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.