Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jim Preacher, Jim Hunter, Jim Reader

Three things happened to me before I was twelve years old that had a lasting impact on the direction of my life. In no particular order here they are.

I got saved. That’s how you say it if you’re a Southern Baptist born and raised behind the buckle of the Bible Belt. It was a God thing that caught me by surprise the last night of a summer revival in the Union Baptist Church of Harris County, Ga in 1957. I was almost twelve. I had spent the first three years of my life literally in sight of the church and the next nine years just about twice that distance to the northwest, still in easy shouting distance. All my ancestors on my Mom’s side of the family rest beneath Georgia marble in the adjoining cemetery. That little spot of terra firma remains to this day, my genealogical and spiritual touchstone.

The second thing that happened was so gradual I don’t remember a day, a time or a place. It was such a natural part of my life that I just assumed it was normal and universal. Dad was a bird hunter. A new bird hunter, converted during my early childhood from the lowly rabbit hunting crowd, to the new sport of wing shooting. I grew up with the scent of gun oil, dead quail, and wet bird dogs in my nostrils. It was a virus, an addiction, and a passion that literally consumed me and shows no signs of remission, short of death.

Last but not least was the impact of books on my young mind. Momma was an English teacher. Daddy was an eighth grade dropout who loved to read westerns. He traded them with men he knew in town and he kept them on top of a tall black chifforobe in the back of the hall in our home. As a young boy not yet old enough to read big words, I would climb precariously on a stool and pull the paperbacks to the edge just to look at the covers. And there I would see the grimacing cowboys as they fired their .45 Colts, flame stabbing out of the muzzles, at unseen villians. I knew great adventure lay between those covers. I just didn’t know how much.

And then the day arrived when I was taken to the public library in town for the first time. I got my own library card. I couldn’t believe how many books were on those shelves. I signed up for the summer reading program. I could not wait to begin. So many books, so little time. I read every day. I read every week. In the eighth grade I took a special speed reading class. That next summer I read Gone With The Wind in one day!

I still haven’t read them all but I have made a dent and I’m still going strong. At least three books every week. Books of all kinds. Fiction, non-fiction, ministry related and non ministry related, it makes no difference to me. Only one test for authors I read. Can you keep my attention, cover to cover? If not, move aside. There are simply too many other possibilities to consider.

I recently discovered a new suspense author, Lee Child. He writes the Jack Reacher novels. I like the name. I like the stories. I like novelists who can keep me turning the pages. Lee Child can.

Jack Reacher, the hero of the novels, is a homeless wanderer. He was a major in the Army before downsizing took place after the Cold War. Now he just roams the United States, discovering America from the under side. A tourist without a car or any property holding him back, he wanders wherever the impulse leads him. The stories are adventures he falls into intentionally or accidentally. People simply call him “Reacher.”

I like that name, “Reacher”.

I may name my next bird dog “Reacher”.

In the meantime I’m Jim Preacher, Jim Hunter, and Jim Reader.

But you can call me “Preacher” or “Hunter” or just “Reader.”

Friday, May 26, 2006


I was in my last year of seminary when Adrian Rogers was elected President of the SBC in 1979. I have served my whole ministry within the scope of the Conservative Resurgence.

That presidential election in 1979 marked a real shift of power in the SBC from leaning to the left to leaning toward the right. In the thirty six years following that victory, SBC conservatives have consolidated their power and their control over the agencies, boards and schools of the SBC. It is safe to say that all those entities are now strongly led by conservatives and the churches that affiliate with the SBC are for the most part more conservative than the average convention church in 1979. Although the means and the meanness sometimes was almost too much to bear or forgive, the ends have been reached and the goals accomplished.

So what are we squabbling about now? We’re squabbling now about how conservative we’re going to be for the next thirty six years. Have we moved the SBC far enough to the right or do we need to push it to the limit?

And why are we squabbling now, of all times? We’re squabbling now because we’ve realized that not all conservatives and inerrantists think alike or do church alike and differences always breeds suspicion and mistrust.

Now the what and the why of our current controversies present some very interesting dynamics especially when you couple them with a declining rate of baptisms and CP giving convention wide.

Traditionalists are accusing Calvinists of losing their enthusiasm for evangelism and Calvinists are countering that the old traditional ways of doing evangelism are not producing the results that are necessary for long term growth and health in the churches and denomination. Emerging church types in the SBC are shaking their heads and wondering how much longer they can stay and Young Leaders both Calvinistic and emergent are feeling shut out of the processes and confused because they know they’re more doctrinally oriented than many traditionalists. Career missionaries feel trapped between the bureaucracy and the churches they thought they served. Small Church pastors feel unimportant and insignificant in the shadow of the mega church pastors and the numbers hype.

We are a fractured family in desperate need of reconciliation and reformation. We need to listen to our Daddy and get it done.

Here are some suggestions that traditional SBC Leaders could quickly address.

1. If the Cooperative Program is going to survive and grow then all current Southern Baptists need to be onboard and working together toward bigger goals than simply making sure we elect the right president or that we narrow our theological parameters enough or even that we baptize a million souls. We need a new Convention Vision that is comprehensive, exciting and revolutionary.

2. The implications of the first suggestion means that there should be immediate and noticeable representation of all segments of SBC life onto committees, boards and agencies. There are three groups we need to include into decision making positions in the SBC immediately if we are going to keep the convention together. Those three groups are: SBC Calvinists, SBC Emergents, and SBC Career Missionaries. And I don’t mean just token positions that attempt to put a band aid on the problem, I’m talking meaningful positions.

3, SBC Leaders must lead Southern Baptists into revising the way we report membership statistics. Everybody who is anybody in the SBC ought to be ashamed that we report so many members when half of them never show up in any of our churches on Sunday. We simply must have integrity in reporting and a new emphasis on Church discipline of members.

4, Transparency and openness must be priority one. NO CLOSED MEETINGS unless somebody’s life or personal reputation or future is at stake, and even then it must be as a last resort. We must trust one another and be willing to share all our thoughts and conversations. Many SBC leaders would tone down their verbal attacks if they knew every other Southern Baptist was listening. And that’s the way it should be.

Conservatives won in the SBC, it’s time to get over it and move on together.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Presidency of the SBC - A Mini-Church Pastor's Perspective

There is a job coming open in June. It’s the Presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. You won’t find it listed on Monster.com. It’s really not a full time position. In fact, you can keep your present job and do it on the side. The downside is that most folks don’t qualify.

Now let me explain who can get this job and who can’t.

It’s not like you apply. You have to be nominated. In other words you have to have your name submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention in session in the form of a personal and formal nomination for the job.

Here’s the theoretical deal. Any Southern Baptist messenger in good standing with proper credentials can nominate any other Southern Baptist in good standing for this position. You could nominate me and I could nominate you and in theory we could have as many nominations as messengers at the convention except for one thing. As soon as the first couple of nominations are made some messenger always says, “I move that nominations cease.” And all the messengers will be in favor of that because they really like to rush through business stuff during the conventions.

What usually happens is that months before the convention some SBC leader with appropriate notoriety will issue a press release which goes something like this, “After much prayer and soul searching, God has impressed it upon my heart to nominate my good friend and fellow servant in the Lord, Dr. John Doe, to be the next President of the SBC,” and this is followed by much verbal praise and backslapping as the nominator informs the whole world how much the nominee has done for the Kingdom of God and the SBC.

But there’s unwritten protocol. To be elected to the SBC Presidency you have to be a Pastor of a mega church and a mega-church is defined as a church that runs more than 2000 on Sunday. Although there are approximately 200 SBC pastors who fall into this category, your chances of being nominated increase as your mega numbers go up.

For instance if you’re a pastor of one of the nineteen Southern Baptist Churches in America that averages more than 5000 in attendance on Sunday then you’re a prime candidate for consideration. But, there’s one other restriction. You have to be acceptable to a smaller group of influential pastors and other important personalities who make up the “unofficial” inner circle of leadership within the SBC that has sort of evolved out of the conservative resurgence.

Another thing that is happening in the SBC is that this pool of possible nominees is perceived as getting contaminated by too many different breeds of SBC Pastors. They fall into so many categories that it’s almost impossible to list them all. But never say that I won't attempt it. Here they are from this mini-church pastor's perspective.

Categories of SBC Mega Church Pastors

1. Bigger than The SBC. They simply have bigger fish to fry and would not serve under any circumstances.
2, Doing their own Thing. SBC in name only and token support of the SBC but still claim the tradition and the label.
3, Outside the bounds of “Acceptable” SBC Tradition – They’d play ball but they’re not going to be asked because they’re viewed as extreme.
4. On the way out of the SBC – Just haven’t made the formal move yet.
5. Team Captains – They support the SBC and have a lot to say about it, usually way too much.
6. The Real Deal – the humble true blue SBC guys you never hear much about.

If we Southern Baptists were wise we’d probably change our method of doing all this but we are slow learners, so it’s probably safe to say the new President of the SBC will come out of category two or five. But we can dream about the day when God allows us to have the “The Real Deal.”

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ten Top Reasons Why Calvinism is Spreading in the SBC

I'm sure there will be much disagreement over the order but here they are as I see them.

10. The Tireless Efforts of the Founders Ministries and those associated with it.
9. Southern Baptists are reading more Baptist History.
8. More Willingness among SBC Pastors/Teachers to cross SBC lines to hear "dynamic preachers and teachers".
7. Proliferation of online sermons by SBC Calvinists
6. Calvinistic Web Sites and Blogging
5. Inadequate treatment by SBC Professors openly opposed
4. Unwillingness of SBC Leaders to model and promote church discipline
3. Frustration with 60% failure rate of SBC evangelistic emphasis
2. More Calvinistic Professors at SBC Seminaries
1. Anti-Calvinistic rhetoric by "leading" SBC Pastors

Number 10 - The Tireless Efforts of the Founders Ministries and those associated with it.

What can I say? Had not those seven men met in Memphis in 1983 and shared their common concerns and vision I might not even be writing this today as a Southern Baptist. The leadership that Tom Ascol and others have provided through the years since that humble beginning has been an encouragment to all of us Southern Baptists who embrace the Doctrines of Grace.

Number 9 - Southern Baptists are reading more Baptist History.

When thinking Southern Baptists look at the historic Baptist Confessions and look at the Articles of Faith of almost all Southern Baptist Churches in this country that existed before the SBC was organized in 1845, they realize they are holding in their hands evidences of a strong Calvinistic heritage.

Number 8 - More Willingness among SBC Pastors/Teachers to cross SBC lines to hear "dynamic preachers and teachers" like R. C. Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney and others. What more needs to be said?

Number 7 - Remember back when a sermon tape by an SBC Calvinist was as rare as hens' teeth and you guarded it so carefully because you didn't know if you could ever replace it or not? Not anymore. Any SBC Calvinist can post his sermons online so we can all listen and be encouraged to our hearts' content.

Number 6 - Calvinistic Web Sites and Blogging

I've learned more theology and more Baptist history since I've plugged into the internet than I ever did in seminary or during that period I call the "dark ages" between seminary graduation and the advent of the web. I've also had more fellowship and made more friends through the web than I ever thought possible.

Number 5 - Inadequate treatment by SBC Professors openly opposed to Calvinism

Some obviously must feel like they have to say something so they say things that reveal a total lack of or a woefully inadequate understanding of the position of most SBC Calvinists. It only reinforces what many of us suspected was true during our seminary days. These are dedicated men and are faithful servants, for the most part, but they are certainly not infallible.

Number 4 - Unwillingness of SBC Leaders to model and promote church discipline

I don't believe I've ever heard a SBC mega-church pastor suggest that he needed to prune his church's membership roll, and these are the guys we keep electing President of the SBC every year. We know we have a problem in SBC Churches with unregenerate and inactive church members showing up to vote at controversial business meetings. Our leadership has not adequately addressed these issues but leading SBC Calvinists have.

Number 3 - Frustration with 60% failure rate of SBC evangelistic emphasis

Southern Baptist pastors are simply tired of the same old evangelistic results regardless of whether you call it F.A.I.T.H. or CWT or EE. When you get the same old results - 60% failure rate - campaign after campaign - then it becomes apparent that something is broken.

Number 2 - More Calvinistic Professors at SBC Seminaries

May their tribe increase. I believe this is a providential thing - don't you?

Number 1 - Anti-Calvinistic rhetoric by "leading" SBC Pastors

What happens when a well known SBC personality speaks out for something or against something so controversial as Calvinism? Ears perk up all over the SBC. Questions are asked. Inquiries are made, and the end result is that more and more Southern Baptists examine the Doctrines of Grace and some are persuaded they are true.

Stay tuned - More to come