Membership the Pastorate
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.
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.