They meet in converted store fronts, centuries-old stone cathedrals just off of the courthouse square, rented office units, crowded living rooms, large up-to-date campuses, and small clapboard-sided structures. Some of them are unashamedly "free will," while others have points that even Calvin didn't know of. The worship services in some are considered "high church" (I call them Baaahptists), and others use a guitar, a bass, a keyboard, and (dare I say it) a drum set-with nary a hymnal in sight.
What is one thing that unites these different congregations? They are all Southern Baptist churches.
Even the "Southern" part is a misnomer; the convention officially operates in 41 US states and 153 countries. SBC missionaries even work in countries where they are not supposed to operate. I never cease to be amazed at what the convention continues to accomplish and how diverse it is.
For the last two years, I've been involved in a church that is not in the SBC. My frustrations with the SBC were varied, but I have come to some realizations over the last couple of years:
1) Most of the frustrations I had were with particular churches (okay, and particular people too).
2) There really is no perfect denomination (I'm using the term loosely, but you could also use the terms network, organization, association, fellowship, etc.). I know this is obvious, but I've really come to the fresh realization that in every church some issue is going to surface that forces the believer to ask: "Is this a hill I'm willing to fight and die on, should we agree to disagree, or should I just go with the flow?"
3) SBC churches have definitely given me a great deal over the last thirty years. It would be wise for me to proceed prayerfully, carefully, and slowly in any decision in which I might permanently end any association that I have had with the SBC.
4) The Cooperative Program of the SBC continues to be very effective and efficient, despite its size and age. While there are many things it can do better, there are many things is does well.
I've been having a lot of these thoughts against the backdrop of the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis on June 10 and 11. The concern of newly-elected president Johnny Hunt (and others in the convention) is that there is a trend among younger ministers to leave the convention for other, seemingly greener theological and ministerial pastures.
I was talking with a good friend this past weekend. We went to college together, and not many theological issues come up that I don't discuss them with him and seek out his counsel and viewpoint. I shared with him a struggle that I've been having; in particular, I'm wondering if Baptist ministers of our generation are to remain in the convention to bring about change within it, rather than jumping off to find something new. Without a doubt, it is easier to go find a church where the problems we have don’t exist, but is that the right thing to do?