I have been serving at First Baptist Church in Evergreen, CO for about a year and half now. It has been my first church to attend or serve outside of the “south”, meaning that I have worked at churches in TN, GA, and KY. During our initial visits to Colorado for interviews, a good many folks “warned” us of the differences between the south and the west. I appreciated their understanding and concern that sometimes folks who grew up in the south are not necessarily ready to settle into a different cultural setting. As I was thinking last night with my wife about some of the differences and some of the similarities of the two geographic locations as it pertains to church life, I thought I would articulate them in a blog post. So here you go:
Things that are refreshing about the west for the church
1. People really don’t care where you put the refrigerator. I say this tongue-in-cheek because at a previous church of mine in the south, there was an ongoing, multi-year issue with where a large refrigerator was going to be stored. It caused strong words, business meeting interruptions, and hurt feelings. You know, all those things that cause people to make fun of the church. The west does not have near those kind of issues. Oh, that doesn’t mean out here is perfect or that tempers don’t flare or that we don’t squabble over silly things. But I have yet to hear a single person complain about the flower arrangements, refrigerators, or decorations. That is nice.
2. We don’t do “special music” during Sunday morning corporate worship. Now, I don’t have any problem at all with solos or with a nice instrumental piece. Occasionally there might be a special piece of music here and there. But for the most part, the Sunday morning worship service is all about corporate worship and singing to our God together. In the south, there is an almost expected mandatory “special music” where the worship pastor spends a good portion of his life arranging the “special music” schedule and people end up singing the same 2 songs they “feel good” about. This is a minor thing, but I am glad to see a de-emphasis on special music.
3. The church is congregational led, but the congregation lets the leadership do their jobs. Our business meetings last 10 minutes, only major issues are discussed, and the church trusts the men and women of God they have placed in leadership. Again, nothing is perfect and we have issues just like everyone else. But not near the kinds of issues that come from 3 hour business meetings about 2 hours of nonsense. When a person has an issue with me, they come to me. And so on.
4. The church is more concerned with Jesus than with being a Baptist. It is nice to serve at a place where being Baptist comes second to being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Things that concern me about the west for the church
1. The church is more concerned with Jesus than with being a Baptist. Yes, if you are reading closely at all, you will notice that my final comment about the refreshing nature of the church in the west is also my first comment about my concern for the church in the west. Being a part of the universal church of Christ and calling myself a beloved child of God is the most important thing about me. But my Baptist identity is very, very significant as well. I can talk more about that in a separate post. Most of the good folks in CO are Baptist because it is the church that “feels” right, or that has a good preacher (which we do, Drew Stephens is excellent), or that has a friendly environment (which we do, one of our strengths), or that has a good youth program (which we do, another strength). Those are all fine starting places, but they are terrible ending places. I have heard some incredible preachers who preach what Paul calls a “false Gospel.” I have seen some incredibly successful youth programs in terms of numbers that never once crack open the Bible. So, I want our people to begin learning and appreciating more why they are at a Baptist church. As they grow and become more discipled in the Lord, they will either 1) be even more thankful for the theology and commitment to Scripture that marks us as Baptists or 2) learn that they actually hold to beliefs contrary to Baptist doctrine and would fit in better at another church. I am thrilled with either of those options if it means that person has been growing, learning, and training in Godliness. But if after 5 years a person still has no clue what Baptists believe, why we believe, and what we do, then shame on the leadership and shame on that individual. If you have been in a Southern Baptist church for 5 years have zero clue what the Cooperative Program is, then something is bad, bad wrong. And if you are embarrassed by the name of Baptist, then get out. There is a church down the road that I am sure will gladly cover up the real structure of their beliefs by coming up the most generic name possible for their church.
2. Commitment to regular church attendance. This is, of course, nothing new for any church. All congregations around the world have to contend with the problem of commitment in their churches. But it is even worse here. Sports dominate, school work is primary, and there seems to be an overall feeling that if I make it once every 4-6 weeks to church, I am doing well. Thankfully, there is that special core group inside the church who are there every time the doors are open and are being used by God to sustain, promote, and build His Kingdom.
3. The mandate for baptism. This, in part, goes back to number 1. We have a large number of folks who have placed faith in Christ but who have not followed through in obedience with baptism. I’m just not sure why this is. Has the church not historically taught the fundamental importance of baptism? That would be a sad reality for a Baptist church. Are the folks just scared of the water and the public testimony? I don’t really think that is it either. My fear is that we overemphasize just a little bit the idea of “if you are saved, that is the most important thing” and are not following through quite enough with not just simply Baptist doctrine, but with the Bible’s clear teaching of the necessity of baptism for believers. I do not know of a single denomination or religious group that tosses baptism aside as unimportant. Thanks to God, I believe the tide is shifting in this area, both in baptism and church membership. I am hopeful that is the case.
Things that are common to both the south and west for the church
This one is easy. People need Jesus. I really have not encountered a greater hostility in the west for an “anti-church’ feeling than in the south. There is more of a cultural Christianity in the south, that is true. But if folks are without Jesus, they are all suffering from the same issue; a life controlled and dominated by self.
I sure am thankful for my service here in the west. I am thankful for the good friends I have met who are walking alongside me in faith and practice. This is a good place to be that has a desperate need for Christ. With His sovereign help, maybe today will make a difference.