This past Sunday I received a letter addressed to our church regarding the state of church planting in the Tennessee Baptist Convention. As a Tennessee Baptist I find this subject to be of great importance. Furthermore, the letter (reproduced below) centered on the actions of The River Community Church of Cookeville, TN – a church which a member of my close family has been intimately involved with. Because of these factors I read the letter with great interest and came along thoroughly torn, sympathizing with both sides of the opinions presented. However, I think the situation the letter describes reveals a problem that needs addressing immediately, not only within TBC life but in the broader SBC life as well. Read the full letter below then jump back up here for my thoughts.
After reading the letter Iâ€™m sure you can see that this isnâ€™t the kind of situation that anyone associated with Baptist missionary efforts wants pastors, laymen, and churches dealing with. On the other hand, this needs to be corrected because it pits established congregations against other believers. Hereâ€™s how each side breaks down (assuming that this letter basically records accurately what has happened in regards to the Clinton association) in terms of problems created:
The TBC/The River/Headwaters
1) Planting a church in the Clinton Association without notifying the Pastors of the CBA is a horribly unwise move. Iâ€™m willing to allow that there might be an unreported attempt to notify the pastors of the CBA but it was apparently so insignificant that the authors of this letter could make the claim they did without fear of reprisal.
2) Investing $17000.00 in a church plant while tying that plant to a pastor who hasnâ€™t been examined thoroughly (going on the letterâ€™s assertion that his previous pastor hadnâ€™t been contacted which would indicate a lack of thorough examination) is naÃ¯ve at best and possibly an example of gross negligence.
Luke Kidwell/Kenneth Seeber/The Pastors of the Clinton Baptist Association
1) The second paragraph in the letter I received opens with the statement â€œThe Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) has decided that they can override the voice of the local churches.â€ This is a gross exaggeration that cannot be justified by the contents of the situation as presented. Using unnecessarily bombastic language erodes onesâ€™ position and compromises the ability to win a hearing with an audience.
2) The third paragraph calls attention to an enclosed printed page from Headwaters Churchâ€™s website describing the childrenâ€™s ministry. The letter calls the reader to note that the childrenâ€™s ministry of Headwaters Church â€œfeatures music, dancing, drama, etcâ€ which, in the context of the letter, the reader is left with an impression that these elements are inappropriate. Fine. Iâ€™m in the theological camp that says the Bible excludes dancing and drama from corporate worship. However, the authors of the letter give no theological reasons why dancing and drama in worship should be viewed negatively. Furthermore, considering that the abundance of churches in the TBC which make use of drama and dancing in worship I fail to see why Headwaters should be singled out in this area. I donâ€™t believe that all the churches in the CBA are regulative in regards to corporate worship. In light of that reality and the absence of a theological reason why dancing and drama arenâ€™t a good thing to have in worship the reader is left with the impression that this criticism comes from a cultural standpoint (i.e. dancing and drama in worship arenâ€™t what we do so no one should do it) which is an unbiblical position to criticize another church from under Baptist autonomy, considering that in the absence of a binding scriptural command this issue would fall under matters of conscience.
