Monday, August 17, 2015

Breaking Baptist

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church (in fact, I tell people I was a Southern Baptist nine or ten months before I was born). My husband grew up in an American Baptist church (for my unchurched friends, yes, there is a difference). Over the course of our married life, we've attended an Evangelical Free church, a Methodist church, a Reformed church . . .

But we've always been Baptists at heart, and now we're officially Baptists again. Our family joined Woodland Baptist Church earlier in the summer. And a lot of this feels like coming home. Partly, that's because it's a very traditional church: hymnals, robed choir, Wednesday night dinner and prayer meeting . . . it feels a lot like the church I grew up in.

But we're also coming back to a few things that are Baptist in practice. Such as the monthly business meeting. Baptist congregations are run by the congregation. No bishops and denominational overseers who assign leadership and set rules. No elder boards making decisions on behalf of the congregation. Baptists vote. On everything.

I have "fond" memories of the monthly business meetings at my church. Robert's rules of order. Accepting the minutes from the last meeting. Approving the budget statement for the last month. Acknowledging the change of wording in this and that . . . I move we accept the minutes as revised . . . I second that motion . . . Boring stuff, except when punctuated by the occasional fun controversy. I remember once when a youth leader I respected stood up to protest the amount of money we were spending on lawn maintenance. "I mean, green grass is nice, but it don't save souls!" I thought he had a good point. His motion did not carry.

Another Baptist distinctive: committees. Baptists committee everything to death. Within three days of coming forward to join Woodland -- in fact, about forty minutes before we were officially voted in as members at the monthly business meeting -- we were already invited to be on a committee. In our Welcome to Woodland packet was a printout of the committees and their members: the finance committee, the building and grounds committee, the outreach committee, the personnel committee, the missions committee . . . there is even a Committee on Committees, and no, I am not exaggerating, people. (At my home church, that was called the nominating committee -- same dif.)

And then there was the list of Ministries, which are essentially sub-committees of the committees, in a lot of cases. The prayer ministry, the flower ministry, the kitchen ministry, the ushers and greeters ministry, the handyman ministry. There is no lack of places to plug in.

Yesterday, hubby and I had a meeting with the Young Families and Singles committee to finalize plans for a retreat happening in a couple weeks. (No jokes about that "young families" thing; we questioned whether we still qualified for that label as well, but it seems to be broadly applied.) And while I enjoyed spending time with these people, the meeting reminded me of what I learned as a young person in my home church: running things by committee, while very democratic and safe and fair, is also very inefficient.

I had offered to help two ladies plan a teaching session they are in charge of. They wanted to hang around after the meeting and talk about it in more detail. But here was the thing: I knew what they wanted to do, and being a teacher and a writer, I knew exactly how to set it up. I knew I could whip this out at home on my own in a fourth of the time it would take to talk it through with them -- and if I had something wrong, they could point it out and I could fix it. So, I told them that. They said, "Are you sure?" . . . and I know their concern was that they were dumping all the work on me when they were supposed to be sharing the load, as committees do.

But as I said, the effort to share the load this way in a committee is usually inefficient. God set up the church (and the world, to a degree) as a Body with many parts. Each part is gifted to do particular jobs. If we find the job we are supposed to do and do it, it all works out well. If we try to do jobs we aren't good at, or try to spread the load out in awkward ways, we may look like nice people but we don't work effectively.

The Baptist church is very American in how it runs things. And while I'm quite cognizant of the need to "share the load" (or rather share the power) on a national level to maintain our earthly political liberties, my Baptist heritage has also taught me the advantages of a benevolent, wise dictatorship. Which is good, because the Kingdom that my real citizenship is in is essentially that.

1 comment:

Victoria K said...

ah! The Baptist ways. Can't take it out of us.