If it weren’t hard enough to reach people with the Gospel message in our day, we often do the most exasperating things to complicate it. While I suppose every Christian group could conceivably falter here, I must relate what I have seen among Independent Baptists time and again. Worse than zeal without knowledge, it is zeal without understanding or integrity. We see it in both churches and colleges. Before I define or analyze, please allow me to simply describe cases of it.
Perhaps you have seen the interaction between two Independent Baptist churches in the same area. It is not always a mutual admiration society! In some cases, one church will actively attempt to lure members away from the other. Sometimes more energy is expended here than going after unchurched folks. Trumped up charges of the other church being more liberal is often thrown out, though differences in a few standards is the only noticeable difference. If you overheard either of them presenting the Gospel, it would really sound the same. Many feel this is perfectly legitimate.
Sometimes the same type of shenanigans appear in soliciting students to Bible college. In some cases it is not actually the college staff doing it, but some rouge supporters. Of course colleges must pursue young folks to come, but the issue is when we do it at the expense of other similar colleges. I have seen some colleges at its meetings allow other colleges to have a booth set up, and that is commendable, but that is not always the case.
Again, there are cases where the school is labeled so liberal that dishonesty is in play. It is ridiculous to paint something so similar as something so different. Every Bible college in the Independent Baptist world has more in common with each other than any other school outside of it. Majors or classes offered are a fair point of discussion, but to attack on minor issues is again a smokescreen for petty marketing. I once heard of a college staff member tell a pastor that he should come to their conference instead of another because it was the real deal. The other one wasn’t according to the staff member. In these type cases, urban legends of faults, like they aren’t really for soulwinning, etc., are passed around like bread. Sadly, it is rather moldy.
We so often lose sight of the big picture. What is our goal? Is it not to carry out the Great Commission and disciple believers and form local churches? My question is simple–are we pursuing the goal when we proselytize others who believe as we do? I think we all know the answer to that question.
It goes back to a concept I heard in business school years ago–the cannibalization of sales. It is bad business to come up with a product that steals from a current product in order to be successful. That is why the Coca-cola Company after creating the product Coca-Cola would not create and market another similar product, though they would create and market Diet Coke or Sprite. You might create Mello Yellow to compete with Mountain Dew, but after making Sprite you wouldn’t create and market another lemon-lime drink. See how it works?
We are giving the Gospel. You could argue that, in crude terms, we are marketing the Independent Baptist brand. In bottom-line language, we add nothing when we take from other Independent Baptist churches or schools. The only way that could be so were if our church or school were all that is important. I pray we are not so jaded as to think that! It is the Name of Jesus that is the big picture; there are so many that do not know Him that it is trivial at best, and criminal at worst, to give our lives to just repositioning what He already has. May God help us get on the right track and put a stop to this cannibalization within our ranks.
Find all articles in the series here.
6 thoughts on “Cannibalization In The Independent Baptist World (IBTR #34)”
I think it comes down to 2 things.
1. A misinterpretation of independent. We are not independent in that we remove ourselves from all other Christians and everybody else. We are independent in that we do not have a governing board telling the church what to do. This gets all twisted around in IFB churches and they start thinking that they are the only good church left.
2. Church growth. There are so many books written about church growth it is ridiculous. God does not call for churches to grow anywhere that I have seen. However, we think our churches must be getting bigger or we are wrong. Another church in the area might just be stealing people away that could be making your own church smaller.
Fair points! Some growth is not real if they just took from other churches.
Francis Schaeffer postulated that after WWII, two values came to dominate American culture–personal peace and affluence, to the exclusion or eclipsing of all other values. These two values, while antithetical to all Scriptural teaching have, I am afraid, also come to characterize American Christianity, and not merely fundamentalism. One can summarize these two values into one thought, “look out for number 1.”The problem is that we as Christians no longer really know how to separate the culture in which we live, from scriptural teachings. Entrepreneurial thinking has permeated church growth, and like the previous poster said, church growth isn’t even a scriptural value! Another example is the multitudinous scriptural references, both Old and New, about caring for the poor. Yet today, most conservative Christians literally turn their backs on the truly poor among us by politicizing it, and thus, washing their hands of the whole issue (they aren’t “truly” poor…) And I’m reminded of something I read this morning, thinking about that, in Matt 5:44 “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Can we honestly say we are being obedient to this verse in our treatment of those on the other side of the political spectrum, including gays, feminists, etc.? Personal Peace and Affluence… look out for numero uno… it all plays into this, IMO.
I agree. Looking out for number one is a sad principle among Christians!
Growth may not be commanded anywhere in Scripture. In fact, Jesus seemed to drive away more people than he brought in. But let’s look at the facts. Thousands of people came to listen to him regularly. So many so that he couldn’t preach in synagogues – he was commonly preaching on mountain tops so there was enough room for people to gather round. However, even so, after His resurrection, it seemed is following was still at least a few hundred people, even though His message drove away most listeners (reference the parable of the sower for reasons). The very Messiah himself only had a “church membership” of a few hundred people tops while He lived. HOWEVER, He did give us the commission to “go and make disciples.” I fear that many churches are not deliberately putting effort into this. We ask people to come to church to hear God’s word, since, afterall, the “expert” is there. We are not GOING. Not necessarily in missions overseas, but also into our community. We blame our small #’s on things like “Jesus didn’t command growth, and we’re doing what we can, so we must be fine.” No, you’re not doing what you can. You’re not obeying. If your church has not made a disciple in 5 years, you can be pretty sure you’re doing something wrong. So while growth is not commanded in scripture, it sure seems implied to a certain extent. Not saying all churches should be mega-churches. I do think the fact that Jesus had a smaller following was due to the fact that he was in the business of making TRUE disciples, not just name-claimers (nominal). You can only be His disciple if you “take up your own cross and follow after me,” having renounced your claim to this world. I think the problem is that churches waste hours and tons of money on people that simply do not have ears to hear. They put so much into reaching LOTS of people who don’t really care to count the cost that they neglect to train those who are primed and ready to grow as disciples. I think that the best evangelism efforts are put into making actual evangelists, rather than a pastor and a couple other people just putting all their efforts into the community themselves. Part of the reason our churches aren’t going is because the people as a whole are not going out and actively trying to make disciples as Christ commanded as His dying wish. We simply don’t take “church growth,” “discipleship,” “evangelism” – whatever you want to call it – seriously. Yes, I do believe churches should be growing. No, I don’t believe there is one fix-all that works for every church. No, I don’t believe they should all be growing at the same rate. Yes, I think there are legitimate reasons for a drop in attendance rather than increase. But yes, I believe in the end all these things, if we are following hard after Christ, are meant to further the Kingdom (yes even a drop in attendance can be for this purpose), and a big part of furthering the Kingdom is adding disciples to it and developing those disciples. Once we give up on that and start making excuses for our lack of growth that have nothing to do with our goal of furthering the Kingdom, we probably have ceased to follow hard after Christ.
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