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Friday, October 17, 2014


What Damaged The Independent Baptist Movement?

 (Chapter 25)

It has been said that one should guard their strengths because often that is where we become the most vulnerable to error or failure. That very possibly could be the case for the growth of Independent fundamental Baptist Churches in the 60’s and 70’s. For a time, it seemed as if there was no end to the potential growth of our churches, but then something happened.

With the same meteoric rise, there came a tragic fall and no longer did we see the growth in the ranks of our churches. What followed, however, was an explosion among churches far different than we were.

The Assemblies of God, Non-Denominational, Charismatic and other groups took over where we had left off. What we had started, others were finishing. Sadly, not only were our churches not the largest in America, but very few of them were even the largest or fastest growing in their communities.

Theories popped up galore, but did they really explain the cause of the decline? Our enemies threw in their thoughts in favor of ridiculous and accusatory ideas. Many among us used excuses or even tried

blaming the leaders of the movement for misguiding us. However, in retrospect, perhaps it was not our weaknesses that caused our decline but rather our strengths. Let us take a judicious look at a few of the strengths that may have derailed our growth.

Our passion for souls. Go ahead and pick up your stones to throw, but this may well have been the biggest reason for the decline. Those amazing churches were built on the solid foundation of reaching the lost for Christ and did so in an amazing fashion. How then could this strength become the reason for decline?

Quite possibly it was for two reasons. First, our methods became watered down. Second, the emphasis on soul winning often was accompanied by a weakness in building new Christians. Let’s examine both of these briefly.

Soul winning fervor was strong in those growing churches. Many were saved and baptized and many were added to the church. In some cases, however, we may have become careless in our presentation of the Gospel. Perhaps we became more interested in the volume of souls won than in the clarity of our message. We had been taught by Dr. Hyles, in Let’s Go Soul Winning, how to methodically lead a soul to Christ, not to just say a prayer. 

Some lost the methodical part and became quite mechanical and, perhaps, even careless. Rather than bringing our sheaves with us, we brought back inflated reports of numbers saved, but had little fruit to show for it. It is not the names recorded on earth, but the names recorded in Heaven that matter. Also, the lack of emphasis on baptism by some is a reflection of an attitude shift during this period. I fear that our pastors are not personal soul winners like they could be.

Dr. Hyles, while pastoring his church in Hammond, averaged 4,000 soul winners on the streets each week with a strong bus ministry. However, the interesting thing about his bus ministry was the fact that his "A" routes never ran more than an average of 20 to 25. It was once again the fact of the church members seeking to find their ministry in which to serve. 

This ended up totaling numbers that resulted in the "World’s Largest Sunday School." Dr. Hyles was a personal soul winner and he led his church by example. Exhortation is only a small point of impact compared to actually doing it and providing the example. The motivation of example, accompanied with exhortation, is an unbeatable formula.

These great churches were also built with the spiritual growth, which came from a strong graded Sunday school program. It is possible that we became so focused on the masses that we lost sight of the individual. While most of our growth was initiated with the Sunday school, erroneously we began to de- emphasize the Sunday school. Often this was a result of logistical problems brought on by our big crowds and of designing our buildings for schools rather than for the church. The Sunday school became less and less preeminent.

There were around 800 Sunday school classes under the ministry of Dr. Jack Hyles in Hammond, IN, with an average attendance of 20 plus. Dr. Elmer Towns awarded Dr. Hyles the "World’s Largest Sunday School Award" not the world's largest church. 

The reason was Brother Hyles understood the foundational fabric that made growth possible. Eight hundred teachers required 800 assistants with all of them learning the Sunday school lesson and participating in the soul winning program of the church. This widespread and broad foundation was the strength of the growth factor for Brother Hyles. 

This was not new to him in Hammond, for he employed the same thing in Garland, TX, with the Miller Road Baptist Church. Brother Hyles started Sunday school classes in neighborhood garages; one class was held in a playhouse up in a tree. He was a trendsetter, not a trend follower, with unchangeable foundational precepts.

