Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Matter of Trust

If memory serves me correctly, there was once a television game show called, “Who Do You Trust?” Despite the questionable grammar, this is not a bad question for Baptists today. One of the casualties of the controversy among Baptists in the south was trust. Keeping and maintaining trust is also one of the greatest challenges for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship movement today.

As the battle was joined in the eighties, the key question from those seeking to move the convention in a new direction was, “Can we really trust those who are leading our institutions?” What that really meant was, “Are they doing it our way?” and the answer was “No.”

In the course of the controversy, many who had been leaders came to the point that they could not trust those in the institutions that they were attempting to "save" from the insurgents. (For more on this, read Cecil Sherman’s By My Own Reckoning.) Some of the institutional heads saw their defenders as “more trouble” than the leaders of the takeover crowd. Therefore, trust was lost between long time friends and has only begun to be restored after a number of years.

When new leadership came to the old Baptist institutions, the moderates questioned whether they could trust these leaders. Unfortunately, the answer has often been “No.” Even the house organs of the institutions have had to acknowledge questionable stewardship, poor leadership, and division among board members of the institutions.

As churches and individuals have left the old structure to affiliate with new partners like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, they have brought a certain level of caution and a reluctance to trust. Like the pet dog who has been kicked one time too many by a cruel master, they are afraid of being hurt and disappointed again.

This lack of trust introduces tentativeness into the relationships between various entities in the Fellowship movement. This means that churches fear giving up control to entities beyond themselves as they did in the past. The challenge that CBF and state organizations like TCBF face in relation to the churches is not that the churches will revert to the old structure but that they will pursue at least two other courses. First, they will choose not to affiliate with any cooperative group and pursue their own agenda. Second, they will hold their spiritual, financial, and personnel resources tightly and be unwilling to share those with others in joint endeavors. Such thinking leads to fragmentation in Baptist life.

Add to this the fact that we have adopted a “societal” system with every entity trying to relate to the local church directly. Churches choose their relationships in Baptist life. They decide if they will relate to CBF and/or the state organization. They decide if they want to support seminaries, publishing houses, news agencies, and other providers. We have often talked about this being a “web” based model, but such a model has its limitations and weaknesses. This approach overtaxes the gatekeepers in the churches and can dilute the impact that the churches’ resources can have beyond themselves.

I believe that each church is accountable to God to “discover and fulfill its God-given mission” but each church is also called to be part of the larger body of Christ in some way. Although the individual local congregation is at the center of Kingdom work, this does not preclude cooperation with other believers. In fact, being part of Kingdom work draws us into mutual sharing and collaborative ministry.

How do we build trust? By trusting. By being honest with each other. By living with integrity. We did not get into this problem overnight, and it will take time for us to rebuild bonds of trust and love

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lord, Teach Us How to Pray


In our church’s worship, we regularly recite the Lord’s Prayer. I think this is a positive addition that encourages worshippers of all ages to adopt a proper perspective on our relationship to God, God’s world, and our role in that world. The recitation of the Prayer also provides a sense of unity and connection with the universal church.

Author Brian McLaren has provided an alternative spoken version of the Lord’s Prayer that uses unfamiliar words and phrasing to help us to hear the message of the Prayer in a new way. McLaren suggests using it in public worship by having a leader recite a line, having the congregation echo it, and then leaving a moment of silence for reflection.

Our Father, above us and all around us,
May your unspeakable Name be revered.

Here to earth, may your kingdom come.
Here on earth, may your will be done as it is in heaven.

Give us today our bread for today.
And forgive us our wrongs as we forgive those who wrong us.

Lead us away from the time of trial.
But liberate us from the evil.

For the kingdom is yours and yours alone,
And the power is yours and yours alone,
And the glory is yours and yours alone.
Amen.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Blogging

I have been blogging for two years now and have posted over 120 blogs, over 40 this year alone. The medium gives me a good opportunity to reflect, organize my thoughts, and seek feedback from anyone who might be interested. Responses come occasionally and often from unexpected places. Recently I was involved in a conversation about blogs with a couple of colleagues. One was talking about how much time it took to do his blog and how he researched it very carefully. The other talked about the way he put his together and the joy he received form doing it. This started me thinking about different kinds of blogs and the approaches that individuals take to their blogs.

First, there are the “rants.” These are written by folks who just want to complain, attack, or get something off their chests. Some of these have been used in church conflict situations to further the cause of one side of the other. I don’t follow any of that type of blog. I can do my own rants!

Second, some blogs are more like journals where people reflect on their experiences and invite feedback. This is what I try to do in Barnabas File. It is not profound or well-researched (although I do try to be accurate in naming names and events), and simply shares my responses to life from my own perspective. Similar blogs are those written by my friends Danny Chisholm (http://dannychisholm.wordpress.com/feed/), Beth Bordeaux (http://gtmeval.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default) and Rodney Wilson (http://feeds.feedburner.com/GetARoom?format=xml). They are a “slice of life” with a personal point of view.

Third, there are the informative blogs where the author shares from his or her expertise. One of the best of these is NTStudies (http://ntstudies.wordpress.com/feed/) written by David May, a professor of New Testament at Central Seminary. David speaks out of his expertise and passion in a particular field. It is well thought out, informative, and useful.

Fourth, there are blogs that are done by a group of people, usually as part of some organization to further the goals of the group. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has a blog called The Fellowship Portal (http://cbfportal.wordpress.com/) that features comments from a number of contributors.

Fifth, there are dialogical blogs where two or more folks are discussing a topic and allow us to listen in on the dialogue. A good example is Mount and Mountain (http://mountandmountain.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default) where Mike Smith, a Baptist pastor, and Rami Shapiro, a Jewish rabbi, are involved in a dialogue on the Ten Commandments and the Sermon the Mount from their respective traditions.

Blogs offer a unique opportunity to connect with people in an interesting and informative way. You may have other examples than the ones I have cited. I would be interested in hearing about them.