While I was not raised in church, when I became a follower of Christ I pretty quickly became a part of a Southern Baptist church in Alabama. There is a lot of a specific culture that goes along with such churches. To be honest it is easy to criticize much of that culture because I have been on the inside of it and still have a lot of links to that culture (after all, I am a Southern Baptist minister). Yet the reality is that with all the flaws of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) it still represents so much of how I understand the good news of the kingdom of God. I am a fan of Southern Baptists . I love the racial diversity that is now so much a part of who we are, even though we started out with very undiversified rationales. I also love the diversity of styles of church that are manifest because of the fact that Southern Baptist believe in a very limited number of essentials to faith. These essentials are known as the Baptist Faith & Message. Anyhow there are many others things that I could mention that I love about Southern Baptist but that isn’t the point of this post.1
Instead this post is about something that isn’t Southern Baptist belief but is generally SBC and Evangelical church culture (at least in the South). Te cultural element I am writing about has to do with the reality that as an Evangelical minister I was rarely offered a beer by the people I spent time with, until I moved up North and started a church from scratch with people who weren’t raised in church or at least in a Southern Baptist church. This isn’t a condemnation on the church (well maybe it is, but I’ll let you decide that), rather it is me jumping on myself. The Baptist Faith & Message has nothing in it concerning drinking alcohol. There’s a pretty good reason for this and that reason is that there is nothing in the Bible against the responsible use of alcohol. Yeah there have been SBC resolutions about alcohol, but if you know the way Baptist churches work (the local autonomy of the church is very important to us) then you know as Granny Hawkins from “The Outlaw Josey Wales” would say that those resolutions are worth “doodly squat.”2 They are words that make someone feel good at the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, but don’t have any effect on the churches (though they do have some effect on the convention employees). The point is that a statement against alcohol isn’t a part of basic Southern Baptist faith, though it generally is against typical Southern Baptist culture.
And being engulfed in that culture is why I believe I wasn’t offered a beer. Not because people in the churches in which I pastored didn’t drink beer, I know that many did, but because people in the churches I ministered within knew the basic Southern Baptist culture and therefore knew that you shouldn’t offer the church’s pastors a beer, even if you had them in the fridge. The reality is that in every other church I have ever ministered in the nature of the ministry required me to spend the vast majority of my time with people who were already in the church, thus knowing the basic Southern Baptist culture and therefore not offering me a beer.
The fun thing is that I don’t even like the taste of beer. I much prefer sweet tea and Diet Coke. My Diet Cokes not only tickle my taste buds, but they also usually come with free refills, and that tickles my cheapness “taste buds”.
Now up here in Wisconsin when someone finds out that i don’t like beer they generally respond by saying “that’s just because you’ve never had a good beer” and then they offer me whatever beer they prefer. I’ve tried a lot of different beers since moving up to Wisconsin and the result has been that I am even more sure than ever that I don’t like beer. Thus I still don’t drink alcohol but I am now regularly with people who don’t think anything of offering the Southern Baptist preacher a beer. That wasn’t true at one time in my life in ministry.
That’s real the point of this post and it is about me no one else. I don’t know if all my friends who are Evangelical/SBC ministers are regularly around people who aren’t so entrenched in the culture of their church that they would never offer their “preacher” a beer, or not.3 I suspect some are and some aren’t. What I know is that until I moved to Wisconsin I spent most of my time around “church people.” People who knew the cultural expectation and weren’t going to even acknowledge the existence of alcohol, let alone offer me a drink. I loved and still love these “church people,” but the reality is that I should have been spending far more time than I did with people who weren’t “church people.” I regret now that I didn’t spend 70-90% of my time around non-church people. While I know God did some good through the ministries that I was fortunate enough to lead, I do wonder how much more good would have been done if I was around people who were constantly asking me if I wanted a brewski.
I think this is one of my new measures whether I, as a minister, am spending my time with the right people or not. If I am not regularly being asked if I would like a beer or something else,4 then I am probably not spending my time with the people I need to be with. Waitresses and waiters don’t count. That would be cheating. I think this may be my new question for my friends who are Southern Baptist ministers, or if I ever get to ask a question of a SBC candidate for president of the convention, or if I ever have fellow staff members at Tapestry. We’ll begin the meeting by asking “When’s the last time you were offered a beer by someone you were spending time with?” If it hasn’t been recently then I’ll ask “Are you sure you are spending your time in the right manner?”