I remember reading my first book by evangelical pollster, George Barna. It was in the early 1990s while pastoring in Tennessee. I was not internet savvy at the time; hence, I could not read about the latest book on the market at the click of a mouse. Rather, I waited for a stack of index-sized advertisement cards to come in the mailbox >>>
Rummaging through the stack one day, I came across an advertisement for The Frog in the Kettle, a promising look into the church as it then existed and what would happen, if we didn't rescue it from the boiling cultural pot. I ordered the book; read and digested the book, and began to use the book in my understanding of and teaching to my church. My fascination with Barna's socio-demographic usurpation of biblical revelation slowly but finally melted away. I ultimately realized two things. First, that no matter what the statistical majority of a thoroughly, secular-oriented American public believed about or expected from the Church (then or now), its "earthly" wisdom was no match for the Word of God's ecclesial trajectory concerning the functions, purposes, structures, and ministries of the Church of God. In short, God knew what His Church ought to be and communicated it to us in His Word. No polling was required to understand biblical ecclesiology.
Second, I finally awakened to the reality that whether or not socio-demographic critics of God's Church--critics like Barna--offered reasonably accurate polling data concerning what, in fact, the Church was and/or is, pollsters have no biblically authoritative function to proclaim what the Church ought to be. Said another way, pollsters, no matter how accurate their data, are not to be confused with Prophets. Consequently, in my view, we took a wrong turn, beginning especially with Barna, in not only accepting the pollsters' dreary picture about what the Church is or has become, but also in enthusiastically extending to them a biblically unwarranted platform to tell us what the Church ought to be.
And, given some SBC leaders present insisting on "changing the name" of the Southern Baptist Convention, basing their opinion, in significant part, upon the supposition that our name possesses unattractive "baggage" in the eyes of the American public at large, appears to assume we should measure what we ought to be by what is according to the thoroughly, secular-oriented American public's reaction to us or opinion about us. Hence, we still seem somewhat misguided in substituting cultural polling for Christian prophesy.
One Tennessee free lance writer appears to agree with the central thrust of what I'm saying here. In a recent opinion article in The Tennesseean, Franklin, Tennessee free lance writer and Southern Baptist, Paul Procter offers a stunning example of clear insight toward some SBC leaders' non-wavering insistence on rebranding ourselves. Procter writes:
There’s no better example of a misplaced faith than the latest effort by my fellow Southern Baptists to change our denomination’s name into something more attractive to the world... Forgetting that real beauty is exemplified through holiness and humility rather than monikers and makeovers, we have forsaken our “First Love” to market a beleaguered “brand,” like some waning department store chain fighting for survival by appealing to jaded shoppers with yet another attention-grabbing gimmick. But if our spiritual showrooms remain full of salesmen offering the same worldly wares that are available anywhere, what’s a name change going to accomplish? (//link)
Are fellow Southern Baptists but catering to America's jaded church prospects with yet another attention-grabbing gimmick like so many waning department store chains? Procter offers us a powerful reminder about keeping our eyes glued on exactly Whom we are to be about pleasing--our culture or our God. While one may argue that the proposition, either God or culture, is a false dichotomy since we could possibly please both God and culture, let sophists so argue. Scripture remains clear to Whom we belong and to Whom we take our marching orders.
With that, I am...
Reading Paul Procter's entire piece is a must: "Branding is a distraction for Baptists"