Sunday, March 23, 2008

Integrity in Membership the Pastorate

Or, What I wish I'd said in San Antonio Last June



I think I just woke up to something; I seriously doubt that Tom Ascol's motion as to Church Integrity (or anybody's similar motion) is ever going to pass the SBC.

Any motion like that would have to be passed by a group that's primarily pastors. And the pastors are the people who, more than anyone, would look really bad if the group agreed there was anything wrong with membership the way it is. So it isn't about integrity in membership, it's about integrity among pastors.

When a pastor says they have this many or that many members, it seems OK to follow up by saying "..Of course, the FBI couldn't find 50% (or whatever the number) of them."

I told a preacher an old joke at the Convention in San Antonio. It was about the church with such an infestation of a rare breed of squirrel, that they couldn't use the church. When they tried catching them and taking them out to the forest, they simply came back. So, conventional methods aside, they called the local Baptist pastor who'd had the same problem the year before. When they asked him how they'd solved it, he remarked "Simple ... we voted them all in as members, gave them offering envelopes, and now we never see them any more."

Such a sad truth. But he and his wife laughed.

Laughed.

I've been pondering why the convention would, two years in a row, decline to vote on such a motion, and not even want to bring the motion out to the floor to vote it up or down. Then it finally hit me: this isn't about the SBC, it's about the pastors themselves. Admitting the need for such a motion would be admitting there's a problem, and if there is, it's not with the SBC. It's with the local church, and you know who heads the local church! So ...duuuh ... who can blame them?

I can think of Someone.

Anyway, what's the real embarrassment in all this? It's that the 16.5 million "members", the 8 million "members" we can even find, the 6+ million that are actually THERE on Sunday mornings, the 8.5 million "members" we CANNOT find .. they are all members of LOCAL CHURCHES. Pastored by local PASTORS. If there's a fault, it's with the local pastors, churches, and the system(s) in operation.

Like my Daddy use to say, what's EVERYBODY's fault, is NOBODY's fault.

I doubt that God agrees.

So where are we? Well, we have perhaps 8.5 million folks who probably think they're better off having their name on the membership roster at some Baptist church somewhere. And they think that, IMHO, because we've told them that. They think they're OK, because we've told them they're OK! They've walked the aisle, perhaps even said the prayer and taken the plunge, signed the card, and done it right there in front of those people. Done deal, right?

Just look at what we do now and then: we have "High Attendance Day", for one. I don't know about you, but my little SS class gets together once a week to feast on God's word, to hear personally from the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and of our lives. We Ask the Holy Ghost to open our minds and let His light shine in and guide us as we attempt to live for, and serve, Him. But then, by the way, we have a really special reason for being there next Sunday; it's High Attendance Day!

Just how on earth do we make that a "special reason"? Isn't meeting with and hearing from God as special as it can get? I think the whole idea is an insult to God, myself. But heck, what do I know?

I've even heard of "Prove the Tithe" Sunday. When I read Malachi, I want to throw up when I hear of "Prove the Tithe"! That whole idea reminds me of a SS member who owns an auto repair shop. He says now and then their association suggests a "Do Your Best Work Day". He calls that stupid; EVERY DAY is "Do Your Best Work Day" at his shop.

Apparently his little profit making business has a higher aim than most churches!

So what's the normal reaction when attendance slips? The pastors beat the congregation over the head to do more of the stuff that built the church where half the members are Missing In Action; make some more calls and do some more begging to come back to the "House" of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

If you're a member of a Rotary International Club, chances are 90-95% that you were there last meeting day (every week), or that, if you were out of town, you went that week to another club. But if you're a member of an SBC church, chances are 63% you were NOT there last week, and NEVER make up. Isn't it something what we've accomplished? Making the fact of membership in a group allegedly following Jesus, LESS meaningful than a Civic Service Club?

I don't even want to THINK of the possibility that a big percentage of those MIA folks may actually NOT be saved. The norm in the SBC churches I'm familiar with is that, when someone walks down the aisle, tells the greeter they're a member of some other SBC church, and have been baptized, they're taken in to the local church without much question. If 3 or 4 couples do that on one Sunday, it's usually referred to as a "mighty move of God".

I was an Elder at a local Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, when we started the church. We purposely designed the membership requirement to include ONE method for joining: Come forward, express your desire, meet later with the Elders and share your testimony (this was an informal fellowship dessert at an Elder's home), and have the Elders ... those responsible for the spiritual health of the church ... agree as to the suitability of receiving that person into the fellowship. Bottom line: no "Letter from a Sister Church" deal.

See, at most of the SBC churches I've been in, we want whoever talks to the responder to wrap up his business with them during 3 or 4 stanzas of the invitation hymn and then announce the "decisions" to the congregation for the perfunctory "amen" which I suppose we feel is tantamount to a vote to admit to membership. How ludicrous.

I'm sure AT&T or General Motors or UPS hires people as employees that way, right?

I'd better stop. I'm getting upset. So I'll close with these 2 thoughts:

1) In a group that focuses on, and trumpets, priesthood of the believer, could it be that Pastors think they can pass off to the individual members, all responsibility for their own conditions? Can they blame the non-attendance of, and invisibility of, a big majority of their "members" on the members themselves? And make it stick? I don't think so. "Payday someday", anyone?

2) To Tom Ascol: Better not bring that motion up again this year. Or if you do, someone better keep me away from the microphones. If it comes up, so help me, I'll say all this stuff, along with all the other stuff I'm not saying here.

-30-

For now.

13 Comments:

At 10:18 PM, March 23, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Wayne Smith: Thanks for the comment. I think it's longer than the post itself.

