mason Peck's "Western Mission" (predecessor and prototype to our Domestic Mission Board, now the major portion of NAMB)
- Luther Rice and John Mason Peck had the entrepreneurial vision to build a mission to the great American interior frontier. The Triennial Convention's flirtation with the idea was brief and unspectacular. Rebuffed by the Baptist denomination in America, Peck and Jonathan Going carried on undeterred.
- Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
- The SBC repeatedly lacked the capacity to embrace J. P. Boyce's vision for a Southern Baptist seminary. With three other founders, Boyce eventually raised the money on his own (indeed, much of it WAS his own) and launched the school. Once it was successful, of course, the SBC gladly took it over.
- Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Let's give credit where credit is due: The Baptist General Convention of Texas did play a role in birthing SWBTS. But let's also not be so naïve as to miss B. H. Carroll's mammoth role in making SWBTS a reality. Once SWBTS was successful, of course, the SBC gladly took it over.
- The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
- Lottie Moon begged for Southern Baptists to launch a special offering at Christmas for world missions, but with little success at first. The giant shadow that she cast was the immediate cause of our most successful special offering's coming to be.
- Southern Baptist Disaster Relief
- Cameron Byler and Bob Dixon created SBC Disaster Relief in response to Hurricane Beulah in 1967, serving makeshift meals out of the back of a truck. Once DR was on its feet, the SBC gladly took it over.
I could give more examples, but I believe that these are enough at least to give my thesis a hearing. The SBC is the manager, not the creator. The SBC is Microsoft. Conventions don't create things; people do.
And I'm not saying that is a bad thing. Microsoft may not be cool, but it certainly is successful as a corporation (Yes, as a confirmed Macaholic, it pains me to say so!). Good ideas, once they have been innovated, often need a good manager to help them gain stability and endurance. With its Cooperative Program, boards of trustees, corporate and legal expertise, and extensive mailing list, the Southern Baptist Convention is in a great position to provide support to established movements, even if it is not nearly nimble enough to get them established in the first place, usually.
But even if it isn't a bad thing, it does suggest that you're likely to wind up really frustrated if you come to the SBC with all of the wrong, Appleish expectations:
- If you have a great new vision from God for something spectacular to do as a cooperative ministry, don't go to the SBC to try to get them to do it. You go out and do it. After all, you're the one with the vision for it, right? If it proves to be something worthwhile and blessed with success, the SBC could prove very helpful later on, and will probably be quite interested.
- Every so often, the SBC is going to restructure, reorganize, re-cast the vision, and the like. The Convention has to do this sort of thing for several reasons. First, as it acquires and imitates all of these great ideas of other people and institutions, the SBC accretes enough extras that it has to reorganize periodically to figure out where it all fits. Second, when contemporary cultural ideas about business organization change, an organization built around mimicry rather than original thinking is going to shift to reflect changes in the times. Third, nothing excites a manager more than tinkering with an organizational structure, whereas a creator probably tires pretty quickly of such things. There are other reasons, but I digress. The point is, these periodic restructurings normally are pretty benign, and you probably do yourself a service neither to place much hope in them nor to let them bother you that much.
Putting creative people into a managerial structure is not going to make the structure yield great creativity. It will likely make the creative people somewhat less creative and a good bit more productive. The best computer programmers I ever worked with were guys who liked to START programming in earnest around 10:30 PM and wind up debugging code at 3:40 AM with a Mountain Dew in one hand and a keyboard under the other. OK, some of them drank Jolt. In fact, they said that Jolt was the Microsoft programmer's drink, while Mountain Dew was the Mac programmer's drink. Why? Because Mountain Dew is WYSIWYP (I'm not going to spell it out for you). But I digress.
The point is that managers want people to show up at 8:00 AM sharp and work normal hours, or maybe stay a little late. And, when programmers will stick to the managerial hours, they get more sleep and are probably more productive overall. But they are more creative when you let them live in their little idiosyncratic world.
So, even if the SBC structure is helpful to creative people in some ways and may protect highly creative people from their own selves in a thousand different ways, many highly creative people are going to chafe under the restrictions of working as a denominational employee. Expect it. Expect to hear about it from them. But take it with a grain of salt. Because a lot of those folks would create beautiful, wonderful, imaginative ministries and blow them to smithereens in mere months without somebody holding their feet down to planet Earth.
- When it comes to theology, creativity is almost always a really bad thing, unless you are THE Creator.
- Having possessed the entrepreneurial derring-do to launch some wonderful ministerial effort, and knowing full well that a group like the Southern Baptist Convention would have been the first (may actually HAVE been the first) to turn its nose up at the riskiness of the proposition and entirely fail to see the vision that you saw, it takes a great deal of humility and a heart that cares about what gets done rather than who gets the credit to let go of that wonderful thing that you birthed and to place it into the hands of an institution like the SBC. But that's a formula that has worked well over and over, and you've probably done a wise and Christian thing in the long run when you've taken such an action.
- Don't expect the SBC to inspire you. A great many PEOPLE in the SBC will greatly inspire you if you give them a chance. But in the long run, go to the Bible for inspiration. Let Jesus do that. Expect the SBC to provide this sometimes-bland, occasionally-restrictive, often-grounding framework that takes inspiration as input and churns out accomplishment. Not with perfect efficiency…no, not by a long shot. But with economies of scale that wild-eyed radicals often fail to appreciate.
Applying this to myself, I think that we ought to have a yearly special offering for our seminaries. Our professors live in near poverty. New Orleans seminary executives may soon appear on a street corner near you with an outstretched tin cup to help keep the seminary afloat financially. The lion's share of the Cooperative Program goes to entities that also collect enormous amounts of money OUTSIDE of the Cooperative Program.
It is my understanding that some people have taken this idea to the Executive Committee in the past, but have found no interest there. One shouldn't automatically take that as a sign of some sort of animosity on the part of the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee just isn't there to start successful things. If we were waiting for the Executive Committee to start something, we'd have no seminaries, no mission boards—we'd be sitting still in Kettering with the echoes of William Carey's deathless sermon still ringing throughout the room, destined to do nothing yet again.
So, I'm going to start just such an offering in my church. And maybe some other people will see the need and join me in the effort. And if it catches on, and if the Southern Baptist people make a success of it all, then the Executive Committee will come along and take it over, and somebody somewhere in a lavish Nashville office will take credit for the whole thing.
And that will be just fine by me.