Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not-Yet-Aging (Much) Speakers

I write today in the context of an article by Brad Whitt and a response by Ed Stetzer (UPDATE: Peter Lumpkins has entered the conversation as well with this article, which actually was up before mine was). The general subject matter, although much is involved here, is the content of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference vis-à-vis the various demographics within (and semi-within) the Southern Baptist Convention.

Participating in the comment streams of these articles provided me with some insight as to how other people have perceived past speakers at various Southern Baptist conferences. Learning to understand other people's point of view, even when it does not produce agreement, always is helpful.

Dr. Stetzer's article expresses amazement that anyone could possibly believe that "traditional" (whatever that means) Southern Baptists are being marginalized. What I'd like to do in this article, as benignly as I know how, is to offer a way for him and for any who share his puzzlement to gain some insight.

First, I think it is not exactly on-target to analyze past pastors conferences as though they were evidence relevant to what Dr. Whitt has written. Traditionalists in Southern Baptist life may be a bit like conservatives in political life. Those who are not conservative will generally tolerate (while arguing with) most conservatives, but they will not tolerate a Clarence Thomas or a Sarah Palin. Being conservative is mildly irritating, but being a black conservative is traitorous and being a female conservative makes one deserving of caricature.

What is necessary, I think, to answer Dr. Whitt's post is some exemplar of any room for a YOUNG traditionalist like Brad Whitt to have a voice in national Southern Baptist life. Otherwise, it is possible that young non-traditionalists (again, whatever that means) are, instead of tolerant to diversity, merely patient.

Second, just as it is helpful for Dr. Stetzer to help somebody like me to understand what kinds of things can happen at SBC Pastors Conferences to marginalize and build ill-will among that group of methodologically diverse Southern Baptists who also happen to share with us a commitment to Southern Baptist ministries and theology, perhaps it would be helpful to give an example of the kind of thing that can happen at a conference to prod and provoke people like myself.

Fresh in my memory is an occasion at which a very young pastor of a large church was invited to speak at a Southern Baptist gathering. Here is a summary of his time at the microphone:

  1. He began—I kid you not…the first words out of his mouth—by correcting the person who introduced him to let everyone know that his church was actually a good bit bigger than the introduction had let on. The figures were a couple of months out-of-date, you see, and he wanted to make sure that everybody understood that his church had gotten to be even more massive since then.
  2. So, his church was very successful, and for this he was thankful, but he was really worried because not many churches are as successful as his. So, the purpose of his talk would be to "give you a couple of reasons why your church is not successful."
  3. The first reason why most people's churches aren't as successful as his? Our churches don't have any relationships with any lost people. And, in fact, a church just like our churches fired him from being a youth minister solely because he wanted to have relationships with lost people and they (pastor, administrative pastor, chairman of deacons, and…nemesis of nemeses…an old person) hated lost people and hated him for not hating lost people. By this point in his speech, I must confess that I was already seeing a thing or two in his personal attitudes that seemed to me more likely to give him employment troubles at a church than his passion for lost people.
  4. The second reason why most people's churches aren't as successful as his? If the people in our churches were to develop any relationships with lost people, our churches are the last place that they would dare to bring them. We wear ties and suits. We sing the wrong music. We talk about theology. We fail to let demographic research be THE driving factor shaping our entire practice of church. All of these things, he said, we must change or die. Nothing about this speech sounded like an engraved invitation for all of us to join in a methodological chorus.
  5. I keep calling it a speech, because it cannot in good conscience be classified as a sermon. There was no text…no real reference to the Bible anywhere in the lot of this. If he needed help with finding an appropriate scriptural springboard for what he had to say, I might have suggested the story of Rehoboam.

So, perhaps this will pull back the veil a bit and help those who were disturbed by Brad Whitt's post to gain some understanding of whence his angst arises. When I walk out of a speech like that, I don't feel congenial. Just writing about it some time after the fact, I still have to work at feeling congenial when I relive the moment.

But I'd like to feel congenial. I have no problem with methodological diversity that is truly nothing more than that. We have a pretty wide array of methodological diversity within our own congregation—a good bit more, I imagine, than does the speaker I mentioned above. Theology matters to me. Theology and methodology are not non-overlapping regions. Some methodology arises out of or reflects a church's theology. We've got things to work out as we go forward that are not easy. I know that. I believe that we can do it nonetheless.

