Monday, July 31, 2006

Meeting Feedback

There is already some feedback at the TalkBCC Forum on Monday evening's session with the elders. I've been informed that all the meetings are now full, so good-on-ya if you managed to get signed up, and dang-it-to-h-e-doublehockeysticks if you didn't. I trust the substance of those meetings will be made public somehow, even if via one of these unofficial forums.

Here's a post from the forum by Rod Frank, who previously posted an interesting Acid Test piece at the site and who attended this evening's elder meeting:
I have just returned from Monday night's session with the elder board. A detailed description of what transpired, especially vis-a-vis my comments in this post will have to wait for a time I feel less exhausted. However, here are a few comments:

It started at 6 and broke up at 10:30. There were 6 or so board members there and 2 former members. They took us through a timeline of events starting from about 18 months ago to last Saturday in detail. This is why it took so long. They had actual letters, emails, offers, counter-offers, counter-counter offers from which they read sections verbatim.

If it is important for you to hear facts and not spin from their side, it is important that you attend one of these meetings. They have done two yesterday, one tonight and expect to do one a night for the next two weeks, or as long as it take to be able to look in everyone's eye and answer every question. This is quite a committment.

They admit their faults and mistakes. It is a very impressive display of integrity and opennes and committement to presenting the truth as best they know it. I went seeking answers to four questions:
1) do they have legitimacy
2) why did they do what they did
3) why now
4) why was it done the way it was done.

These four questions have been answered to my satisfiction.

He goes on to revisit his original "acid test" and says that, in his mind, it has been met.

(Note: I received this post via e-mail because I have joined the forum, but at the time I tried to access the actual post itself on the forum website, it was unavailable due to the group's exceeding bandwidth. I'm hoping that is a temporary problem, as the forum is as neutral a place for BCC'ers to gather as any. If the problem can be corrected, I'm sure its creator Ben Jessey will do so. Apologies for the inconvenience.)

New Links (and a Word on Voting)

Just discovered Dr. Foster has a WordPress blog. So far the posts there are identical to the ones at his Fostering Hope blog and his MySpace, so I'm not going to add it to the blogroll just yet. If unique posts end up there, however, I will add it, because frankly, it looks much nicer than MySpace and it navigates much easier than the Fostering Hope site.
(Hat tip to Chris Jessey in the TalkBCC Forum for the head's up.)

Also, there is this: BCC Blow-up, a Typepad blog started by BCC member Dirk Plantinga. The rhetoric in a few posts is a skoshe too heated for my taste, but I couldn't not mention it.

The HT for that link actually goes to the Channel 2 News Faith & Ethics blogger Jamey Tucker, via this post of his on the brouhaha.

It starts somewhat predictably about how Christians who "act like this" are why people don't like church -- a) I think the real reason people avoid church is because they want to think they're inherently okay, and the first principle of the Gospel is that nobody is okay, and b) yes, it would be nice, wouldn't it?, if real relationships with other people could be conflict-free -- but Tucker goes on to say some interesting things about church governance and congregational votes:
Now, I'm all for democracy. But is democracy the best way for a church to respond to these incidents? Is a democracy the best way to deal with these issues?

One thing many church people do not understand is that in elders or trustees or deacons or whatever they are called, aren't just placed in those positions because of popularity or winning some contest. Most churches have strict requirements for those positions . . . According to church bylaws, they are the ones who are spiritually discerning. Meaning, they seek guidance from the Holy Spirit (the living God) to make decisions that best serve God's church.

I cannot speak for every trustee or elder in every church, but in the churches I have attended, I can say I had the upmost confidence that these leaders would make every decision with that discernment and would never make a decision based solely on emotion or personality.
In the recent ouster of my old church youth minister, I could not have thought more highly of him. But in the confidence I had in our church leaders, I also had to believe they were led spiritually to make the change for the good of the church.

In the case of Bellevue Community Church, we should remember that the church bylaws were drawn up, written and approved by Pastor David Foster in 1989. In talking with [some] church members today, I am of the opinion that they respect the elders of the church. They do not agree with their decision, but they do (at least the ones I spoke to today) feel those elders responded the way they feel is best for the congregation.

Decisions like this are not best suited for congregational votes. It would cause further problems in this church body if both sides were to stand before the congregation and present their case. Then, you would have to air all of the reasons the elders have for asking Pastor Foster to leave. I've always been taught, "never say nothing bad about your preacher, that man's called by God to lead your church." Doing just that before the entire congregation wouldn't be good for the elders, Pastor Foster, the congregation or God's church.

