Three Lines in the Sand, Part 2

In the first part of this presentation, I suggested incorrectly that the issue that resulted in several churches pulling out of the IFBAM was Calvinism. The issue actually was something different. My apology to Dave Doran of Inter-City Baptist Church, the IFBAM, and anyone else that was hurt by that incorrect analysis. We’ll try to do better with “the facts.” Straight Ahead…..Joel

Frankly, my years in Minnesota were fun years. I finally was in a position in which I could fully “test” ideas about pastoral leadership that had developed during the years I had studied at IBC and DBTS. We had three elders and six deacons at Mildred Bible. We began to experience what I believed one would in a ministry that embraced a shared approach to ministry and leadership. We saw a church that had been a hybrid of a deacon-run church and a pure democracy end up with a fairly balanced approach to being an elder-led, deacon-served, and congregational-based local assembly. Not bad for a Bible church initially founded by Bible Presbyterian types. It was in Minnesota where I began to research and test what would eventually become my thesis project: The Decision-Making Process of the Local, NT Church (My eventual final project specifically looked at the deacon’s role, but in order to set that up, I also focused significant attention on the elders’ and congregation’s roles). While one of the main purposes of this paper is to encourage fellowship and increase contact between Type A, B, and C, I do need to mention a few important areas where my approach to ministry is different, especially with many Type A models of ministry. Many Type A models over the years have practiced a form of polity that I call “the pyramid and box approach.”

“The pyramid” refers to the strict and often abusive approach to a centralized and dictatorial approach to decision making found with (IMO) an usually high percentage of Type A senior pastors. It is said that your strengths can become your weaknesses. One of the strengths of Type A leaders is their willingness to go it alone. That, of course, is commendable. Hebrews 11 demonstrates the faith of leaders who were willing to stand alone, even in the face of terrible opposition. The problem, of course, is not their willingness to lead or stand alone. The problem is when they have to work alone because they can’t work with anyone else because they are unwilling to share decision making. They can’t work with anyone else (except hand-picked “yes men”) because if anyone disagrees with them, they simply run over the opposition.

Most of these men grew up under strong personalities within Fundamentalism, so they think they also should lead with the same strong demeanor. The problem is not leading with strength; it is leading with pride and a sense that I’m always right because I’m the pastor. Some have called this the “Messiah Syndrome.” What is sad is that many of those leaders from the past were spiritually abusive. They had big enough ministries to escape close scrutiny (because in the 60’s–90’s, the ultimate “test” of spirituality was how large your crowd was on Sunday). If you had a large enough crowd, then ministry peers and even, in some cases, “browbeaten congregations” were willing to look past a self-centered and unapproachable spirit in leadership.

I want to stop here and discuss one of the theoretical hypotheses of my presentation. There is something in the genetic DNA of some Type A’s that carry this heavy-handed and abusive tendency with leadership. Throughout Fundamentalism, there has been an almost never-ending battle between some Type A’s and other Type A’s, and even a few courageous standby Type B’s toward Type A’s. It is here that fundamentalist historians will say, “Well, other movements have had their fights.” True, but Fundamentalism almost prides itself by the amount of blood one has spilled or the wounds one bears.

A dark-sided form of abusive leadership has been an almost uncanny mark of some nationally known leaders going as far back as the 1920’s. Journals and books have documented the tendencies of men who, for the most part, had little to no accountability. Often nationally known leaders come off as “gentlemen” to those who see these guys two or three times a year in a conference. But those who have the not-so-pleasurable experience of personally working with these guys day in and day out often will speak of the odd “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” syndrome of said leader.

