Staying Connected

clingenpeel.jpgBy Michael Clingenpeel

An evening thunderstorm rolled through Richmond recently. In a brief, but intense, hour of pyrotechnics, trees toppled, gutters overflowed and electricity surged or ceased. The intermittent current fried the power supply to my office computer, plunging me into a five-day cyber blackout.

Being disconnected has its advantages. It provided a quick excuse for being out-of-touch with matters I didn’t particularly want to know about anyway, and it was a relief to be spam-free for the better part of a week. Out of sight, out of mind.

On balance, however, staying connected is a blessing. My return to webworld brought me greetings from an acquaintance with whom I had no communication for years. It produced information from our church family where I had missed an opportunity to care for someone. It tied me to a larger world that is the arena of God’s work.

One of the most alluring temptations of 21st century discipleship is the appeal to disconnect, to hunker down in our homes, offices and congregations, to rivet our attention on our immediate sphere of responsibility while we divert our attention from our larger world.

Our generation of Baptists in the South has disappointed us with its aversion to tested Baptist convictions and capitulation to culture. We do church with over 25 years of tawdry denominational backstory. Moderate Virginia Baptist—all moderate Baptists for that matter—find it easy to keep our hearts at home where needs and opportunities are significant rather than risk our hearts in cooperation where the needs are urgent. Our money follows our hearts.

In our best moments, Baptists have resisted this urge to provincialize our ministries. We have not allowed the Baptist value of voluntary connectionalism to be sacrificed on the sacred altar of congregational autonomy. These precious principles were not mutually exclusive for our Baptist ancestors, nor should they be in our time.

Our generation has survived a denominational storm. One of the sad reminders of its swath across the Baptist landscape is the extreme localism that threatens to disconnect moderate Virginia Baptists from participation in a larger fellowship and broader mission.

Care about your congregation. It’s the place that butters your bread and blesses your life. But care about larger Baptist connections, such as your association, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist World Alliance, and others of your choice. Stay connected.

Michael Clingenpeel, pastor of River Road Church Baptist in Richmond, is co-chairman of Virginia Baptists Committed. He is former editor of The Religious Herald.

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