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.

Qualification
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.

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

  1. GUNNY says:

    (1) “Men whose first and greatest felt need was to maintain control of their church because it was the source of their pride and self-assurance. Men who, seeking to protect this, were willing to spiritually slit the throat of any church member or staff member that didn’t support them fully, even in their sin.”(2)”Many SBC churches don’t require their pastors to be seminary graduates.”Our perceptions will be anecdotal and individual based on experience, but I think you’ve identified the problems with the two ends of the spectrum, the SBC megachurch/big church and the small church.There don’t seem to be (m)any in the middle. The first operate like corporations with the pastor being the CEO. He’s the man and it’s his way or the highway.Secondly, you have the majority of SBC churches which are small and can’t afford to be choosy in picking a pastor (or so they think). They will often even be anti-intellectual, so a seminary degree is not all that impressive since seminary professors and liberal seminary education (so they see it) are doing more harm than good.So, in these smaller churches, the basis for ordination is one who loves Jesus, feels called to preach, and (preferably) hasn’t been divorced.I have heard some appalling stories of how lax ordination exams were. The exams I would give our deacons were seen by many to be absurd, this by other pastors, mind you. Of course, I realized that part of my impetus was that in the SBC world deacons often assume the role of (ruling) elder for themselves, so I had to do my best to either (a) weed out the unqualified or (b) try to qualify those already in leadership.I’m sure our experiences have been different, but I speculate there’s a fair amount of corroboration, particularly with regard to poor leadership.

  2. About Janice says:

    This is so interesting to me Matt – thanks for sharing. One thing I came to realize after coming to the PCA was that presbyterian government is far superior to the congregationalist form the SBC takes, not to mention more in line with Scripture. This is a foundational “crack” in the SBC that bad leadership and bad theology will continue to flow through – there’s simply no accountability. Can’t wait for your next post!

  3. Thanks for the comments! I’m going to massage these two posts this morning to clean up typos and fix some things I overlooked. I’m trying for post number three before lunch sometime.Gunny, I appreciate your post. For those that don’t know, Gunny is a Baptist pastor, but he’s one of the exceptions. His affirmation of my point in this post is heartwarming (and at the same time heart breaking). Gunny and I differ on very few points, but he’s an example of one who has stayed to try and bring change from within. Although I don’t share his optimism, I admire it. Janice…I’ll be touching on church government in the next post. It really is at the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

  4. Revision complete on this post. Let me know if you find typos.

  5. Aaron says:

    Matt,I have really enjoyed reading your post. Your honesty is great! I think your enthusiasm for the PCA church is great as well. I used to be in a PCA church but I left for a lot of other reasons which don’t include theology (five point calvinist all the way) or church government (plurality of elders all day). But this is your post and your story so I think I just need to respect that and not babble about why I left the PCA church and now am a church planter. Blah, Blah, Blah…Anyway I was wanting to ask you a couple questions…First…As far as ordination I think I am getting that you believe that at least a seminary degree is necessary for that to take place right? Does this include the global church as a whole or just the “western” church that actually has countless centers for theological training? Does God only call those who have the money to get a biblical education? Can one pastor without a degree if He has been properly trained by “able” men? Do you have biblical text to back this up? Matt please don’t take these as “bait” questions because they are not. I just want to hear what you have to say. Like I said I come from a PCA church and appreciated it very much. I just would like to hear your take on the ordination of elders/pastors in light of these questions I just asked. Secondly…Concerning worship… You said that the regulative principle (which I am very aware of) is the more persuasive form. I am wondering also how this plays out in light of God in the global context. I am not trying to be a “punk” but it does seem that the Reformed traditon which is referred to here is very much a Western European (white to put it bluntly) tradition. I guess my question is… Do my African brothers and sisters in the faith put down the drums, stop clapping while they sing, and pick up a hymnal and sing How Great Thou Art?Now please here me I am not equating the doctrines of grace with European traditions. Augustine was a brown skinned man from North Africa and he has beautifully articulated the doctrines of grace far before a Luther or a Calvin. All I am saying that once Christianity mixed with the sword (Holy Roman Empire)shifted to the west it did adapt to a certain cultural expression. I don’t think there is any argument here between you and I. Ok I am really rambling…My question is this. Can this form of worship be contextualized? Is European hymns the standard or does God also receive the praises of His people through other musical expressions. And finally do you also have scriptural basis for these claims of the “regulative principle?” Actually having been in the PCA for a while I am well aware of those but maybe you have a different take. Like I said earlier I really enjoyed your post and look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks man and I think you making your story available is a wonderful thing. Grace and Peace,

