Blog post titles are supposed to be provocative. David and I were chatting about the reactions to the GCRTF on the interwebs. Some of our former Outpost writing crew wondered if it would be a good idea to write something together. Marty noted that immediately we would be deemed as, “those who could not be pleased with anything.” Alan wrote an early response. Art was not interested. Paul, well, his silence on the matter was quite loud. Ben is busy in D.C. And others jumped ship while the jumping was good.
So in the spirit of an earlier post I wrote, this is really a post about what might the Outpost have offered having read and watched the Preliminary Report of the GCRTF.
1. Often what we want is not what we have the fortitude to do. If we follow Dallas Willard’s distinction between words and actions, then we do what we believe. If we believe there is a need for the prophetic then we should then “be” prophetic. If we believe we need to get on our knees, then we should “be” on our knees. If we believe there are present but incomplete realities of the Kingdom of God, then we should “be” cultivating relationships with other Christians for the good of the Kingdom of God and its earthly expression until its fulfillment at Jesus’ return. Instead, we spend time in our corners playing “us” vs “them” over some of the more nuanced expressions of faith in Christ. The last stated core value may need to be our first.
2. It’s the economy… . You know how the quote rolls out. In this case it is not necessarily the economic downturn in our Country as much as what Martin Marty describes as “everdayishness.” That is, the slide toward secularity is the flattening of our priorities where one becomes just as important as another. What is hot is what get’s the attention and the resources. There is a disconnect between what we say we value and what we really value. The same holds true in our denomination. We flit from one strategy to the next, from one program to the next. We sink money into the next hopeful celebrity. We promise those who have been “faithful” to a cause the next “open” position of prominence. And we think Washington has no influence on SBC politics? We fund what we value. And, we value our structures at the expense of the prophetic. We prefer the safety that comes with control as opposed to an abandon to the Spirit.
James K.A. Smith wrote an essay in which he suggested the best way to be Reformed and live into the sovereignty of God was to be pentecostal. Too many find the rigid structure of Reformed theology safe and to neatly package God. He contended that for himself, a Reformed professor, the best expression of the conviction that God could do what he pleased was then to believe and live in a way that expected God to do just that. Even if that meant prompting an adjustment of the box in which the strictures of one theological framework puts God.
3. Is it really the Great Commission or our version of it. We note our core value is the Great Commission but we state it as “present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and make disciples of all the nations.” For literalists this seems a bit out of character. Generally it is enough to quote Jesus’ words, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Disciple-making evangelism requires more than a script. But, we have turned it into a script and a video. In-flesh-ment, incarnation, is not mentioned. Sure we may quibble over words and “present” could well entail incarnation, but let’s be honest. Those of us who grew up with an evanga-script coming out every year find it hard to hear anything more than just that, present what you have memorized. We’ll get around to living it one day.
This after all is the crux of the “missional” debate. Just what is it? After a conference this summer we may know by reading the manifesto. Will that make us more missional? Only if we live into mission of God as the shaping reality for the Church. More than money for missionaries and more than attaching it as an adverb to what we already do will be necessary. J.D. Greear rightly pointed out some months ago that words must accompany deeds. In other words we cannot simply live out the Gospel hoping someone “gets it.” At the same time, we cannot just speak it either.
4. Can it be we are really witnessing a State’s Rights Debate in the SBC? At heart, the back and forth between the State Conventions and the GCRTF seems quite a bit like the flap over a “Blue Ribbon Commission” and the Federal Government. We have calcified what our structure looks like, even if we have complained about a lack of nimble response. Every U.S. President promises greater efficiency and cuts to spending. But, what we all know is that we can only address discretionary spending. For that the GCRTF looks at the EC. When I type discretionary, what I mean is that our funding formulas only give a small percentage to the EC to manage. It is grand naivete to think our entities could not manage their economies better. You and I have heard plenty of stories of $500 here and $500 there. (And yes there are larger numbers out there.) These add up. Spend your budget so we can ask for more. Spend your budget or they will cut it.
So, we take it to the State Conventions. Here is a new thought for some of you who want to harangue State Execs, “Do you really think any of our entities and the EC will manage their resources differently [read, better] if they get more money?” You see this is thinking that we can bail out GM with more money but no structural changes. This is thinking banks have learned the lesson from the recent economic downturn. I’ll bet you parents don’t try that with hour children. “Here, you wasted that $10 let’s see if we can do better with $20.”
Go back and read the report. Watch the video. We compare 1950 to 2008 in every area but the amount of money we now have received annually. We want to talk about a lack of growth to correspond with the population explosion. Why no mention of the fact we generate more money today than ever in our churches and denomination. Don’t throw the inflation figures at me. Our inflated sense of the need for mega- levels the difference in the value of the dollar over time.
5. Is it really about local churches and the Kingdom of God? I read and listened and heard, “Pastors are tired of being asked for more money.” And, “Pastors we need more money.” Couch it in a retooled and released NAMB. Now, how did that go before? For my reflections, I want desperately for something to work. Not because I need the SBC to work for me and our church. But, the SBC needs me and our church and the other 39,000+ or continued fragmentation over propping up our largesse will continue to erode and prompt more and louder calls to do more and better of the same that has us right where we are. Too many have reminded us that to do the same thing over and over and expect different results is insanity. The only insanity that should mark us is the same allegations lobbed at Jesus. Living out his way in this wide world should be the only insane thing we willingly continue.
We have had such a visible foray into re-inventing ourselves that we really need to hit a good one this time. Instead, I really came away feeling what we witnessed was really more of the same. Lowering our expectations of the GCRTF by noting the problem is both spiritual and structural is to create a false dichotomy. Speak truth to power – we have spiritual structural problems or we have structurally spiritual problems. Either way to suggest we comply with little when much is needed is an insult.
Finally, when the habits of church polity – in this case denominational politics – look like the embedded political system in which said denominational structure finds itself, it has given in to the spirit of the age. It is odd that many in our leadership stand to condemn others for this cultural move as they wage intellectual war and then participate in it all the same. Take away the entity and institution names and you could well have the makings of the political structure and its accompanying maladies we decry every day in our own Country.
How ironic that the machinery set in motion to save us from ourselves may indeed be the very structure that keeps us from living into our stated – but yet practiced – goals.