The generation of T.T. Shields passed on the “dark side” DNA to the generation of John Rhodes Straton. That generation passed on the dark side to the likes of William Rilley who then passed the dictatorial style to men like the Clearwaters, the Wenigers (not Bud. This is not to say that the Clearwaters, Wenigers, and other significant leaders were always abusive. It is to say that it happened more than it should have. I would even say that about certain leaders that I have been close to over the years that were near this same age group). The same sort of thing was happening in the camp that would eventually spring into what I call Type A+. The dark side of J. Frank Norris would eventually be passed on to the generation of Dr. John R. Rice, who passed it on to men like Jack Hyles. Beachem Vic was a stand out. Even though he was a significant leader in the BBF, fundamentalist history records Dr. Vick to be a gracious man who, while being a national leader, was careful not to be abusive. The famous beginning of the BBF as a rescue mission away from Norris and World Fundamentalists group demonstrates the type of meekness that was a hallmark of Vick over his years of ministry in Detroit and Springfield. So as to help answer the question and accusations before they come, let me quote from just one of my sources. Billy Vick Bartlett in his work “A History of Baptist Separatism” makes the following observation on these points. “Since the inception of the first 20th century experiment in Baptist come-outism….this movement has been plagued with an inherent propensity to schism…..The crucial problem appears to be leadership.” Bartlett continues to trace this back to the Baptist Bible Union when he states that these leaders ruled, “by a presidential triumvirate, and its history reinforces the validity of the maxim concerning “too many chiefs….” (He says much more. You all have to pick this book up.)

The two major strands of Fundamentalism that for the most part did not have abusive-type leadership within its subculture were the IFCA and the GARBC. The GARBC leaders were men who were not afraid of leadership but for the most part embraced accountability. The stellar stand and testimony of the GARBC, especially in the first 30 years, is in large part because of the integrity of Robert Ketchum. When I read the history of the GARBC, I’m especially grateful for my fundamentalist heritage.

How do I view the abusive and dictatorial side of Type A leaders? Well, the answer depends on what violation we are talking about. If indeed there are consistent violations of abuse, I’m not sure why a church, a fellowship, or an association would put up with that. If we are talking about a one-time event when a leader made a mistake or spoke too quickly, no leader will be able to withstand that type of judgment. By its very definition, there will be times that even leaders who respect the process of a plurality decision-making process will still speak too sharply or come off as rude. However, when a congregation allows a leader who regularly abuses his leadership to go unchallenged, in a sense that assembly deserves what it gets. Every pastor will from time to time cross a line in making decisions he could have and should have done differently. However, when a pastor consistently ignores the pleadings of other pastors, deacons, leaders, congregants, and even the Holy Spirit, he is no longer qualified to pastor (See 1 Tim. 3).

In some articles and some meetings in the last year or so, well-meaning men have tried to soft-pedal this issue of the power politics of the Type A Fundamentalism. The message often heard is “Get over it.” The message I’d like to send back is twofold. First, “We are over it because we have rejected it.” Second, we are over it because too many Type A fundamentalists have practiced an inconsistent form of separation. Some will draw lines of separation from Type B and C, while at the same time fostering close relationships with A+ ministries. Now I am not wishing to burn all of the bridges between myself and Type A’s. But I have become very choosy as to which Type A’s I will work with. The list grows smaller with each passing year. However, as I have painfully tried to communicate, there are godly men still within the Type A mindset and approach. I will continue to be blessed by those Type A men who truly love the Lord and demonstrate a consistent pattern of New Testament Christianity, though they may disagree with my ability to work with some men who minister in a Type C context.

Well, for the record, in a sense I really am “over” the failures of past leaders. I tend to give those guys more slack than most in Type B and C ministries. First, the social concept of leadership in those generations tended to be more “John Wayne-ish.” Second, these men were men who on many occasions were attempting to fight the good fight of faith. Men such as Riley and others in the Northern Baptist Group fought courageous battles against liberals. Our fundamentalist and separatist Presbyterian friends were some of the most principled men who fought those fights. Many of the Baptist ministries that pulled out of groups like the Northern Baptist were able to keep salaries, pensions, churches, and buildings. Many of the Presbyterian men who took a separatist stand lost everything except the honor of heaven.

