Baptist Polity And The State Convention -- By: John Sullivan

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 03:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Baptist Polity And The State Convention
Author: John Sullivan

Baptist Polity And The State Convention

John Sullivan

Executive Director-Treasurer
Florida Baptist Convention
1230 Hendricks Ave.
Jacksonville, FL 32207


Ours is an era marked with rapid and often spastic change. With change, problems become more complex—even in the church, or perhaps especially in the church, because we often wed our theology and methodology! Information and management of information tend to become less effective in direct proportion to the rapidity of change. Today’s climate of change is turbulent at best and devastating/destructive at worst. Someone said it well, “People must move with the caution of an alley cat in a mine field.”

Survival demands flexibility on the part of leadership. However, this flexibility must happen without the loss of integrity and credibility of principles. We cannot build churches on fads, fashions and political correctness. Something that is morally wrong cannot be politically correct or theologically acceptable. We cannot ignore or denigrate our heritage as Baptists.

Our world does face an uncertain and unsettled future. The church does not. The power of the Holy Spirit will give us the energy to initiate and sustain action until our best intention becomes reality. Our great problem in the church is not change—not even motivation—it is apathy and fear. As a result often we are guilty of over-managing and under-leading. We do not need to master the routine or become connoisseurs of the obvious; we need to develop leadership skills that put us on the “end of the limb.”

Leadership by directive is over. Leadership in the midst of change must learn that others will expect efficiency, effectiveness and accountability. It may mean a change of mind, attitude and/or behavior. It will mean decision. Indecision is most often a terrible mistake in the midst of rapid change. Decisions will cause tension—but little happens without tension. You cannot rule out tension when you lead by expectation and example. However, if we think change is difficult, try irrelevance!

Polity is how we structure to accomplish our purpose. Four factors always shape life in a Baptist church: theology, legal issues, tradition and pragmatism. At times one will dominate but all will be involved at some level.

Church governments vary, i.e. informal, independent, hierarchal, delegated and congregation, etc. Within these there will also be variations. Baptists have generally been congregational in government.

Baptist state conventions follow the basic patterns of Baptist churches. There a...

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