5 traditions that shackle church leaders" The Baptist bubble
They say you're "living in a bubble" if you're a little on the naive side, meaning you're not exposed to life outside your defined social or cultural setting. In a broader application, people who "live in a bubble" aren't living in the real world. They've sheltered themselves from some of the harsher realities of life. As one wonk put it, "If it's not in my house, it isn't real and doesn't matter." Poor guy.
One of the human traditions that shackles church leaders is the bubble in which most churches exist. I've called it the "Baptist bubble" because it's the one I've had first hand experience with for the past 65 years. But, when he gives me the grace to burst forth from the "Baptist bubble" and enter the strange worlds of other denominations, I've discovered that bubbles too have versions defined by the people living inside them. So, Baptists aren't the sole proprietors of bubble living. And, they're not just religious or denominational bubbles either. There are certainly race, gender, social, income, work, and community bubbles too.
The bubble mentality shackles church leaders because it limits what God's people can do when they approach mission and ministry together. And, believe it or not, Christians can actually cross the barriers of creed and confession to tackle the enormous social and cultural ills fallen humans create and face every day. A fine example was the work done by the Church of Charleston over the past three or four years. This was an ad hoc partnership of many churches in the Charleston, South Carolina, area to raise funds for special needs they identified and sought to solve. In the process they raised money, supplies, clothing, toys, and other material to support several orphan-support ministries. In one year they raised enough support to give eleven couples a $10,000 adoption scholarship to help defray the immense costs of adoption. It was a glorious occasion of many churches deciding to move outside their "bubbles" for the sake of mission.
There were "Baptist bubble" detractors in the process, and several other denominational groups who refused to participarte because the annual projects moved beyond the defined boundaries of the individual churches and denominations. The leaders of many churches were "shackled" in mission because they valued such across-the-lines partnership and desired to participate in something that touched needs in such a broad area. Pastors were especially frustrated when their churches elected to take a pass on such opportunity because their tradition prohibited such inter-denominational service. It was another human tradition that impaired mission and limited the enormous influence of his church. It was further evidence of the divide existing in his church, revealing a truth most of us would prefer to reamin unspoken: we are parochial to a fault.
The "Baptist bubble" traidtion limits mission and shackles leaders in several ways.
(1) The "bubble' exists because we fail to grasp the enormous reach of the church visible. Our denominational distinctives are generally methodological---points of differnece in worship, practice, polity, formality, and other contrasts that are known, accepted, but not critical to misson. Some are more important than others and help to define why we are diverse. Like baptism, for instance. But the "bubble" inhibits dialogue between the various groups, and even more, indicarting that immersion people and non-immersion believers cant do missions together. Sad.
(2) The "bubble" tradition keeps us from practicing the genuine experience of mission. I was with a church recently whose passtor had suggested a recovery ministry, based on the demographics of the community they were planted to serve. One of the church members fought it tooth and nail when he discovered that most of the participants of the recovery group would never join the church. You see, one of the symptoms of the "bubble" tradition is a "what's in it for us" mentaility, involvement if the church is going to visibly gain from their investment. Someone needs to learn the economy of heaven.
(3) Many congregatons limit their mission giving and participation to those supported by their denomination, and no other. As a result, many local mission needs are overlooked.
(4) A few congregations worship and serve together around special holidays. But, because of our distinctive practices, most do not, fearful of the unknown, or the possibility of church folks finding a better mission fit somewhere else. Ignorance is bliss, evidently.
(5) The "bubble" tradition often isolates pastors and church staff members within their own circle of influence and they cannot benefit from dialogue that fellowship with other ministers can provide. What a blessing to attend the Charleson Prayer Breakfast each year, where 1,000 + believers from every Christian affiliation gather to pray and celebrate mission together.
Jesus prayed that his church would be one. He prayed, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one..." (John 17:20-23).
We can only imagine and pray what would happen if we all broke out of our "bubbles" and touched this world as one. And, how many unleashed pastors and church leaders there would be in a world that needs him more than ever.
Paul wrote, "There is one body and one Spirit---just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call---one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
May it be so.