Baptist General Convention of Texas: Embrace Our Future Together (Part 7 System-Sensitive Decision Making)

Systems-Sensitive Decision Making

Recently Charles Wade wrote a blog calling attention to the fact the church was a “body not a bunch”. He called attention to the vast difference between an “organism” versus an “organization”. To understand the dynamics of the local church on a small scale or the inner workings of the Baptist General Convention of Texas on a large scale one must take into account that both of these organizations are “alive” and exhibit the characteristics of a “living being”.

Paul noted this in his astute description of the church as the “body of Christ”. He pointed out the interdependence of every part of the body. He called for the church members to value each other deeply even though there were dramatic differences in their functions and perceptions. A simple lesson from his teaching is “unity is a given”. When disunity is present there is something fundamentally wrong with the relationships or connections between the people of God.

In light of our interdependence it is critical that when decisions are made that those empowered to make these decisions take into account the ripple effect through out the system of their actions. Just like when a hammer hits a thumb the entire body reacts with a jerk, and a few choice words. Every decision impacts the whole system whether we want it to or not. Good leaders must take a “big picture” view of things are dire consequences can occur.

A few years ago I led our staff to address a worship problem. Our contemporary worship service was consistently lasting until 12:15 p.m. (Obviously I was preaching too long!) In an effort to end our service closer to noon, and to prevent a mutiny among our nursery workers we discussed what to do. Our staff under my “keen” leadership decided to move the 11:00 a.m. service to 10:50 a.m. Therefore we would have ten extra minutes for me to preach! There was only one major problem with our decision. We solved the getting out of church late problem but we robbed our Sunday School of ten minutes to accomplish their vital mission. The leaders of the Sunday School responded to our solution in two ways. One group cut back on their ministry, and the other group kept on doing what they had always done and just showed up ten minutes late for worship. We were short-sighted on our solution to a problem and in my estimation created a bigger one. What were we thinking? The simple answer we were not thinking like a “system” or an “organism”, we were thinking like mechanics tinkering with the parts of an engine.

Recently I have been reading an interesting book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled The Tipping Point. This book notes how many times epidemic movements start when the system reaching “a tipping point” and everything changes. Jim Collins notes in his book Good to Great that often great companies don’t have one brilliant idea that launches the move toward greatness but rather it is like the build up of a flywheel that suddenly is released into action.

In The Tipping Point Gladwell tells the story of the dramatic drop in the crime rate in New York City after the 1980’s. From his perspective this change can be traced back into the bowels of the city and into a couple of basic changes in the subway system. Before these changes entering a NYC subway was like going into “Dante’s Inferno”. Under the guidance of a new director who applied the “Broken Window” Theory to the situation, the management of the system began to crack down on graffiti and fare jumping. Simply by painting and maintaining the cleanliness of the subway cars and by arresting people for jumping a fare of $1.25 the whole atmosphere in the system changed. This “sea change” flowed into the streets of the city and soon the crime rate in the whole city took a dramatic plunge. Who would have ever believed paint and arresting a few petty criminals would have unleashed such a dramatic change. The simple truth is these changes transformed the “context” and the “system”.

When Fundamentalism made its march into Texas and sets its eyes on the BGCT our system was changed. Politics became the strategy of our relationships. Fear and suspicion became common place. The spoken and printed word was used to case doubt and suspicion on the motivations of both sides, and a narrow victory in an election meant total control of the seats of power. Peace committees were a waste of time and good will in an environment covered with the graffiti of politics and power brokering. Does this have to be our reality? Can we put politics to bed once and for good, and create a system in which trust replaces suspicion, and first names replace labels?

I believe we can, but we are going to have to start treating our convention like an “organism” rather than a “political organization”. You may think I am crazy but grab a can of paint and let’s go to work.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Baptist General Convention of Texas: Embrace Our Future Together (Part 7 System-Sensitive Decision Making)

  1. I’m still trying to figure out the “how” and “what” we are to do for a viable convention.

    I believe that the convention is made up of churches. I believe that the convention is a means for us to pool our money, and allot the cash to institutions that partner with the convention. I don’t believe that the convention exists to serve the churches. The churches are the convention.

    But, I’m afraid that churches are becoming consumeristic in regards to the convention staff. The churches want to be served, instead of being the one that serve. Well, I’m pretty tired of it. Anyone else?

    There needs to be a revamping, but not only of the convention staff/admin. There needs to be a renovation in the heart of the individual churches. If it happens there, then it might trickle into the convention staff/admin as well. If not, then that’s ok. The Kingdom was functioning well before any state convention was on the scene, and it will out last any state/nation convention in current operation. The ax can be at the root of the BGCT tree, just as easily as it was at the root of the Temple in Jerusalem during Jesus’ first advent.

    Tim Dahl

  2. Only in the USA and on USA-sponsored mission fields do we speak of organizations of churches as conventions. In Europe and Australia they are called unions. As unions they are committed to assisting each other in accomplishing the Great Commission. While excess consumerism is undesireable, I see nothing wrong with stronger churches banding together to assist weaker churches, or providing methodological instruction for the leadership of the churches. Seminaries do not do it. As we strengthen or assist churches in achieving health, these churches can contribute to the institutions and mission work of the state body at a higher level. The convention is composed of churches, but its mission, in my opinion, is to assist churches in accomplishing the Great Commission.

