I am a Northern Southern Baptist (NSB). That makes me sound “directionally challenged” I know. But I was born this way.
I grew up here in Illinois as a Southern Baptist. My grandfather and father were saved (they recognized they were sinners, repented and placed their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection and were forgiven by Him) back in the 1930’s in a Southern Baptist church here in Illinois. So, they became NSBs. Did you know there were NSBs that long ago? I was raised in Illinois where my father was a bi-vocational pastor. Hence, I was an NSB.
After 14 years in the beautiful land of Texas where I attended seminary and was a pastor, I came back to Illinois to pastor 19 years ago. I am an NSB.
There are three things I want you- especially the larger Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) world- to know about NSBs.
1. There are more of us than you might know. My state convention is called the Illinois Baptist State Association and we have about 1,000 churches. Many of them are small, and that is a lot less than southern states with much smaller populations, but there are more of us than you might have known. Many NSB churches started as “southern clubs” as southerners moved to the north for jobs. However, they were usually very serious about the gospel and found themselves reaching folks who weren’t from the south. Some transitioned into NSB churches with the strong theology of the SBC, but culturally connected with their neighbors in the north. If they remained southern in mindset they tended to decline as the inflow of southern transplants slowed. If they became NSBs, they often did very well.
There are some strong NSB churches. The church
where I pastor is pretty large. We were formed in 1867 as a Northern Baptist church. Due to the theological drift of the Northern Baptist Convention, churches like ours began to look for kindred spirits with whom they could partner. Our church joined the SBC before I was even born. We match our Illinois culture (though we are a bit of a melting pot with Scott Air Force Base nearby) but are actively engaged with the SBC.
2. We are often more isolated. The farther north one goes, the more isolated NSB churches often are. Some Associations (our smaller groupings of SBC churches) are small and cover vast geographical territories. Fellowship with other SBC churches is more difficult. Of course, in some instances, there are few evangelicals of any sort for fellowship and support.
Being a NSB means you are out of the mainstream. In the south, it is not uncommon for Southern Baptists to be the largest religious group. In the north, it is not uncommon for Southern Baptists to be viewed with some suspicion. (What do they put in those casseroles at their potlucks?) We tend to be in the SBC more out of our choice than out of our heritage. We are in the SBC because we like how they do missions (cooperative missions is an awesome idea!), or we like their bible based theology or because we like a good fight. (I just threw that last one in there for laughs- but there might be some truth there!)
3. We are part of the family. The Southern Baptist Convention is no longer just a southern denomination. We are far beyond that, just as we are far beyond the racial division of our past. We are now the most racially diverse denomination in the country. Our current SBC president, Fred Luter, is black. And, we are far beyond the boundaries of Dixie. There are SBC churches in every state and region. Some of our fastest growing churches are outside the bible belt. NSBs are part of the SBC family. And we aren’t the “crazy uncle” part of the family. Well, there are some crazies among us. But we are all part of the larger family.
May I give 2 suggestions to our larger SBC family?
1. Include us. A group was formed to plan an important part of our SBC future a few years back. All were from the south. No one from the west or northwest or northeast or north. Wouldn’t our family planning be better if the whole family planned? If someone from the north speaks at our convention functions, they are usually non-SBC. Fine, but telling. Those things are understandable. We tend to connect with those around us easier than those farther away. But, my second suggestion follows the first. (That is my commitment to mathematical principles!)
2. Know us. I love that many southern churches form partnerships with northern churches. That is helpful. I love that many SBC pastors and leaders in the south have formed meaningful friendships with leaders in the north. Those things are good and beneficial to us all.
Now I may just go eat some grits in honor of this post. But I’m not that hungry. Maybe I will just eat one grit. 🙂