By Jeff Schreve
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Texarkana, Texas
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
When I came to FBC Texarkana in early 2003, I was full of excitement, along with a measure of trepidation. I had served on staff at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston for five years but had no experience as a Senior Pastor.
The Pastor Search Committee at FBCT knew the church needed to change. The Chairman, a very godly man, was praying constantly over this key decision. He told me, “God impressed upon me that He was giving us one more chance to get His man and not our man for the church.” Thus, they were willing to throw out their preconceived requirements and trust the Lord. God led them to call me, even though some on the committee thought I looked more like a bouncer than a pastor.
The committee members told me the church had a reputation in the community as a “country club” for the well-to-do. Thankfully, they knew this perception desperately needed to change. They wanted to see God do a fresh work in the congregation that would spill over and make a difference in the city.
Since I firmly believe the church is to be a hospital for hurting people (regardless of race, economics, or social status), I immediately focused on the task of preaching the word and “speaking the truth in love.” No doubt, my messages afflicted the comfortable who enjoyed the “country club.” Within five months, there was a petition circulating to send me packing. It was a hard time, but God used it for good. The church is healthier today than at any other time in our 143-year history.
WEEDS vs. GRASS
My bent as a pastor is more in line with John the Baptist than John the apostle. I have a strong tendency to call out sin whenever I see it. Since the church had become Laodicean, there was much that needed to change. In those early months, I made this joke to some of the deacons, “How much surgery can the church endure before Jeff dies?” I came dangerously close to termination because I was smashing Nehushtan and upsetting the status quo.
One day when things were particularly difficult, I called my former pastor, Dr. Damon Shook, to seek his counsel. He said, “Jeff, preach to water the grass, not kill the weeds.” I had never thought of it that way. As I soberly evaluated my preaching, I had been spending a lot of time on the weeds and not enough time on the grass.
In my opinion, the job of a pastor is to have a good balance between the weeds and the grass. Things that are glaringly broken need to be called out, addressed, and fixed. Things that are glowingly succeeding need to be encouraged and championed.
The way a pastor communicates the issues related to weeds and grass must be done with courage, sensitivity, and care. Flame throwing is typically not the way to win friends and influence people. “Speaking the truth in love” is God’s clear admonition to His servants (Ephesians 4:15).
THE CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST NETWORK
The Conservative Baptist Network sees issues in our convention that need to be addressed and corrected. No doubt, the weeds need to be killed, and the grass needs to flourish. Our method in accomplishing this, however, is not to speak words that tear down and disparage brothers in the Lord. We want to build up the body of Christ and “give grace to those who hear.”
There are many churches in our convention that are doing an outstanding job exalting the Lord and making disciples of Jesus Christ. We want to encourage them in their obedience to the truth. We want to let them know that they are not alone in their concerns about the current direction of the SBC. We want to pull together to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
Regarding those who may be pushing the theological envelope to the left, we want to lovingly call them out on these dangerous issues that could easily split the convention. We are not trying to personally attack them, assign ungodly motives, or smear their names. We are endeavoring to help all believers in the SBC understand that absolute fidelity to the truth and sufficiency of Scripture is critical. A little leaven can easily leaven the whole lump.
WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT
FBC Texarkana was not an easy church to pastor in those early years. It would have been easy to throw in the towel and quit the battle. It was hard to stay in the fight—but so worth it! By God’s grace the church has flourished, and I have come through “the valley of the shadow of death” much stronger and wiser as a result.
The Southern Baptist Convention is worth the fight! I am blessed to join with so many like-minded pastors and laypeople to stand up for the Lord and His Word as we live in this Romans 1 culture. The Bible is truly inerrant and sufficient for our every need. May we be found faithful, “speaking the truth in love” every step of the way.