October 20, 2017

The Church Membership Question: Interview with Pastor Kevin Hash

UPDATE: Read Kevin in the comments. He is talking about what the SBC needs to hear.

Time for our second interview on “The Church Membership Question.” Our focus today is on the practical side. How are these issues worked out in a real congregation. I’ve got just the person. You will love this interview.

Kevin Hash is the pastor of Burton Memorial Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky and he is our guest today on “The Church Membership Question” series.

Kevin’s ministry is one of the most successful in our state at bringing college students and young adults into a traditional, multi-generational Southern Baptist Church. Kevin is one of the “young, restless and reformed” who has stayed true to a multi-generational church vision with theological depth, meaningful membership and genuine church discipline.

The last few years have brought Kevin across many crossroads in the growth and life of his congregation, and along with that has come wisdom to be shared with the IM audience.

Kevin, thanks for joining us here at IM as we look at “The Church Membership Question.”

1. Give the IM audience an abbreviated description of your church, its growth and some of the goals you have for your church as a leader.

Burton is a 157 year old SBC church on the outskirts of a college town. We gather in a beautiful, historic, stone building. It’s founding pastor was Mordecai Hamm (grandfather of the guy who led Billy Graham to Christ). Six years ago I left a thriving youth ministry at a much larger church to pastor this small church of retired folks and a smattering of young faces.

Nothing dramatic happened the first 3 years. I simply introduced the church to expositional preaching through books of the Bible and tried to get to know people. Amazingly, the older folks were not used to this kind of preaching. Some said, “We do book studies in Sunday School, not worship.”

At the end of that third year, God really started to move among us. We held our first Burton Bible Conference with Dr. Bruce Ware as our guest lecturer. Reformed Campus Crusade students heard Ware was coming to this little church and showed up. The week after the conference, I was asked to fill in at the last minute as a speaker at the weekly Crusade worship. The next Sunday key student leaders in Crusade returned to Burton and never left. They brought friends, who brought friends, and so on. Due to the curious old/young dynamic, our local paper did a story on our church, “Young and Faithful: Flip-flops, Mohawks, and Senior Saints” Last year the growth necessitated our moving to two services when the school year was in session. About 40% of our attendance, during the school year, is from the 18-25 year old group.

Our Crusade connection brought many non-baptists (and unbelievers) to Burton. One Sunday in an informal membership class, I met with 2 Catholics, 1 Church of Christ, 1 Pentecostal, and one Presbyterian.

We had no (and really still have no) strategy to get students. That’s just a God thing. Even though we can have 70+ university students, we still don’t have your typical college program. They didn’t come for programs, they came to hear the Word of God and be a part of a community. Many were mega-church kids who were chomping at the bit to feel needed, to be a part of a community, and be held accountable.

As for goals, tne foundational goal for this traditional church, when I first came, was to encourage them to embrace the Word of God as their authority over their traditions and philosophies. Half the battle is helping them see that their assumptions don’t always jive with the scriptures. Regardless, you won’t succeed in this unless you preach through the books of the Bible. If you do that, ideally, they will perceive that the Bible, rather than the preacher, is confronting their assumptions about God, the Gospel, and how the church should function.

On a practical level I desired to see them grow in appreciation of the sovereignty of God in salvation, meaningful membership, redemptive discipline, Biblical eldership, etc. (The 9 Marks book provides a good summary of specific goals)

2. What does “meaningful church membership” mean to you?

Meaningful membership means requiring more of a person to join than the ability to fog a mirror.

Meaningful membership means loving prospects enough to explain to them what you believe and what you expect of them.

Meaningful membership means embracing your responsibilities within the community, as opposed to waiting to be served.

Meaningful membership means conditional membership, as opposed to some churches where you have to die twice and provide a death certificate to be taken off the roll.

Meaningful membership means that how we live and how we live together is important, because the credibility of the gospel is at stake.

