Earlier this week, I visited with a friend who has publicly declared that he is no longer a part of his Southern Baptist-related state convention. After many disappointing experiences, he has come to see that the denomination is no longer relevant in a world with significant spiritual and physical needs. It has forsaken the sacred trust given to it by devoted Christians over the years.
My friend is going through period of grief and a sense of loss. He will always be a Baptist in his heart but he feels estranged from the faith tradition that literally gave him birth. His experience certainly reflects my own. Twenty years ago I was struggling with my own role within a denomination that had invested much in me and which I had attempted to serve and support for all of my life as a minster. I had been faithful to that faith community but found it going in a direction I perceived as destructive and irrelevant.
During that time I shared my concerns with a pastor friend. He listened and then asked, “Who do you really serve?” As I responded to that blunt inquiry, I realized that I served Christ first and then I was committed to serving His church. These commitments came before any choice of denominational identity.
Even though I have left that denomination behind, I continue to maintain relationships with friends who work within that tradition. Why? Because I like them and still try to make myself available to them. We have a history of working and serving together. Our relationships were built on mutual trust. In many ways, we are still fellow laborers in the cause of Christ.
Trusting relationships are the basis for any healthy organization—church, judicatory, denomination, not-for-profit or secular company. When we mutually agree that we are going to do something, we are obligated to follow through on that commitment. As Christians, we trust each other to keep our promises because we are brothers and sisters in Christ. When we succeed in our work, we rejoice together. When we fail, we don’t blame but we grieve together.
Undergirding any cooperative endeavor must be a foundation of trust. If we fail to respect, love, and serve one another, we will accomplish little for the Kingdom. When we forsake the role of servants, we lose the glue that holds us together.