Perhaps you have heard the same weary questions, “What can we do to bring young people back into our church?” “Why are we declining?” “Our funding is becoming lower each month, what are we going to do to?” “What is the future of Baptists?” “Will Baptists exist in 50 years, and what of organizations like CBF?” It is interesting that the common denominator with all such questions is a focus on our self.
It is so easy to become fixated upon the wrong questions. We need questions that steer our thoughts and lives to those living in our community, those living in our world. We need those questions that lead us to reflect upon ourselves for the purpose of serving others. Questions that generate dialogue, discussion and action rooted in the incarnational mission of God through which our continuous transformation into the people of God occurs. Our identity is not rooted in buildings, budgets, and the number of people that walk though our doors on a given Sunday. Our identity is rooted in Christ.
We should strongly consider where we root our identity. Wheatly, in Leadership and the New Science writes of the formative power of meaning in an organizations life. She points out that an organization must always remain consistent with itself and its past (Wheatly1992, 135). This requires careful discernment. In Life on the Vine, Kenneson challenges the church to take up the action of discernment. Kenneson warns that we may fall into the trap of producing fruit that, “tastes less like the sweetness of the Spirit, and more like the sourness associated with self concern” (27). Our Baptist churches do produce fruit. Is it the fruit of the Spirit of God? Kenneson says it quite eloquently when he warns about not discerning, “…we insist we are fig trees, yet we bear many of the outward attributes of a stinging nettle” (29).
This much I know. If our church is representing those in power at the expense of justice for the poor, marginalized and neglected; if our theology is one that brings people in line with a denomination or human institution rather than free them to be who they were created to be by God so that they can serve God and others; if our church is more about the power of humanity rather than the sovereignty of a loving God of grace, then I too would rebel against such a church. I am sorry but it’s the Baptist in me.
Rooted in my Baptist heritage is the memory of rebels John Smyth, William Bradford and others who upon discerning the will of the Spirit at work in this world covenanted to live the way of Christ and realized that the Spirit leads us into new truth as we study God’s word in fellowship with one another in a particular community and time (Shurden 1993:13). It makes me sad to think that we Baptists have gotten so close to our culture that our identity and relevance blows away with the winds of culture change.
Our God is eternally relevant, active and continuously calling us to join in God’s mission. Our identity is rooted in Christ for eternity, but our mission is rooted in this time in history in our particular communities. Will we practice discernment? Will we tune our hearts, minds, ears and feet to the living God we serve? Will we shift our questions from self to service?
Kenneson, Philip D. 1999. Life on the vine: cultivating the fruit of the spirit in Christian community. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.
Shurden, Walter B. 1993. The Baptist identity: four fragile freedoms. Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Pub.
Wheatley, Margaret J. 1992. Leadership and the new science: learning about organization from an orderly universe. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.