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December 2016 -January 2017


Beyond the Walls


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Why I'm Staying

By Matthew Steven Bracey


As a young man, and even a college student, I occasionally heard of people becoming disenfranchised with their churches or denominations. Some, I learned, even left their denominations, though I’d never personally known anyone to do so. That all changed when I was in divinity school. A classmate of mine—let’s call him Tom—who had been raised as a Southern Baptist, converted to Lutheranism. “What makes a person in his mid-20s make such a significant change?” I wondered.

My roommate and I talked about this at length. He also had been raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, while I grew up in a Free Will Baptist church. “Have you ever considered leaving Southern Baptists?” I asked him.

“I’m not sure,” he replied, adding: “What about you? Would you ever leave Free Will Baptists?”

I don’t suppose anyone had ever asked me this question directly, but it had been on my mind since Tom’s switch. “No,” I answered. “God has placed me among Free Will Baptists, whatever their challenges. In my own life, God has revealed His Word, given His gospel, and offered direction through the Free Will Baptist people. And I hope He uses me.”

At the time, I didn’t realize how important that question and my answer would be for the future. I had committed to serve Free Will Baptists in my heart and in my head. That day in the spring of 2011, for whatever reason, was special. At a time when my peers were leaving their childhood confessions, I was finding assurance and encouragement in my own.

Fast-forward several years. Occasionally, I still hear expressions of discontent among Free Will Baptists: “My church is too traditional.” “Business meetings and associational meetings are boring and pointless.” “I could do a better job if I were in charge of the church or a denominational agency.” “I’m tired of disunity.” “I’d rather be involved with a ‘successful’ denomination.”

Sometimes, those who express these sentiments aren’t committed to their local churches, much less the denomination. They’ve lost their zeal for what God is doing among Free Will Baptists. Some are bitter and resentful. Others are disgruntled to the point that they’ve left the denomination to become Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, charismatic, or non-denominational. I’ve heard others respond, “Well, as long as they’re in church, that’s all that matters.”

Such remarks sadden me deeply. Being in church isn’t all that matters. My heart breaks to hear stories about folks unhappy with their churches, or to see people leave the denomination I love. God has used Free Will Baptists significantly in my life. Maybe the same is true with you. I want to see God continue to use this denomination, both now and in the future. I want to see the denomination survive and thrive.

What can we do? While grumblings can discourage, they can also inspire. Whatever our age or generation—whether teenagers, young professionals, middle-aged, nearing retirement, or elderly—we don’t have to sit idly by.



Get Involved

I remember in my youth group as a teenager, when I complained about this or that, my youth pastor never stopped at simply listening. He would listen, sure. But invariably, he would suggest I step up and do something: “Simply sitting on the sidelines isn’t sufficient. Excuses are empty. While talking can be useful, it must turn into action. Don’t become negative and bitter. Avoid people and communities that inspire these harmful qualities. Resolve to be hopeful and helpful, and to encourage these qualities in others.”

Of course, getting involved means working with people—perhaps the very people who frustrate us most. Nevertheless, we must work through our feelings, no matter who is at fault. Retreat is not the answer to difficult people or situations. Honest, loving dialogue is the answer along with respect, patience, and love toward the people who test us the most. As 1 Peter instructs: “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” (3:8-9).

As an example, quarterly meetings have become important to me. However, many church leaders and even pastors complain about how seemingly boring and pointless they are—how a Friday night or Saturday morning is awful timing. My response: church business is God’s work. Meetings are as boring and pointless as we make them. To the extent we find them so, we can train our minds otherwise. As we attend these meetings, in time we can provide influence and leadership to these endeavors in profitable ways. In this day especially, our churches, quarterlies, districts, associations, and denomination need us as much as they ever have. Let’s step up, challenges and all, and get involved.


Practice Patience

We also must practice patience. In recent years, I’ve asked several church leaders, “If you could offer any advice to someone my age about leadership in the local church and denomination, what would it be?” Each of them, in different seasons of life and types of service, answered the same: “In your desire to serve and to change, be patient with your fellow-laborers, especially those older than you.”
Simple advice, yes, but important.

Certainly, youthful zeal for local church ministry can be good. But it can also be headstrong and inexperienced. Rather than viewing older leaders as roadblocks, we should see them as people made in God’s image who are often wiser than us. The fact is, they’ve been “around the block” a time or two.

Sometimes our ideas aren’t as grand as we think; other times they’re just bad. Sometimes, though, we have good ideas that just need to be tempered and directed. That’s what God intended: that the older would teach the younger, and that the younger, as they grow older, would teach the next generation, and so forth (2 Timothy 2:2; Philippians 4:9).

Whatever our hopes to lead, we must do so in concert with our spiritual fathers and mothers. They don’t want to rain on our parade as much as they wish to help—even when it might not seem that way. As we interact with our elders, we should do so with honor, respect, and humility. “Honor thy father and thy mother” has application for biological, adoptive, and yes, spiritual parents (Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:19). Similarly, “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2; 1 Peter 5:5).

