Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why did you leave the Baptist Church? (Part Four: Leadership Problems)

The Baptist church is struggling in the area of leadership. I see their troubles falling into two broad categories.

The Baptist church, as a result of the independence of their local churches, does not have any denominational standard for ordination. Some require this, others require that. Some don't seem to require anything. Let me describe my experience in the churches in which I've served and worshiped, including my own licensure in the SBC.

A seminary education is only sometimes required. It is not uncommon for a church not to require a seminary degree or equivalent for ordination. In some cases where the degree is required, they are not very discerning with regard to the institution. One pastor I served under never received his undergrad degree, received his grad degree from a small free will baptist school that was unaccredited in Oklahoma, and then got his "doctorate" from an online seminary that was also unaccredited.

The man being ordained in most cases needs to be able to express a sense of calling to the ministry. This sense of calling is not to be questioned. It is internal and the deacons doing the examination are not in a position to question it (although in extreme cases they might anyway).

The man will then be examined with regard to his doctrinal views. The deacons I've known were often not equipped to ask the proper questions here, nor to evaluate the answers they received. This portion is often left out of the exam altogether. Most commonly the questions focus on the five "fundamentals".

The man is not examined in most cases with regard to his knowledge of Scripture.

The man is questioned with regard to his moral stature. He will almost always be asked about divorce. In most cases divorce is an automatic disqualifier, with prejudice.

There may be a brief reading of 1 Tim 3 and discussion of the qualifications found there, but unless there is some glaring deficiency, the man is passed.

The assumption in these exams is typically that if the man is called by God, we cannot question it without an extreme dysfunction making itself obvious in the man's life.

Men can be ordained without an external call to ministry. If you believe you are called, even if no one is calling you, you can be ordained. A man can be ordained with no indication that he will do anything other than sit in the pew the rest of his life.

This is not an uncharitable account. This is how most Baptist churches choose their ordained ministers. The process can be even simpler for deacons, who then go on to rule the church in some cases.

The problem here should be apparent. Far too often men that are not qualified or equipped are filling their pulpits. The result is often what I address next.

Moral and Ethical Failure
I admit I can only speak anecdotally here. But I shouldn't have to produce a poll (although there may be one...anyone know of one?). The people of Israel in the Old Testament didn't need a poll to know that their leaders were consistently leading them astray. My many years in the SBC, combined with the many churches that I have been in, combined with my connection to many more churches and pastors as an SBC pastor in a large church in a major metro area in the South has had the effect of placing me on top of a proverbial hill from which I am able to survey the SBC landscape quite well. What I see is a church whose pastors are experiencing moral failure far too often. I see college presidents using the school and its assets for their own personal gain and playing hardball politics to get their way at the expense of their students, their faculty, their administrators, and anyone else that gets in their way. I see pastors doing the same with their congregations. I see deacons letting them get away with it. Pastors are engaged in the use of pornography and even when caught are not admonished (this is an actual case I am familiar with). Pastors are running off with their secretaries or some other woman in the church and are unrepentant. All men may be subject to these failures, but it is in the SBC that I see it becoming commonplace. I do not relish or take delight in saying such things! I do not declare this victoriously! I say it with a broken heart. My experience is that the leadership of the SBC, as a body (even though there are certainly many godly men in SBC leadership...these things shouldn't be true of the majority before they are considered a problem!) is sick. There are remedies, but I do not believe the people of the SBC have the means or the will to address it.

There are, thankfully, not only godly men remaining, but some of them are standing up and recognizing the terrible problem with which their denomination is faced. These men have so far been largely ignored. Their ministries are hailed as vital to the health of the denomination. Some congregations sign up to do better, but for the most part these beacons are only given lip service. Cases where they are having an impact are simply too few (relative to the mammoth SBC) to make a difference denominationally. Mark Devers' IX Marks Ministries comes to mind. The Founders Movement does as well.

In short, I believe that as a result of their theological indifference, some poor theology and practice picked up historically from such men as the heretic Charles Finney (I use this label formally not lightly), and their almost nonexistent ordination standards, the SBC is finally beginning to reap the consequences in the form of leadership that is all too often weak morally and theologically. This consistent experience washing over me like waves on the beach finally wore me down and together with the other reasons given in this series, caused me to leave the SBC.