You get the idea…

3. You’ve often told me that the greatest resistance to things like the church covenant and other forms of meaningful membership comes from a surprising generational group. Explain this phenomenon.

Those in and around their 60’s seem to struggle the most with the idea of raising the standards for membership in the church. I think it may be because they came of age at a time when people were really skeptical of authority and hyper-sensitive to being judgmental. The practical application of meaningful membership requires action that flies in the face of their cherished sentiments. Membership has definitely been much more controversial than Calvinism at Burton.

As for church covenants, they are ok with them as long as we don’t take them too seriously. We have made three significant changes to our traditional SBC covenant.
1. We took out the prohibition on drinking and selling alcohol. (Can we still be a SBC church?)
2. We added “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves unless providentially hindered.”
3. We added “will recognize congregational authority in matters of membership and discipline” This third one really raised a red flag with the older group.

Several times I was told that someone’s membership was between them and God and no one else. One time I responded, “You don’t have a have a problem with me, you have a problem with Jesus and Paul.” Sometimes I can be quite snarky. I’m working on it.

As for requiring a membership class, the objection would go like this: “Only God knows what’s in their heart, so who are we to be quizzing people about their profession”

Furthermore, they really value the idea of someone spontaneously walking the aisle and joining. You’d think they were afraid that if you don’t present them right then, they may lose their salvation by lunchtime.

Every year we make a small, yet important, structural change regarding membership. We moved from ignoring the covenant, to reading it every month in the member’s meeting, to asking new members to affirm it, to requiring new members to affirm it & interview with the pastor. We also removed 85 non-resident members from the roll.

Most changes would not be possible without the student’s presence during key members meetings. Every time we make a change, there is a risk of losing a handful of members. In a small church like ours, losing four older couples could mean losing 15-20% the church income. Our students give me job security, but not financial security. We’d much rather not lose anyone and if going slow helps keep people, it is worth it.

4. You’ve been involved in public church discipline as a pastor seeking to restore wayward members. What have you and your church learned through these events?

First off, we are still babies with regard to being faithful to Matthew 18. However, we have dealt with an issue of discipline publicly, twice.

Though both were repentant, their positions and a prudent need to control gossip, obligated us to handle each publicly. Our church had not done this in about 80 years.

One was a young staff person and the other was a deacon, a member of over 40 years. I’m grateful for the counsel of Dr. York and to The Peacemaker book by Ken Sande, which helped me honor God and love people through this process.

We received the Lord’s Supper after the discipline in both instances, and everything went marvelously. Several who dislike the idea of church discipline, saw that love and discipline were not mutually exclusive. One skeptic was in tears and said, “I now know what you mean by redemptive discipline.” Another observer hugged the deacon as she left the service and said, “I admire you and am ashamed, because I should have been up there. I am such a hypocrite.” I only got one bad phone call from an older woman who simply said, “My husband and I don’t believe in that.”

The first time we did discipline publicly was in the very early days of the university influx and I believe it contributed to the growing buzz about Burton.

5. Talk about what you see in the expectations of the church in your college and young adult members and what that means for the future of Southern Baptists.

Our young adults are really excited about what the church can be, they are excited about God and sharing the gospel. Sometimes they see something in the Word of God and they want the church to do it right then. However, the slow process at Burton has been useful in training them to be patient and to love people who don’t see things the same way they do.

Despite my best efforts to keep new people informed about our affiliation with the SBC and the value of it, they aren’t excited about the SBC. I predict a time may come when there will be pressure to reevaluate our affiliations and our giving. This may not happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. Incidentally, events like the “John 3:16 Conference” held by the current SBC president, Johnny Hunt, this fall doesn’t help the matter.

