Now that I’m in a mainline church, whenever I talk about growing up in the Southern Baptist Convention (and earning my degree from an SBC school), it’s not rare to get side looks or the occasional “you poor thing…”
As I reflect over the 18 years of life in the SBC, and how that shaped me as a person, I’m quite thankful for growing up in the tradition. Sure, religion is messy in general, and that particular faith tradition carries the stigma of exclusive theology. Yet, it shaped so many beautiful things about myself and how I see the world.
It taught me to value God’s Word
Conservative church tradition holds the Bible as God’s word and puts it above all else. This means that no man is the ultimate authority, but the Bible is. Of course, it takes a lot of faith to believe in a written document as the last authority on earth; yet because of the weight it holds, it’s learned that every answer to life can be found in there. This enriches life, because it brings a sense of simplicity that life never has.
Plus, I can quite scripture like mad-crazy, and Jesus juke any situation.
It taught me to center everything on Christ
Many conservative churches teach the art of self-reflection through altar calls that ask you to examine how you’re living your life. Every week, you are reevaluating your relationship with God, keeping it centered, and staying focused on the process of sanctification. Done right, this means you become incredibly self-aware and humble. Philippians 2, a beautiful passage on how Christ lived on earth, becomes a ruler for life.
It showed me how to live in an authentic church community
In SBC life, everything revolves around the church. It can be obnoxious at times to be at church so much, but it forces close community with those you’re around. I loved having ten grandmas at church, potluck dinner every Sunday, and being a part of “life group.” Many times, Millennials with more mainline theology will ride it out in a conservative church, primarily because of the community that is there.
It taught me to follow the rules
I can’t lie: I’m a severe rule-follower. Many people in my life tell me that I need to loosen up, and I’m getting there! But you have to understand something: Fundamentalism saved my life. I don’t mean that to sound melodramatic, for I truly believe that. The world we live in is very grey, and I learned to put up boundaries. Because I value God and His Word, I try to follow both as closely as possible.
It demonstrated a missional life of inclusivity
Southern Baptists are the best at sending missionaries in the world, and my SBC university sent out more missions teams than any other college. With that comes the gift of sharing your faith with anyone and everyone. The best gift that comes with a missional life is the gift of inclusivity towards the poor and disenfranchised. Sure, conservative church culture has much to learn in terms of inclusivity in general, but because missions is often part of its DNA, so is taking in the orphans and widows. That was me: a child who was thirsty, and they took me in and met my physical needs as well as my social and spiritual ones.
With all of these, I can pick out the negatives that went along with them. I learned to be close-minded and think that my way was the way. Something I’m noticing, however, is the increased humility among many conservative church leaders. There are some beautiful things about how I grew up, and I seek to bring these things into my Mainline church community. Why wouldn’t I want my students to learn to put God and the Bible first, to live in genuine community with one another, to follow God’s commandments to love Him, and therefore, love one another with a missional and inclusive life?
So now, when I tell people my background, I don’t have to duck my head and hide from it: Where I came from had beauty. And I can bring that beauty everywhere.