I am a Southern Baptist. And at this point in life, probably it is not going to change. I grew up in Baptist churches in north Alabama that were fiercely independent, but still labeled themselves as SBC. My home church pastor, who baptized me and first modeled the ministry for me, always spoke well of what it meant to be Southern Baptist in relation to support of missions and education. He also talked about teamwork, how we could accomplish more as a team of churches than we could trying to do it alone. And I still recall how he considered one of his best accomplishments as pastor of that church was when the church formally voted to give significantly to SBC cooperative causes. In my career as a pastor I have served smaller, financially modest churches. We have done what we could, including Mt. Tabor. Like with other realities of church ministry, it has been understood that I am a servant-leader and not the boss, and so I have never gotten my perfect wishes fulfilled by the votes of the congregations! And I must be honest- it would not be smart to do everything a pastor asks without question. But please do not quote me on this to other pastors- let them live with their illusions if they wish.
Someone suggested, not long ago, that we should remove “Baptist” from our church name to make us more attractive to the broader public. As I recall the suggestion was pretty well shot down by everybody else in the meeting. Personally, I am confused by churches that obviously make the effort to hide their identities. Why? When I query those who attend, often I will get a casual and sometimes smarmy response, “We’re just a church. We’re just Christians. We’re not interested in those old-fashioned labels!” It has been a long time since I have tried to seek out a church home. But when and if that time comes, I will be looking for a family of Christians who believe and love God similarly to myself. There will be specific things that I will seek, beyond just the “Sunday morning show”. If that church hides it’s connections, affiliations, and specific beliefs, and wants me to just be satisfied with what it has to sell on Sunday mornings- then I am most likely to move on. Now if a church puts Baptist on the sign, or unapologetically lets me know it is Southern Baptist, then a lot of my questions have been answered. Of course I need more, but that is a good starting point.
A lady who had been in church culture all her life once proclaimed to her pastor, “Why- if there was no such thing as Jesus Christ, I’d still be a Southern Baptist!” That’s crazy. We’re not the only ones going to Heaven. Most likely, a lot of Southern Baptists, just like cultural Christians of all other labels, have never been born again and therefore are not ready for eternity. Still, being in an SBC church is a good base for Christian growth and service. We have the largest Protestant mission force in the world. Our education literature is the best in my opinion. We are the most culturally diverse Christian denomination in existence. And, we can do more collectively than independently. So we at Mt. Tabor plan to keep the full name on the sign!