Last Thursday, Dave Miller asked a provocative question to his SBC Voices audience; namely, are we entering a post-cooperative program era in SBC life? It is an interesting piece that is worth reading. In the comment section Matt Svoboda asks a question that I have heard quite a few times. It is also a question that I share a good amount of agreement with:
When the older generation in the SBC wants to spend all of our time dealing with Driscoll books in Lifeway, keeping an anti-alcohol stance, crying about the growth of Calvinism and how its hurting the SBC, and has no desire to even have the missional conversation the rest of the country is having- why in the world would the younger generation want to have a strong identity in the SBC?
Matt goes on to note that “the SBC has a whole lot of unnecessary baggage that a lot of young pastors don’t want to have to deal with”. I responded to Matt, but honestly this article (and even my response to Matt at Voices) is not directed towards Matt.
Before I make my point allow me to explain how you could misread my point. If you think this is a defense of the SBC or the Cooperative Program you have missed it. If you think this is a response to Matt’s comment, you’ve missed it. If you develop the impression that I am against church planting then perhaps my point has not been clear enough. It is not my desire to paint with a broad brush or even to give an opinion about the SBC, the CP, and church plants. My aim is singular. I want to address the pastor’s heart. I want to humbly say, “Pastor, check your heart is it possible that what I am saying here is true.” If it not then move on.
I am excited about the Jesus-centered/gospel-centered movement within the church. I am happy that many are giving themselves to planting churches and communicating the gospel in places where it seldom is communicated. I am thankful for the faithful gospel proclamation that is happening all throughout our cities, thanks to the renewed emphasis that NAMB is placing on church planting in our major metropolitan areas. It is wonderful that gospel advancement is being heralded as far more important than petty bickering. That is a good thing.
When guys say things like “what do we gain from being in the SBC” with all of the “baggage” that comes with it, I hear what they are saying. Believe me. As young pastor that happens to be a Calvinist I have dealt with my fair share of “baggage”. So I hear you. And I understand the pull to say, “why stay in the SBC when it is only slowing us down missionally”? Why put up the fight any more? I have asked that question myself.
And that is a fair question for you to ask. And at the end of the day you may find that your church does not benefit from being affiliated with the SBC. That’s not my concern. What I am concerned about is the pastor’s heart. I know my own delusional heart and I know that sometimes I can use gospely sounding buzzwords to mask a love of comfort and a fear of conflict.
Saying, “I want to be free to advance the gospel and not have to deal with all of the SBC baggage” might be code for, “I haven’t the stomach or the faith to faithfully plod through conflict. It’s easier to plant a church because I can set things up the way that I want—the way I believe the Bible teaches—from the beginning, and I do not have to be bothered with all of the baggage of people that disagree with me theologically. So we can get on with gospel advancement much sooner”. (By the way I’m not saying this is what Matt is saying in his comments—remember the part about missing the point if you think it’s about Matt’s comment).
Ten Years from Now
Fair enough. But it seems to me that pastors are often crafted in the kiln of suffering and conflict. I have to wonder what a church and this pastor will look like in twenty years if this pastor’s heart continues to build his kingdom without baggage. Because the truth is, these believers—even the ones prone to being curmudgeonly—are God’s grace to us pastors. We need them.
Is it possible that our passion for gospel advancement extends to applying the gospel to the curmudgeon? Isn’t that one of the things that we say in the gospel-centered movement, “The gospel is not the ABC’s of salvation it is the A-Z”. “We need the gospel for the whole of the Christian life”. Isn’t this true even if the chap in the pew thinks he doesn’t need the gospel from A-Z and he wishes those young whippersnappers would just join the Axe29 network with all their free body spray? Might gospel advancement make this “unnecessary baggage” necessary?
Pastor, your heart is prone to being deceived, just like mine. You have enough theological learning to make shameful fear sound holy and wise. “Good stewardship” can be a great mask for greed and fear. If you are striking out to make a difference and become a church planter, I just ask you to check your heart. Is it possible that you’re just wanting to start a new church because you love comfort and don’t want to do the hard thing of being used by God to revitalize a dying church? Or to be “boring” and faithful plod and proclaim the gospel in an average setting for twenty plus years? Is it possible that in your pride you think you have ecclesiology all figured out (of course, you and all the dudes you hang with) and don’t want to have to be chiseled by different opinions?
If that is the case and you get what you want, I feel for you. It will be to your peril to pastor a church that looks just like you. You needed sharpening even by those that might be theologically wrong. I can’t help but wonder what will happen when the perfect church that you built (with the sovereign Lord’s help of course) starts going a way that you did not envision. Will you leave? Will you plant another church—referring to yourself as “just a pioneer”? Will you continue spiritualizing your love for comfort and fear of conflict? Or will you finally stay and be chiseled?
Don’t leave because of fear or comfort. But don’t stay for those reasons either.