The decline in growth of some during the 80's and 90's resulted in a precipitous decline in Sunday school classes. With that slump came a shrinking number of church members who were not engaged with learning Bible truths that would have been accomplished by those Sunday school classes.

Ephesians 4:11-12 points out a vital truth and an ignored truth today, of each member learning what their ministry is to be. 11“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:" This team effort was the central thing of the 60's and 70's.  The more members involved in the local church the greater the possibility of growth. 

When the decline started churches all over America began to over react and it was this overreaction that hurt. Some began abandoning aggressive soul winning and started combining Sunday school classes. We went from being soul winning churches to using methods that we hoped would attract people. The altars were no longer abuzz with converts and soul winning was no longer the main emphasis. The Sunday school became more of a social tool than a tool of discipleship. When soul winning is viewed as a tool for church growth and then that growth does not occur, some then abandon soul winning for other man-made methods.  Soul winning is a command not a tool for growth!

Even if the soul winning does not bring growth, it should never be disused. Soul winning is right to do regardless.

Matthew 9:38, "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest." There is not a command here to pray to the Holy Spirit for converts. The command is clear to pray to the Holy Spirit for Laborers. If a local church is not laboring at soul winning then there is no need for the Holy Spirit to send laborers to help non-laborers.

The Bible does not say, "Go into all the world and put them into one room." I fear we do not see the value of one soul and have substituted that thought for a big church ideal. During the 60's and 70's church growth was a by-product, not the product.

Our hatred for sin while loving the sinner. There is no doubt that those growing churches were led by pastors who preached, without compromise, the sinfulness of sin. However, as is always the danger, many began to attack the sinners rather than the sin. We became enamored with causes to defeat sin. Some fought abortion in the political arena rather than through the hearts of converted sinners.  Those great men loved the sinner as much as they hated the sin.
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Those churches who began to decline became unkind to those who were guilty of the sins. In many cases we deflected them from Christ rather than drawing them to Him. Our hatred became hateful and hurtful. Some lost their heart for convictions because they lost their love for the sinner

Dr. Hyles was an enigma in the sense of his relationship with people. He loved people as deeply as he hated sin. His love for sinners was deep enough to warn them and then deep enough to win them. Many a church member sensed his determination to keep them pure via his messages, while also sensing his determination to love them no matter what.

He was very transparent in his love. He was also transparent in his hatred for sin. Jack Hyles was truly the one who could hate sin and love the sinner at the same level of commitment. This has been lost in the last three decades. We must return to winning the sinner to Christ while hating the sin of the sinner.

Great churches all over America had pulpits and pews filled with those who loved the sinner while despising the sin. Now, we cuddle the sin and the sinner.

Our emphasis on separation. “Be ye separate” became a judgmental cry rather than a Biblical principle. Oh, we were separated. In fact, we were so separated that we separated with each other over issues that had not defined us at the beginning. The standards in our various growing churches were not the same, nor did we insist they be. We stood against worldliness, but we did not judge others by an inch of hair or skirt.

Suddenly, it was almost as if we were competing to see who could be the strictest and have the most rigid standards. Churches with lesser standards than our own were deemed worldly and we could no longer fellowship with them. 

We separated over preferences rather than convictions. Conviction is defined within one’s own local church, and a preference is one from the outside looking into another church.

The great men of the 60's, 70, and 80's never required the same of each other in order to fellowship. The ability of the John Rice's to encourage personal soul winning and personal standards without separating the brethren was unique. Dr. Hyles had strict standards for his ministry, but he never required the same level of others he preached for and with.  The truth is he applauded those who had stricter standards.  Dr. Hyles' churches grew with stricter standards than his contemporaries because his people were taught and he feared no outsider corrupting his people.

If his position on the King James Bible was attacked he was secure in his beliefs which kept him from over reacting.  If his position on soul winning was attacked he was comfortable and secure in his position.  If his position on personal standards was attacked he did not need to make it an issue because he was comfortable with his convictions.  

