What Happens When We Push Out the Non-Traditional Churches

My recent article on cooperation among the traditional and non-traditional churches led to me receiving an email from a judicatory leader in a conservative evangelical denomination (a judicatory would be closest to an association in my denominational structure– not the same polity, but similar geography).

I’ve edited out references to the denomination, but (with permission) I thought I’d share here what happens when a narrow, methodological (rather than confessional) standard is imposed on a denominational family. You can decide if the letter speaks to other situations:

Dear Ed,

I was intrigued by your FB link, “Cooperating Together for the Cause of Christ,” and followed the original post, “Traditional, Contemporary, and the Future of the SBC,” not being steeped in SBC history I have no idea how long the conversation/challenge of “Traditional” and “Contemporary” has been going on. I decided not to post to your blogs to avoid interjecting a naive outsider’s comments and detract from the conversation. …

In our church body a small but very well organized and vocal ultra conservative group has ascended to leadership (as you know) that draws pictures of loss based on perceived liberalism and a promised return to/maintenance of “my grandfather’s church.” This “grandfather’s” church creates an interesting dilemma for me as a [non-Anglo in an Anglo denomination]…

Of course, it isn’t just genealogical longevity but also the ultra conservative ideological stance, new believers have been ordained and risen to positions of extreme influence on our Board of Directors because they had the right stance. That stance would insist that the contemporary liberals have taken over and forsaken [our] Confessions, worship, and Scriptures (unfortunately, by my perception, in that order of importance). It is the “Traditional” vs. “Contemporary” false battle (a red herring) when the real issue is how are we contextually… bringing or renewing people to faith in Jesus?

I share all of the above to encourage you to keep defining the reality and emphasizing what the SBC has in common over against what separates them. My experience of you personally and as a church leader is that you truly love the SBC, its doctrines, and rich (contextual) traditions while expanding the church’s mission.

Unfortunately, we who love our church, embrace our doctrines, celebrate our rich contextual traditions, while expanding the church’s mission are, at best, on the margins…

Confessional consensus is key– cooperation without common beliefs is not possible. As I’ve written before, doctrine enable and empowers cooperation.

Cooperating together in a denominational family requires a set of beliefs around which we facilitate our cooperation. This denomination has such a confession. So does mine. Yet, for some, they are confusing conservative traditions with conservative theology. The end result is that they are losing many of their younger and non-traditional pastors. To quote my friend, “Unfortunately, we who love our church, embrace our doctrines, celebrate our rich contextual traditions, while expanding the church’s mission are, at best, on the margins…”

My hope for their denomination (and for my own) is that we can cooperate together with common beliefs, yet now allow differences in style and even minor theological issues (within a confession) to undermine such cooperation.

Feel free to weigh in the comments.

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  11Comments

  1. stephen   •  

    thanks for posting this, Ed. My wife and I had a long discussion about this and related issues yesterday. I believe I’m in the denom this letter was written about.
    And I’m one of the young…so I ask: at what point is it time to head out? Is it cowardice to not “stay and fight”?
    I mourn the potential loss of the friends I have and the history…but more than that, the horrible tragedy of a group that sees how it could be to actually do what Jesus told us to, and yet directly resist it!

  2. Brad Raby   •  

    Where I am church planting is a devise issue (it saddens me to write that). Having been pushed aside because we were ‘contemporary’ and were not using Baptist in our name – I gave up on continuing with a denomination, the SBC in particular. So now as a growing new church we’re partnering with networks of like minded churches and networks for mission locally and globally. So yeah, just 3 months after attending this past years SBC in Orlando as a prelaunch church planter we ended up launching as a non-denom even when I wanted to a part of the SBC.

    It wasn’t the plan, but I wasn’t going to fight to be a part of the local association or state convention.

  3. norman   •  

    “Pushed out” could be a way to phrase it. We’ve pretty much felt like the step-child for ten years now. We’ve seen new starts come and go, and thankfully we’ve persevered by God’s grace, no doubt. It’s funny that we’ve been in the upper echelon of baptisms almost since conception, and have never been asked by our denomination how we do what we do. We’re not looking to please men, but it does hold pretty true that the contemporary churches are still held at bay. Good news looms ahead though. It looks like another new church may have lasting power and another is started…maybe we form our own alliance to befriend one another. Talks are already on the way.

  4. Ed Stetzer   •     Author

    Stephen,

    Let’s keep the denomination our secret. ;-) In your case, I think that more cooperative voices will win out. But, I just don’t know.

    Brad,

    Too many pastors see church plants as competition rather than partners. I have heard it often and I am sorry that it has happened this way.

    Norman,

    Maybe “pushed out” is wrong in your situation. Perhaps ignored is better. I, for one, and glad you have not given up.

    Ed

  5. Marc Bewley   •  

    Stephen, Brad and Norman,

    It saddens me to read your comments. I am a DOM in Michigan now but used to be a church planter “back in the day”. I know of the sacrifices made by you and your families.

