Once, I walked away from the Southern Baptist Convention, local associations, and cooperative endeavors. It took several years for me to return, but when I did, I came back with a full conviction and determination that working together was something worth holding on to and fighting for. I’d like to share a little of that story and how God’s grace was at work in my life all along.
We can do so much more when we labor together
An Incredible Foundation
I grew up at Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland, pastored by Robert D. Crowley, and one of the flagship churches of the Southern Baptist Convention on the east coast. Thinking back, I can’t imagine a healthier environment for a young person. I was exposed to great preaching, leadership, evangelism, discipleship, meaningful worship, Christian camping, missions, Royal Ambassadors, Training Union, Sunday School, as well as being personally mentored by my pastor as I worked at Summit Lake Camp for seven consecutive summers. So, why in the world would I walk away from that kind of church and those associations?
A Crisis of Beliefs
The summer after I graduated from high school, I surrendered my life to Christ and the call to ministry. As I began exploring options for college and seminary, it appeared to me that those Southern Baptist institutions that we had long supported, and that I had planned on attending, were drifting from significant doctrinal positions. Some friends of mine that had preceded me in ministry education were coming home at break and questioning essential doctrines like biblical inerrancy and the virgin birth of Christ. I remember the conversation I had with my pastor in his office as I let him know that I was changing plans and would be going on to an independent Christian University. He asked, “how can you leave?” and I asked him, “how can you stay”? Because of our different opinions, I regret to say that I had very little contact with Pastor Crowley through my formal training and the first fourteen years of pastoral ministry.
A Firm Foundation
Years later, a good friend from my Summit Lake Camp years, reached out to me and let me know that Pastor Crowley would be retiring after forty years at Montrose. I told him that I would really like to come but that I thought my former pastor wouldn’t be too thrilled to see me. My friend disagreed, so I made my plans to attend. Shortly before the service I was asked to give a testimony on how Pastor Crowley had impacted my life. I can still feel the joy and privilege of having that opportunity.
Afterward, Pastor and Mrs. Crowley invited me over to their home and we talked long into the night. He shared with me that after I had left for college, he was asked to serve on the board of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was surprised to find that the institution had drifted from its theological and philosophical moorings. Soon, he became chairman of the board and led the charge in what we now refer to as “the resurgence.” It was a long exhausting battle for him and one that probably took years off his life. After hearing his story, I don’t think I ever admired my pastor more or believed more in the statement, “some things are worth fighting for.” I had left, and he had stayed, and fought courageously for what he believed in.
A Partnership Worth Fighting For
Now, more than ever, I see the incredible benefits we share cooperating and working together as Southern Baptists. I praise the Lord for the independent churches that are still getting things done—but from my experience so much is being accomplished when we labor together for the Gospel. You get the feeling that you are part of something much bigger than yourself.
We can do so much more when we labor together – in missions (home and abroad), church planting (also revitalizing and replanting), education and developing leaders (college, seminary, local church training), disaster relief, pastoral resources (coaching, care, recovery), as well as having the funds to be able to accomplish all we are called to do. Yes, I can understand how some become disillusioned with all the issues we must deal with— especially in the last several years—but from what I have seen, when we work together, we will keep pressing to do the right thing. We will always have “messiness” if people are involved. That’s just ministry. We can’t control what everyone does, but we can control how we respond together. This is what will define us. We can do much more for the Kingdom together. Our association is something worth fighting for!