Journey of an Unlikely Southern Baptist

barley2-150x150This is the first post of the newest Baptist21 contributor, Bryan Barley.

Bio: Bryan Barley is Director of Evangelism at Promised Land Community Church in Creedmoor, NC. He has a BA in History from the University of South Carolina, where he also met his wife, Megan. They live in Wake Forest, NC where Bryan is pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, while also coaching baseball at Franklin Academy High School. 

With all the talk about the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, I’ve noticed a trend among some of those who express their opinions at conferences or the blogosphere. Before articulating their thoughts, they first detail their lifelong Baptist affiliation, complete with stories that include how their first words were “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”

I don’t doubt the sincerity of many who have done this. For example, I think of Jarrett Stephens, the young pastor who voiced his support for the Great Commission Resurgence motion at the convention. I am confident that he was not attempting to flaunt his Baptist pedigree but rather establish credibility to voice support for the GCR, and show that this is a not a rejection of his rich Baptist past, but rather the natural continuation of it. On the other hand, it appears that others sometimes drop these credentials to supersede the past over the present and where you’re from over theological aptitude, making one’s spiritual life at age eight a main qualification for holding an informed opinion about SBC happenings.

However, I have to warn you that this rising movement in the SBC consists of more than lifelong SBC’ers. In fact, there are many like myself who are very unlikely Southern Baptists.

I’m in no way a part of the traditional Southern Baptist constituency. I have never been an RA, played on a church softball team, or been on a committee. I grew up in the home of an ex-Baptist father who felt largely scorned by a moralistic church that concentrated more on right dress than a right heart. I was “sprinkled” as a baby in the Episcopalian church and was largely un-churched until the age of eighteen when Jesus saved me. As a Religious Studies minor at the University of South Carolina, Southern Baptists were the butt of many of my professors’ jokes. But despite their best efforts, I stepped into my first Southern Baptist Church at the age of nineteen.

The first time someone told me they were an “RA” as a kid I wondered how a ten year old could be a resident advisor in a college dorm. The first time I heard someone mention having a “quiet time” I wondered if this was similar to “nap time” and wished Google was nearby to help me decode this jargon. Last March, I heard the song, “Father Abraham,” for the first time. But somehow people like me have stumbled into this crazy party called the Southern Baptist Convention, and although we don’t know all the secret handshakes and songs that apparently everyone else learned when they were five, we care about its future and are unashamedly committed to its theological distinctives, which are what brought us into the SBC in the first place.

So I would like to bring you news that rings true for at least one unlikely Baptist who shouldn’t care at all about the convention: this GCR movement that calls for “embracing more intentionally” the centrality of the Gospel and the primacy of the Great Commission in conjunction with our Baptist distinctives is working.

There have been many unlikely (or likely) Baptists who have been yearning for a theologically-driven movement to rally behind for some time, and this one has energized us. Many of us have felt caught between a rock and a hard place-on the one hand agreeing with Baptist ecclesiology and appreciative of a commitment to biblical inerrancy, but on the other wondering if we’re even wanted in a denomination that has a distinct subculture which leaves many of us feeling uncomfortable. The challenge of this new movement, however, has been to refocus on the message and mission of God. The gospel is the great unifier and in light of its unparalleled worth, my own non-essential preferences grow “strangely dim,” and I’m ready to go on mission. You can wear two ties to church for all I care; if you’re about the true gospel, then we couldn’t have anything more important in common. Let’s get to work together.

All along we’ve wanted to be part of something larger than ourselves, and don’t have a desire to be lone-ranger pastors who only want to work with those who look and act exactly like us.  We want to reach our cities, nation, and world, and we realize that this isn’t going to happen by planting non-denominational, non-cooperating churches that are filled with people like us. We want to be part of the missio Dei, and therefore have a vision that forces us to think about more than our preferences, generation, and geographic location.

This is all still so unlikely to me. As I look back on my own story-Episcopalian “baptismal” waters and all- I realize I’m the type of guy that should have “non-denominational” written all over me. I have no real emotional stake in the convention, no family ties, no connection beyond what I’ve developed since my time at Southeastern. In my flesh, I am uncomfortable in a traditional Southern Baptist Church. I’m a Gen Y Millennial who is supposed to be skeptical of authority and sprint in the opposite direction at the first scent of denominational politics.

Instead, I’m now writing for a Baptist blog as a student at a Baptist seminary. I spent the majority of June 23-24 in front of my computer with half the screen filled by a live-stream video of the convention, with the other following the #sbc2009 hash tag on Twitter, and texting my friends who were present every five minutes for updates.

You’ll see many more of us (including my wife and I) in Orlando next Summer. You’ll roll your eyes when we mess up Robert’s Rules of Order and we’ll roll our eyes when more motions are brought that try to ban our favorite Bible translation (in favor of the KJV), excommunicate a popular preacher (Mark Driscoll), and boycott a pretty good soft drink (Pepsi). And though we’re not clueless and appreciate not being treated as such, we recognize that we have a lot to learn and desperately need the experience of seasoned Baptists. We just want to be one more part of a rising Gospel-centered movement in the Southern Baptist Convention to reach the nations and our neighbors.

Comments 0

  1. Bryan,
    This is a great post. I’d be curious to learn how many of “you” there are who care to be involved in the SBC. As you mention, “newcomers” haven’t always been made to feel welcome. You’re certainly not alone. Your original post was brought to my attention by Michael Carpenter, a church planting pastor in TN. He didn’t grow up in Southern Baptist circles, but for some reason he is a Southern Baptist today.

    By the way, I really liked this line:

    “… agreeing with Baptist ecclesiology and appreciative of a commitment to biblical inerrancy, but on the other wondering if we’re even wanted in a denomination that has a distinct subculture which leaves many of us feeling uncomfortable.”

