October 19 2001 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

SBC or CBF? | Friday, Oct. 19, 2001

Friday, Oct. 19, 2001


By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor CARY - Churches examining their denominational relationships often start with practical matters - money, literature and missions. But the discussion eventually leads to emotions - memories and feelings.

David Odom, president of the Center for Congregational Health, suggests the opposite approach - start with emotions and work toward more practical considerations.

The controversy between conservative and moderate Baptists in the last 22 years has led many churches to consider their ties to denominational groups. Dozens of churches have left the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) since its decidedly conservative shift. North Carolina is home to more of those churches than any other state, with about 25 N.C. Baptist churches leaving the SBC.

Hundreds of other churches have loosened their relationship to the SBC and affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which formed in 1991 as a missions and ministry alternative to the SBC.

Smaller numbers have aligned with the Alliance of Baptists or the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. or have become independent.

The center has worked with congregations studying denominational relationships. Odom led a seminar on the subject Oct. 11 at the Baptist building in Cary. About 20 people, including two from Florida and one from Missouri, attended.

The Baptist State Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina sponsored the seminar.

Odom said churches on both sides of the Baptist controversy have responded positively to similar meetings in Texas.

Church leaders who are looking at their church's denominational relationships must first understand the level of conflict over the issue, Odom said.

"I can't overemphasize figuring out your level of conflict before you get started," he said. "If you don't you'll get creamed."

Odom said the five levels of conflict are 1) having a problem to solve, 2) disagreeing, 3) having a contest, 4) feeling a need for fight or flight, and 5) reaching an intractable impasse.

Churches who have a problem to solve are the only ones who can immediately deal with the practical aspects of an issue, Odom said.

"What happens with denominational relationships is, it's not a problem to be solved," he said.

Members of churches in disagreement begin to mix personalities with issues, according to Odom. These churches should move slowly, letting people express their opinions, he said.

Odom said churches experiencing a contest face a "win/lose" situation where there has to be a vote. If the contest starts to escalate, churches should consider bringing in an outside consultant, he said. Church members in these situations need a third party they can consider a "blank sheet" with no stake in the situation.

"The problem with denominational relationships is there is no one with a blank sheet," Odom said.

People at the fight/flight level see the need to "get rid" of people who are not on their side, according to Odom. These churches need outside help.

The Baptist controversy on the national level continues to be a fight or flight situation when it is discussed, Odom said.

The highest level of conflict is intractable and unmanageable, Odom said. People become vindictive at this level, he said. Churches don't often experience this level.

Odom said church leaders should understand that everyone in their church might not be at the same level of conflict. Leaders can lessen the conflict by responding on a lower level of conflict than those involved.

People in the South believe that everyone in churches should be happy, Odom said. They respond by not talking about conflict.

"Only when they realize that everyone is not going to be happy are they willing to talk about it," he said.

Odom said in his 10 years of experience, he's seen few people who are "actually upset" about the denomination. "In many cases, people who talk about the denomination are actually talking about something else," he said.

Church leaders who are beginning to study their church's denominational relationships can gauge the emotion of church members by getting them to tell stories about the denomination.

"The stories get the feelings out, but you can't argue about someone's experiences," he said. "Get people to tell their connections to the denomination."

Churches with a high level of emotion should form a leadership group to study the issue, Odom said. That group must realize that the congregation has to take the same journey, he said.

"Don't wait till the end to get the church involved," Odom said. "Demonstrate constantly that you're listening."

The least helpful strategy is holding meetings where people come listen to other people talk, according to Odom.

"If you start with the emotions, you get that on the table early," he said. "You may realize, 'Nothing is going to change. We can't go down this road yet.'"

After church members have dealt with the emotional side of the issue, the leadership group can choose several ways to continue the effort. Odom calls these "lenses" through which the church can study the issue.

The historical lens might include a look at how the church has been served by the denomination and how the church has served the denomination. This can be done with dramas, films, resource fairs and other ways.

"Find creative ways to get people interested," Odom said.

He said the spiritual lens requires people to ask, "Is there a way to connect this to one's longing for God?"

This might include looking at "threads of connection" between stories from Scripture, the denomination and the church and finding ways to include prayer in the process.

The sociological lens looks at cultural and generational differences in the church. Church leaders need to understand the differences between "builders" born before 1946, "boomers" born from 1946 to 1964 and "busters" born from 1965 to 1983, Odom said.

"Unless you talk positively about each generation, the conversation can fracture," he said.

Odom said churches using the theological lens often compare the 1963 and 2000 versions of the Baptist Faith and Message.

"The place that gives me concern is churches aren't sure where they stand theologically," he said. "When they get around to searching for clergy, they're kind of lost."

Churches who are looking for a pastor might be studying their denominational relationships. Questions about the pastor search committee and its process is one of the practical aspects of the study.

Search committees can discuss how the church will determine the denominational loyalty of the prospective pastor. Odom said churches often do that by asking where a minister attended seminary. If the minister went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, committees often ask what year the minister graduated, he said.

Odom said decisions about money, partnerships and literature are other practical considerations.

The pace of change in churches often frustrates church leaders.

"When the church is stuck, rather than creating a massive plan that will probably be perfect but will never get done, look for opportunities to do something," he said. "Keep looking for opportunities."

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10/19/2001 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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