Back to the “Pyramid and the Box.” Type A’s typically hate the concept of a plurality of leadership. They work best without an equal. Type B’s usually believe in a plurality of leadership and believe their leadership and decision making should be shared with others. The “Box” refers to the often unbelievable amount of resources that go to the building, buses, and budgets at the expense of ministry for God’s people. Some ministries spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in many ministries even more!) on needless trappings in an effort to compete with X church down the road. This is not a doctrinal issue with me but a personal one. Our folks worship in a steel box. Yes, the Lord has helped us with a nice look both inside and out, but we decided long ago that we would invest God’s money where it is most needed, not in needlessly making our buildings better and bigger.

I had seen in Type A Fundamentalism a high degree of “dictatorship in decision making.” I had been convinced that in the early New Testament church there was mutual submission and consideration in the decision-making process. I saw almost none of that with most Type A ministries. What I did see were pastors who believed they had a right to make the final call on all decisions. I saw (and continue to see with many of the A guys, ministers who believe they are answerable to no one except God). They might take items to the congregation but only if they absolutely have to. I believe that elders (a plurality of them) should oversee the spiritual sphere of decision making, and the deacons should oversee the physical minutiae of decision making. Why else would the qualifications of a deacon be almost identical to those of a bishop? So that the deacons could be mindless “yes men”? Based on Acts 6 and other passages, it seems as if the office of deacon was established to enable the elders (then apostles), as the spiritual leaders, the time needed to accomplish ministry of the Word and ministry of prayer. I also believe that the NT gave much by way of freedom and ministry decision-making to the individual church member. So these views were tested and applied in a variety of ways at Mildred Bible. They have been more fully implemented at Southeast Valley Baptist Church.

In January of 1999, I became the pastor of a new congregation. This January will mark eight years as senior pastor of Southeast Valley Baptist Church. What a thrill to be able to take the lessons learned in other ministries and be able to put those into the foundation of a new ministry. I praise God for the acceptance of our loving congregation. The Lord has placed me in a ministry where the congregation and leadership are in consistent agreement. That’s not to say we haven’t had our challenges. It is to say that the Lord has been faithful the whole time. I pray that some of these thoughts will be helpful for those who read this.

(Note: Gang, we’re half way there. Two more parts to this. I believe SI will try and post the third one on Wednesday and the last part on Friday. For the record, I understand that many of you feel I’ve not done the balanced guys in Type A fair when one considers what I call Type A+. You’re probably right. That is a fair “shot” at this. Bob Hayton has made a great suggestion about calling the group A+ something like A++. I like his reasoning and agree with the spirit of his post at the end of Part 1. Thanks, Bob. Please know that when I first coined hyper-Fundamentalism as type A+, I was not trying to suggest that A’s are as close to A+ as B is close to B+. I will say that when you see the baseline of why I call A’s - A’s, you will understand more fully why I put as wide a group as I do in Type A. I am fully aware that each group could come up with sub-groups. Each sub-groups could come up with micro-groups. This is a project that is attempting to look at the fundamentalist landscape from 30,000 feet. I would be thrilled to see some of you take this and run with it. At the end of the day, I really am not trying to divide A, B, and C. However, I am trying to suggest that there are good reasons for each type to function the way they do. I know this is a bit tilted against Type A. That is because in my experience Type A’s more frequently deny that Type B’s and especially Type C’s can claim identity within the fundamentalist label. I’m defending the notion that they can and should. I’m first to admit this will be a tough uphill trip for some of you to join me on. One more point: some have asked me privately why I would publicly support the idea of allowing Type C’s into the relationship that has been almost exclusively a Type A-Type B world. I’m doing so because, first, Joel TetreauI’ve believed this for some time; and, second, because I’ve heard many say this sort of thing privately but have seen very few suggest this publicly. Someone needs to say this. I might as well say this while I have nothing to lose but my popularity with certain people. Maybe one day I’ll be in a ministry where I couldn’t write what I believed about certain issues. I don’t think I would ever want to be in a ministry like that.)

(Part 3)
Dr. Joel Tetreau is senior pastor at Southeast Valley Baptist Church (Gilbert, AZ). He is on the adjunct faculty at International Baptist College (Tempe, AZ) and serves as co-director of SW Romania Missions Project.

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