Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Three

Chapter Three

All This Was New Once

   The bricks in your church building were set there once for the first and last time. All the "Building Generation" did was once new.

   There were the years before Sunday School. Sunday School orginated to teach reading and get gangs of children off the street so they did not disturb the Sabbath. Sunday School was new once.

   I am not sure when pulpits were introduced or musical organs wafted into church life. They were new once.

   New stuff means we move forward, make progress, look to meet the needs of the present with an eye on the future with an ancient message. Think about this; if you are running a mid-1950’s worship format in your church, you are actually doing something midly contemporary in comparison to those fearful catacomb meetings Christians once enjoyed. You change something the church "always did" to get to the "Box Church" model.

   Innovation is survival in the 21st century. No? Try a computer-free life or a day unmarred by cell  phones. You may be able to make it but you will absolutely lose touch with the communication age.

   To do so is certain death.

   "One of the great growth agents of the church today," Mike Milburn says, "is change."

   Change for the sake of change, however, is poisonous when one only exchanges the far past for the near past.

   So, it was, our constant roiling of the waters at BGCT generated the poorest possibile public relations for us, addled the staff, confounded our churches and emboldened our opposition. The guy at the top was good at starting things, terrible at networking during the process to build a consensus of approval and absolutely inept at staying the course.

   We were changing and had to change. We just never knew how, or why, or when or if. Decisions taken in the morning were superseded in the afternoon.

   "Don’t do anything about what Charles says in the morning meeting," EB Brooks told me one day during a staff week. "He is having lunch with some of us and we’ll change his mind."

   Sure enough.

   We did not change the direction of the Titanic. We just backed ‘er up and rammed the iceberg again to see if it was still cold.

   Sure enough.

   Oh, my, you should have seen the "pleasers" trying to figure out how to hit the moving target. Obsequity, syncophancy, empty smiles and brows furrowed in agreement met their doom when no one in the room knows just when to cry, "Amen."

   The great Terry Austin, confined to his motorized chair, unable to lean over to whisper in my ear, would simply, fearlessly, look over at me and say, "This is the exact opposite of what they told us last time."

   "Terry," I would say, "use your inside voice."

   "This is my inside voice, you wimp," he would answer.

   There are perfectly good reasons why we are floundering in the sea of white caps in our churches, fearful to stay but uncertain where to go. The fact we live so long these days in the west is one of reasons.

   Robert Webber in his book The Younger Evangelicals offers the opinion there are three generations at work in Christendom today, for perhaps the first time in church history (because we live longer now). There are the Traditionalists, who led after WW II until the 1970’s, who loved mass meetings and Billy Graham. Then came the Modernists, who led from the 1970’s until recently, who wrote a business program for the church, made presentations from memory a part of church life, who could still gather in mass meetings but paid more attention to Bill Bright. After them came the Progressives/Emergents/Process/Post-Moderns.

   Webber insists the Post-Moderns and Traditonalists have more in common than they may know. Post-mods don’t do so well in giant rallies, quickly lose touch with the "emotion" only appeals and see salvation as more a process than an instantaneous act. The Post-Mods convene around Brian McLaren and others, like the late Stan Grenz and the deeply intellecual Dallas Willard.

   Do you have the Worship Wars in your church? You know, where the Traditionalists need two revivals a year, the Moderns need a four step salvation program and the Post-Mods need some candles, coffee and a casserole? Or, where you try to have one blended service so all can meet together, only to discover the Moderns are disturbed by the drums and the Post-Mods are bored with the hymns?

   Welcome to the New World. Now, move over.

   In denominational service in the 21st century, everything comes with a meeting and a meal. You start to grow into the shape of the table in front of you; narrow at the shoulders and wide at the hips. Denominational service is no place for the adult ADD, so I was doomed from the start.

   The thing I ended up doing in the interminable, meaningless, repetitive meetings was to identify who was speaking for the Traditionalists, the Moderns and the Post-Moderns. I loved the intellectuals in the crowd, like Milfred Minatrea, who was smart enough to argue all three angles of the discussion.

   Milfred went on sabbatical to write the book Shaped By God’s Heart. His work became a real beacon for Canadian churches and put the Post-Moderns into a Missional context previously unnoted in the literature. I enthusiastically supported Milfred’s work, put it on my blogsite, invited him into the planning stages for the final "Evangelism Conference" I put together and just generally held hands with him during the last year of our joint work at the convention.

   This proved yet another error in judgement in my part. The other thing that comes with denominational service in the 21st century is turf management. Do not ever let anything you control get away from your control. You will not get it back and you will lose status as a result.

   Milfred did not steal from me, malign me or despitefully use me. He is a gentleman and I count him as a friend still. I remember long talks in my office when he was being eased out just a bit later and no one would tell him why or what he could do better.

   The saddest thing about Milfred’s abrupt departure was ironic. He was one of the fellows who could articulately point us to the future, pruned by persons who could not even articulate why they needed us to stay in the past. The "leadership" spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to put us into a thirty year old Modern Corporate model in a Post-Modern world. We moved from the far past to the near past with predictable results: anecdotal evidence about someone who appreciated a phone call from the new "service center" while actual support dwindled and churches left, bewildered. 

    Milfred was cut down just as he started to blossom. He could have been one of the touchstones to take us into a new way of thinking without losing touch with our far or near past.