It will help us to find a stable working relationship among our diverse churches if we hear less of these types of speeches at our conferences. It will also help if some acknowledgement is made of young Southern Baptists in the mold of Brad Whitt. It seems to me that the instance I gave above is not isolated and represents a phenomenon not acknowledged by Dr. Stetzer's analysis, which seemed to portray a convention in which traditionalists are judgmental toward non-traditionalists, who are tolerant and kind and sweet and celebrative of diversity. I'm suggesting that Brad Whitt has accurately noted a widespread (but not universal) non-traditionalist expectation that the death of ministries like Brad Whitt's and mine is merely a matter of time.

21 comments:

peter lumpkins said...

Bart,

I appreciate your perspective. You never fail* to make good sense.

With that, I am...
Peter

*well, almost never :^)

selahV said...

Bart, You say, You are "...suggesting that Brad Whitt has accurately noted a widespread (but not universal) non-traditionalist expectation that the death of ministries like Brad Whitt's and mine is merely a matter of time."

And I suggest that those non-traditionlists who hold that expectation will be surprised to find death but a figment of their imaginations. selahV

John Mann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan Abernathy said...

I fail to see what the story of this obviously arrogant and immature young pastor has to do with the speakers at this year's PC or the supposed marginalization of traditionalists in the SBC.

Piper, Patrick, and Giglio- the speakers who have seemed to have riled the most rank and file SBC- are in no way reflected in the story contained in this post. All three are known for their humility, solid theology, and a passion for the church to work together across generations and preferences.

Further, I think if you started talking to young pastors across the SBC who are influenced by any of these 3 men you would find a distaste for his attitude and a concern for his motives.

Alan Cross said...

Bart,

Good post. I pastor a church that is very young and methodologically non-traditional. But, honestly, I could care less about hearing from the latest and greatest in Southern Baptist life. I am not interested in being yelled at from either end of the spectrum how we all don't care about the lost. People in SBC life have built careers and churches on being different or "right" and little of it has anything to do with Jesus.

Another question: why do we even care who is on the platform at the Pastor's Conference? I see lots of pastors of churches spending large amounts of time talking to other pastors at conferences and I am wondering what it is all for. Why do we care if out ministry gets the limelight among other pastors and the denomination? I honestly can't think of a more pointless pursuit in the vast scheme of things.

Bart Barber said...

Ryan,

The story serves two points that make sense only in the context of the two preceding articles that I referenced at the beginning of the post:

1. For anyone who can't begin to understand how somebody like Brad Whitt could ever come to believe that traditionalists are being marginalized (and that's what Stetzer's article did—it proclaimed disbelief that anybody could come to such a conclusion), I'm giving this as evidence of one of the factors that contribute to people's feeling this way.

2. For anyone who thinks that the landscape in the SBC is that traditionalists want to keep a methodological solo going while non-traditionalists want a nice, warm, fuzzy, open methodological chorus, this story serves to demonstrate that such a characterization of the convention is not entirely accurate.

Bart Barber said...

Peter, you're the most footnote-fascinated guy on the Internet! ;-)

Thanks.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, SelahV. God bless.

Bart Barber said...

Alan,

I would make some small connection between this post and my previous one in February. Heroes are made. It matters who the heroes are. You and I, we're probably a tad bit more independent than most. People put on the platform at conferences (among other places) are being held up as examples, whether we realize as much or not.

But I would like to see something different altogether, rather than just "control" of the Pastors Conference being with one group or another. I'd prefer that we had more things along the lines of the Mohler-Patterson debate from 2006. Something more substantive and dialogical.

Ryan Abernathy said...

Sorry Bart we must have missed each other somewhere. I have read both article referenced in your post, and Peter's, and Nathan Finn's. I still do not see how your experience at ONE event somehow indicates a rising irrelevance of traditionalists.

Further, I am still waiting for you to connect the dots for me from your experience to what is obviously a problematic pastor's conference line up for many of your contemporaries. Seriously, help me out here.