3) The third paragraph also deals with the Pastor (or Pastors, according to the letter) of Headwaters Church. In the letter the reader is directed to an enclosed printed page from Headwaters Churchâ€™s website which is, according to the letter, is entitled â€œWho are the Pastors.â€ Great emphasis is placed in the letter on the plural use of the word pastor. However, the enclosed print off of the churchâ€™s website page t that came with the letter I received clearly says at the top â€œWho is the Pastor?â€ Iâ€™m not sure if the authors of the letter werenâ€™t referencing the page they sent (perhaps, instead, it was the link that directed a site visitor to the page they printed rather than the page itself they saw) or if the church changed their site between when the offense was found and when it was actually printed. Either way, this gaffe again compromises the intentions and credibility of the people who authored the letter. In fact, the enclosed sheet clearly states that the wife of the gentleman named as a pastor has become â€œa pastorâ€™s wifeâ€ which clearly indicates a separation for her from the office of pastoral office. Considering how much attention was paid to the plural use of the term â€œpastorâ€ I think this issue bears further examination. There are three possibilities as I see the issue. One, Headwaters intends to have a 2 pastor church lead by a married couple. This possibility is unbiblical and should be rebuked. Two, perhaps â€“ as I outlined above â€“ there was some change to the website between the composition and distribution of the letter I received. If this is the case then the authors of the letter should have done a better job of checking their sources. Third, and I think this is the most likely of the three, Headwaters Church intends to eventually hire additional staff and has chosen to refer to everyone on their staff in a ministry position as â€œPastorâ€ (i.e. Pastor of Education, Pastor of Worship, etc) and thus their site reflects this intention. However, since they currently have one staff member, the site describes an anticipated future reality. I think this is likely considering that The River Community Church (the parent congregation) makes use of the multiple pastor designation for their staff. Again, I think this is the most likely possibility. If I am correct then the page detailing who the pastor is does a good job of describing the pastor and his wife while making it clear to the reader who is the pastor and who is the pastorâ€™s wife. Considering what I received with the letter made clear that the gentleman (Tim Jackson) was the pastor and his wife was â€“ appropriately – the Pastor’s wife, the amount of attention given in the letter to the plural use of the word pastor is inappropriate.
4) Finally, that troublesome third paragraph vilifies an undesignated â€œherâ€ for determining to redefine (and the word redefine is underlined for emphasis) the role of a pastorâ€™s wife. Without a clear explanation as to who â€œherâ€ is Iâ€™m going to assume that it is Tina Jackson, the wife of Headwatersâ€™ pastor. Where is the sin in seeking to redefine the role of the pastorâ€™s wife? Again the letter leaves this important information out while simply assuming that the negative is clearly evident (when it most certainly is not). Also again (as with the issue with drama and dancing in worship) the reader is left with the impression that the reason that redefining the role of pastorâ€™s wife should be viewed as a bad thing is because it is intentionally non-traditional. There is nothing sacred about traditional forms of worship. In fact, it is just as likely that they â€“ apart from a theological reason for their existence â€“ are bad. Therefore the letter should be more specific about the theological, exegetical reasons why seeking to redefine the role of pastorâ€™s wife is a bad thing or, if none can be produced, left out from the letter.
Those issues, even for a person like myself who is already sympathetic to the lettersâ€™ authorâ€™s concerns about how the TBC is handling church planting, compromise the goal of healthy reform which the letter seeks.
Hereâ€™s some helpful steps to take to resolve this issue and prevent similar instances from coming up.
To the TBC and Church Planters:
1) Realize that there is a growing unrest amongst pastors about how church planting is currently handled and itâ€™s not just coming from older pastors who feel that their congregational numbers will be threatened. This unrest is generated by the planting of churches in areas already served by existing congregations. I know you have your reasons. Dialog with pastors in those areas would help you understand their perspective better.
2) Quite using statements like â€œThe TBC believes the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.â€ [Manual for Church Planting, issued by the Church Planting Team of the TBC] This is unnecessarily divisive and relegates existing congregations to â€œfine, but not bestâ€ status, intentionally or not.
3) Consider that monies aimed at developing church plants in areas where many existing churches already â€œliveâ€ might be used to help breathe new life into congregations in the area who are struggling. If this is already happening, let us know. While Iâ€™m here, when was it decided that new churches rather than existing congregations were how to move the kingdom along? Is there some Biblical text Iâ€™m not aware of that establishes this fact? Is it because we see things in established churches we donâ€™t like? If so, is there room for the possibility that sometimes those crusty old existing churches got to be established churches because they have an awareness of what is and isnâ€™t appropriate that a new congregation might know? Is it possible that a revitalized existing congregation might be more effective in a given community than a new church plant? If not, why – I mean, donâ€™t we pray for revival? Also, where is the concern for the labor invested in established congregations by generations of believers who have gone before? Shouldnâ€™t we honor their investment by seeking to reinvigorate churches that are currently struggling? If the reason that it has become established fact that new churches are better options than established ones is some set of polls or statistics please save your breath; I donâ€™t have time for manipulated data.