6. You are not starting a church plant, but taking a “traditional” church through changes. What have you learned about this kind of process, and particularly about bridging generations in worship.

a. If you’re not going to hang around for a while, don’t make changes. They’ll just be undone when you leave. Preach and teach and love like you’ll be there 20 years.
b. Don’t fight the small battles; such as invitations and “special” music.
c. Be an evangelist. If you just bring theology, you’ll either be fired soon or you’ll build a church of theological egg heads and be of no use to a lost and dying world.
d. Love their socks off, especially their kids and grandkids. It’s amazing how well people receive a tough sermon on Romans 9 or Matthew 18, or a lecture on elders, when they love you, because they know you love them.
e. Worship style isn’t everything. Ironically, our young people are probably the main reason why we didn’t press harder toward a more contemporary worship in an effort to reach young people. We have really benefited simultaneously from the resurgence of the old hymns and the emergence of great new hymn writers like Getty and Townend.

7. Kevin, thanks so much for your time. Your ministry is an encouragement to anyone who knows Burton Memorial Church. For my last question, who are some of your mentors (in person or in print) as you make church membership meaningful at Burton.

a. Paul Washer, of Heartcry Missionary Society, changed my life and ministry.
b. Dr. Hershael York has been a fountain of practical wisdom for this pastor.
c. Mark Dever. The weekend I spent with him at CHBC pushed me to go beyond theory toward practice and gave me tools to succeed.
d. Bob Jackson, my childhood pastor and 1 point Calvinist, who is an evangelistic dynamo and showed me how to survive small church politics.
e. Thomas Watson, my favorite puritan.

Comments

  1. “Half the battle is helping them see that their assumptions don’t always jive with the scriptures. Regardless, you won’t succeed in this unless you preach through the books of the Bible. If you do that, ideally, they will perceive that that the Bible, rather than the preacher, is confronting their assumptions about God, the Gospel, and how the church should function.”

    That’s an excellent endorsement for expository preaching. I much agree. People in my generation (twenties), being weary of truth claims, can have a difficult time seperating being instructed by the Word, and being admonished personally by a pastor.

    Overall, a great post, thanks for bringing this to us. I go to a church myself thats predominantly an older generation, and would very much like to see a surge in younger christians coming and being involved.

  2. John Inman says:

    Most changes would not be possible without the student’s presence during key members meetings. Every time we make a change, there is a risk of losing a handful of members. In a small church like ours, losing four older couples could mean losing 15-20% the church income. Our students give me job security, but not financial security. We’d much rather not lose anyone and if going slow helps keep people, it is worth it.

    This is what bugs me most about “church reform” in the Dever/reformed baptist model. People who have given their lives to a church and paid off the building debt are suddenly voted out of leadership positions and influence because their church happens to be close to a university or seminary where there are a bunch of calvinists.

    It’s like having your grandkids move in with you only to have all your stuff boxed up and moved to storage, your oldsmobile sold for cash, and then forced to sleep in the living room on the couch. Each time being outvoted by people who will be gone in 4 years. Eventually you move to an apartment because you don’t really belong in your own home any more. So the places and people who should be a comfort to you in your last days are gone.

  3. John,

    There is something appealing about what you say, but I’m not sure what it is.

    I have two objections to what you say: can we really say a person ‘purchases’ long-term church adherence to his or her own views by giving faithfully? I’m curious to hear what exactly you think a member of a church is owed.

    Second, I key more on the phrase ‘members meetings’ in that sentence than on ‘student’s presence.’ Would you like to deny a vote to anyone who is likely to leave within X years? Here’s another way to look at it: why should the people who don’t intend to move (but still may) feel deserving of more influence than people who do intend to move several years from now (but may not)?

    I am interested in your thoughts.

  4. John,

    On one level I sympathize with what you are saying. I don’t like to see long-time faithful members being mistreated. (And Kevin isn’t doing that at all.) I’ve seen new pastors make sweeping changes that alienated the older members and it is painful.

    However….

    On another level I think you are describing a kind of church=institution approach that makes people into stockholders, not members of a community whose purpose is to constantly evolve more and more into a sign of the Kingdom.

    Tithing, building buildings, expecting your preferences to always be honored….dangerous stuff to a Jesus shaped community.