Do you honestly think think that one guy being petty and critical and prideful is representative of a movement? Where have you heard similar criticisms- particularly from those with influence on their side? Further, what are the theological issues at stake here? If there are NO theological issues at stake, then we are really just feeling "irrelevant" because of a methodological shift. That seems petty to me. What about to you?

Joe White... said...

Bart,

Good post.

In my opinion, these two sentences in particular stand out... "Theology and methodology are not non-overlapping regions. Some methodology arises out of or reflects a church's theology." Amen!

I would love to see you elaborate on this thought in the future.

Bart Barber said...

Ryan,

Brother, I can see your confusion and perhaps can sense some frustration arising from it. You're looking for the connection between the point I'm making and this year's SBC Pastors Conference.

You're having trouble finding it because it isn't there.

Perhaps you're looking for it because of the sentence "The general subject matter, although much is involved here, is the content of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference vis-à-vis the various demographics within (and semi-within) the Southern Baptist Convention." That's the only part of the post that really touches upon the SBC Pastors Conference, so that's got to be the cause for which you are asking the question. The sentence fails to specify, "general subject matter" of WHAT?

You seem to have presumed that it is the general subject matter of this post. It is not. Rather, the immediately preceding sentence noted that I am writing in the context of three other posts. Brad Whitt's post doesn't mention the SBC Pastors Conference, but he mentioned it in the ensuing comments. Ed Stetzer's response was almost entirely about the SBC Pastors Conference.

I, having followed that dialogue about the SBC Pastors Conference, have written something else touching upon a point that arose in that dialogue. It is a point that is not directly concerning the SBC Pastors Conference. That's why, as you have noted, it does not make mention of the specific speakers or really say anything at all about this year's conference.

If you'd like to talk with someone about THAT topic, then you might go over to Peter's blog. He, as I read him, is indeed talking directly about the SBC Pastors Conference. That would be a good place to have that conversation.

The only connection with the SBC Pastors Conference that is relevant here, I think, would be if you thought that you could indicate somebody speaking at this year's—or some very recent year's—SBC Pastor's Conference who would be a young SBC traditionalist (so to speak) along the lines delineated by Brad Whitt's post.

The point of this post is to respond to the idea that it is preposterous for traditionalists to ever have come up with the idea that anybody in the SBC wants to marginalize them.

The speaker that I mentioned is not an isolated instance. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard that the SBC and her churches are in great shape if the 1950s ever comes back. There's a pretty consistent metanarrative being put forward that SBC churches must abandon traditional methods or die.

It is one thing to say that we CAN have different methods. it is another thing to say that we MUST have different methods. Saying that we must have different methods is not, as far as I can tell, any more cooperative than saying that we must have the same methods.

Does that answer your question?

Tony said...

... ... ...

2. BAPTISTS INCOGNITO
It seems that Dr. Whitt has utilized a great number of keystrokes to defend his heritage as a Southern Baptist. In the line-up of Pastor's Conference speakers for the 2011 SBC, 6 out of the 11 pastors speaking lead churches without the word "Baptist" in their name. At the 2010 SBC Pastor's Conference, that number was 6 out of 9. Does the church have to have the word "Baptist" in its name to be Baptist? No. But there is definitely a growing trend to drop the Baptist identity from the church name. They claim that it has to do with cultural relevance and whatnot, but it really boils down to a shame of Baptist heritage on some level. Those who come to the church not knowing it is a Baptist one - I wonder how they feel when the proverbial wool is pulled from over their eyes. And how can we expect to rebuild the denominational reputation if we don't identify ourselves as affiliated with it? Hmmmm... doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Unless, of course, Baptist heritage and future is not of significance to you.
I know, I know - Heaven will be filled with Baptists, Methodists, Non-Denominationalists, Catholics, etc, etc, etc. But there is an incredible advantage to being Southern Baptist on this side of the grave. It is found in the greatest cooperative effort for global missions ever conceived or birthed. And sadly, as I believe Dr. Whitt is pointing out, these "outsiders from within" are trying to "fix" who we are and how we do our work when much of it "ain't broke."

But what do I know? - I'm just young, traditional, and irrelevant. ;)

All joking aside, I believe that all of us want to reach a lost dying world for Christ. It would be irresponsible of me to claim that Dr. Stetzer, and others in his same theological/methodological/philosophical boat do not love the lost and honestly want to see them won for Jesus. And I'm thankful that we can even hold these conversations while working toward unity of vision and cause. I'm very grateful for all of the work he (Dr. Stetzer) and all of the others have done for the kingdom's cause - I've learned much from them and others... and hope to continue in that manner for as long as I have a mind capable of it.