4) Consider also who it is you are enabling to plant churches. Here is the thing: I know that young, zany, pop culturally aware, and energetic is supposed to be appealing to the unchurched. If they wear a lot of North Face and have some hobbies that donâ€™t line up with what we think lost people think Pastors do then even more wonderful. Also consider that the people of TBC churches who give their money toward the funds that allow these churches to be planted want to know these pastors are the kind of men that they can trust. A lot of the money that goes to the Coop was earned on farms, in factories, and in jobs where the value of a dollar is painfully clear. I realize that you canâ€™t force every planter to be Ned Flanders nor would anyone want them to be. It would be better to train these men in the importance of sound doctrine and theology as well as the need for a dignity amongst the ordained consistent with the qualifications in the Pastoral Epistles. Not only would this improve the relationship between church plants and the existing congregations that allow them to exist it just might be a boon to reaching the lost as well considering that the right preaching of manâ€™s depravity and the opportunity of the gospel is still how people get saved.
5) Finally, and this is most important, tell us how these church plants, planters, and TBC leadership who allocate funds to them are being held doctrinally and practically accountable to the people of the TBC (not just indirectly so through TBC leadership). I give to the Cooperative Program because I believe that it is the best way to fund missions on a large scale. One of the reasons I believe that is because the state convention affords us a vehicle whereby those who receive Coop funds can be regulated. If that isnâ€™t happening I will find another place to aim my missions giving. Perhaps one solution here would be to allow for a supervising board composed of elected delegates from the convention messengers and pastors of existing congregations in areas where new churches are to be planted, along with TBC church planting/growth â€œexperts.â€ Youâ€™ll say that stifles creativity and flexibility. I would ask if those elements are more valuable than accountability and fidelity. We should labor to have all four.
To Luke Kidwell/Kenneth Seeber/The Pastors of the Clinton Baptist Association:
1) There are others out there who see the value in what you are calling for. The method and presentation youâ€™ve chosen makes it hard for sympathizers to get on board. There is nothing wrong with a letter. There is something wrong with bombastic statements and poorly defined criticisms.
2) I realize that what is happening in your midst is frustrating and you are attempting to deal with the issue as thoroughly as possible. I would caution that Christian charity and intellectual integrity demands that we be precisely specific when publicly criticizing a person who identifies themselves with Christ and His church. Example: I donâ€™t like Creflo Dollar and Iâ€™d be happy to tell you specifically why. If I ever send a letter out that criticizes his ministry and message I will be exactingly detailed in what I am critiquing.
3) You and I both know that text without context is a pretext. When you start marshalling verses with strong language regarding being faithful to the Gospel in a discussion about the practices of other churches you are traipsing across thin ice. You and I (and the other readers of the letter, hopefully at least) know that the verses you allude to or cite (such as Ephesians 6:13-14) deal with standing against spiritual wickedness on the level of Satanic activity. If you are trying to establish that The River Community Church, Headwaters Church, and/or the TBC have acted as agents of a satanic agenda then you are wrong and should repent. This is a matter of right practice amongst believers, not believers against a satanic world order. On the other hand, if you are indeed not trying to assign this issue to the realm of spiritual warfare then donâ€™t reference the verses you did. Their usage takes this issue into the realm of first priority matters such as heresy and the Kingdom of God over against the Kingdom of Satan â€“ areas infinitely more significant than what happens with church plants by legitimate (even if misguided) believers.