   His "Missional" language "did not test well."

   Neither did "evangelism."

   Words will be written in between my lines here and motives impugned but, read me, I did not and do not mind sharing. Also get this; shrinking resources and the receding jobs/programs distress people. In 21st century denominational service, workers may appear to be dogs fighting over bare, dry bones.

   If you are silly enough to make yourself appear superfluous or lazy enough to make yourself seem redundant, you will get treated that way.

   I was not lazy.

   I did not spend much time around the old free yogurt machine in the break room. I spent my time on the phone, sending out email newsletters, hosting pastors and staff and traveling Texas.

   Southwest Airlines started letting me do my own security check.

   "He’s not bright enough to be a terrorist," they would say. "We see him all the time."

    I used so much time moving around the state to see people my secretary quit, saying she did not have enough to do. I functioned without a secretary for the last year and a half I was in service, doing much the same work with a cell phone, a lap-top computer and some program codes.

   I was warned about putting on twenty pounds in denominational service. I lost ten pounds in less than five years. I did watch some other guys grow more, how to say, stately.

   Some got big enough to have their own area code.

   You see, no one watches your time. There are staff weeks, there are endless meetings but, most of the time, a denominational employee makes his or her own schedule. I found I could indulge my penchant for work to a degree even I had never known. No one would say no or tell me to slow down a bit.

   My personnel committee at FBC, Midlothian called me in sometime during the middle of my twelve years there. They had concerns.

   "You have to slow down," the chairman told me.

   "You work all the time," they continued.

   "We are putting you on half days for awhile," they concluded.

   You Freudians have had your day. Jungians, rev up and get running.

   Texas is a huge, beautiful, sacred state for me. I could not see enough of it fast enough. I could not wait to see the rest of it. No one told me to stop.

   Then, the headaches came.



10 thoughts on “Service Interrupted: A Political Memoir-Chapter Three”

  1. Your comments today bring up one of the most curious circumstances I observed while at the BGCT for five years in the church planting department and the partnership missions resource center. Why would the leadrship take Milfred Minatree, one of the brightest lights in the convention constellation, our of service. The way the leadrship disposed of him, Goode, and Young was heartless in 2006. I was not surprised at the way 30 jobs were eliminated in 2007. How many more years will we adminstratively wander in our denominatinal wilderness out of touch with reality? Thank you for pointing us in the right direction.

  2. If not for Milfred, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today nor have any degree of effectiveness. He introduced me to the idea of being missional, made it okay to think of evangelism in terms of making disciples rather than seeking conversions, and encouraged me to try new paradigms without disparging the old.
    I’ve heard he was “not moderate enough”, didn’t relate to the church, etc. The truth is the BGCT is a fraction of what it could be without Milfred.
    You know, the ED position is still open……

  3. Yeah, I agree. They were stupid for getting rid of Milfred. However, Worldconnex was smart enough to pick him up as a consultant. Since they ran off Rick as well, I can’t think of many people in the “building” that have been useful to my church.
    Also, since they are getting the Evangelism Conference “started again…” What a joke! Epicenter was one of the most useful conferences that the BGCT ever came out with. But then again, since they got rid of the guys that did it (Rick and Milfred), I guess it is ok for them to pretend that it never happened.

  4. Your memoirs are serving to confirm a perspective that I have held for a long time, after serving churches in four states. The most competent denominational servants generally do not have long tenure.
    Change is coming, and is inevitable. The traditionalists, who also provide the lion’s share of the finances for denominational structures, are already dying off. Recognizing that a financial crunch is rolling toward the BGCT, the convention approved a study committee to deal with the issue. I have leaned toward the idea of doing everything we can that is necessary to preserve the BGCT and make it viable for the future. That, however, may not be possible, and it may not be worth it, either. Survival, and future relevance might be better served if it is shaped by the coming crisis.
    This story is not surprising, and there are hundreds of similar ones in every state convention, in the SBC, and even in many of the churches.

  5. Doug, did you mean “Brain Trust,” or “thrust” like you said? Don’t feel bad, I make typos all the time! Its like my fingers move before my brain engages…but, that doesn’t surprise anyone.
    Rick, I am your memoirs very informative. However, I am also hoping for some thoughts on moving forward at the end. However(x2), don’t rush past anything in the rush to get there. We need to understand the past so that we don’t make the same mistakes twice.
    Tim Dahl

  6. Doug,
    You are in over your head, flailing around, drowining the people trying to rescue you. Huh was mostly kindness because your previous post was so empty of meaning.
    As for Wayne and Gene,the fact no one showed up is an indication of two things; how far the BGCT has fallen in prestige and their inability to let people know about things despite cutting the ministry budget while raising the promotions budget.
    Yes, you are one who has definitely benefitted from association with the BGCT; money,a credit card, election to the Executive Board and your pronouncements are definitely in line with the company.
    What you have not done any more than any other on that board is effect a meaningful change in policies, pursue the criminal investigations other bodies seem to find so routine or stop the BGCT slide into irrelevance.

  7. I agree Dr. Davis …. while Doug may be a smart man, I totally did not understand a bit of the comment above relating to “thrusting forward together…” I guess others did, but I missed the point. But, I would like to know how Doug scored a company card, money, etc? Can I get mine asap? I really do need it!!! LOL

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