Turning one church into two

Saturday, October 25, 2003

NAM Y. HUH * Associated Press

Don and Susan Silver, along with their 12-year-old son Charlie, posed with "tools of the trade" in their Los Angeles home Oct. 16. The Silvers work out of their home as time-management consultants. Don Silver, 54, gave up his law practice in Los Angeles four years ago to become an author and freelance financial writer. He and his wife, Susan, a 52-year-old management consultant, now work from home so they can concentrate on projects they enjoy, set their own hours and home-school their son Charlie. By Laura Johnston ~ Southeast Missourian

It doesn't matter what their denominations or affiliations are, churches historically have developed tensions over issues as diverse as their membership. It could be a matter of leadership style, music preference or questions about how denominational infighting will affect a local congregation.

The real story isn't that those issues arise, but how church members learn to deal with their differences and continue to worship.

One Baptist congregation in Jackson recently became two because of differences of opinion about in-state denominational issues and leadership styles. Instead of experiencing a rift, the two groups say they have worked hard to build unity since both are focusing on the same result: reaching their community with the gospel.

What happened at First Baptist Church in Jackson could be called a split since nearly 300 members and some of the staff left to begin a new church in late September, leaving about 300 members behind. But many people won't use that word, since it implies fights and negativity. And that hasn't been the attitude at either church.

"There aren't hard feelings," said Larry Shoaf, a deacon at First Baptist. "We're glad they started a new work."

But not everyone agrees it was that simple or that easy.

The idea of starting a mission church has been floating around First Baptist for nearly a decade, said Scott McQuay, a member. "Jackson is a community that's ripe for different types of churches."

Many people agree that there's room in Jackson for more than one Southern Baptist church, particularly since both offer different styles of worship. The church on High Street remains the traditional Southern Baptist congregation it always has been. The new one, now called Crossroads Church, offers a relaxed, informal worship experience with contemporary rock music.

First Baptist of Jackson had offered three services -- a traditional service with hymns

and choral anthems, a contemporary service with Christian rock music and a more casual feel, and a blended service that combined some new songs with old favorites -- for more than a year.

Carter Frey, minister of education, said the differences became too great for people to remain in the same church. "Satan got in and got to chewing on us," he said. The congregation had tried to work through its problems but couldn't really find a solution. There were tensions between old members and new ones who wanted to see change.

Many people lost their focus on kingdom work and began to focus on these differences, Frey said.

During August and September, the church met on Sunday nights in town-hall type meetings to talk about the issues at the core of the conflict: worship styles, denominational ties and leadership.

Shoaf said many people were dissatisfied with the possibility that the church might leave the Missouri Baptist Convention. A handful of those members began meeting in homes to talk about solutions to their problems.

Shoaf said there are some matters that couldn't be compromised in the church, and remaining a Missouri Baptist Church was one of them.

"We had irreconcilable differences," Shoaf said. The people who left the High Street church felt that they needed more freedom, he said.

Dr. Brian Anderson, who led First Baptist and now pastors Crossroads, said the core leadership of the new church was committed to seeing it begin. When it became apparent that the two groups couldn't remain as one, the two parted ways.

That parting came during a Sunday-evening meeting.

McQuay said "the way it was presented to the church was that they felt led to do a mission and they wanted to let the church know their calling."

At the same meeting, youth minister Tim Winborne and Anderson resigned to join the new church.

"We asked their blessing to start a new church," Anderson said.

While some members agreed to pray for the new church, others were still hurt and unsure how to react.

While no one likes to see churches split apart, the beauty of this is that one church couldn't reach an entire community by itself, Anderson said. The new church can reach a segment of people interested in nontraditional worship, while a sister congregation at First Baptist can reach those who prefer traditional styles.

"No matter how large you get, you just have one Sunday and just 24 hours. One church can't do everything to reach everyone," Anderson said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: