Years ago, someone approached me in my hometown in disbelief. “Trav, you will not believe what I just saw on the road. There was this guy…”
As he continued to tell me the story, he pulled out his phone to show me the picture he snapped quickly before the opportunity passed. Not only did I agree with the insanity of what he saw, but I also had another unique perspective: the culprit was a family member. My friend felt an incredible sense of awkwardness once I informed him of my connection to the interesting character making a scene going down the road.
I’ve always said that every family has a crazy in it. If you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.
(And by the way, my situation wasn’t involving an uncle, but as a crazy uncle, and for the simplicity of this article, I’m using the term “crazy uncle” – it just sounds more natural ;)).
We all have those members of the family that do things that cause us to shrink down in embarrassment while maintaining our defensive love for the family unit as a whole.
When the Denomination Embarrasses
I share that story because it perfectly epitomizes how I feel as a Southern Baptist right now. Once again, the denomination that has done so much good in my life and all over the world, has found itself in somewhat of a firestorm leading up to its annual meeting. This denomination that formed so it could do more together has found itself divided over issues regarding race, culture, politics, ethics, name, and more. In the last year, some high-profile Baptists have left the denomination causing many more to question continued involvement.
Above all of the issues in the SBC comes the looming problem of those using the service of the gospel to create denominational ladders for garnering power in order to serve secondary agendas.
For years, I have responded to the controversies a lot like I did my family member on that road. Yes, the SBC has problems, but there is so much good out there. We just have a few crazy uncles out there with social media platforms that get the attention of the culture, but the family isn’t crazy. It’s just a few from our tribe out there causing all of us to roll our eyes and hide in shame from time to time.
I still believe that. To a point.
I hold that the SBC is doing more good than bad, but I do believe we have more than just a few crazy uncles out there. And I’m concerned that some of those embarrassing family members have positions of authority and influence that are causing more harm than good. Whether they are upfront and leading or they are pulling the strings behind the curtain, we have some issues that must be addressed.
When the Issues Hit Close to Home
We were having a new members meeting recently, and I loved hearing all the stories of how people had connected to our church. As I went through the content, a lady moving from the other side of the country stopped the teaching, “Wait, this church is Southern Baptist?! Oh, no. Don’t you guys have some issues right now?”
“Yes ma’am, yes, we do. But let me tell you why I still believe in it.”
As I began to explain my reasoning which is built upon the desire to fulfill the Great Commission in the most effective way possible, I was emboldened while discouraged. I still believe in what the SBC is.
I feel as if there’s not a lot I can do about the direction of the convention as a whole. But what I can do, I commit to doing.
- I can pray. Yes, it’s a Sunday School answer, and no, I’m not ashamed by it. The SBC might not be in these situations if we had prayed as much as we have politicked.
- I can engage. I don’t have a big circle of influence in such matters, but what I do have, I need to employ. For the sake of Jesus’ Commission on our lives, I cannot disengage.
- I can discern. I don’t want to surrender the rights to steer this massive ship if it is heading in the wrong direction, but I don’t want to support it either if it corporately continues to veer.
- I can discuss. As a whole, my church is thankfully unaware of the Twitter wars out there, but I do need to share in reasonable ways what is at stake for us as a church aligned with the SBC.
- I can support. For the great number of churches doing their best to follow Jesus, for the denominational employees that want to use their lives well, and for the institutions that still desire cooperative commissional work, I can support them. I will walk with them.
I don’t know what the next few days hold. I don’t think we are going to have a split, but I do pray we have a reckoning. For those that need to be humbled, refined, exposed, or corrected, let it happen. For those on the fence, I pray that we don’t lose so many voices of reason that we are unable to reroute this denomination to God’s desired path. And I believe that many who have been content to be on the sidelines will find a way to help return the dignity of Christ’s work to a convention wrought with confusion right now.
Years ago, the SBC won the battle for biblical inerrancy. God help us if we now lose the battle for ministry integrity.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.