I am well aware that there will be those, maybe many, who disagree and want to call for a vote and let both sides make their case. I don't have a dog in this hunt, but I've been in too many churches where this type of "majority rule" decision making would turn ugly.

Mr. Tucker is on to something here, and in some cases he's giving good answers to the wrong questions and in others he's asking good questions without giving answers.

Needless to say, I do not think a congregational vote is wise in this instance either, but not necessarily for the same reasons Mr. Tucker gives. But it's late, so I will tackle that sticky wicket (to mix my game metaphors) tomorrow.

In Good Faith

There does not appear to be a permalink, but this is an excerpt from a July 31 posting of Dave Seldon's at the site. Wise stuff.
Sunday evening I attended a meeting with five current and one past elder along with a group of other BCC members. I will post my thoughts about that later today, but want to urge everyone to please do as Steve Lamm suggested, and “take a breath”.

I’m not urging you to change your opinions, or to lessen the importance of this issue, but simply to remember that the elders of BCC are good men. Many of you don’t know them, but I know at least something about each of them, and am at least an acquaintance to each. Trust me, these are truly honorable and good and strong men. You may disagree strongly with them, but this does not mean you cannot acknowledge their goodness.

I’m still wrestling with my feelings and conclusions after meeting last night, but believe that it is important for all of you to do what you can to try to understand where the elders are coming from. This is not said to try to “sway” you to “their side”, but simply to honor the fact, that like it or not, they have come to this place after a long and difficult journey.

I, like many of you, do wish that many things had been handled differently in this process.
That does not change where we are right now . . .

If you are ready to honestly begin the difficult journey towards understanding this situation, I urge you in the strongest possible way to go to a meeting.

(All of the bold emphases are Dave's, btw.)

There are open elder meetings still scheduled for this week. You can sign up at the BCC website. But do so quickly, as there is limited seating and they are filling up fast. (Within ten minutes of the church's email notice of the meetings, I signed up for the Monday night session and was informed it was already full. I am attending Tuesday evening.)

I do not know if the in-home sessions are still going on, but I heard that not many signed up for those. If you cannot get into one of these at-church elder meetings, you might think about inquiring about signing up for one of those previously announced "cottage meetings." If they still plan to conduct them, that is.

BCC's Core Values

Here are the church's Core Values:
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst." 1 Tim. 1:15

"For even I, the Messiah, am not here to be served, but to help others, and to give my life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:45

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matt. 5:16

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Rom. 5:5

Our 3 Commitments
To love all, serve all, and give all hope.

Our Vision
The relational, resourceful, and relentless pursuit of helping people find God, follow Christ and be free to dream.

I promised not to talk smack at the Faith Statement, but I do want to comment on a few things here.

First of all, this is not too shabby a statement for a church with no denominational line to tow (or is "toe"? I can never remember). It seems like it doesn't say that much, but it actually covers quite a bit of the "basic stuff." (Outsiders looking in and wondering exactly how we do this stuff ecclesiologically should know that BCC is pretty much baptistic in its praxis.)

Secondly, while I think valuing the potential of people is nice (in terms of people's gifts and talents, etc.), as a core value it seems to fumble the initial handoff of the Gospel message. In fact, the very verse provided as support for valuing the potential of people crosscuts that potential. Really, we value the potential salvation of people.
It's not the value I'm agin' in this instance; it's just the semantics, I think.

I could quibble with the idea that letting our light shine before men relates to "quality presentation" (of the music? that sort of thing?), but I won't. Our church is fantastic at serving the Bellevue community and Nashville at large. Habitat for Humanity, Angel Tree, the homeless mission, the CareGivers ministry, the only place close for A.A. to meet, Divorce Care, counseling -- you name it. BCC gets quality service.

The only other thing I'd point out is how often the words "hope" and "follow Christ" appear here and in the other idealogical statements. We have an opporunity here, even though we obviously cannot avoid conflict, to put these foundational ideas in action. We can -- and must! -- hope that God is working something extraordinary of His will in and out of this mess. We must agree that following Jesus is the right path for both sides and anybody in between to take.


BCC's Statement of Faith

I think reminding ourselves of the foundational ideas of our church might be helpful. Here's the official Statement of Faith (which I note, just as an aside, is shorter and less doctrine-y than it used to be):
Bellevue Community Church is an interdenominational, Christ-centered, people-loving, joy-filled, hope-giving church whose vision is the relentless, relational, and resourceful pursuit of helping people "find God, follow Christ, and be free to dream!" Our vision is based on the following outline of our core beliefs:

We exist to give real hope to real people facing life in the real world.

