Josh Wilks, minister to children at NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, baptizes 7-year-old Grant Stuman during the early service June 6. (Photo by Margaret Smith/NorthPark photography team)
The glow on the little guy’s face as the minister to children surfaced him from the portable baptismal pool triggered a sprinkling of water down several cheeks in the sanctuary.
A handful of us sat at the perfect distance and angle to see the crinkle in his nose emerge above a beaming smile as he was “raised in newness of life.”
We had the unusual opportunity to see these details because the church’s official baptismal pool was covered with decorations for Vacation Bible School.
VBS starts today at many churches across the nation; some even kicked off the week last night with a hot dog supper or other fun event.
As my husband and I sat in the service yesterday at NorthPark Baptist Church in Trussville, Alabama, we found opportunities to worship at every point — experiencing the baptism of a 7-year-old excited about giving his heart to Jesus, singing along with all the other voices, participating in the moments of prayer, giving of our tithe and learning from the pastor’s teachings.
Preaching from Judges 6:1–16, Pastor Bill Wilks shared how “the Israelites thought they were brought low because of the Midianites, but God said to look again.”
“We see the surface problem, but God sees the root problem. Appearances can be deceiving; and we should never overlook the God factor,” Wilks explained.
“We can be too big for God to use us but never too small,” he said. “God sees all the potential in us and wants to draw it out.
“But we — the people of God — may need to look at our own hearts to see where we are rebelling against Him as individuals and as churches. When people do what is right in their own eyes, they often miss what is right in the eyes of God.”
A fairly routine Lord’s Day at any Southern Baptist church, yesterday’s service might have even been a good example for the recent social media posts connected to the #ThisIsTheSBC hashtag.
And church leaders made only one brief mention of the upcoming SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville — a congregational vote to approve the list of messengers who will be attending on behalf of NorthPark.
We chuckled as our executive pastor Stephen Hall accidentally called those of us on the messenger list “missionaries” to the annual meeting before he realized what he said and got tickled himself as he corrected the reference.
It truly was a slip of the tongue, but my mind clung to what he said. Maybe all of us going as messengers should become missionaries of sort and consider the business sessions, hallway talk and panel discussions a missions field.
Exploring divisive terrain
After all, the leaders of our convention entities, Executive Committee, seminaries and other groups are in the roles they are in to serve the churches of the denomination, not the other way around.
Several of them need our help as guides back to calm waters of unity and cooperation and away from the divisive, difficult terrain they decided to explore.
Intimidation and bullying tactics among denominational leaders are not new, neither are manipulative actions to gain or keep control of whatever area or funding — or maybe secret — he or she is attempting to control. Remember, they are human too. The reason it seems worse now is because we all get to watch it play out in real time through social media.
A steady diet of the ugliness eats at our soul, and there’s a point we sense a need to respond, but instead of choosing sides and casting blame, what if the masses of us who don’t like what we see stand together in prayer and a unified voice?
What if we refuse to take the bait and instead of getting caught up in the drama swirling around us, we commit to purifying our denomination?
Starting point for purification
As the true leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention — the churches — we should start with our individual congregations and that means first focusing on our own hearts. It means surrounding our pastors with prayer and support and helping them focus strictly on God to lead.
Healthy churches can then work together to sift issues at the associational level and then the state convention level. From there, the members of the boards of trustees of the roughly dozen SBC entities, Executive Committee, seminaries and auxiliaries should be strong enough to guide those employed as directors of the groups.
We as members of the churches across this denomination fund all the work taking place, and we trust the process put in place to manage the work, but if our hearts are not pure then that will trickle down to those who are called and thus hired to manage the work being done — such as entity leaders and seminary presidents.
They need us. What that means we should do next week in Nashville, I can’t tell you, but I do know that without prayer, accountability and clear expectations, we all are susceptible to the ugliness and deception of life.
We already have the strength and power needed to navigate these latest rocky waters of denominational life — His name is Jesus.
What if all of us — every one of us, not just those we might want to put on a list, but all of us — get over ourselves and look back to Him?
—Jennifer Davis Rash