Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville decided to keep its embattled pastor. Jerry Sutton, former candidate for SBC President, survived an attempt by some members to oust him for alleged misuse of church funds. A law suit against the church added to the bad publicity. Sutton received about 80% affirmative vote from members who participated in the decision (1101-286).
There are a number of conclusions to draw from this situation, and I make no pretenses to have any knowledge of the inner workings or motivation of those disgruntled members who levied these charges against the pastor. What I can say is that this is a classic example of a Baptist church exercising its autonomy in taking care of its own business. I’m sure there are other less prominent examples of churches making decisions about a staff person’s future, but the size and location of Two Rivers make it an obvious case study. No judge would intervene in the church’s decision to have such a vote, even though the idea itself reminds me of other churches who exercise an “annual call” to their pastor. Pastors in these kinds of churches live year to year having to endure another vote on their call. It’s a tough way to live.
Still, 286 people wanted to remove their pastor. That’s worth considering. This is a good sized church in most places, and it will interesting to see what happens next with these individuals who came out on the losing end of the vote. I dare say that other Baptist churches have folks who’d like to vote to vacate the pastor’s spot too. Sutton’s having 80% support after being at the church several years should encourage him. The people who opposed him might have had other incentives besides the money mismanagement issue. Regardless, the church called the vote in order to put this situation to rest. Whether this occurs remains to be seen.
One interesting truth which may not relate directly to the Two Rivers story is that the majority is not always right. There are times that the minority position is the better one but there aren’t enough voices and votes to carry the day. This is an unfortunate reality in Baptist churches, and there is always the risk of making a wrong decision. It isn’t a perfect approach, but it does involve the people and everyone has input who chooses to participate in the process. No one said being a Baptist was easy or the most efficient way to do business. But if I wanted efficiency I’d be in the Catholic Church and let the bishops and priests run the church. I prefer to take responsibility and participate in the decision making process, even when it gets difficult or depressing.
I commend the church for moving forward with this vote. The notoriety, media coverage, and desire of the pastor to clear his reputation might have contributed to the decision. It might have appeared that this issue wasn’t going away by itself, and the church had to take a stand. I suspect also that the leadership determined that they were not going to allow a faction in the church to have their way. If more churches took similar stands for their pastors and staff, our congregations would be much better off. We might lose some people, but the overall result would be healthier and happier congregations.