    This will sound self-serving, but after planting in a pioneer state and pastoring in the Bible belt area, I am staying in Michigan. I have found more openness and freedom here than in the south.
    I wish you guys were a part of our Association and experienced the support and freedom we enjoy in the pioneer region.

  6. Clark Dunlap   •  

    Whats really odd is wHEN I tell people we transitioned into a traditional church. I get odd looks. We’re surrounded by contemporary churches that are great. We loaned our fellowship hall a few years ago to a church comprised solely of house groups, for them to all hear a guest speaker. But people still look at me when I say we are traditional in practically every way, as if I’m a dinosaur.

  7. Doug   •  

    Ed,
    I am curious to know what “conservative traditions” you believe are being confused for “conservative doctrine.”

    I am currently working on my third church plant. I started my first plant at age 26 after graduating from SEBTS in ’97 and, though I feel in some ways like I am still in my 20’s, I clearly see that with age came wisdom. What I once defended as godly zeal I now know to have been naivete. What I once felt were silly doctrinal traditions which kept churches from doing “real ministry” I now see as biblical truth which protects both the sheep and the shepherd from engaging in the offering of ‘strange fire’ before a holy God who has asked of us no such thing.

    I empathize with the young guys who are frustrated at times with the “old guard” who just doesn’t get it. I was once in their shoes. But I must confess that I now do my share of eye rolling at many of these young planters who think that they are wiser than they are and who are seemingly ready to dispense with any doctrinal moorings in order to make ministry less complicated and any sense of decency and order in an effort to make their “churches” more hip.

    I realize that there are exceptions and am greatly heartened by the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” within the SBC who are rediscovering the need for Christ to be preeminent in all that we do while maintaining a cultural astuteness. But I have been to enough state conventions where the most outrageous acts of man-centered showmanship are celebrated as “contemporary means of evangelism” that I have wondered “what am I doing here? what do I possibly have in common with these guys?”

    In the end, I think it would be healthy for there to be a discussion of just what does constitute “tradition” and what does constitute “doctrine.” Because, while I think that there are those “traditionalists” who err in criticizing the “contemporary” over traditions that they have confused with doctrine, there are just as many young “contemporaries” who dismiss doctrine because they believe it to be nothing but old rusty tradition.

  8. Josiah   •  

    Doug, I think what you describe is a lack of mentorship. The older guys with the experience should be helping the younger guys get it. Part of that is coming alongside them, supporting them and encouraging them in what is good and right, but then also helping to explain where their errors are and respectfully considering their responses with an open, yet more experienced mind.

    As a young guy, I crave time with the few older guys that seem to exist who are open to crazy ideas and are willing to hash out the details with me. More often than not, people will just “roll their eyes” and not explain themselves. If the only reason I see is “tradition”, then I’m going to drop it like a hot potato because the people I’m trying to reach aren’t interested in the church’s traditions. That’s just one of the things they shun.

    Mentor someone, help them to skip over your mistakes and you’ve given the next generation a step up in their walk with God.

  9. Joshua Caucutt   •  

    I understand that tradition has limited value and that we must constantly evaluate whether or not we are emphasizing or marginalizing the issues that are emphasized or marginalized in Scripture. My question is, what constitutes a minor theological issues?

  10. Doug   •  

    Josiah,
    I agree and, to the extent I am able, I certainly do mentor those who are under my care as either potential planters or leadership within my church, as well as anyone who will give me ear.

    But I can’t mentor everyone. And a problem that I see within SBC life is that those who are in a position to mentor large numbers of young planters- namely those who oversee our state planting networks- seem unwilling to challenge any of the “crazy” ideas that planters come up with. I realize this is a generalization that is unfair to some, but I think that it is nevertheless true that, in the name of evangelism and of shedding dead tradition, there is often an “anything goes” mentality among church planting programs. I am afraid this is not only dishonoring to God and building weak churches with many false conversions, but also will eventually lead to a whole host of planters who will look back on their early “more creative” days with regret as I now do.

    And so again, the question is, what is mere tradition and what is doctrine? As you can probably tell, I do not ascribe to the common notion that 1 Cor. 9:22 gives us a pass to do anything our minds can imagine in the name of creative Gospel ministry.

    By the way, I cannot commend the ministry of 9 Marks highly enough as a source for guidance on some of the most pertinent issues facing churches today.

  11. Brad Raby   •  

    Marc,

    We have a great DOM now where I am, but he has a significant challenge in getting the established traditional churches to embrace planting, particularly externally focused/missional plants. Our community in Tennessee is 80% unchurched, but that reality isn’t understood or felt tangibly inside many churches. One well meaning deacon issued a caution for me in planting in our city “cause everyone goes to FBC megachuch”. He was unaware that there were 100,000 unchurched in a 10 mile radius of the FBC. Reality versus Perception in the Bible-Belt is a challenge.

    Ed was on the money with the competition issue. Despite our best efforts to make clear we weren’t competition, when in the past young families have exited traditional environments for non-traditional environments – it’s a hard sell.

    There has to be a way for the ‘old guard’ and the ‘new guard’ to come together for the kingdom. Both sides need to begin with respect, not different versions of pious arrogance.

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