Friday, August 7, 2015

An open letter to my friends who are still at FBC

There's a watershed letter that's recently been put out by the senior pastor regarding the name change process. I've pasted it below (and underlined the most interesting parts).
Where do we go from here with the Name Change Process?
Back in April, a clear majority of voting members (64%) cast ballots in favor of a name change proposal. This represented good progress toward our name change goal. However, we needed at least a 75% membership affirmation vote in order to effect this change. We learned two big lessons from this process.

1. We did not present a compelling enough reason to change our name.
Some who voted "no," looked at the current growth we are experiencing and thought, "Why change the name?" Others were concerned about maintaining the Baptist heritage or community position of our church. Some thought that a name change might perhaps lead to compromising our commitment to biblical standards. Some just didn't like the new name we were proposing. During the process, we also discovered that a number of people did not fully understand the mission and purpose of our church.

Numerous reasons were given as to why the Elder Board of FBC believes it is time for us to change our church's name, but in the final analysis this initiative has everything to do with why we exist as a church. In Luke 19:10 we read that Jesus Christ was sent to earth "to seek and to save the lost." God lovingly went the extra mile to reach people who had drifted far from His ways and His heart. He adapted His methodology in order to accomplish His mission to reach lost people when He sent His Son to earth. This same approach is exactly what we continue to recommend to our church family.

The growth we are currently experiencing at FBC is primarily from believers coming from other churches. While this can be good, it does not truly represent kingdom growth but rather confirms that our current community image is more attractive to existing believers than unbelievers.

Change is never easy. But we are essentially asking you to vote about the future of our church and its ability to reach those nearby who are separated from God. Our commitment to biblical purity and our North American Baptist roots remains steadfast. But we know demographically that the Elk Grove of today is fairly young, full of families, ethnically diverse, and more unchurched than the national average. We also know that a significant percentage of unchurched people living in our community are turned off by denominational titles and/or have misconceptions about words like "Baptist." While not intending to do so, we are actually pushing away a significant percentage of people around us that don't yet know God because of the name we carry. This is both unfortunate and unnecessary. It is time for us remove this man-made obstacle as we pursue our mission to reach those around us with the gospel.

As we have stated before, we do not believe that changing our name alone will double our impact in this community. That is why we are pursuing a multi-faceted strategy. Rather than assume a defensive posture in our community, we want to follow our Lord's command to go on the offense (Matthew 28:18-20; also see Matthew 16:18). As we pay off our debts, create more "one another community" (LifeGroups), improve our approach to Sunday morning hospitality, raise the evangelistic temperature, and make facility upgrades to accommodate growth and new worship services, we also believe this is the perfect time to reposition ourselves regarding our church's name and identity in the community. We sense the Lord leading us into a whole new chapter of ministry expansion which may very well include better utilizing technology to create numerous new worship services and eventually go multi-site in our strategy to reach the unchurched.
2. Our congregation wanted additional input in the process of name selection.
Though we created a thorough process for vetting over 300 possible names for our church that many of you submitted for consideration, we still discovered that a lot of people in our church family wanted to have a greater voice in choosing between a few name options rather than simply voting on one name option. As you can probably imagine, it would be fairly difficult to bring 1,800 church members in on a discussion about 300 possible name suggestions. But we think we have found a solution that still allows for greater involvement on your part. In the near future (August 23), we plan to take a survey during our worship services which will offer everyone present an opportunity to indicate your preferences among the top four possible name suggestions.
As you prepare to give us this input, please keep the following things in mind:
We need a name that communicates we are a church.
We need a name that is forward leaning.
We need a name that can potentially be used in multiple locations.
We need a name that is not used by
another Christian church in the area.

One big discovery we have made since February is that it is impossible to encapsulate everything about our identity with a name involving only two or three words. That is why many great evangelical churches in America have selected "neutral names" (such as Bayside Church, Saddleback Church, Sun Grove Community Church, etc.) that would not work against their mission to reach the lost.

Admittedly there is a risk to this process because offering multiple name options could make it difficult for 75% of our members to agree on one name. That is why we are asking you to hold your preferences lightly in this process. Once we receive this survey input from you, the Elder Board will prayerfully evaluate what we are hearing from both you and the Lord.

It is clear that this name change process stirs up a lot of memories, concerns, emotions and conversations. Let's agree to walk together and live out the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) during this time. That includes asking the Lord of the Church to unite us and guide us toward a name that will lead to a better future as we seek to live out our mission of making disciples and seeking to join God in reaching the lost for Christ.
There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just come right out with it: if you are in any way bothered by this letter, you need to find a new church now. You may have hoped this issue wasn't going to surface again so soon, but you were given fair warning when the first name change was defeated and Scott promised to regroup and try again. You remember that day right? It was your high water mark. You had everything in your favor for that vote--the pastor was new, the leadership hid all the other name choices from you, they made back room decisions for you like gangsters, they picked a horrible name in LifeBridge, and they still got 64% of the vote. The conditions could not be more in your favor and yet you were 11% away from losing outright. Do you think that will improve given that the core 400 or 500 people who made up the church have for some time been leaving, being replaced by new people who are more eager to demonstrate love for the Pastor than they are to hold on to the previous way of life they knew nothing of?