Broadly speaking â€“ because this issue points to greater trends – I realize the odds of either group giving on these matters is slim. One, the kinds of people I see planting churches value flexibility and creativity as chief virtues because they believe that fluidity is an essential element to reaching this current generation. They need to realize that there are timeless qualities to the Gospel, Biblical methodology, and wisdom that they could benefit from in their pursuits. Two, established churches and leadership are very often blindly unaware of how their own cultural preferences color their perspective and do so in a way that isnâ€™t any healthier than the excesses they see in church plants. What they need to see is that in areas the Bible hasnâ€™t given clear instruction on regarding practice then it is just as wrong to act as if God has said something as it is to pretend He had said nothing at all. Both groups will eventually come to the point where they are happy to part ways â€“ the planters will shake off what they see as stifling and go find some way to gather the resources they need without having someone looking over their shoulder while the established churches will continue to soldier on, content to reach the people they can reach as currently constituted. Except for a few exceptions both will probably survive. The small tragedy will be that the Cooperative program is supposed to enable groups to work together for a greater good than can be accomplished separately. The large tragedy will be the assault on the gospel this conflict produces. The Gospel teaches us that Christ is making a transcendent new community out of people of all stripes and, as a result, we do in fact need those who arenâ€™t like us to reach Christian maturity. Christian artists need Christian accountants, Christian interior decorators need Christian pipe fitters, and church plants need established churches (and vice versa). Not only that but a community in harmony because of Christ is evangelistic; being just another group who segregates along party lines looks same-old-same-old to unbelievers.
Hopefully the people involved in this particular situation will fare better than what is likely going to happen in the broader church planting movement. The people of Clinton need it to.
To: Concerned Pastors of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC)
Date: April 18, 2007
Subject: â€œHeadwaters Churchâ€ in Clinton, Tennessee and Church Planting in Tennessee
Brothers in Christ:
We pray that you will take time to read very carefully the enclosed letter. That letter details previous actions of our churches concerning planting new churches in our BAPTIST Association.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) has decided that they can override the voice of the local churches. In the last few months, the TBC has allowed the River Community Church in Cookeville, Tennessee, to plant Headwaters Church in Clinton and give them $17,000.00. Cookeville is almost a hundred miles away from Clinton. The is just the initial funding. There is no doubt that more funds will be given. This church was planted next to the Clinton Baptist Association (CBA) office. The Pastors in the CBA were never even consulted about the planting of this church even though the money we give to missions was used to start this church.
We have enclosed a copy of the Web Page of Headwaters Church. Please read, especially the â€œFamily Fusionâ€ section Page 1 and 2. Note it features music, dancing, drama, etc. Then look at â€œWho are the Pastorsâ€. PASTORS. Please read the informative information describing these PASTORS. She is even determined to redefine the role of a pastorâ€™s wife. [Jeff's Note: The page that is now displayed on Headwaters' site is different from the copy that accompanied the letter.]
The Pastor Headwaters was the Youth Pastor of First Andersonville for four years. We were told by the Pastor of First Andersonville that no one from the TBC called to check on this Youth Pastor. We were told that the calls started coming from the TBC after the Pastors of the CBA had voiced their concerns about this new church start. The Pastors of the CBA met with Gary Rickman (Ministry Coordinator for TBC), Fred Davis (Church Planting Director of East Tennessee), and Steve Tiebout (Pastor of River Community Church in Cookeville) on April 5, 2007. In the meeting, these men admitted that mistakes had been made in the planting of Headwaters.
The Pastors of Anderson County are not anti-church planting. However, we feel that the church planting movement in Tennessee has gotten out of hand. Many churches that are being planted are church splits. A disgruntled church member can make application to the TBC to start a church and there is a great likelihood that they will be given our mission money to start their own church. The leadership from TBC has admitted that there is little effort to check on the background of individuals wanting to plant a church.
It is time that all TBC pastors send a message to the leadership of TBC that we are tired of their reckless procedures in planting churches. God is calling on us to see if we, like Paul, are going to stand â€œin defense and confirmation of the gospel.â€ Also, He wants to see if we are going to â€œwithstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore â€¦â€ (Eph. 6:13-14). We ask for your help in contacting the TBC Church Planting leadership in demanding that the procedures for planting churches be revised and that the final decision on church plants be put back into the hand of local associations.
We welcome you comments and thoughts about this matter. Feel free to address your concerns and comments by email at email@example.com or you may do so by mail at the addresses listed below.
Your brothers in Christ,
Luke Kidwell, Pastor
Batley Baptist Church
670 Batley Road
Clinton, TN 37716
Kenneth Seeber, Pastor
Moran Baptist Church
116 Cedar Road
Clinton, TN 37716