Is there a link to that article I can put here to point folks to it?

 
At 10:56 PM, March 23, 2008, Blogger Wayne Smith said...

Bob,
I made a post on Church Leadership and it is Here:

http://saythetruthorpaytheconsequences.blogspot.com/2008/03/church-leadership.html

In His Name
Wayne

 
At 12:00 AM, March 24, 2008, Blogger Debbie Kaufman said...

Bob: Good post. I admit that I was not for the resolution last year because I know of people who are gone for long periods of time due to illness, vacations(retired people), extended family problems etc. but between you, Gene and Tom Ascol I have since changed my mind. I am a realist and inflating the numbers doesn't solve the problem and it's lying. Pure and simple.

 
At 12:46 AM, March 24, 2008, Blogger Scotte Hodel said...

(1) Tom Ascol: BRING IT UP! BRING IT UP! I want to see Bob in his element!

(2) Bob: there is good news in this. I've written in my recent weblogs about the need to be devoted to our community as well as to Christ. What I didn't know is that many of the kids in our youth group have already embraced it. Most years they use Spring Break as an opportunity for service projects in poor areas (they call it Judean Ministries). This year it was not going to happen due to a conflict with an international mission trip. The kids were up in arms and demanded that something be arranged. They worked with a church in Birmingham this last week - a cooperative effort between a predominantly white church and a predominantly black church.

I can't tell you how proud I was of the kids when they came to visit me and tell me about their trip.

So, there's something rotten in Denmark, but there is beauty of Christ in the body as well.

 
At 5:14 PM, March 24, 2008, Anonymous Scott said...

From above: members” we CANNOT find .. they are all members of LOCAL CHURCHES. Pastored by local PASTORS. If there’s a fault, it’s with the local pastors, churches, and the system(s) in operation.

I like this premise. It squarely puts at least a modicum of accountability on the leadership –leadership that is so fragmented it can only say “teaching" is my responsibility, not "visitiation."

It also suggests rather blatantly that our current system is not adequate to the task. How is a pastor going to “find” the lost members if his church is so large he can’t possibly know the members anyway? And yet if a church is under 200 in membership rolls it is not considered top-tier according to what is pushed today.

 
At 5:36 PM, March 24, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Scotte:

Thanks for the comment. If there's anything remarkable in the premise, it's that it was thought up by an old over-the-hill layman who flunked out of his first year of college and never went any further.

 
At 3:50 PM, March 27, 2008, Blogger Tom said...

Bob,

You are right. Hebrews 13:17 makes me tremble as a pastor. A day of accounting is coming.

Also, I already plan to submit my resolution again this year and I hope you are right next to a microphone when I petition the chair to let us vote to overrule the committee when they don't let it out (I got this routine down pretty well by now).

 
At 4:23 PM, March 27, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Tom: Whoops ... guess I'll be keeping that Convention Hotel room I booked. I'll wear my asbestos underalls.

Thanks for commenting. If that verse makes you tremble, I'm pretty sure there isn't any cause for you to. I'd have guessed that anyway.

 
At 12:16 AM, March 29, 2008, Anonymous Lee said...

Having been one of those on the church staff who was given the responsibility of cleaning up the membership roll of a 150 year old congregation in Missouri several years ago, with 150 in worship, 135 in Sunday School and a membership figure of somewhere over 600, if it is like most other SBC churches, and it probably is, I can tell you where many of the non-resident members (now that's an interesting term) may be. Please note, these are estimated percentages from a project I completed some 17 years ago. Of those members who hadn't attended our church in over five years, we were able to remove a significant number of names by checking birth dates and dropping those that were more than 100 years old. Safe bet most of those had promoted on to their eternal Sunday School class. About half became non-resident (interesting term) when we could not find them anywhere in the county. We identified a number of individuals who were on our roll, but who were known to be attending other churches in town, the vast majority at either the non-denominational Charismatic-leaning church in town, or the non-denominational Pentecostal holiness church. Go figure. Most of those who were left, almost 100 people if I remember correctly, had just dropped out and were not going anywhere. We removed everyone else but them. Attempting to re-activate them by ministering to them did not bring very many positive results. Most were either bitter about something that had happened in the past, or simply felt they no longer had a reason to be part of the church, though we found several people who had been very active in leadership roles in the church for a long time. Way too many of them said that when they stopped coming, years went by without anyone asking them why.

 
At 7:26 AM, March 29, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

Lee: Glad to hear at least two churches (you & Art Rogers') have addressed the problem. I agree with what all you did other than leaving people on the roll who simply didn't come any more. I think that cheapens "church membership" and its meaning. I don't think a church can ever expect its members to take membership any more seriously than the church itself does and I don't know any other organizations that take participation so loosely, as churches do.

Except health spas .. you know .. the exercise studios. As I understand it, if everyone who signed up came every day, they wouldn't have nearly enough room for them. It's sad when churches are like that.

It also seems curious that the denomination which stresses priesthood of the believer is the most prone to beg and cajole people to come back to church when they decide they aren't interested any more.

Choose you this day whom you will serve ... don't neglect assembling together ... but there's no "or WHAT?!?" to that at all.

 
At 7:12 PM, March 31, 2008, Anonymous tiger lamb girl said...

Go to the next meeting. Take the mic. And speak the truth.

I don't think God will mind.
At all.

 
At 7:26 PM, March 31, 2008, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...

TLG: I hope He doesn't. I've already got the room reserved.

 
At 8:43 PM, March 31, 2008, Anonymous tiger lamb girl said...

Bob, I'll keep this in my prayers. Keep us updated:). It will be awesome to see how God's Hand works!

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home