The interim period is always a vulnerable time for a Baptist church, but it may now be more vulnerable than ever, especially if one of the most vocal leaders of the fundamentalist movement has his way.
“May God lead many of you to some of these moderate churches that deserve fundamentalist pastors like you,” said Jerry Falwell to Southwestern Seminary students on Aug. 24. “Sometimes it takes a full year before that church is who you are.”
Anecdotal stories of “stealth fundamentalists” interviewing for known-moderate churches are abundant. Sometimes these ministers will say whatever it takes to convince a search committee that they are the one to present to the church.
Some say they are tolerant of women deacons, are sympathetic to a democratic rather than authoritarian style of pastoral leadership and that they are willing for persons to support the CBF as well as the SBC in missions giving.
Given a few months in power, however, their story changes. Suddenly they realize that women should be submissive and quiet, that they are the man with the vision for the church that all should follow (or leave), and that the CBF is made up of radical left-wingers.
Some search committees, hoping to find a person uncommitted to either Baptist camp, get either a very weak leader (if they can’t commit to a theological, ecclesiastical, inclusive vs. exclusive point of view, what can they commit to?) or a person who will say whatever it takes to get the job, then make their ultraconservative positions known as they secure some support, often from new members.
How can CBF churches remain CBF churches through and after an interim period? Here is one suggestion: Have an informed laity.
Do your people know about Falwell’s crusade to take over moderate churches? Do they know about the radical changes that were made to the Baptist Faith and Message? Do they know that the International Mission Board fired dozens of missionaries because they refused to sign this document as a creed? Do they know that the North American Mission Board is requiring even volunteer missionaries to sign this creed?
Do they know that the Southern Baptist Convention has pulled out of the Baptist World Alliance? Or that Baptist leaders from all over the world are upset that the reasons for the pull-out have to do with alleged liberalism and anti-Americanism–both of which these Baptists worldwide deny?
Do they know that fundamentalists have made several attempts to remove giving plan options from the state convention budget, so that no money can flow through the state convention to the CBF?
Do they know that the CBF is a missions and ministry organization focused on reaching the least evangelized and the most poor? Do they have the option in your church to give to CBF ministries and missions?
Is missions material from CBF used on Wednesday evenings and in circle meetings?
Has anyone from CBF been invited to speak at your church? Do key leaders receive the free newsletters from state and national CBF?
Lay leaders must be informed and involved if a moderate church is to remain true to its historic identity. Is it the responsibility of the pastor to inform the congregation of what is happening in Baptist life? Of course, it is. However, it is at least as much the responsibility of the lay leaders to do the same.
A pastor of a strong North Carolina Baptist church recently confessed, “I can tell my congregation something, but when it comes from one of my lay leaders, it has a special force to it.”
We ministers are sometimes reminded, “I was here before you came, and I’ll be here when you’re gone.”
True enough. So, get informed. Inform others. An informed laity makes all the difference during the vulnerable interim period.
Rick Jordan is church resources coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina. This column appeared in the CBF/NC newsletter “The Gathering” and is used here with permission.