John 17:20-21.

Blessings,
Tony

Bart Barber said...

Tony,

I see that half of your post wouldn't go through. I have no idea why. Some sort of Blogger problem, I guess.

Tony said...

So sorry - for some reason, my first comment didn't show up. Here is part 1.

First, let me apologize for the length. I realize that two comment posts are not better than one. However...

Bart, once again, it is a pleasure to read and interact with your thoughts. I am a "young one" in the SBC, and I share much of Whitt's sentiments. I read his blog post last week, and identified with it immediately. Likewise, I was at that same SBC meeting when the speech to which you referred in this post was delivered - and I was equally as appalled by it.

There were two specific things I enjoyed about Whitt's post that I'm sure all of us noticed, but it seems not many of us are discussing in the commentaries. I can't speak for him, but these two items seem to be paramount to his inference of irrelevancy from "the powers that be" in the SBC.

1. GLOBAL ACTIVITY OVER LOCAL ACTIVITY.
There is a *radical* push for pastors to be globally relevant. And it is not met with overwhelming disdain in that global influence for the gospel message is vitally important. However, it seems that I'm being urged to be "global" at the expense of my "local" relevance. I recently heard an SBC speaker proclaim, "Pastor, if you don't have a passport, shame on you!"
I infer from Dr. Whitt's post that he feels much like I do - Is every church, every pastor, every believer called to spend ALL of his or her time, energy, and finances on ministry across the globe while our neighbors and friends around the corner perish in their ignorance? Am I not first called to reach my community (Jerusalem) for Christ, while supporting (through finances, sending, and going) missions regionally (Judea and Samaria) and globally (ends of the Earth)?
Please don't read what I'm not writing. Global missions are vital to the advancement of God's Kingdom. But if He has placed me here, I should assume it is for a reason. I cannot and will not become MORE "global" than "local." It's just not biblical. Surely Dr. Stetzer understands this well, as his latest work, "Transformational Church," properly encourages the "Missionary Mentality" amongst local church attendees. His assault on Dr. Whitt's article claims a methodological battle - but this is unmistakable theological substance.

... ... ...

Ryan Abernathy said...

Bart-

Thanks for your clarification, It does make the issue more clear for me regarding your post. I appreciate the interaction.
Ryan

Bart Barber said...

Tony,

I think you correctly observe that both of those points are ones that Brad Whitt made in his post, and that both of those points have been passed over mostly in the ensuing conversation.

Here's where I stand on the two of those:

1. I think that a balance has to be struck among (to use an accessible scheme) the various levels of the Acts 1:8 Challenge. If we ignore things at home, we will soon not have dollars or missionaries to send overseas. And there are areas in the US that are as devoid of churches and believers as is mainland China.

However, I do believe that some re-prioritizaiton of money in the direction of overseas missions is right and needed. One reason why my church is a part of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is because we forward 55% of our CP receipts to the SBC. 80/20 is not a good prioritization of CP funds. I'm thankful that state conventions are moving toward 50/50.

As they do so, churches need to join the Cooperative Program.

2. I agree entirely with Dr. Whitt's point, as well as yours.

peter lumpkins said...

Bart,

In response to Ryan, you wrote: "The point of this post is to respond to the idea that it is preposterous for traditionalists to ever have come up with the idea that anybody in the SBC wants to marginalize them."

A friend of mine (and yours) quipped to me in an email concerning my present post on this subject, "So let’s see if we get this right. Stetzer and Finn want to prove they are not marginalizing Whitt or other traditional Southern Baptists by writing an article marginalizing him"

profundus quod subtilis

With that, I am...
Peter

Dr. James Willingham said...

There is also the issue of whose tradition, and how traditional is one's tradition?

Paul said...

Sorry I didn't get that link right. Just go to sbcvoices.com and it's the second post down.

Paul said...

Bart, I left another comment, but it appears that maybe Blogger ate it or something. I'm not going to retype it, so feel free to delete my comments on this thread.

Thanks