    What if you find that you (and others like you) aren’t wanted in the denomination? Then what?

  2. Enjoyed the post. I grew up SBC, I’m one of those RA kids who went to VBS and grew up in a SBC youth ministry. When I got to college, and threw all that out. In fact (gasp), I nearly turned Assembley of God. What drew me back to the SBC was its focus on the Gospel. The SBC is unabashedly Gospel-focused (at least in theory). I was at the convention this year, and voted for the GCR motion, I look forward to the changes to come in the SBC. I hope we come through with a more robust view of the Gospel and with an increased focus on the Gospel as the keystone of our Convention. As a young guy moving to Louisville in August to start my Seminary education, I’ve never been more excited about being a part of the SBC than right now!

  3. Good post Bryan. Glad to see you pointing out what’s most important (the gospel) and that we need to be willing to unite around that. It’s a good time to be a student at SEBTS and part of the SBC. I’m praying for great things with the GCR.

  4. Bryan,
    I am a life-long Southern Baptist. However, like yourself I was never a part of RA’s and the such. Unfortunately, I was not a part of a healthy, evangelical SBC church until college. As a result I am not loyal to the convention because of my life-long involvement. Instead, I am loyal to the convention because of our theological distinctives, like yourself. Thank you for your post, great word.

  5. Bryan,

    Great post. My story is very similar. I grew up as a United Methodist and now pastor a young Southern Baptist Church in Montgomery Al. It is exciting to see how God is assembling our denomination for the future.

  6. Pingback: baptist twenty one « Like the Grain…Life as a Barley

  7. Post

    Thanks to everyone very much for their thoughts and comments – I enjoyed reading your own stories and it’s exciting that there’s a rising movement in the SBC to unify because of the gospel.

    In response to Ernest Goodman’s question: What if you find that you (and others like you) aren’t wanted in the denomination? Then what?

    I would first say that I’ve been graciously welcomed into the SBC. Many friends and professors at Southeastern have helped me better understand the importance of denominational cooperation, and patiently put up with my many questions. And being invited to join something like Baptist21 is just one more indication that there is a great number of leaders out there who care about who you are now rather than where you came from.

    In conjunction with this, I need to say that guys like myself need to be humble. I think too often we younger guys interpret stylistic differences as meaning we’re “not wanted.” That is, saying that something like music style (i.e. there are only old songs at the convention) somehow neglects younger guys, which must mean we’re not wanted. Like I said in my post, as long as the gospel is central and the Great Commission is our great cause, then I need to not be so dogmatic about my preferences. Let’s just get to work.

    My third point would be to ask exactly how I’m not wanted? Is it a gospel issue or is it a preference issue? I truly believe that if we get the gospel right then the overflow of that is unity despite our racial, financial, generational, stylistic, and geographical differences. Also, The fortunate thing about Baptist ecclesiology is that even if there are those out there who don’t feel comfortable with a guy like me in the convention, there’s still plenty of other SBC pastors and churches I can cooperate with.

    So with that said, I would say there will be plenty to cooperate with in the future because the future of the denomination is with those who are willing to seek after an SBC that embraces our Southern Baptist distinctives while relentlessly pursuing being a people about the gospel and the Great Commission. So if that’s the case, I can’t see how I won’t be wanted since that’s all I want to be about as well.

    Thanks for your thoughts and let me know if that helps answer your question.


  8. Bryan,
    I think this is an excellent post… other than the fact that you make fun of the boycotting Pepsi motion. I think we should boycott Pepsi, but only because it is an inferior product to Diet Coke 🙂

    Great work with this and we are excited to have you writing with the b21 team.


  9. Bryan,

    I agree with Nathan (except for diet coke comment)…this is an excellent post. Thanks for fresh insights from an “outsider.” Great to have you on board.


  10. Post

    Nate and Benjamin,

    Thanks for the comments. I look forward to arguing against Nathan’s motion in Orlando to make Diet Coke the “Official Soda of the SBC.”


    Thanks for the consideration – I can assure you that there’s no “comment competition” among the B21 family, though and we’re all on the same team!


  11. Bryan,
    Thanks for your response. I’m glad you’ve been made to feel welcome. I agree that many younger leaders have interpreted “they don’t cater to me” to mean “I’m not welcome here.”

    I know I sound like a crotchety old man (I’m neither old nor crotchety), but I know lots of guys that once felt like they were part of the SBC but don’t anymore. They basked in the denominational “triumphs” that drew them in, but later felt used by denominational leaders who only needed youth to help them drive their agendas. I hope this isn’t the case with you (or any of the Baptist21 guys) and that you and your churches can participate as peers in the Convention.


  12. Bryan,
    I almost didn’t comment because with just a couple more you’ll jump ahead of my old ageism post and then I’m one step closer to being forgotten like an old tie that gets lost in the back of the closet. Just kidding, but hopefully I didn’t need to say that! Thanks a lot for writing this post. It’s encouraging to me to meet guys like you whose heart is sold-out for the Gospel. Welcome to the B21 family.

  13. Post


    Thanks for your thoughts – I really believe that many of the leaders out there who are reaching out to younger Southern Baptists are sincere in their intentions, and not using us as a means to an end. And I think they do well in balancing this with also offering a strong word that we young guys need the older generation just as much. That’s what I’ve experienced at Southeastern, at least, and I pray it’s the same way (or becomes the same way) throughout the rest of the denomination.


    Thanks for the comment and “swallowing your pride” – I’ll be sure to return the favor the next time you post!


  14. Pingback: Newest Essay « aGCb // the gospel, biblical theology, missions, SEC football

  15. Pingback: Good Article by a Good Friend « Grace, Glory, and Gospel Endeavor

  16. Pingback: The Great Unifier « Cue Imagination, Please…

Leave a Reply