  3. David,

    Great words and a wonderful series. I particularly like the comments today by Tim and Ken. This dialogue is healthy. I am sure the search committee and the Ex. Board members are following what is being said and written. We simply must pray for God to intervene in a mighty way to bring forth leadership and followship for a new day.

    I would encourage your readers to read what Albert Reyes posted on his blog today. It is good stuff. http://www.pandulce.typepad.com.

  4. Lee

    During the period that fundamentalism was a “threat” to the BGCT, the “circle the wagons” strategy to prevent a takeover of the convention itself kept that from happening. But when you circle the wagons, you don’t make any progress down the trail. And using that same analogy, a couple of things happened to the BGCT along the way. The circle got tight, and the convention began heading in a different direction, as the leadership became dominated by moderates, most of them looking toward developing and building cooperative ministries with CBF and distancing themselves from the SBC. But that was not reflective of where the churches wanted to go. As the fundamentalists began departing in large numbers, taking considerable resources with them, the circle tightened even further.

    The problem with narrow leadership is that you do not get new ideas and fresh thinking into the mix. And as long as the wagon train is parked, fighting the battle, that is the main focus of all the energy and resources.

    The circumstances have changed, but the wagons are still circled. The defensive posture is still up, and it is preventing the changes that should have been made a long time ago from occurring, because the thinking is still stuck in the traditional mode of years gone by. The leadership has been so exclusive and narrow that there are few people with the kind of vision needed to even be able to see that wagon train itself is out of date.

    I think Tim’s comment is right on the mark, that there needs to be a revamping and revisioning on the part of both the churches and the convention. It’s the equivalent of moving from wagons to automobiles, and off the trail and onto a highway. There are some important things that must be done soon. The study committee that was approved by the convention in Amarillo should be appointed soon, it should consist of a whole group of people whose names have never appeared on a trustee board or a committee list. There are lots of factors causing the drop off in both Cooperative Program giving and convention participation that is being felt not only in the BGCT, but in most other state conventions, and in the SBC itself. If we do not deal with these factors, including the cliquish, snobbish, exclusive attitude that seems to come with Baptist convention leadership, there will not be very much left to fight over in a decade. There is so much PC speech from our leadership, I do not know whether they even see that they are approaching the edge of a cliff.

  5. Tim,

    You left us with much to think about. I pray the ax is not at the root of the tree. If it is then we share our party of the responsibility. If the tree falls, I pray in its place the Lord will plant an “oak of righteousness” that will shade the generations to come.

    I personally believe there is too much good going on among the churches and the institutions of the BGCT for the ax to fall. However, we cannot do business as usual if we hope to embrace the future the Lord has for us.

    Concerning the mindset of our churches, each context is different. For the large church the temptation will be to go it alone which may be a big mistake. For the small church the temptation will be to either stay with “traditional” giving or turn inward. (I fear for the small church because the Cooperative Program was such a wonderful way to be part of something much bigger than yourself and to feel like a full partner in the work. I pray we can keep this vision alive). For the megachurches the course may have already been chosen and the conventions as we know them seem irrelevant.

    Thank you for helping us to think deeply about these issues.

    David Lowrie

  6. Ken,

    I appreciate your insight into “unions”. I like the image behind the word. It would be a good start for us to think more in those terms. To do all God wants us to accomplish it will take all of us working together, much like on the mission field when denominational differences make little difference when it comes to preaching the good news.

    David Lowrie

  7. Ken,

    Thanks for the plug for Albert. His article was a good word especially the call to prayer.

    David Lowrie

  8. Lee,

    Your image of the circled wagons was excellent. It captured our situation in some many ways. I especially resonated with the idea of moving from wagons to cars…at the rate of change we may need to skip cars for jets. Air travel and the internet have brought the world to the smallest of local churches. Our new vision and models must quickly engage this new reality.

    I agree with you it is time to move out of the circle and move forward into our future. I have encouraged our leaders to broaden the tent on this new committee. I believe this bold action could open huge opportunities for conversations and cooperation. This is not nuclear science. We can do this. We can pull together. We must remember the real victims in our political positioning are not the churches but the people we fail to reach, the churches that fail to get planted, the students that lose an opportunity to be all they can be, and those in need to go untouched and unloved.

    David Lowrie

  9. David,

    I should have been a little broader with the “ax at the root of the tree” metaphor. I should have included our churches in with the state/national convention. It seems that most of our churches are focused inwards instead of outwards. We’ve built ourselves nice buildings that we have to keep up. We’ve gone the way of most movements, straight into institutions. Its amazing how institutions take on a life of their own, with the concern of self-preservation deep seated.

    As long as our churches are inward focused, towards their own self-preservation; we have a continuing problem. As we are focused inwards, or our wagons are circles (Thanks Lee!), then God’s Kingdom is getting second billing. God does not bless that. I sincerely believe that God will cut the self-centered trees down. If the convention goes down it is only because our churches failed before hand.

    Yes, I agree. If the church falters (and by extension the convention), then the lions share of the blame falls upon us.

    Tim

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