A number of new churches have formed in the last 16 years that have chosen to affiliate with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Some have developed into strong, growing congregations while others have remained rather small and underdeveloped. I have friends in both types of churches and have worked with both as a state judicatory leader.
I am sure that the comments that follow will alienate some people in the moderate Baptist camp. I believe that there is a place for a church that affirms its Baptist theology and heritage while reaching out to its community in evangelism and service. On the other hand, there is little hope for those congregations who have chosen to define themselves as not like the Southern Baptist Convention.
The former may come to understand what it means to be a missional church. The latter chooses to be a ghetto for hurt, disaffected Baptists who are looking for people like themselves. The former are strengthened by their past; the latter are captive to their past.
The greatest lesson we can learn from our experience in the SBC is to embrace the good experiences and to try to avoid duplicating the bad experiences. The old saying that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it is appropriate, but once one has studied history, he or she must take action in the contemporary world.
This has nothing to do with worship styles. There are new Baptist churches that practice a traditional, even liturgical, approach to worship that are reaching unchurched people. At that same time, there are churches that practice contemporary worship that fail to connect with their community. It is not about worship but about orientation.
If I were looking for a new church to join, I would much rather cast my lot with a group that looks to the future with hope and enthusiasm than with a group that is still holding on to its anger. As I have begun reinventing myself as a church consultant, I have consciously positioned myself to work with smaller churches that might not usually have access to an outside consultant, but it would be poor use of my time to work with churches that want to define themselves in negative terms and look inward. I would rather spend time with folks who honor their heritage but are not afraid to try new approaches to ministry. There are such churches, I’m pleased to say, that want my services.
When I was a summer missionary in Ohio over 40 years ago, I was surprised by the Southern Baptist church planters whose idea of outreach was to look for license tags from the South and try to enlist those people for their churches. They were not reaching out to the unchurched in the area but were actually forming Southern societies. When I was in the same area about 10 years ago, I noted that none of those church plants had survived.
Where does God call us to direct our attention? Should we look inward or outward, backward or forward? You know the answers.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at Barnabas File.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.