We affirm the Holy Bible as the inspired word of God, as truth for every generation and as the standard for all ethical and moral decisions in faith and life.

We believe God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures and has made Himself known through the incarnation of Jesus the Christ.

We celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the central event of history and the sole ground of hope for human redemption.

We teach that man comes into a right relationship with God, not by religion, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Leader of our lives. Real hope is in Christ alone and is accessed by faith alone.

We affirm that authentic faith in Jesus will evidence itself in a "new life" which seeks full devotion to Jesus Christ. Obedience to the teachings of Christ found in the Sacred Scriptures lead to freedom expressed by loving service to God and others, and spiritual fruitfulness is normative as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We invite seekers to become finders. We encourage finders to become keepers who demonstrate a great commitment to the great commandment (loving God and loving your neighbor) and the great commission (as you go, share your hope with everyone).

We seek to build community where God is honored as people are invited to belong and become, to know and be known, to serve and be served, as well as celebrate and be celebrated.

I could parse and explicate this thing till the proverbial cows return to the proverbial domicile (for instance, what exactly constitutes "real hope" -- your answer may be different from mine), but I think I shan't tinker with this right now. But I do recommend re-familiarizing yourself with it, if it's been a while.

Not Necessarily the News

Here are the main two media stories regarding the BCC conflict, both from The Tennessean:

Bellevue megachurch won't explain quick change in pastors

Pastor's ouster splits Bellevue megachurch

In regard to the first story, I do think the facts are essentially correct, but oddly unprioritized. What I mean is, saying this thing is about Dr. Foster being replaced by Bill West is sort of like saying 9/11 was about the murder of some cafeteria workers. It is undeniably true, but it is not the whole, or even the central part, of the story.

More to come . . .

Full Disclosure (Sort Of)

A bit more about me than is in this site's profile:

My wife and I have lived in the Nashville area since 1997. We have attended BCC since 1998.

I was raised in a Christian home. I was baptized at 5 and saved at 12. That's weird, I know, but not uncommon for kids raised Baptist.
Actually, I like to say I was saved roundabout 2000 years ago when Jesus died for me. That's weird, I know, but it's not an uncommon "joke" for dudes who call themselves Calvinists.

I am a licensed minister (not ordained) who served on staff of a Willow Creek-model "seeker"-type church in the Houston area. The pastor there is still my mentor and very dear friend.
We started in an elementary school too.

I have taught a few small groups at BCC (maybe you were in one) on Jesus and the Gospels and basic theology. I also taught one of the traks of the new members' seminar when it was a muti-session orientation.

I do not know any of the elders or support staff personally. I have met a couple of them, but I doubt they know who I am.
I have never met Dr. Foster, although we have exchanged e-mails a few times. They were all friendly and unrelated to any conflict.
The only staff member I know on even a somewhat personal level is Dennis Conniff. I consider him a friend.

I have no "inside information." Sorry about that.

I still buy into the Big Idea that made BCC possible, which, by my understanding, is that the Gospel is for sinners and that Jesus welcomes sinners to the table of fellowship.
That said, I have always bought into the biblical idea that makes church itself possible, which is that following Jesus in community involves actually following Jesus -- that's what's called "discipleship" -- even if some folks don't want to go.

And now the thing you are probably most wondering about:
While Dr. Foster's teaching was what initially attracted us to the church, and while we have profited from it and always enjoyed it, and while we love the Fosters, we do support the elders and staff in the difficult decision they have made.

Questions/concerns can be asked and answered in the comments. Feel free to use them.

Site and Commenting Policy

I won't pretend to be unbiased (more about that in a subsequent post), but I do hope this site will be a place where people who disagree can do so peaceably. That said, I reserve the right to delete any comments I deem objectionable, even if the commenter appears to be on "my side."

Commenting Policy:
Be kind. Be gentle. Be reasonable. Be slow to anger.

Be honest. Anonymous commenting is enabled and permitted, but any anonymous comments that make allegations or accusations or spread gossip will be deleted.

Tell us how you feel. Tell us what you think.
Don't be shocked if someone suggests feelings aren't the best guide in these matters or that thinking goes best when aided by facts.

The Church -- and therefore, the church -- does not belong to David Foster or the elders or even the congregation. It belongs to Jesus Christ.