The September 8, 2009 Tennessean had a front page story about the first Buddhist chaplain in the United States Army. The article was about the growing religious diversity of the American military. That’s not the part that caught my eye. The lines that intrigued me were the sentences in which Thomas Dyer, the Buddhist National Guard Chaplain, was introduced as a “former Southern Baptist pastor”.
Now, I have thought about leaving the pastorate, as every pastor has, but I have never considered running off to become a Buddhist monk. I have not met Thomas Dyer, but I would like to. I would bet his story is an interesting one. And his story is one that I have probably heard before.
Before I go any further, let me remind you, I grew up Southern Baptist. I love Southern Baptists. I love being a Southern Baptist. I have never been anything else. There is much about our heritage that I treasure. Our emphasis on soul freedom, local autonomy of the church and our historic emphasis on evangelism and missions gives us a lot to celebrate. But you know how it goes—the same thing that makes you strong makes you weak.
For all of our emphasis on evangelism, we do a lousy job of emphasizing discipleship. We do a good job of getting people introduced to Christ, getting them baptized and into a local church. Then, we don’t know what to with them. In other words, we focus on getting people born again, but we don’t help them grow again. We baptize them, celebrate them, and then we push by them to get to the next person we need to “win to the Lord.”
The result is a spiritual child abuse, or at the very least, child neglect. What kind of family would bring a child into the world, but then fail to feed and nurture that child? We would. The church would—and does. This failure of discipleship has left the church anemic and immature. Every statistic we track gives evidence of the shallowness of the lives of most of our members. From attendance, to giving, to evangelism, all of them reflect the failure of our converts to become disciples. For Southern Baptist churches and for the convention to fulfill our mission in the world, we must recapture the emphasis of discipleship.
Our members, once born into Christ, must grow into Christ. Sadly, if you desire such a deeper life, you have to go outside Southern Baptist life to find people who are writing about a deeper prayer life, meditating on the Scriptures, initiating acts of love simply because you have learned to recognize the face of Christ in the faces of those around you. The mature tree bears fruit. A return to the biblical call of discipleship—the process of the disciple becoming more and more like the Master—will address many of our bottom line issues. After all, we cannot give to others what we don’t have in ourselves.