  6. Thanks for the questions, Aaron. I appreciate the effort to avoid sounding argumentative, too.As for your first question…I believe seminary or an equivalent education/preparation for ministry are the ideal. The PCA does allow exceptions to the seminary requirement. We recognize that there may be circumstances where a man simply can’t acquire the degree. It isn’t the diploma that we care about. It’s the knowledge that one will ideally gain by going through the seminary process that we are looking for. The NTP discussed (and I think eventually approved, but can’t recall for sure) a program for a man for whom seminary wasn’t an option . He spent several years with a teaching elder (a TE, that’s an ordained PCA pastor for those of you that may not be familiar with the term). Seminary’s have proven to be a very effective means of theological education, so that’s the norm, but there’s nothing in the Bible that says “Thou shalt attend seminary.” and we recognize that. Overseas this is certainly a problem in some places. It is difficult for them to get such education. We want to do what we can to make it possible, either by funding their education at an approved seminary, or by setting up training centers near their geographic area. It won’t always be possible to get them the education first, so the church makes due and in the meantime we try to build that brother up in the knowledge of God.Of course, coming back to the issue with the SBC, they do not suffer from any lack of institutions or money. Their unwillingness to even recognize the importance of a solid preparation for ministry despite having the resources available to them is the root of my complaint.On Worship…Actually, the Presbyterian form of worship isn’t western. It is reflected in, and historically has great affinity to, the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox churches (in it’s broad outline) Their liturgy has manuscript evidence going all the way back to the second or third century. In fact, it appears that a liturgy containing the usual elements of prayer, praise, confession, preaching the Word, the sacraments, and benediction (among others) began in the East (Palestine) and spread into Europe, North Africa, and even East into India. It transcended culture, and since it was the form of worship in all the churches East and West for 1500 years, we can say with some confidence that in addition to bridging cultures it is timeless.The key to this is that it is more diverse than you might imagine. Our African brothers don’t need to set down their drums or stop clapping their hands. These things are the manner in which they go about worshiping God as he has commanded. God has commanded that he be praised. We see clapping and instrumentation in Scripture, particularly the OT. Hymns are not inspired, and therefore their form is not required. What I’m saying is that the form was able to withstand the test of time and transcend culture because it is suited to adaptation within the prescribed form. But when you take the African liturgy and the Armenian (not Arminian!) liturgy and the Greek liturgy and all the others in church history and lay them out side by side you will find that their form has much in common. If you saw them actually worshiping according to that form you would experience diversity of culture following the same form.This brings us back to the Baptists. They are not the only ones guilty of this, but again, the series is autobiographical. The Baptists felt that the old form was no longer useful to achieve their ends. They abandoned it in order to adopt a form that was unknown to the churches in history. This beautiful, amazing, God-ordained, culturally adaptable, temporally robust form of worship was set aside to follow a form devised by men such as Finney; men who in some cases were heretics.I appreciate your question because it raises such an important point in favor of liturgy. It isn’t some dead form of worship that Episcopalians and the reformed insist upon just because they are afflicted by nostalgia. We have biblical and historical basis for this form.The biblical question I answered under the section on worship. Part 2A, I think? Or maybe it was under the conclusion. But I’ll summarize here. First, the best thing to do is read Old’s “Worship: Reformed According to Scripture.” The argument isn’t easy to prooftext, so I can’t just throw out a couple of verses, but let me quote one here. The argument is basically that God has told his people how he is to be worshiped. He has forbidden us from taking up our own forms apart from his instruction. This makes sense, right? Even earthly kings tell their people how they are to be worshiped. They don’t allow their people to worship them just however they please. We find this demonstrated in the incident with Aaron’s sons. They bring fire to the temple just as they were supposed to. But contrary to God’s instruction, they get the fire from a source that isn’t set apart. It isn’t holy. God strikes them dead for not worshiping according to his instruction. (Look at Lev 10:1 for this account…they “offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.”But perhaps an even clearer text is Deut 12:29-32. God is telling Israel that when they get into the land, they are not to ask about how the previous inhabitants worshiped. That isn’t how Israel is supposed to worship. Instead, vs 32 closes this instruction with these words: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” The context for these words is undoubtedly worship. In worship we are to be careful to do all God has commanded, neither adding to it or taking away from it.Thanks again!

  7. Correction: I answered the worship question here:http://sdgfamily.blogspot.com/2008/09/cleanup-complete.htmlAlthough I think my answer was better in this thread.

  8. Aaron says:

    Thanks Matthew for your time!Grace and Peace,

  9. Aaron says:

    Matthew,Hey I just wanted to let you know I am working through some of these things as a pastor of a church plant in an under resourced urban community. As you can probably imagine theological training isn’t always available here either. But yet God is “calling” brothers into ministry and we are having to be creative in how this happens. Again man thanks for everything homie!I pray that you continue to fall more and more in love with the Bride of Christ and that the PCA is the church in which this happens. Like I said earlier… I am a fan of the PCA in a lot of ways so by all means…Do your thang bro!

  10. Mark Mathews says:

    Matt,I have only recently discovered your blog and already like it. I hope Nashville is treating you well, I know I am a bit jealous in that regard. I must say that your post on leaving the Baptist tradition is right on time. My wife and I made the same journey and your posts ring very true to my own feelings. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. Moreover, thanks for articulating it in such a graceful, yet forthright fashion. This is excellent work and very helpful.

  11. Mark,Your comments mean a lot to me. Our little bit of interaction in other places on the web has always left me edified. As for jealousy, I’m a wee bit tempted to look over the fence myself: My EPL habit would be much better fed if I lived in GB!I hope all is well with you and your family and your studies!

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