    For example, Kevin’s church has a service with an organ, and one with an acoustic worship band, and that’s as it should be given the make-up of the church. Both generations should welcome and honor that.

    Everyone I’ve ever met who pulled out the “we built this and we will be here long after these new people have gone” bit impressed me as being very, very far from the Kingdom purpose of the church and very much tied to the church as a cultural edifice of a tamed God.

    And I didn’t read about any college students becoming elders for 2 or 3 years. Did you?

    peace

    MS

  5. John,
    sorry for your concerns, they are not warranted at our church. Maybe in some other churches. But I hope not.

    When I say their presence makes a difference, what i mean is that when they show up there is a positive spirit and the church is full of people whose lives have been changed forever because of Burton.
    The votes on controversial issues dont’ break down 60-40 with the students making the difference.

    There are usually only 6 people who ever vote against these reforms, but they are “important” people ($). Our 70-80 year olds tend to side more with the 20 year olds than the 60 year olds. It was actually kind of beautiful to hear a 76 year old man and a 79 year old woman echo the same arguments on some of these issues.

    Anyone who has been in a traditional church can testify to this dynamic…in a traditional church, 2 or 3 really negative, vocal folks people can scare the majority out of ever making any changes. They can threaten to leave if changes are made or threaten to withhold their tithes. If there has been any temptation to make undue influence, it hasn’t been the students. The presence of the students inspires most of the church that things will be ok, even if we don’t all agree on every issue.

    Some of our 70 year olds who call our 20 year olds to dig, and paint, and crawl up in the attic, feel that the students have earned the right to vote and that their vote should not count less because they dont’ have much money or they didn’t pay off our last debt of $2000 in 1948.
    Our students help keep the nursery going, the children’s program, the youth program, the music program, they visit widows and folks in the nursing home, they cut grass and build ramps for the disabled.
    If they haven’t earned the right to be heard, who has?

    And we wonder why churches are ringing their hands over losing the 18-24 year olds. The only modern organization that tends not to see the value of these vibrant young folks is the modern church. They tell them when you get older and can give more money we will care what you think.

    The outgoing SBC president speculated that thousands of our churches are going to close in the next 20 years. Why will they close? In part because they choose comfort over kingdom. They would not take a chance on the next generation and give them opportunities to serve and even make mistakes. They will get to keep what they want, “their church”, certainly not Christ’s, and it will not prevail.

    I’m thankful that the overwhelming number of older folks in our church do not see the students as transients or freeloaders, but brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Blessings!
    Kevin Hash

  6. John Mark Inman says:

    I know there are stubborn church members who willfully resist any and all change. Seen it multiple times in multiple ways. There are also members who will go along with the pastor no matter what he says.

    But what if the shoe was on the other foot. What if a Calvinist joined your church, but later became an Arminian. Then he had Ben Witherington come to your church and then 100 Arminians joined your church. Then they voted to change the consitution to make the Pastor a preaching pastor only. The preacher preached and did not provide the vision or the most influential leadership position.

    All the Calvinistic reforms were undone and church membership requirements were made less stringent.

    The people of the church would come in one Sunday and say “dude where’s my church”. I know these new Arminians are good Christians. That’s obvious from all they have contributed here. But this is not the church we poured our lives into for 10 years. It might be best for us to move on.

    Changing a church to a Calvinist church is not like changing music style. It’s a wholesale change or it wouldn’t be so attractive to other Calvinists.

    To me it’s kind of like the mainstream denominations. When the denomination goes liberal and owns the church property. All of the sudden the church that has met there for 50 years has no building to go to.

    The typical almost Arminian SBC church gets a Calvinist reform-minded pastor and all of the sudden they no longer belong and the place where they’ve worshipped for 50 years no longer “belongs” to them.

    I just think sometimes(apparently not at Kevin’s church) there is a lack of upfrontness and openness about the Pastor’s agenda to bring wholesale change.