He was very careful who he would allow to fill his pulpit.  He was more concerned about the direction another preacher was headed rather than where he was on the path.  He had three levels of interaction with other men of God.   Some he would preach with, some he would preach for, and some he would allow to preach for him.  It took an awful lot in order for Dr. Hyles to make a public statement of disagreement.  It had to be a serious doctrinal error or a serious bad fellowship relationship.  Some would call this one secondary separation.  He felt influence influences those who influence. A fine line, but still a line.

Dr. Hyles never did hold to the storehouse tithing issue as believed by Dr. John R. Rice, the Editor of The Sword Of The Lord. Yet, he served on Dr. Rice's board and preached with him 20 plus years without it becoming an issue. 

One time a Hyles-Anderson College student from Madison, WI, told Dr. Rice and that he and Dr. Hyles disagreed on storehouse tithing. Brother Hyles related this story to me.  He told me that Dr. Rice wrote him a hot, three page letter saying that he was "shaken to his foundation" to learn that Brother Hyles disagreed with him. The next time they were  preaching together he went to Dr. Rice's motel door and knocked on his door. He then asked Dr. Rice to come with him. He took Dr. Rice to a men's clothing store and bought him a new over coat, suit, tie, shirts, shoes, etc. He said he took Dr. Rice back to his room.  He hugged his neck and told him that he loved him.  The issue of storehouse tithing was never brought up again.

One time a young man asked Dr. Hyles, in John Rice’s presence, about storehouse tithing. Dr. Hyles immediately said, "I think I will defer to Dr. RIce that question for he is much older than I and has been in the ministry longer than I."  We would rather fight at the drop of a hat and even drop the hat to provoke the fight.  Unnecessary warfare will hurt.

Our over excitement with size. The 60’s and 70’s were exciting days in Independent Baptist churches. We were having big days with thousands in attendance and hundreds saved. However, it became difficult for some men to accept the normal and grow from those occasional big days and promotions.

Suddenly churches were sustaining their size by overusing gimmicks and promotions. Sunday morning attendances were a far cry from Sunday night when the real church showed up. We became out of balance in order to prop up our growth. Again, we over reacted by condemning ourselves for using perfectly good methods and we abandoned them altogether. Not all churches are equal in their potential.  Not all pastors are equal in their potential.

Ninety-five percent of the churches in America are in rural areas. The average membership of all churches in America is 125 with the average attendance being 75. From my travels, I have surmised that Independent Baptist churches are doing better than we think. However, not all churches were meant by God to run 10,000 in Sunday school; and to berate beat ourselves up for not doing so is foolish.

There is such a thing as spiritual greed that causes many a good man of God to not be satisfied with the potential that God gave him and him alone. Thus many are drawn to liberal men who promote liberal methods for growth.  Big is not always better.

Comparing ourselves with others is a terrible mistake. I refused to allow Longview Baptist Temple, Longview, TX, to be compared to First Baptist Church under Dr. Hyles ministry. Our church grew from a low of 159 to 2,041 in attendance, over a three decade period. This was during a period when others were declining.  Proving it can still be done. 

Dr. Hyles had a twelve to fourteen million population area to draw from while the East Texas region has 300,000 to 400,000 to draw from. Dr. Hyles had a 100,000 membership while averaging 20,000 in all his Sunday schools over a five decade period. Every potential is different and there is no difference between a big church and a little church in God's sight as long as they are winning souls, while teaching and preaching truth. I again remind you that ninety-five percent of the churches in America are rural and have varying degrees of potential.

Our misunderstanding of simplicity. This may ruffle a feather or two. However, the great church builders of the 60’s and 70’s were great because of the simplicity of their message and methods, but not because they were simplistic men. These men were Bible students and had amazing depth. Sadly, many took their simplicity too far.  We should be men of substance and work to avoid being issue oriented.

Good Biblical and balanced “topical preaching” was replaced by issue oriented topical preaching, which often came from a small number of pet issues. In many cases some went from feeding the people to often berating them. This will amaze you, but these great men of the past rarely were stuck on one issue or even a few issues. Dr. Hyles preached less on standards in his own pulpit than what he was accused of from around the country. Brother Hyles preached less on aggressive personal soul winning than he was thought to have done from his pulpit. These men were deep, but understood the multiplicity and ethnicity of their congregations.

