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‘Churchology’ panel discusses issues related to health of state conventioncomment (0)

November 21, 2013

By Jennifer Davis Rash

"They want our money but not our voice,” the young seminary student said. “I feel like we are not equal members, that we are just tolerated.”

Acknowledging he understands the need to spend more time observing and learning than directing at this point, he said it’s the amount of time that concerns him. “I don’t want to wait around for 25 or 30 years before I can have a voice.”

The voice he described relates to leadership in the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC), and his mention of money refers to contributions through the Cooperative Program (CP).

On the other end of the spectrum are convention leaders and pastors who have given their lives to the ministry and feel a bit threatened by the antsiness of some of the younger pastors. 

One prominent ABSC leader mentors numerous young pastors and urges them to get involved in convention life but to follow a pattern he used as a young pastor — “shut up, show up, listen up and then speak up.”

The amount of time in each of the three categories leading up to having a voice does not have to be years, he said, but it does need to be long enough to gain a thorough understanding.

And so the question facing Alabama Baptists is how to bring the fresh passion and aggressive spirit of the younger pastors and the wisdom and thoughtfulness of the more experienced pastors into a healthy, working relationship.

That was the topic of an auxiliary meeting held in connection with the ABSC annual meeting Nov. 12 in Huntsville.

Jason Dees, pastor of Valleydale Church, Birmingham, initiated “a conversation about building healthy churches in Alabama” and brought in three pastors to serve on a panel discussion.

About 75 people stayed late Tuesday night to hear from Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery; Paul Hunter, pastor of Church of the Valley, Huntsville (a church plant); and Mat Alexander, pastor of First Baptist Church, Gadsden.

Dees moderated the discussion and asked each of the panelists questions such as:

What is the gospel and why are we so passionate about it? What are some things worth dividing over? How does our theology divide the things we believe? What could we do better to help more churches get planted? What is the value of the CP?

In an evaluation of the CP, Wolf said, “The Cooperative Program is the best practice. ... Any honest evaluation, not a maverick mentality, will prove it.” 

Hunter — who leads his church to give more than 10 percent to missions outside the local church — said that while he believes in it, he does have some questions. 

“With $180-plus million, why aren’t we more effective? ... Am I giving to something valid? Are we doing things the right way? Why are our baptisms declining? ... Can we modify, freshen things up?”

Dees said he wished the CP “was functioning with more efficiency and excellence.” 

Alexander added, “Before you criticize any of these things, you need to learn about them. One place my generation makes mistakes ... is the constant temptation to say, ‘If it’s old, let’s do away with it.’”

Wolf agreed. “The examination has to be authentic,” he said.

“Here’s what’s so crazy about where we are right now with this ... division. A lot is about style, but that is so phony,” he said. “At the bottom of it is the gospel. We have to put aside these phony dividing walls and pull back together.”

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