    I also realize that a lot of the churches “targeted”(horrible choice of word, but can’t think of another one at the moment) are dying and left to the way they were going would be dead in 10 years.

    But at least when the last member dies they get to sell the building and give the money to a cause they believe in(and one they’ve worked for their whole lives) or give it to a church who shares their values(however flawed those may be).

    Sorry so long. Sorry for the deep distrust of Calvinists. One day I hope to get over it.

  7. John:

    >The typical almost Arminian SBC church gets a Calvinist reform-minded pastor and all of the sudden they no longer belong and the place where they’ve worshipped for 50 years no longer “belongs” to them.

    Brother, there are enough assumptions in that sentence to fill a box.

    How many SBC churches have ANY idea what their theological confession or position is? Caner at Liberty, in his tirades against Calvinism, denied being either an Arminian or a Calvinist, but said he was a Baptist. What does that mean?

    I totally agree with you that unethical, anti-constitutional changes are wrong, but where in any SBC constitution or covenant does it say that new members count less than older ones? Heck, it’s the SBC that makes membership so easy that a dog walking down the aisle is voted in that night. If a church doesn’t want new members changing things, then all they have to do is change the constitution to require a new members class. Right?

    But if a minority of older members don’t want change and a majority of other members- old and new- do, and if those members follow the constitutionally laid down processes for change in a congregational church, then where’s the problem?

    And what Baptist church have you seen where any major change happened without either the full or majority support of the deacons BEFORE it was voted on by the congregation?

    Calvinists that use the Baptist Faith and Message and the existing constitution of a church to make changes by the approved processes are doing absolutely nothing wrong. If older members don’t want a church where one Wednesday night vote can change things that have been in place for decades, then they need to join the Catholic Church or other church where the congregation takes orders from bishops.

    A lack of upfrontness is a problem with some Calvinists. But it’s the same with other groups. How many CBFers say what they are about in trying to get a church out of the CP? How many wanting women deacons say that’s their agenda? I’d give most Calvinists- not all- an A+ is being honest.

    Did Al Mohler lie when he said SBTS had a confession that was Calvinist and they were going to go by it? Or did all the professors lie who signed it knowing they didn’t believe it? (I heard that with my own ears from Dale Moody.)

    The fact is the typical church wants to ignore their own confession, selectively use their constitution and let the church be run by long time stock holders. Baptist polity doesn’t work that way, and the fact that some Calvinists know how Baptist polity works and they use it isn’t unethical at all.

    All a committee has to do is ask a few questions and they can learn all about a potential pastor and what he thinks is important. If the questions aren’t asked, and the changes come through proper channels, who is to “blame?”

    The typical SBC church is like a car that a family wants to use for a planter. Then they hire a pastor who wants to drive the car, and everyone is upset.

    peace

    MS

  8. “The typical ___________ is like a car that a family wants to use for a planter. Then they hire a ___________ who wants to drive the car, and everyone is upset.”

    Not sure if that’s a Kentucky expression, but I’m going to introduce it to the Northwest! 🙂

  9. That’s an original. Send me a buck.

  10. Wow! Isn’t amazing what happens when you preach The Word, Love People and empower others for ministry? Great great stuff again.

    Kevin, thank you for giving a vision for what a healthy, transforming, multigenerational church should look like.

    And Michael, thank you again for this ongoing series, it’s a big help to church planters like myself.

  11. iMonk,
    I will have to send you a buck too I guess. That quote, “The typical SBC church is like a car that a family wants to use for a planter. Then they hire a pastor who wants to drive the car, and everyone is upset.” is a keeper. I love it.

  12. As long as we talking about membership. I did an interview last year with the Chief Pastor of Xenos on membership. He has a very young and dynamic congregation. I’d recommend checking out their site regarding how they build a young membership.

    Anyway. Kevin raises a good point. You can easily construct a leadership situation where the young are disempowered but then it is hard to get them to want to be volunteer, and that means less services (which the 30-50 demographic really want) or more paid staff. I think that’s a fair choice.