All of this was a result of aggressive soul winning and an aggressive Sunday school program. Simple messages do not mean they are from a simpleton.  Their Sunday school lessons were not shallow.  Their Wednesday night Bible studies were incredible.  The reason for all of this was the fact they STUDIED!

Our starting of schools. There is no doubt that all great movements are accompanied with the founding of new schools. That is not a bad thing. However, we became so enamored with Christian schools that we lost our passion for the church. We became educators rather than evangelizers. Our schools took our students off of the mission field.   Suddenly the schools became our evangelism. In many cases it also took away their spiritual strength as many were attempting to shelter them from the world.

The day school gave birth to the Christian college.  No longer did our young people need to go away to college, but they could stay home and supposedly learn how to build a church at home.  Some colleges were started by local churches that in reality were not very successful.  This seemed to water down the evangelism. 

With the day school came other issues.  The sports programs became more popular than the church soul winning programs. The athlete mentality, or jock mentality, that we so despised in the public arena of education has now captivated and captured the Christian school in many churches. We have our state champions while our churches are dying spiritually. We have found an alternative for the glory of the public school sports; our own spiritualized glory of sports. At the same time our baptisteries are dry, our altars are empty, and our soul winning is dying back to a faithful few.

When a pastor is drawn from his God-called responsibilities into the educational realm of the work, the local church suffers. When the students are drawn away from going soul winning, they are missing out on life lessons. Going soul winning will result in them seeing the devil’s payoff with alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, and a host of other sins.  

Our children should not be "isolated" but rather "insulated." I do not have all the answers, but I do know that our local churches have declined since we entered into the Christian school business. Please do not misunderstand me. I am for the Christian school, but someone is going to have to analyze this and provide some answers. Something is wrong!

Our impressions of our standing. With the growth of our churches came the new found standing in our community.   Our attendances were impressive, but we wanted more.  We wanted respect.  We mistook respect for influence.  Fancy buildings and huge auditoriums may gain respect, but it is the vibrancy of growth that brings about influence. 

We overbuilt and overspent in order to build buildings to improve images.  However in many cases it hurt and placed financial strain on the people. Pastors who never had to worry much about offerings suddenly viewed the bus ministry as a financial liability rather than a necessary soul winning tool to reach the unsaved. 

In 1979, at a financial seminar, I recall a spokesman saying that 856 Independent Baptist churches had filed for bankruptcy. We moved from a balanced budget run ministry to a build and expand mindset believing the people would come. In other words, we built for growth of attendance and offerings. Sorry, but that old dog won’t hunt. No one should ever build beyond their church budget. Win more people and raise the weekly offerings in order to build with fiscal responsibility. No church should ever spend more than 25% of their income on a mortgage debt.

With these new buildings come increased utilities, increase insurance, increase of staff, increase of maintenance, etc. There are so many hidden costs to a new building that many a pastor has never even taken the time to consider. I fear for the fall out that will come in the future to those who violate financial common sense.

Our monthly and quarterly financial reports at LBT were always accompanied with a column of percentages next to each group of expenditures. The deacons may not comprehend a multimillion dollar anneal budget, but they can relate to percentages.  Our utilities ran 8-9% while our ceiling was 15%.  Our debt retirement ran 10-12% with a ceiling of 25%.  Our administration ran 35% with a ceiling of 45%.  This is just a few examples of how we could keep the deacons informed and to stay safe financially.  Do not spend beyond your income.

What is the solution? Well, certainly it is not to do what we did by throwing out the strength to rid ourselves of the problem. No, it is to have an understanding of how to use our strengths to build a work for God without them negatively affecting us. For every action that hurts a church there are 100 overreactions that do the same thing or worse. Our goal is to address both the good and the bad of those great days. We hope that we can return to the strengths without falling prey to the overreactions that led to the demise.  Can it be done again?  Absolutely!

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