It's time to accept that although you want the train to go North, they want South, and they're in control of the Locomotive. And it's at this point that I want to give you the foul tasting grape flavored medicine which is the opposite of Ezekiel's scroll--it's going to be horrible in your mouth but it will make your stomach feel better.
That medicine is this truth: your senior Pastor is committing a sin in writing you this letter, and if you stay under his leadership you will become further desensitized to it when it happens again. You will become sleepy with the weight of it until you can no longer see it, until it no longer bothers you, and you close your eyes in slumber upon the raft while the current sweeps you away.
What sin is that? He's breaking the third commandment,
"You shall not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who misuses His name." The rule prohibits men from stating their personal opinions as if they were Gods will. It means men don't get to speak for God, nor are they permitted to hide their ambitions under the cloak of His approval. But that's what this letter does. It politely, but openly, accuses you hold-outs of sinful rebellion against God if you don't plan on voting the name to something nature sounding, like Valley Fjord. Look at the last paragraph, it could not be more clear, it's a call to lay down your preference and do what they say or be found in opposition to the Lord. 

Consider the gravity of the situation for a moment. You're currently being led by an administration committed to ruling through the use of sin. The modus operandi of the senior pastor is to openly break the third commandment. If you're not convinced this is really a problem then ask yourself how you would feel if he got up and publicly, proudly, committed adultery, and advocated everyone support it. What if the sin was murder instead? What about theft? But this is worse because while God doesn't promise specific punishment for those, He does promise it for breaking the third commandment. They were given in order of importance after all, which means keeping the third is even more important than keeping six, seven, or eight. 

More could be said of course. I could tell you that they're remaking the church into Willow Creek, even though that place is barely Christian anymore. Or that Sun Grove and Bayside, two examples of which they praised, are much more like giant weekly Tony Robbins seminars and collective self help sessions than they are the Bride of Christ. There's more of psychology in there than there is
the good news of the crucifixion.
Or I could hazard a guess that they've learned a thing or two since last time, and this time around the old name won't be on the ballot for vote. That I suspect they'll find some way of bringing you sheep along with one trick or another.
Or I could tell you that this kind of authoritative staff driven model isn't Biblical and recently drove Mark Driscoll into collapse.
But I won't. 

Instead I'll just tell you that I get it. I know. The thought of leaving hurts, it really really hurts. And it feels like laying down arms and quitting in the face of a winnable struggle is the wrong course of action. But my advice is to do what the song says and let it go. Find hope elsewhere. God is Sovereign, Christ will see to His church, and there is life outside of FBC. Speaking personally, leaving has been a generally positive experience for my family. Our new church is a lot more traditional, less likely to change with the times or make snap decisions, much less programmatic, and more serious about living the Christian life. No, it's not perfect. At the new church I feel the overwhelming love of God less, but the real pain of sin more. I feel more acutely the limitedness of the people around me, as well as my own limitations and propensities to sin, being more acutely aware of it in general, which makes it more real here. 

In fact last Sunday I wasn't particularly excited to go. It's not that I was dreading going you understand, it's just that I just felt... merely like it's something we do. I get up and have breakfast every day, I put on pajamas before falling asleep for the night, and I go to church morning and evening on Sundays. There is a bit of the "daily bread" about it. And it came to me that that's not just okay, it's great. Life is ordinary. Even a superheros life quickly becomes routine and ordinary, doing the same things over and over. God intended for it to happen that way, and when church becomes an ingrained ordinary part of your life you're walking a good path. You go and feed, because that's what you do. You walk after Christ, and sometimes walking is ordinary.
That never happened at First Baptist Church and I think the reason why is that they strove to make things fresh and cool, big and fun. New! Celebrate! They didn't need an evening service because you walk away satisfied from your extraordinary morning service. Now I feel a more acute thirst for Christ, a more ingrained, dependable, mature Christianity about me, and I think that's better.

Don't hear me saying something I'm not. I'm not saying that it's wrong to stay. I'm not saying the pastors are better elsewhere, or that the current FBC pastors are worse than others. I'm not saying a church that dims the lights for their third service is wrong. Or that there's not a time to have big programs that are fun. Nothing of the sort. But I am saying that breaking the third commandment to get your way is wrong. Really wrong. And unless there's repentance instead of a habitual embracing of that wrongdoing at FBC, you're going to be worse off in the long run. So if you're bothered by the letter Scott sent out, then you're only going to suffer further moving forward. For your sake, take my advice and do not fight the leadership.

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