    Why should people want to be in leadership if they don’t have the support of the congregation? So they can cause a split.

  13. John Mark Inman —

    To me it’s kind of like the mainstream denominations. When the denomination goes liberal and owns the church property. All of the sudden the church that has met there for 50 years has no building to go to.

    I don’t think that is what really happened. The liberal reforms in the mainstream denominations in the 20s and 30s had wide support of large chunks of the membership. The problem (or good thing) is that those denominations were very broad ideologically. I did a study on the changes in the PCUSA. What I found when I looked at the writings was that all the groups had wide representation. It is very much like the homosexual debate today. There are large numbers of people on both sides of the issue.

    Ultimately the church is a volunteer organization. The kids can vote but they can’t pay the bills. If there was genuine opposition to Calvinist reforms they would in most cases stop dead in their tracks. Try and get a membership convent through when long standing members openly say “I will never sign that”, openly and proudly.

    Heck buy a box of copies of any good Arminian critique of Calvinism and pass them out for free. Calvinism is so contrary to human experience that even a weak apologetic will prove sufficient to fight against it.

    I finally if you want to immunize your congregation against Calvinism have a profession of faith be part of the membership covenant, ” I believe that God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. I believe that each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it… ” RAID for Calvinists. 🙂

  14. It’s interesting that there has been so many references to Calvinist reform. I thought I’d add my last 2 cents.

    I simply want our church to realize the Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 18. I do not want our church be like the Laodiceans who had everything they wanted and didn’t need Jesus or his instruction. Nothing to do with Calvin.

    I simply want our church to realize that God, in addition to sending His Son to die for His bride, gave instruction in His Word for how His church should be organized. When I have preached through Acts, 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, Titus, and James, we saw elders, seems like God thinks they are a good idea, has nothin to do with Calvin.

    I simply want our church to give God as much credit as He deserves for saving sinners. And I am content to err on giving God too more credit for my salvation, rather than little.

    Am I reformed? Sure, but I haven’t mentioned election or predestination any more than 3 or 4 times in over 6 years on Sunday morning (about 300 sundays), but i’ve tried to mention the gospel on every one.

    Thanks for thinking of Burton, Michael, love for you (or anyone)stop by and see us.

    Kevin

  15. Kevin,

    You know I’m not a Calvinist, but I’ll be the first to say that the average church that I know about would be blessed 10x over to have one of the young reformation minded pastors from SBTS as their pastor. They will get the Gospel, serious leadership, God centered worship, a confidence in God’s word, a respect for history, and on and on.

    This caricature of Calvinists as having no respect for the church and on a mad crusade to split churches is simply absurd. The only split I know of was motivated 125% by a slanderous crusade against conservative Baptists in general by those who wanted their church to go CBF. The aftermath of the split has been the demolition of the church’s cooperative program support. Are Calvinists ditching the CP and the Convention? Don’t think so.

    I would actually disagree with you that the guys from SBTS- like you- are actually “reformed.” As Josh at the BHT says, if Calvin would burn you as a heretic, you probably aren’t reformed 🙂

  16. CD-Host, you think churches should require people to affirm, ”.. I believe that each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it… ”

    The New Testament doesn’t teach that we have free will. It explicitly teaches that we’re predestined. It also teaches that we’ll be judged for our actions. How do those two sides of the truth fit together? I don’t know, but I’m sure that the answer isn’t to deny either divine predestination or human responsibility.

    Meanwhile, may the Lord continue to pour his grace on Burton Memorial Baptist. I would do certain things differently, but from what’s written here it seems that the Lord is working there in a special way.

  17. iMonk —

    I posted a reply about a day and 1/2 ago. Can you check your spam filter and see if it is in there?

  18. Spam filter has been emptied since then, but if it was deleted, it was my fault. Since I don’t know what was in the comment, I may have deleted it. I just don’t know.

    You have a comment in this thread.

    Sorry if I deleted it.