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

1 comment:

Danny said...

It's going to a long time, if ever, when moderate churches give themselves completely to denominationlike organizations again. There seems to a shift back to the societal method, as you mentioned. The CP worked well for a long time, and still does with the SBC.

Change is not easy, is it? Glad to be where we are though as a movement.