Baptist Folly

Last Lord’s day I filled in for the regular teacher for the adult Sunday school class. We are working our way through Exodus chapter-by-chapter, and this will be our third week on chapter 32. This chapter is on when Moses and Joshua came down from the mountain to see the people of God worshiping a golden calf. It is a very interesting chapter in a general sense, but it is especially important for us as a church right now. We are in the process of possibly ordaining someone to the ministry to serve in our church, so looking at the characteristics of Moses and Joshua as leaders can be very instructive. Since we were having this discussion, I spent some time talking about longevity of leadership at a church and how my denomination, that of the baptists, completely misses this and are the worse for it.

Foolish Baptists

One thing that has irked me for a very long time with regard to my denomination is that it is rare for a leader to have longevity in a pastorate. It happens sometimes and my church is an exception in that (our current pastor has been with the church since its inception), but this is a rarity. Typically baptists bring in their pastors from the outside. That pastor will stick around for three or four years then "feel called" to another pastorate. So the church then looks for another pastor out there in the ether who is looking to "feel called" somewhere else. They bring that guy in, interview him, and if they like how he preaches, he is voted on and hired. He stays for a few years and finally starts gaining respect because of his longevity...and then he "feels called", moves on, and the process starts over again. Even though I suppose some are actually being called elsewhere, I really have absolutely no respect for this process. This is terribly unwise. How do you know this guy is really a good preacher of the Scriptures? I’m sorry, but a couple sermons is not enough. How do you know that this man is godly? I am sorry, but you have no clue.

This constant turnover of pastors may be one reason why deacon boards end up having so much power in baptist churches, despite the very clear biblical testimony that the purpose of the deacon is to serve, not lead. Deacons generally do not move around every few years, so they can be depended on to know the church and have its best interest at heart (though deacons are not always worthy of their office...but that is a different discussion). With fluctuating leadership, it is natural for the people to look somewhere for stability.

A Better Model

A much better model is to follow what Moses did with Joshua: grow him as a leader over time. Let the young potential leader spend time maturing with the bishop (the term "bishop" is a great term in my opinion, and it is a shame that it is not used in baptist circles for its leadership). This will give him time to mature within the context of the church, which will come to respect him if he is worthy of the office. When you have known a man for years you come to naturally respect or disrespect him for the life he lives. That knowledge of someone’s life is something you cannot pay enough for, and not something you can just assume because he has been a pastor somewhere else. It is better by far to raise up a leader from your own people than to take the crapshoot of searching outside. You already know if that person meets many of the qualifications for eldership just because of your history with him. And I think this approach is much more consistent with scripture.

1 Timothy 5:22

"Lay hands on no one quickly nor share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure."

That is a fairly non-idiomatic rendering of the verse. So what does that mean? I think the NET Bible has the idea right translating it "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily and so identify with the sins of others. Keep yourself pure." In other words, Paul is telling Timothy that he needs to be careful who he puts in church leadership ("lay hands on") because if he puts someone in leadership who is not worthy, he in some way shares in their sins. Now tell me this. How much easier is it to put someone in charge who is not worthy of his vocation as bishop/pastor if you do not know that person? I think the answer to that one is obvious. And when churches do this they share in that leaders sins in a very real and dangerous way.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

This passage is about the qualities of a good bishop/pastor. As you read through this, think about which of these you can really tell about a person when you barely know him.

"This is a faithful statement: ‘If someone desires (to the office of) bishop, he desires a good work’. So then it is necessary for the bishop to be irreproachable, husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, honorable, hospitable, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not avaricious, but tolerant, peacable, and not one who is in love with money, ruling his own house well, having children in submission, with all dignity(now if someone does not know how to direct his own house, how can he care for the church of God?)."

So how many of those can you tell about a person after just meeting them? I think you could probably tell if he was a monogamist (if that’s what the phrase means...and I am not exactly sure about that). But all of the other qualities can only be truly judged over the long-haul. So tell me, if you juggle bishops from outside your congregation every few years, how can you know this?

A Self-Destructive Process

One of the problems with this process is that it is self-destructive. It always takes time for a bishop to truly gain the respect of the congregation. In the meantime his ministry is less effective. If he leaves a few years later then his ministry is always at best half-effective. This causes all sorts of problems, which I will not go into at this point because the post is already getting too long. But the process feeds on itself. If the pastors do not stick around long their congregation does not mature enough. This means that most who come out of these churches and become pastors have had mediocre training, and they jump around in their ministries and its gets even worse. And do not think that seminary is a cure for this...which is another soapbox I will avoid for the moment.


At the very least, I think how Baptist pastors jump around is unwise. In reality I think it is usually very damaging to the church, and ought to be changed. Please baptists, choose wisdom, not folly.


Jim 2008-02-07 06:45:56

I’ve been at my present location 15 years. Just so you know that there are some out and about who don’t church hop.


Eric 2008-02-07 08:03:12

That’s great, Jim. Thanks for dropping by.

Chris 2008-04-02 10:46:13

What do you think about the theory that "pastor" (or "pastor-teacher" as many like to suggest) is not an office at all but a gift? And beyond that each local manifestation of the church should have a plurality of elders--hopefully most of which should have the pastoral gift and hopefully most of which should at least "be able to teach" regardless of whether or not they have been given the gift of teaching. Beyond this, what about the idea that each local manifestation of the church should be able to disciples its own, recognize gifts among its own, and chose elders, teachers, and/or pastors from among its own flock?

I think these are interesting ideas myself. Not totally sure if it fits with the original paradigm that Paul seemed to prefer among the churches he planted. Not sure if anyone practices it today or if it’s even feasible today. Intriguing though?

Eric 2008-04-02 11:44:45

Well...that’s a lot of questions packed into one short bit of text. I don’t think I’ll answer this in the comments. I’ll post on the blog about this in the next few days. Cool with you?