Monday, November 8, 2010

Sympathy for the Baptist Preacher

Monday after All Saints’ Sunday
November 8, 2010

The Lord be with you

I am attending school at Gardner-Webb University (GWU) working on a Doctorate of Ministry degree. GWU is affiliated with the Baptist denomination. Currently I’m in a worship seminar. There has been an unexpected result in me, emotionally, that I would like to share.

Baptists are part of the “free church” tradition. It is a natural outgrowth of their belief in what they call “soul freedom.” To sum it up in non-church language, it basically means “Aint nobody gonna tell me what to believe or do.” Any guidance from the denomination is viewed by many with great suspicion, as if they are seeking to create a Baptist Pope.

One of the practical results is that there are no denominationally sanctioned/endorsed agendas. An agenda, for those who don’t know, is a book that contains all kinds of occasional services like weddings, funerals, dedication for new church appointments (pews, art, Bible, hymnals, etc.). In fact, there are no pan-Baptist worship services whatsoever!

The result, from a practical point-of-view, is that when a Baptist minister graduates and gets his first church, he has NO resources for leading his people in worship other than what he may have learned in school. The minister will probably have a good handle on the Bible and theology as understood in their tradition, and will be able to lead Bible studies or preach, but the nuts and bolts of leading worship is often left for them to figure out on their own.

This practice seems to me to be filled with all sorts of potential disasters for the young pastor. Each congregation will have developed their own specific worship traditions and the pastor is expected to know them. With no guidance to help him determine what is a theologically sound practice the minister is left to work through each of the local traditions. If he has a funeral right away he may well not have time to evaluate the current practices and simply follow an old bulletin. If later he decides to modify the practice for theological reasons, the congregation might well wonder why he did it “wrong” before. When a pastor first arrives at a congregation one of their first priorities often is visiting members and getting to know the congregation. This leaves little time for reflecting on the worship practices he has inherited.

The emotional response I’ve had is an increase in sympathy for the Baptist pastor, especially the new Baptist pastor who doesn’t have years of experience on which to draw.

I also have a recommendation for ministers in the “free church” tradition. Find a liturgical denomination that has similar theology to yours. Purchase a copy of their Hymnal and Agenda. You don’t have to tell your people you have done this. Use these books to help you develop Sunday morning, wedding, funeral, etc., services that have substance and integrity. I have often been approached by Baptist laity after a wedding or funeral and been told just how great the service was. I never understood why as I basically follow standard forms which are laced with great theological and biblical thought. I thought every church provided such resources to their pastors. Now I know. Baptist ministers are not given the resources I am given by my denomination.

So, if you are a minister from the “free church” tradition, do yourself and your people a favor. Buy an Agenda from a liturgical denomination with similar theology to yours. You’ll thank me later.

Blessings in Christ,
Pastor John Rickert
(By-the-way, the picture is of the dedication of new hymnals for use at Lamb of God. The dedication rite came right out of our Agenda.)

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