Responding to spiritual elders with patience and submission will mean we resist the urge to interpret them uncharitably. Why do we give ourselves every break under the sun, while not extending grace to others? Rather than assuming the worst of them and their motives, why don’t we assume the best—or at least the better? When our elders make decisions that don’t go our way, our first thought should not be to “wash our hands of this ministry,” or to “shake the dust from our feet” of that church. The likely case is they had a good, sensible reason for their decision, and we can learn from them.

To illustrate, I’ve heard fellow millennials express impatience toward those with whom they’re ministering who, they believe, are “stuck in their ways.” These church leaders, often early boomers or from the silent generation, insist dogmatically on a particular Bible version, believe women should wear only skirts, and won’t sing much beyond Stamps-Baxter and the Gaithers.

Other millennials are frustrated by those with whom they serve, often generation xers and late boomers, who err in the “other” direction. In their vision of youth ministry, they order too much pizza, play too many games, and have too much fun. Their general philosophy of ministry isn’t biblical enough, their music is too entertainment-oriented, their songs aren’t theological enough, and their dress and grooming is too irreverent.

In either case, these millennials probably view their elders too simplistically, whomever they’re working with. As people, we’re complicated and opinionated. And while we all want the best for everyone involved, we’re going to disagree about how to accomplish that. Even so, we must work together.

So my response to fellow millennials: wherever we are in our personal views of these matters (and believe me, people my age are all over the place), as we work with our generation x, baby boomer, and silent generation elders, we need humbly to honor and respect them, wherever they’re coming from. We need to listen to them and learn from them, even when we don’t agree with them.

One day, we’ll walk in their shoes, and certainly we’ll want those we mentor to practice patience with us. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).



As stated above, working side-by-side with people from different backgrounds and generations will mean we disagree sometimes, maybe often. While this shouldn’t be a problem, I’ve noticed an inability among many in this age to disagree “Christianly.” Either we avoid disagreement altogether, or we argue in unChristian ways. One produces lowest-common-denominator compromises, the other disunity. Both generate frustration.

What can we do? Commit ourselves to sticking together, no matter what. We are, as the song says, the family of God. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood. From rags to riches, we who were orphans are now joint heirs with Jesus.

Disagreements will come, and that’s okay. But we stay together. And we resolve to avoid disagreement in an unhealthy manner. We don’t go looking for trouble, but we don’t forfeit our integrity either. We can disagree Christianly and prayerfully, knowing that we’ll stumble in doing so, but determining to do better the next time.

When we disagree, we should do so in a manner that is passionate and vigorous, yet friendly and respectful. Disagreement need not spell the end of friendship. Not every disagreement is a personal attack (although some are).

What does this look like practically? From words to tone to body language, our general spirit should be Christlike. Whatever our critical points of difference, we must remember to say encouraging, positive, winsome things. Not the empty flattery Jude warns against (Jude 16), but honest words of edification.

We should remember wisdom, too. Some hills are legitimately worth dying on—points of orthodoxy. But not every hill is worth taking. Some are not that important. Others, while important, require timing. Trying to climb it now might be unwise. Instead, consider pursuing the issue in a month, a year, or a few years. Certainly, we don’t want to “stir the pot” so it boils over; in that case, it would have probably been better to leave well enough alone. If no fruit will come from a critique, question, or idea, then perhaps we should move on.

Finally, don’t lose the forest for the trees. Discussions and even disagreements may not be as significant as we think when we consider the Church’s greater heritage through space and time, and its larger mission to the ends of the earth. On the other hand, let’s resolve not to be moved one jot or tittle on those gospel essentials, whatever the mood of culture.



Do you know people who are discouraged or disgruntled with his or her local church or the denomination? (Maybe it’s you.) Encourage them to get involved. If they’re interested in leadership, remind them to be patient with everyone—especially those older than them—who can provide a great source of insight, love, and wisdom. If they disagree with people, remind them of what’s truly important, and encourage them to disagree as brothers and sisters, and not as strangers or enemies.

No, this article can’t account for all contingencies of specific circumstances. But whatever they are, we can all choose to commit ourselves to serve the denomination we love. Are you waiting for problems to improve? You’ll always wait. Problems never go away. Usually the grass is not that much greener—just different.

At some point, we have to commit ourselves to the enterprise—frustrations, problems, struggles, and all. Going forward, then, let’s remain positive, build up one another, and inspire a movement, refusing negativity that destroys. Where do we want to see the denomination in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? If we refuse to serve it, we’ll see it to its grave. But if we step up and do our part, we can inspire something beautiful.


About the Writer: Matthew S. Bracey serves as associate vice provost for Academic Administration at Welch College, where he is also a member of the faculty, teaching courses in history, law, theology, and interdisciplinary studies. He holds degrees from Cumberland School of Law (J.D.), Beeson Divinity School (M.T.S.), and Welch College (B.A., History, Biblical Studies). Matthew is co-founder and senior editor of the Helwys Society Forum.







©2016 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists