The Autonomy Problem

(For regular readers of this blog, this entry will not be like others. It is not indicative of future entries. Allow me this one and done, please. For first-timers, you’re welcome to follow along for future posts with the same expectations.)

I am a Christian. My father was an Independent Baptist minister (to be clear, that didn’t make me a Christian; that choice was my own). For all 50 years of my life, I’ve been a member of Baptist churches-the first 25 in Independent Baptist (IB) churches, the second 25 in Southern Baptist (SB) churches. At age 29, I took my first church staff position. In these last 21 years, I have served three SB churches in associate minister roles. These churches have varied in weekly attendance from 60 to 1,600. Over my lifetime, my church experiences have included seven IB and SB churches in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Much like being blessed to be an American, I have been blessed God has granted me this history.

Recent SB news hasn’t been pretty; that’s being nice (to be clear, I will not be including links to any news stories or responses from others in this post. Google is your friend). My pastor tweeted this week that he is “heartbroken over the tragic events in our SBC family.” I haven’t asked him this question, but I’m pretty sure if asked if this is the first time his church experience has broken his heart, he’d say no. That’s my answer. Chances are, that’s the majority’s answer. Why is that?

The exhaustive answer to that question would take a series of blogs. I’m only in for one post, remember? So I’m going to zero in on just one, which was actually brought up in a response to my pastor’s tweet. And it’s been an answer for me since I was 12 years old. The answer to why my heart has continued to go through a cycle of being broken and mended is autonomy.

So we’re all working with the same understanding, autonomy is defined as self-governing, free from external control or influence, independent. All IB and SB churches exist under this theological conviction. Is it the right or wrong conviction, some are asking? My answer is, that’s the wrong question. The conviction has been chosen. Frankly, if you don’t like the conviction, consider other churches that have another conviction. The better question I raise is this: how can every Baptist church improve its autonomous state?

It’s easy to point fingers at the other guy, the other church, the other president or professor or minister like you’re the Monday morning quarterback who knows how they could have been held in check. Before we do that, let’s take our eyes off the news and our mobile devices and consider how our local autonomy is going. That starts in every church member’s heart, then moves to their home, and then to their church. Why? Because we all are bent toward autonomy. We all desire to be self-governing, free from external control, and independent. That’s a problem. I know it is for me. Chances are, it is for you also.

Start there. With you. Then your household. Then your church. Ask yourself better questions. 

  • How much is God in charge?
  • How dependent am I on God?
  • Where am I allowing other Christians to speak into my life?
  • How should we best keep each other in check?
  • Where am I tempted to be independent from God and others? How could I address that problem of autonomy?
  • How open am I to accountability in all arenas of my life? How can I establish it?

Scripture tells us to guard our hearts. I believe we need to avoid more broken hearts by guarding them against the autonomy problem.

This is my opinion, one answer to why. I understand the autonomy of one person’s blog. Feel free to offer accountability.

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